Archives for posts with tag: Dawn of the Dead

Cannibal Mercenary

Mercenary aka Cannibal Mercenary (1983) ****

This Thai film, titled to capitalize on the success of then-recent Italian gut-munching horrors Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981), finds a ragtag team of sleazy and mentally damaged mercenaries venturing into VC-infested territory to assassinate a drug kingpin who commands an army of “Draculas”, cannibal tribesmen sort of like Indochinese hillbillies.

Clearly inspired by Apocalypse Now (1979), Mercenary opens with post-traumatic battle flashbacks intermingled with a shot of a ceiling fan like the one that transfixes Martin Sheen. After a little hokey, English-dubbed melodrama to set the plot in motion, Mercenary gets down to business – and brutal, nasty business it is, with the outnumbered protagonists encountering the Viet Cong, quicksand, booby traps, and (speaking of booby traps) a treacherous, manipulative jungle bitch who threatens the cohesiveness of the group.

Idiosyncratically edited, Mercenary has scenes of high-stress, noisy, tension-ratcheting quick cuts that appear to be designed to strain the viewer’s nerves to the breaking point, such as when a henchman threatens to waste a whining kid and initiates a death countdown. Standout imagery includes a beheading, eye-gouging, maggot-eating, face-urinating, a skull being split open by a spike, and subsequent hungry brain-gobbling. Horror watchers will also enjoy the tacky, uncredited appropriation of Goblin’s music from Dawn of the Dead (1978). Recommended to cannibal movie videovores and other perverts, who, however, should not get their hopes up about seeing the pictured Aryan super soldier spring into battle, as no such figure appears in Mercenary, an all-Asian affair, alas.

4 out of 5 stars.

Devastator

The Devastator (1986) ****

Directed by low-budget action specialist Cirio H. Santiago, a master of what Joe Bob Briggs has termed the “exploding bamboo” subgenre, The Devastator is yet another generic 80s ‘Nam vet vigilante movie – or, in other words, a classic! Richard Hill, better known for playing the title part in Deathstalker (1983), stars as Deacon Porter, a vet who just wants to get on with his life, but finds himself thrust back into the fray when his old commanding officer is murdered. In the rural California community of King’s Ransom, drug lord Carey (Crofton Hardester) rules his roost with a hell-raising paramilitary force and even has the sheriff (Kaz Garas) on his payroll. When Deacon and a few of his ex-soldier buddies assemble in town, however, Carey’s days of 80s drug tyranny are numbered.

Not much in the way of plot, The Devastator is primarily wall-to-wall action – largely set to chintzy synthesizer music – with some truly impressive stunt work along the way. The most fun, however, is probably to be had from Deacon’s burly compatriot Ox (Jack Daniels!), a growling party animal who greets his old teammate by punching a hole through his door (!) and who clearly delights in over-the-top mayhem for the kicks. The villain has a healthy, thriving marijuana field, which, when Ox assaults it and sets it on fire, results in an even more humongous marijuana holocaust than the one in Up in Smoke (1978) – that, and a funny variation on Duvall’s famous line from Apocalypse Now (1979), with Ox taking big, deep breaths of the stuff and exulting like some victorious barbarian.

Rock-jawed Hill is only so-so in the charisma department, but with his muscular build the actor definitely has the look of the all-American action hero. Jack Daniels, as noted, is quite the hoot as Ox, while foxy item Katt Shea, who co-stars as Hill’s love interest, spunky gas pump attendant Audrey, would go on shortly after The Devastator to become a director of some note, creating stylish thrillers like Stripped to Kill (1987) and Streets (1990). The Devastator would make a perfect double feature with funky Gary Busey actioner Eye of the Tiger (1986), an entry to which this programmer bears a thematic resemblance. 

4 stars. Check it out!

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A cute horror romance aimed at silly girls and daters, Warm Bodies imagines a post-apocalyptic America in which the last living people have barricaded themselves behind high walls against the teeming zombie hordes outside.  As in Rhodesia, manpower is precious and young people are expected to contribute to national/species security by serving in paramilitary units that go on foraging missions beyond the walls.  Grigio (John Malkovich), leader of the human resistance, even sends his own daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend (Dave Franco) on an assignment to retrieve medicine from an abandoned clinic.  Their group, unfortunately, is attacked, with most of them being eaten by zombies; but, to her surprise, one unusually sympathetic corpse named R (Nicholas Hoult) takes pity on Julie and helps her escape from the horde.  The forbidden attachment formed between Julie and R (which, one assumes, stands for Romeo) sets in motion a Montague-Capulet dynamic, complete with balcony scene, with the pair of pulse-crossed lovers lost in a conflict of attrition between the seemingly irreconcilable biological imperatives of the dwindling living on one side and their eaters, the dead, on the other.

