Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Walk for your lives!

Zombies have plodded across the silver screen in almost exactly the same way—slowly—for about as long as the modern zombie convention has existed. Here and there, a film would bend the rules—Return of the Living Dead, for instance, had a few pretty spry zombies—but for the most part, filmmakers piously followed the doctrines set down by zombie-film granddaddy George Romero.

In the past four years or so, however, a couple of filmmakers have taken the initiative and portrayed zombies that moved damn quickly—as fast or faster than survivors. The trend began in 2002 with Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and continued with Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Granted, Danny Boyle would tell you his film isn’t a true zombie movie, since its “Infected” are living people with a disease. That may be so, but popular culture saw the film as an innovative take on the zombie genre. Dawn 2004’s runners wouldn’t have been possible if Danny hadn’t gone there first.

Now, this is only two zombie movies out of hundreds that have been made. Films have been released since then featuring good-old shambling revenants—Romero’s Land of the Dead, the loving British send-up Shaun of the Dead, and other, less notable films. Zombies in other media continue to shamble, like in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide and its upcoming sequel, and Capcom’s recently-released Dead Rising (which, aside from having zombies, is completely different from that other Capcom franchise. Yes, I’m talking about Mega Man.)

So sprinting zombies hardly have a monopoly on the genre. They barely have a foothold. Even so, a lot of zombie enthusiasts are taking umbrage at these speedy corpses. George Romero understandably prefers his own shambling type, reasoning that rigor mortis would probably result in a slower zombie, though he has expressed his respect of Dawn 2004. Folks on message boards throughout the internet have been far less tactful. On the flip side, there are those who see running zombies as a welcome change from their slower brethren and the inevitable next step in the evolution of the zombie flick. What is so fundamental about a mere difference in speed that has people divided?

I’ve frequently said that the difference between the fast zombie and the slow zombie is the difference between terror and horror. The difference is subtle but important: “terror” is merely intense fear; “horror” is a combination of intense fear and revulsion.

Your casual horror fan will probably prefer the fast zombie. The fear it creates is much more visceral than its shambling counterpart. When something rushes at us with intent to feed, whether on screen or in real life, our limbic system initiates our bodies’ fight-or-flight response, pumping us full of adrenaline. It’s a similar feeling to the thrill we get from riding roller coasters. Unfortunately, it’s not very cerebral. It’s scary merely because it’s gonna eatcha.

The slow zombie, on the other hand, has a more cerebral effect. Its slow, shambling gait, clumsy movement, and vacant eyes are almost alien to us; we’re used to seeing human bodies imbued with intelligence and purposeful, or at least controlled, movement. Something human is clearly missing from slow zombies. The spark of life is gone. Even if we don’t grasp that at a conscious level, we realize it on a level higher than the primal instincts which give fast zombies their appeal. Fast zombies at least move like living things, even if the exposition tells us they have no pulse. Slow zombies move more like we would expect dead things to move if they were imbued with some monstrous animating force. In other words, slow zombies pull off the whole “dead” thing far more effectively.

Being more deadish makes slow zombies not only scary (still gonna eacha!) but repulsive. Death as a concept is anathema to thinking beings; as humans, we have a lot of psychological hang-ups about the phenomenon. Corpses make a lot of people really uncomfortable; moving corpses doubly so, since they blur a line we’d much rather have distinct. Now give one an appetite for living flesh, and you’ve got a recipe for true horror.

Slow zombies are clearly not as dangerous as their speedy counterparts. In countless flicks, the lone hero (or, frequently, heroine), having out-survived the other main characters, must make his or her way through a crowd of flesh-eaters in search of safety or help, often with little or nothing in the way of weapons. This would be impossible with fast zombies. But fast zombies, no matter how decomposed they might be, don’t invoke death as an abstract and they don’t effectively blur the line between cadaver and living creature. As a zombie fan, I can’t get enough of either. But as a sophisticated connoisseur of undeath, I’ll take horror over terror any Night, Dawn, or Day of the week.

Monday, August 7, 2006

TOP 7: Ways To Make The Dark Knight Better Than Batman Begins

It was announced last week that production on the sequel to Batman Begins, tentatively titled The Dark Knight, would begin this coming January. Along with the news that all major players from the first film would be returning (with the exception of those that died, and Katie Holmes), it was announced who had won the much-coveted role of The Joker.
Heath Ledger is officially signed on to take this role and let me tell you, I couldn’t be more excited. Until I saw Brothers Grimm and Brokeback Mountain I never would have pegged Ledger to be a legitimate actor. His performance in Brothers Grimm was innocent and understated; while in Brokeback Mountain he stole the show. The Joker will be an interesting role for him to take, one that’s vastly different than ANYTHING he’s ever done and as long as he doesn’t ape Jack Nicholson’s amusingly retarded interpretation of the character, I think he’ll be fantastic.
That said, Warner Bros. has an opportunity to make a movie that kicks even more ass than the first one. Batman Begins, to me, was near perfect. It had everything I’d ever wanted out of a Batman movie, nay, a Batman story. It was dark as hell yet still hopeful. It treated its material REALISTICALLY, which is more than I can say for Tim Burton and that other cunt.
Notice I said NEAR perfect, so that means there is still room for improvement and the following is a list of the top seven ways to make The Dark Knight as good as it can be:

