Weekend Roundup - Horror bites

"It worked in the movie!"

For whatever reason Dan O'Bannon's zombie comedy Return of the Living Dead feels like something that gets overlooked these days in comparison to more stoic horror features. But as I've probably mentioned in past reviews this kind of thing with the corpses staggering about and chewing on people is always kind of silly as a genre. Sometimes a comedy works just better than a straight horror, though I'm still a big fan of Romero's original flesh eater trilogy with Dawn of the Dead taking top spot.

It's interesting to note why the phrase 'Living Dead' is only used in the title of the one of those films - once this could have been a serious sequel to that first entry. It was co-writer John Russo who retained those 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 all this super serious stuff still is overshadowed by the total madness of something like Braindead, 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

To my frequent amusement this can by filed under none-more-80s style cheese and ham fests like Creepshow with a similar style of (over)acting. It has 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 also leaves it as a product of it's time, but it fits perfectly with the tone.

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. There are plenty of obvious reasons why it's got such a cult status. Though why the lasting pop culture mark it left is that one random idea about zombies eating brains is more of a mystery. I thought it comes off as a throwaway gag here, and people being eaten entirely is something that gets featured far more in these kind of stories. Overall it's just a fun time though other films remain 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. It's 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 as they can find you by smell for some reason. 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 though I guess, and once things get moving it all fits with the tone perfectly.

A Taoist priest come exorcist (Lam Ching Ying) has to deal with physical and ghostly forms of the living dead here, 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 that other vampire attribute? They grow blue claws too during the process. There's less biting and a lot 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 overal but for supernatural fun all of them are well worth a look.