Why people became zombies in the first place is never made clear, though it seems to have had something to do with a collective abdication of the heart.  The dead, who preserve themselves by eating brains, decompose gradually, losing their humanity until, reduced to feral skeletons or “bonies”, they pounce like velociraptors on any heart that beats.  Hunger, whether for flesh or love, is one of the themes of Warm Bodies and finds its expression in a favorite song of Julie’s, Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”.  The gaunt appearance of the end stage of zombification suggests that privation, whether literal or emotional, may be a cause of the plague.  R has no memory of his life, but assumes that because he was wearing a hoodie, he may have been unemployed.  The superior standard of living enjoyed by Grigio and the humans suggests that the human-zombie conflict may be one of haves and have-nots, an interpretation reinforced by R’s theft of Julie’s boyfriend’s expensive watch.  An expository montage introduces a possible political element by flashing the headline “President Infected”, indicating that Obama, whatever his role, is somehow a party to the plague – perhaps through his promotion of conventional and class warfare? – or maybe just another all-too-human victim of whatever human frailties are to blame.

As the shufflers in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead congregated around a shopping mall, pointing to consumer culture as the zombifying agent, the zombies in Warm Bodies gather in and around an airport, possibly invoking 9/11 as the traumatic cultural cataclysm.  One of the corpses, a former airport security guard, continues robotically waving a body screener, unable to extract himself from the War on Terror’s police state mentality.  If George Bush is to blame for the zombie plague, then the antidote, Warm Bodies may be naively hinting, is a detoxification in the form of love and transnational brotherhood to rid the body politic of the selective xenophobia standardized as America’s foreign policy.  Whatever its intentions, Warm Bodies need not be taken too seriously, as it functions just fine as a funny and involving zombie romcom.

4 out of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Warm Bodies is:

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

8. Drug-ambivalent.  Prozac receives a sarcastic reference when the abandoned clinic is found to be stocked with it, perhaps indicating that too much medication has contributed to the allegorical zombification and societal disconnect and collapse.  Julie, however, is fond of liquor.

7. Gun-ambivalent.  Julie frowns on her father’s macho and, to her mind, closed-minded reliance on firepower, but also uses a gun to defend herself from the bonies.

6. Anti-family.  Parricide is in one instance a necessary act of self-defense.  Julie has to defy her father at every turn to save her love and facilitate a peace.

5. Bi-partisan.  The film encourages compromise, characterizing both the militaristic nationalism of Grigio and the soullessness of the bonies as bigoted, extreme, and destructive.  Warm Bodies invites the moderate elements of both sides to recognize the humanity in those across the aisle.  This process is vindicated when a pack of hungry zombies, witnessing Julie and R’s affection, feel stirrings of warmth within themselves and eventually join the humans against the bonies, who, however, are never allowed to redeem themselves and must be exterminated.

4. Antiwar.  Grigio’s shoot-to-kill policy toward the zombies makes peace and reconciliation impossible and almost results in R’s real death.

3. Moderately egalitarian.  Medical treatment provided by living humans – Ozombicare, if you will – helps to rehabilitate and integrate the salvageable elements of the zombie population.  They are then allowed to mix freely with the normal humans.  The bonies, however, represent the degradation and savagery, expressing itself in cannibalism, to which redistribution of wealth in its extremities of implementation is prone.

2. Pro-miscegenation/anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  Apart from the human-zombie romance at the story’s heart, there is the recurring appearance of a zombie black boy and white girl pair who parallel Julie and R’s discovery of interspecies amour.  “Corpse”, Julie explains to her girlfriend Nora (sexy but underutilized Analeigh Tipton) is just a word humans invented to label a state of being they fail to understand.

1. Alien-delugist.  Apart from the automatic association of a border wall with America’s illegal immigration problem, the alien element of the zombie horde is made explicit by the inclusion of one corpse wearing a turban.  The biological regeneration of R and other zombies, Warm Bodies suggests, demonstrates that foreign undesirables can be successfully assimilated and refashioned into productive Americans.  The film ends with the great border barrier crumbling to the ground, presumably under the weight of its crotchety old hatefulness, so as to usher in the rainbow-riding Age of Amexiquarius.

Ang Lee’s film of Life of Pi is a special effects spectacle and pantheistic allegory about human diversity and coexistence in a multicultural society.  When Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) escapes from a sinking ship and finds himself alone in a boat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger named Richard Parker, he is horrified to see the animals fight and devour each other until only he and the vicious Parker are left.  He finds himself, in other words, in the unenviable situation of witnessing the symbolized civil strife and disintegration of mutually resentful and belligerent ethnic groups forced to share a cramped piece of real estate.

