Weekend Roundup - Horror bites

"It worked in the movie!"

To my shame I had never seen Dan O'Bannon's zombie comedy Return of the Living Dead, until now. As I mentioned in my review of World War Z, this kind of thing with the corpses staggering about and chewing on people is always kind of silly as a genre so a comedy works better than a straight horror, though I'm still a fan of Romero's original flesh eater trilogy with Dawn of the Dead taking top spot. It was interesting to discover why the phrase "Living Dead" is only used in the first of those films - this could have been a serious sequel by it's co-writer John Russo who retained the name rights and penned a follow up in novel form, though I think anyone who has seen his Anniversary cut of Night of the Living Dead is probably glad it never happened on screen. For me this serious stuff still is overshadowed by the total madness of Brain Dead though, where the total insanity of early Peter Jackson reigns and humour is laid on in broad strokes as blood covers every surface. This one falls firmly into that comedy splatter category.

Fun for the whole family

Yes, to my amusement this can by filed under none-more-80s style cheese and ham fests in the vein of Creep Show with similar style (over)acting, a few neat practical effects courtesy of puppeteers from Jim Henson's Creature Workshop, and a lot of silly characters including assorted teen punks, shady businessmen and a gun wielding mortician. The rock and synth music in the soundtrack fit perfectly and leave it as a product of it's time. Personally I found that it loses momentum towards the third act, as things become more like a standard siege movie and the goofy dialogue takes a back seat somewhat, but overall it's a likeable experience with plenty of obvious reasons it's got such a cult status. Though perhaps why the lasting pop culture mark it left is that idea about zombies eating brains is more of a mystery, I thought it comes off as a throwaway gag here. A fun time overall, although Brain Dead is still the king of the zombies.

On the theme of horror comedy, I also revisited a favourite of mine from the archives of Hong Kong cinema with Mr Vampire - a great blend of the usual martial arts stunts and humour you get in many of these, plus some of the weirdest vampire lore I can think of. Forget the garlic and the holy water, these are Chinese style bloodsuckers. They hop about on two legs because of rigor, and death also leaves them blind so you can hold your breath to avoid them finding you. They also have a strong dislike for certain kinds of rice... yeah I don't know either. It's just another take on the idea, and once things get moving it all fits with the tone perfectly.

Taoist priest come exorcist Lam Ching Ying (Prodigal Son) has to deal with physical and ghostly forms of the living dead with his two incompetent helpers and the local police captain hindering his efforts along the way. It's all played for laughs but retains some atmosphere as the reburial of his client's father goes awry and both father and son become long nailed creatures of the night. Did I forget to mention the finger nails? Yeah, they grow blue claws as well. There's less biting and more neck stabbing here. With a lot of spells and Eastern culture it shares many similarities with Sammo Hung's Spooky Encounters, and Tsui Hark's A Chinese Ghost Story. The latter is probably a stronger movie but for supernatural fun all of them are worth a look.