Saturday, 29 September 2012

Osombie (2012)

With so many zombie films hitting screens over the last few years, to stand out from the crowd nowadays, you really need a gimmick. Rushed into production to cash in on the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of the US Military, Osombie has an intriguingly offbeat and poor taste premise, but the script, the actors and the special effects are not up to fleshing this out into an entertaining full length feature, and the end result is surprisingly boring.

The action kicks off with US Special Forces storming Bin Laden's secret hideout in Pakistan to capture or kill him, and coming up against a horde of walking corpses, a result of Bin Laden’s experiments with weird chemicals that bring the deceased back to life. He is shot dead, but one of the troops is bitten and starts to turn into a zombie on the helicopter ride home and in a moment of panic Bin Laden’s corpse falls in to the sea. Cut to another band of troops, a few months later, and this time in Afghanistan, trying to find the source of a spate of zombies springing up in the country. Can they stop the spread of the undead before it threatens the whole world? Moreover, is Bin Laden not as dead as it was thought?

The first major fault lies with the script, which fails to back up a great film pitch with a decent story or characters. The quest for somebody or something is one of the classic storytelling archetypes, so you would think that the hunt for the undead version of Osama Bin Laden surely has story telling potential, but the film takes up too much time with repetitive and grating scenes of the soldiers shooting zombies. These scenes are not scary or suspenseful, as a horde of zombies is usually a dozen at the most, and with them being out in the middle of the desert, the zombies can be seen from some distance, reducing the potential for sudden scares. Not that this stops the dumb gung-ho troops, who happily wade into close combat and then are amazed when they are bitten and infected. Moreover, as if the film has to fill some kind of cliché quota, we get a pointless training montage, and even a shot of somebody running in slow motion shouting "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO"

When they are not killing or being killed our heroes are badly delivering crappy jokes and dull dialogue, and when the director tries to switch gears and go for some emotional resonance, the lines are said in the same flat manner as the humour and exposition, and make just as little impact. The villains are just as cartoonish and two-dimensional as the soldiers are, all wearing the standard beard and turban uniform, and every other line of (subtitled) dialogue contains the words God, Allah or infidels.

Some poor quality effects compound the script and acting problems. CGI has become a useful tool for filmmakers to achieve results on screen that belie a low budget, such as in the recent Iron Sky, but here it is used to generate both blood and bullet squibs. Unfortunately, they are poorly rendered and rather obviously from a computer, which makes the constant use of a blood splatter on the 'camera lens' throughout the film, baffling and irritating.

The makeup is competent, nothing particularly new or innovative, just the typical contemporary movie zombie look. This seems to be in keeping with a wider desire by the makers to keep everything very familiar for fans of the genre, and much of the standard undead mythology is adhered to, such as a bite from a zombie causing infection, and needing a bullet in the head being to kill one.

Considering the title of the film, there is one character that is sorely underused, as the Osombie only really appears in the closing few minutes and on-screen or off, he presents nothing in the way of threat or menace. There is also a missed opportunity with some interesting symbolism that is never explored (maybe religious extremism is spreading like a virus?) and what could be a funny fake trailer or a South Park episode is badly stretched out to leave a horror-comedy lacking in scares or laughs.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

From the Archives: Dead Set (2008)

The walking dead have long been used as a way for writers and directors to make comments on contemporary society and culture, from Hammer's Plague of the Zombies (1966), with the exploited undead being forced to work the tin mines, to George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), where people rise from their graves – and head straight for the shopping mall. Dead Set, a five-episode television series that aired over consecutive nights on British satellite channel E4, uses its zombies to explore the reality television phenomenon. However, rather than doing this through clunky heavy-handed dialogue, the satirical elements are contained in some rather more subtle symbolism.

Read the full article at Classic Horror

Monday, 10 September 2012

God Told Me To (1976)

In New York City, a sniper opens fire on a dozen innocent victims; a police officer at the St Patrick's Day Parade guns down both members of the public and his colleagues; and in an apartment, a man calmly tells officers how he murdered his wife and young children. The thing that links all of these events is that each one of the perpetrators claims, "God told me to do it". With a premise like that what could possibly go wrong? Well, unfortunately, plenty, with writer/director Larry Cohen suffering an inability to develop a great idea into a fully fleshed out story.