1. Make It Darker; A Lot Darker: Batman Begins was dark not only figuratively, but literally as well, as Batman should be. The content of the story went to the dark and sticky parts of our psyche and explored more dysfunction than Superman, Spiderman or any other do-gooders ever would. With the Joker on board as the villain, you can go to places never seen in a superhero movie. I’m talking murderous rampages and elaborate pranks that always end up with someone dead. Just because this is a big budget Hollywood picture doesn’t mean you have to pull any punches. They didn’t with the first one, so why start now? Take into consideration the Alan Moore scribed Bat-tale, The Killing Joke. That’s how fucked up the Joker is.

2. NO KATIE HOLMES: The worst thing about Batman Begins was Katie Holmes, she stuck out like a sore thumb covered in day-glo orange feces. Having her acting along side some of the greatest and most consistently good actors of our time is a bit like Verne Troyer challenging Manute Bol to a slam-dunk contest. “Out of your league” doesn’t begin to describe it.

3. Love Interests Are Bullshit: Batman is, for the most part, a solitary guy with barely enough time to care about himself so why would he get involved with someone else? Between running a major corporation, being a millionaire playboy and gallivanting around town in a Halloween costume, the logistics of maintaining or even establishing a relationship just don’t make sense. When is he going to go on date? Before or after tying up bank robbers and jumping off of tall buildings? Batman chose to be Batman and he shouldn’t sacrifice that role for some hussy. I’m not saying there’s no room for a love interest in a Batman story, but just don’t toss someone in for the sake of having some T & A to throw onto the movie poster. If you absolutely have to have a love interest, do it well.

4. Introduce More Characters: Batman’s been in comics for the better part of a century now, he has, at last count, a jillion and one characters waiting to be brought to the fore front for movie glory. Talk about balls using Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul as your villains for the first one, two characters that though popular, are in no way the selling points that The Joker, The Penguin or Mr. Freeze could be. Harvey Dent has GOT to be in this movie. Not necessarily as Two-Face, but introducing his character and having him get close to Bruce Wayne (i.e. Batman: The Animated Series) will make a great set-up for the third Bat-movie. Speaking of set-ups, why not introduce Selina Kyle, the woman that eventually becomes Catwoman, as well? Hey a lady! That means love interest. (Also an opportunity for Warner Bros. to redeem themselves after that Halle Berry fronted piece of shit.) It wouldn’t be a bad idea to throw in a reference to the Grayson’s as well.

5. Keep The Gadgetry to a Minimum: The fault of the previous incarnations of Batman was that they made Batman into a superhero version of James Bond, with all kinds of doohickeys and what-who-zits. The Batmobile should have some modifications it would only make sense to adapt it to Batman’s ever growing needs. But turning it into a missile? Or tricking it out with Neon hubcaps? Why don’t you just throw some fucking spinners on his 24’s and a plasma screen on the back while you’re at it? Honestly though, we don’t need a Bat-Credit Card or Bat-Shark Spray or any of that Bat-Bullshit. Batman will have what’s useful, and only that.

6. Batman is established: We’ve done year one, got that figured out. Lets pick up a couple years into it and now he has a reputation in Gotham that he has to maintain. Lets also figure that this reputation is beginning to make Batman a little jaded, he’s being more aggressive and starting to lose it a little a bit. The lines between Bruce Wayne and Batman are starting to become a lot more blurred. He needs something to bring him out of it; he’ll need something to remind him why he became Batman in the first place. Nobody is perfect, especially Bruce Wayne. No one can be expected to throw on a costume every night and fight the bad guys. It’s got to be physically and emotionally taxing. Show us that! Show us Batman going nuts! (Here’s a suggestion: Batman beats the piss out of the Joker and instead of letting Batman go through with it, the Joker snaps his own neck. Now everyone thinks Batman killed a guy. That’s how you end the movie, that’s how you set up the third one. The people of Gotham will be claiming “Why do we need Batman?” The third movie can answer that question. Not only that but it would be a fucking sweet reference to The Dark Knight Returns.)

7. No Bat-Nipples: This one is self explanatory.

NOTE: I completely understand that the movie is already written and my advice means little, if anything, to the powers that be in Hollywood. But the glorious thing about the Internet is that I bitch and complain all I want in a vain attempt at reaching out to those who are completely and utterly out of my grasp. So here it is, my call for attention you fuckers.