Comedy

Dark Shadows (2012)

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I’ve accidently done two Johnny Depp films nearly in a row and looking at my DVD collection there are several more Depp horror films I have yet to do…

There is no mistaking Dark Shadows as anything but a Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride) film both visually and with the dark humour tinged with sadness, not to mention two of Burton’s go-to actors, Johnny Depp (From Hell, Sleepy Hollow) in the lead role as Barnabas Collins, an 18th century nobleman turned into a vampire and Helena Bonham Carter (Alice In Wonderland, The King’s Speech) as an orange haired Dr Hoffman.

Dark Shadows is set in 1972 in Collinsport, a small fishing town in Maine that was built by the Collins family two centuries earlier. Since building the town however, the Collins family has fallen on very hard times, primarily left with a crumbling mansion. It is to this sorry state that Barnabas Collins re-emerges after having been trapped buried in a coffin for two hundred years. Barnabas’s tale is rather a clichéd one; he falls in love with a woman, Josette Du Pres (Bella Heathcote, In Time) spurning his previous lover, Angelique Brouchard (Eva Green, Casino Royale). Unfortunately for Barnabas, Brouchard is a witch and curses the whole of the Collins family as punishment, killing both Du Pres and Barnabas’ parents and turning Banabas into a vampire.

The (alive) members of the Collins family are a strange bunch, reminding me slightly of The Munsters. There is the reclusive matriarch played convincingly by Michelle Pfeiffer (Scarface, What Lies Beneath), the rebellious teenager, the selfish womaniser, the strange boy who talks to his deceased mother’s ghost and a handful of odd staff including newcomer Victoria Winters who happens to be the splitting image of Du Pres.

The vampire aesthetic is clearly influenced by Nosferatu with the long spindly fingers, slightly pointed larger ears and above all the white makeup with very dark rings around the eyes. All of which makes it harder to question how people don’t figure out something is different with their long lost relative.  There is a lot of the usual vampire mythos featured in the film, however it is a bit inconsistent, one minute Barnabas burns when he goes in the sun, the next sunglasses and an umbrella are enough to shield him, then the next he catches fire in the sun but doesn’t realise it. As with all Burton’s films it is very clean with nothing out of place which lends Dark Shadows a storybook air which whilst visually appealing is hard to relate to. One of my favourite features of Dark Shadows is Barnabas’ reaction to life in the seventies with puzzlement rather than fear. I don’t know how I would react if I awoke in 2200!

I am not a huge fan of Tim Burton, I think he relies too much on style over substance and unfortunately Dark Shadows falls into that category. The storyline is pretty simple, however the dramatic finale throws in some curveballs that I feel complicate the plot rather than adding to it. I think the best way to describe Dark Shadows is as a solid film – I don’t think it is Depp’s best acting but neither is it his worst and it was not an unpleasant way to fill a few hours. One to watch if it is on TV or rent but not to buy unless you are a huge Tim Burton fan.

Rating: 3/5

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Fun Fact: Dark Shadows is loosely based on a 1970s soap opera of the same name (I’m assuming that is why it is set in the seventies) and all the original cast have cameos in the film.

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King Of The Zombies (1941)

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Finally a film from the 1940s! King of the Zombies tells the story of an unfortunate plane carrying Bill Summers (John Archer, Rodeo) and his manservant Jeff (Mantan Moreland, The Jade Mask) that has been blown off course by a storm. Luckily they follow a faint radio signal to a small Caribbean island. On the island they meet the eccentric Doctor Sangre, played by Henry Victor (Freaks, The Mummy) who lives on the island with his wife, who has seemingly had some sort of nervous breakdown and walks around in a trance, and her niece who clearly suspects the doctor of causing her Aunt’s condition. The film follows Summers and Jeff along with the pilot, James “Mac” McCarthy (Dick Purcell, Captain America – the original 1944 version) as they realise something is very wrong on the island only to discover that their only means of reaching the outside world – the plane’s radio – has been stolen. From the flirtatious kitchen maid we learn that the doctors uses zombies as servants (although for exactly what I’m not sure) which are reanimated corpses from voodoo magic. The maid, cook and butler seem completely nonplussed by the use of zombies, even preparing dinner to serve to them.