In George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a scientist suggests that the hordes of cannibalistic zombies taking over Pittsburgh might be pacified by a food program.  The film’s audience understands that the man is losing his mind, but Life of Pi takes his idea and runs with it.  Presented with the options of either trying to kill Parker, being eaten by him, or attempting to coexist peacefully on the boat, Pi opts for the latter and does his best to domesticate and placate the boat’s savage and carnivorous demographic by feeding it fish.  He has, in short, opted to implement a floating microcosm of the Great Society.

A visit to an island teeming with identical meerkats demonstrates the danger of a racially homogenous society.  Everything appears to be dandy on the utopian island until night falls, when the place itself turns carnivorous and secretes toxic chemicals, so that the whole island constitutes a gigantic Venus flytrap.  Take note, America.  If not for all of the minorities in your midst, you, too, would soon fall prey to a venomous meerkat conformity.  Note that a group of meerkats is, according to Wikipedia, termed a “clan” (i.e., Klan).  Pi indicates the role reserved for racially pure majorities in his Great Society when, on embarking from the island, he takes several meerkats along to feed Richard Parker.

3.5 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Life of Pi is:

6. Green.  Pi loves animals and apologizes to a dazed fish after he beats it in the head to subdue it, imagining it to be an incarnation of God.  The sinister island of (white) anti-diversity pollutes itself with chemicals as well as intolerant delusion.

5. Anti-Christian.  Pi feeds Parker fish, indicating that Christians are expendable and fair game for processing as Soylent Green in maintaining the multiethnic peace.  They are, if not thrown to the lion, to be thrown to the tiger.

4. Pro-family.  Pi’s family is loving and he is sorry to lose them at sea.

3. Multiculturalist.  The story is framed when a directionless, unshaven white guy (Rafe Spall) comes to enlightened Indian Pi (played as an adult by Irrfan Khan) hoping to be inspired with faith.  Pi, in addition to being spiritually attuned, is a mathematical genius and polyglot.  Mexicans come to Pi’s aid when he washes up on their beach.  The desirability of racial homogeneity, the film suggests, is a poisonous illusion.  Grande Utopie Sovietique et Progressif defector Gerard Depardieu has a cameo as a grumpy and probably racist cook who, disrespectful of the exotic religious and culinary views of Pi’s vegetarian mother (Tabu),  insensitively slops murderous gravy onto her plate.  Meerkats, like fish, are expendable.

2. Egalitarian.  Feeding the tiger gives Pi’s life meaning.

1. New Age.  Pantheist Pi, who considers himself a Christian and a Muslim in addition to (and as a function of) being a Hindu, thanks Vishnu for introducing him to Jesus.  Karma is God’s way, he says.  In his present-day life as a college professor, he teaches a Kabbala class.

Mutant aka Night Shadows (1984) ****1/2  I’ve always remembered the one-word review of Mutant in Mick Martin and Marsha Porter’s hateful old Video Movie Guide.  “Idiocy” is all it said.  Far from making me shy away from the reputedly rotten film, however, the condescendingly curt review only made me more curious about it.  I’ll confess to having been somewhat disappointed with Mutant the first time I saw it; but, having subsequently become a full initiate into the fun that is Wings Hauser appreciation, I’ve changed my mind as Mutant has grown on me with age.  My initial response to Mutant was largely a problem of false expectations.  Whereas I went into it wanting another Dawn of the Dead, Mutant is far less ambitious in action, scope, gore effects, and substance, and functions primarily as an eccentric Wings Hauser vehicle.  The plot, which has Hauser and tippling lawman Bo Hopkins running afoul of toxic rural zombies, is a total blast.  Don’t expect a Romero-style cannibal zombie epic, though.  This is all about the Wings Hauser experience.

Nightmare at Noon aka Death Street USA (1987) ****  Vacationing lawyer Hauser and ex-cop Hopkins are joined by sheriff George Kennedy, again up against a small town full of toxic zombies.  Hauser plays a considerably less likable character than usual, and Hopkins emerges as the genuine badass in this one.  Kennedy is priceless, convincingly selling his character’s reluctant zombification, and low-key villainy courtesy of 80s-90s VHS action stalwart Brion James doesn’t hurt the movie at all.  There’s really no way not to have a good time with such a stellar B-movie ensemble working for Nico Mastorakis, the producer/director who brought us the unsung horror winners The Zero Boys and Grandmother’s House.

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