"God Told Me To" was released in 1976, when the book "Chariot of the Gods?" was all the rage, and author Erich von Daniken theorising that many of the religious beliefs and ancient technological advances on planet Earth may have extra-terrestrial origins. Cohen throws plenty of similar ideas into the mixture, as he tries to link UFO abductions, virgin births, mind control, biblical sacrifice, and messianic androgynous aliens, but fails to tie them up into a completely coherent whole.

Given that the murders and their investigation are initially introduced as the factor driving the plot of the film, it is baffling how they are eventually forgotten about, and the reasons behind them never adequately explained. Vague allusions are made to the Biblical story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, and a possible link to the modern day God (or in this case, what appears to be some sort of malevolent extra-terrestrial being that his followers mistake for God) testing his followers by asking them to do terrible things. However, this does not really work in the context of the film, as, according to the book of Genesis, God also intervened at the last minute to save Isaac, and Abraham did not subsequently kill himself.

A couple of the individual scenes are memorable, with the St Patrick’s Day Parade shot with lots of shaky handheld camera work, giving a chaotic feel that mirrors the panic of the crowd. By contrast the interview with the man who has gunned down his family (an act we never actually see) is all the more creepy for the low key approach taken, as he coolly describes what happened, and justifies it with a beatific look on his face and a blissful tone to his voice.
However, these scenes, along with the other elements of the story, such as the mysterious long haired man and his seemingly virgin mother, are presented as though they are pieces of a puzzle that will ultimately add up to an answer, however obtuse, bizarre or vague, something which frustratingly never happens. Instead of resolving plot strands, Cohen opts instead for adding more and more, which does mean the constant flow of off-the-wall ideas and situations just about sustains interest until the end - just do not expect to have worked out what any of it was ultimately about or may have been trying to say.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

From The Archives: Maniac Cop (1988)

I think it is safe to say that by 1988, the slasher film had become a little tired and stale. It had been ten years since John Carpenter's Halloween had opened the cinematic floodgates; Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers were going through the motions in sequel after interchangeable sequel and even lesser efforts such as Sleepaway Camp were getting a second bite of the cherry. It was left to genre stalwarts Larry Cohen and William Lustig to breathe some life into it with Maniac Cop.

Read the full article at

Gideon of Scotland Yard (1958)

Gideon of Scotland Yard (aka Gideon’s Day) is an interesting oddity from director John Ford, with not a horse or cowboy in sight. The script from T.E.B Clarke (the man behind Ealing classics The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt) has no real plot, instead giving us a typical, if rather busy day in the life of Chief Inspector George Gideon. Our hero has to investigate a hit-and-run murder of a corrupt colleague, a bank robbery, a payroll theft, the intimidation of one of his underworld sources, and a psychotic sex killer.

By going with a series of sub-plots rather than a linear story or MacGuffin, none of the characters, situations or investigations are gone into in any depth, but the film moves along at such a pace that it never becomes boring, and the light-hearted tone makes it enjoyable to watch.

Gideon fulfils many typical fictional police officer tropes: he is gruff, but fair, utterly incorruptible, calm under pressure and unable to balance work and home life. He is not a Sherlock Holmes style detective, and with no baffling mysteries to solve, most of his crime fighting seems to consist of getting tips from informants or other officers and then persuading the criminals to give up. In one memorable scene, he calmly explains to one villain the consequences of his actions, while puffing on his pipe, seemingly oblivious to the gun pointed at his chest. Elsewhere he tells a group of bank robbers “Sorry to inform you, but we have the place surrounded, so come on out, gentlemen, and save us all trouble”. The other characters, such the put-upon but supportive wife, the Cock-err-nee informant and his gin-guzzling wife, and the wet-behind-the-ears constable are similarly two-dimensional and played broadly, and mostly for laughs, by the actors.

The most fascinating aspect of the film is the glimpse into the era of London, not much more than a decade after World War 2, when the UK still had capital punishment but did not yet have Rock and Roll. The world presented is one of affluence, at least from that we see of Gideon’s home life, and poverty, as represented by a huge swarm of urchins at a Church Boys Club. It is also in many ways a more innocent world that seems, at times, like a different planet from the cynical, knowing one that crime films and TV shows inhabit today and one that makes the idea of things such as police corruption or sexual murder even more shocking.

The only real mystery with Gideon of Scotland Yard is why John Ford made it, as the movie lacks his usual themes such as masculine identity, or the mythology of the United States. Competently put together, and enjoyable to watch, but is it so devoid of any distinct identity, it could be the work of any capable journeyman director.