There is a lot of racial prejudice in the film that watching in today’s time is very uncomfortable. For example, when pouring brandy for his visitors when Jeff (the black manservant) reaches for a glass it is quickly removed. Whilst this is an obvious act there is a far more pervasive undercurrent of white supremacy running throughout the film which is often seen in other films, such as the startlingly similar White Zombie. Indeed, Jeff’s entire character would probably not be seen in modern films. Having mentioned the similarity to White Zombie, it is impossible not to compare Victor’s Dr Sangre to Lugosi’s Legendre nearly a decade before, indeed the part was originally written for Bela Lugosi. Unfortunately with this comparison Sangre appears a pale imitation, lacking the dramatic flair and overwhelming presence of Lugosi.

In my mind there are too many plot lines in King of the Zombies meaning that nothing really stands out. For example, the type of zombies in King of the Zombies is very confused. At first it is a simple voodoo-reanimated-corpse that slowly shuffles around and suddenly appears at the sound of a clap, however, as the film progresses the idea of hypnotism gets bandied about. It transpires that Dr Sangre has hypnotised his wife which explains her zombie-like state although she herself isn’t a zombie. The addition of the hypnosis storyline really confuses the voodoo aspect (to me at least). There is also an unspoken Nazi theme running through the film, Dr Sangre has a German accent and speaks German on his hidden radio, although again this is never fully explored which is a shame, possibly as it would make marketing and distributing the film much harder.

An interesting but slightly confused film to watch, at slightly over an hour long (67 minutes to be exact) King of the Zombies is a good watch for when you are in the mood to watch something short but don’t want all the baggage that comes along with a series.

Rating: 3/5

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Jennifer’s Body (2009)

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Jennifer’s Body is a dark horror comedy narrated by and starring Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Mamma Mia!) as Needy. When we first meet Needy she is locked in a high security mental institution and is clearly several sandwiches short of a picnic but on hearing how she landed in there her attitude is a lot easier to understand.

In the small US town of Devil’s Kettle (named after a waterfall with no bottom) Needy is a quiet nerdy teenage girl. Needy’s best friend is Jennifer, played by Megan Fox (Transformers) and she is the complete opposite, popular, outgoing and a cheerleader. It is very hard to see why the two are friends as they have very little in common and frankly Jennifer is a bitch, this sentiment is shared by Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons, The Perks of being a Wallflower) but being a bit wet himself he puts up with it.

Things start to go wrong for the girls when they go to see Low Shoulder play, a “city” indie band trying to make it big. A horrific fire breaks out in the bar killing several townspeople (there appears to be no fire safety measures like fire exits, alarms or extinguishers). The girls manage to escape unharmed but Jennifer leaves with the band who sacrifice her to the devil in order to get fame and fortune. Whilst the ritual goes as expected there is an unforeseen circumstance, because Jennifer was not a virgin she does not die but rather becomes a succubus, a woman who needs to consume human flesh to survive.

The characters in Jennifer’s Body are pretty one dimensional and mostly unlikeable, you don’t find yourself rooting either for or against Jennifer. The difference between Jennifer before and after her transformation isn’t obvious so it is easy to see how nobody but her best friend has noticed. What is less unclear is how she wasn’t caught after the first dead body turned up, surely there were enough DNA/finger prints/teeth impressions to point to her but nobody except Needy even suspects her.

Jennifer’s Body is a pretty entertaining film to watch, especially if you don’t want anything too taxing. The supernatural storyline sets it apart from the usual teen horror film which is inevitably a serial killer (e.g. Scream) but I feel director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) could have taken it up another level, especially with such a star-studded cast. A lot of the scenes have a really strong visual look, especially the finale in a derelict swimming pool but makes little sense (why is the pool still full of water and not properly decommissioned? How long has it been there is there are now plants growing in the pool?)

Rating: 3/5

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Fun Fact: If you do watch Jennifer’s Body don’t forget to watch the credits to see what happens to Low Shoulder after their foray into the occult…

Black Sheep (2006)

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Black Sheep is set in the idyllic countryside on a sheep farm in New Zealand featuring a farmer and his sons Henry and Angus Oldfield. Things soon turn nasty as Angus, jealous of his younger brother kills Henry’s pet sheep before tormenting him with the sheep’s still bloody skull. Moments after the boys then learn that their father has died in an unspecific farm accident. The film then fast forwards fifteen years and we again meet up with Henry, now an adult played by Nathan Meister (Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin), as he returns to his home farm. The incident witnessed at the opening of the film has left Henry with a pathological fear of sheep, something that is a large issue when visiting a sheep farm! Indeed, the first shot of the older Henry is him cowering in the back of a taxi surrounded by a flock of sheep. The older Angus, played by Peter Feeney (30 Days of Night) is still the same piece of work that scared his younger brother wearing a sheep’s head and is now running a laboratory experimenting on genetically modified sheep.

One of the genetically modified lambs, or rather sheep embryo in a test tube, is released by two hapless animal rights campaigners, Grant (Oliver Driver) and Experience (Danielle Mason), which subsequently attacks Grant before moving onto the field of sheep nearby. Unfortunately for Grant it appears that the ‘mad sheep disease’ is not only communicable between sheep but also to humans, turning the human victim into a sheep. Living alongside Angus on the farm is Mrs Mac, who incidentally is the person who shares the bad news of their father’s death with the boys in the first scene, and Tucker (Tammy Davis). Whilst showing Henry the farm, Tucker and Henry come across Experience and with her the infected sheep. The film then follows the three of them as they battle the genetically modified sheep and search for a solution to the spreading problem.

As with all comedy films there are a number of unrealistic scenes (putting aside the premise of killer sheep), including a sheep driving a pick-up truck over the edge of a cliff and a scientist being attacked by sheep next to the offal pit where they dispose of the remains of their experiments. I think sheep lend themselves very well to this premise with their blank staring eyes meaning it is very hard to tell which sheep is infected and which is not until it attacks. The undeniable stars of the show are the demonic sheep, particularly the evil lamb that is responsible for the outbreak, created by Weta workshop who shot to fame after producing the special effects for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Black Sheep is a satisfying romp around the New Zealand countryside providing just the right balance of gore, laughs and plot. The one negative to this film is their representation of scientists as megalomaniacal psychopaths with no respect for either animal or human life. On the other hand, the writer and director Jonathan King (Under the Mountain, The Tattoist) is equally scathing of the animal rights protestors, portraying them as deluded hippies who spout long rhetoric spiels at the drop of a hat and carry around geranium candles to ‘balance their hormones’ so it is clear that King takes neither view particularly seriously. I definitely enjoyed Black Sheep and was surprised at the level of realism in the sheep (I was expecting something along the lines of The Deadly Bees.

Fun Fact: The scientific word for a phobia of sheep is ovinaphobia.

Boy Eats Girl (2005)

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Boy Eats Girl is a zombie rom-com in the same vein as Shaun of the Dead which was released the year before. It follows the usual outline of  (non-zombie) romantic comedies; boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, problem appears (in this case the undead), boy and girl solve problem and live happily ever after. It was funded by the Irish film board in association with Isle of Man films and filmed in Ireland.

There is a host of the expected characters – including the school slag, the bully and the best friend comedy duo. As with all good low budget horror films, there features the creepy old man (C.O.M) who knows more than he lets on and has the solution to the zombie epidemic spreading through the local high school. In Boy Eats Girl, the C.O.M is a priest played by Laylor Roddy who continues to pop up at helpful times to drive the plot forwards.

The film focusses on teenager Nathan, played by David Leon (Alexander, Vera) who, after confessing his love to Jessica, played by Samantha Mumba (of early 2000’s pop fame) accidently dies and is reanimated by his single mother Grace (Deirdre O’Kane) using voodoo magic that she helpfully discovered in a secret room of the local church the day before.

Soon Nathan begins to feel a hunger that cannot be sated and at the end of term disco bites the school bully who in turn becomes a zombie infecting –and eating – more fellow classmates and teachers.

Unlike the rest of the flesh-eating contingent, Nathan manages to keep his human sensibilities (with the explanation that he was the first reanimated) and with the help of Jessica and a tractor manages to fend off their undead classmates and retreat to a handy barn which they then set fire to in order to kill the remaining zombies.In the meantime the ever helpful C.O.M has popped back up and told Grace the cure to her sons’ affliction (snake venom, continuing the ‘voodoo’ theme). With a cure, it is possible for the traditional happy ending to take place, leading this film more into the rom-com category rather than the zombie apocalypse category.

The special effects throughout the film are very low budget and charming in a naïve way, at one point it appears that a bucket of offal is thrown across the screen. The film is rated 18, and was banned on release in by the Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) due to the depiction of suicide. Indeed, the aforementioned scene is the only reason I can think of the 18 rating as it is not particularly gory nor is there any nudity or use of the c-word.

Overall, this film, whilst unoriginal is a fine little foray into the zom-rom-com genre with the low budget special effects adding rather than subtracting from the charm. If you are looking for a gritty end of the world zombie film (similar to 28 Days Later) I would not recommend this film as it is more a rom-com with added zombies rather than a zombie apocalypse film. However, if Shaun of the dead or comedy horror is what you are looking for this film is well worth a watch.