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ZOMBIE MOVIES: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE 2008
by Glenn Kay
Chicago Review Press
$22.95 US / $25.95 CAN
Some folks don't like to argue. They want and seek out like-minded people so conformist that they won't challenge the communal mindset.
Then there are people like me who LOVE to debate. I find it mentally stimulating to have my concepts challenged. It physically invigorates me (it makes my blood Boi-oil!) to either win a debate or be forced to shuffle off in ignorance, searching for "volumes of forgotten lore" to either admit defeat or return with a triumphant "Ah HA!"
For this reason I thoroughly enjoyed Glenn Kay's ZOMBIE MOVIES: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE.
Many zombie illumminaries assisted Kay in the making of this book and he graciously thanks Forrest J. Ackerman, Joe Bob Briggs, Antonella Fulci, Stuart Gordon, Rod Gudino, Greg Nicotero, Chris Roe, and Tom Savini just to name a few.
ZOMBIE MOVIES is quite educational for those interested in the form. He lays out the origins of the zombie mythos and who created it. He doesn't simply name cultures, people, or places, he names names! Most cool!
Movie after movie after movie down through the decades, ZOMBIE MOVIE is most thorough. Glenn and I agree on some of the worst that zombie movies have to offer, from VOO DOO DAWN to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 4 and 5 to the RESIDENT EVIL flicks. We part ways on the RE-ANIMATOR series. I feel Yuzna stayed true to the spirit of the first RE-ANIMATOR and made each one wilder and more debauched. I know a few director/writers who would have taken Paoli, Norris, and Gordon's creation and made the sequels more serious, with Herbert West becoming an ever more tragic figure, trying to invent the perfect serum (at least I've heard that from those who DIDN'T like Yuzna's direction). Herbert West isn't on the path to improving humanity or saving lives. According to Jeffrey Combs, "Herbert doesn't really like people."
And there you are. I can recognize that Glenn Kay is a true zombie fan like myself, but his opinion is different enough that we would have great conversations and roiling debates.
For example, Like so many fans of George Romero, I was really let down by LAND OF THE DEAD. I thought it a very naive social commentary where his three previous outings had been brilliant. Out of everyone in the movie, Cholo was the only character who seemed to have any realistic motivations. Worse, LAND betrayed the logic layed down by the first three. If the proof is in how fans like it, then the sales figures speak for themselves. Of the different LAND OF THE DEAD versions you can buy (Theatrical, Unrated, BLU-RAY, Director's Cut), the highest sales ranking it achieves is #4,905. DIARY OF THE DEAD ranks even lower at 5,859. Compare that with DAWN OF THE DEAD 2004 (which Romero doesn't like) at 1,104. The top selling versions of Romero's first three DEAD movies all rank higher in sales than his last two DEAD movies.
Yet like so many OTHER George Romero fans, Kay loved LAND. Kay doesn't get specific about why he likes it, instead painting broad strokes about LAND's social commentary regarding evil rich people at the top and the good poor people at the bottom. Oh, right! I've never seen or heard THAT commentary before! "Rich people bad! Poor people good!" If Karl Marx hadn't lived off of his family and connections and didn't have his elite social standing (he even married into royalty!), nobody would have ever paid attention to his dimwitted tome. Marx had his lean years but wrote his manifesto while he was living off of his big fat inheritance.
For a fact, Romero used LAND as an allegory for the Bush Administration, making the movie dated a scant three years later. Worse, Romero doesn't even have a low-level street thug's understanding of how a social system works. The people loaded to the gills with all of the weapons; protect the city with their firepower on a daily basis; go out on nightly forays, risking their lives to retrieve valuables from the outside the city walls; give all of it to the wealthy, and meekly accept whatever the "wealthy" decide to give back (it makes no sense at all). Romero plays this as Capitalism under a dictatorship, but to anyone who has actually read Karl Marx' Manifesto of the Communist Party, it plays out as a Communist economic system under a Socialist government: with the leaders dividing the spoils among the proletariat regardless of their contribution. Marx, in theory, got it all wrong. But those who put his theory into practice, quickly acknowledged the reality of the world. As Mao said, "Justice comes from the barrel of a gun." This is a universal truth that peacekeeper and lawbreaker, Capitalist and Communist understand. There was no reason in the world why the armed militia, loaded with all of the wealth and firepower in the city, would meekly capitulate to Dennis Hopper's character. Even more mind bogglingly stupid, was when Hopper, preparing to leave the zombie infested city, risks his life and wastes time trying to take as much money with him as possible. Into a world infested with the living dead? Where the hell did he expect to spend it? The idea of money even having value in the Salvage Society of Fiddler's Green was poorly thought out.
Kay thinks it's brilliant. I can understand his fanboy love for Romero, up until DIARY OF THE DEAD, I had it too. Unfortunately Kay's perception of Romero's brilliance, and what reality is, are two different things. And this becomes apparent in an interview Kay has with LAND OF THE DEAD actress, Jennifer Baxter.
Kay: "How did Romero direct you?"
Baxter: "He said "Action!" That was pretty much it.
Baxter goes on to say that there was no rehearsal either. When Kay discovers that Romero shot their scenes and added sound later, he asks,
Kay: "Did you do any voice work afterward, doing your own voice in postproduction?"
Kay: "It was someone else? That's weird."
Baxter: "I know."
At this point, Kay seems to be struggling, as if he feels he should defend Romero (the man hardly needs defending.*)
Kay: "Romero's movies are famous for having a political subtext. Did he ever mention any of these themes to you?"
Baxter: "No, it was only from what the script told us, in the sense that Dennis Hopper's character being the tyrant that he was, living in the rich world with all of the poor people placed outside of that world. But no, it was only from the script. Romero didn't really say, "Well, what I'm trying to get across is..." It wasn't like that."
Obviously this was not the Actor's Perspective of the Genius Director, Kay was going for. So he abruptly switches to questions regarding the enjoyment of working on a Romero movie. According to Baxter, Romero is very gracious to his actors and they seem to love him for it.
Awkward moment for Kay, but this is precisely what makes this book so good. Whether you agree or disagree with him, even if you strongly disagree, you know that Glenn is no outsider gawking in and attempting to comprehend the freaks. At the same time, Kay never drools with slavish fanboy devotion to each and every zombie movie regardless of merit. He has strong opinions about what he likes and doesn't and is usually direct about what worked and what didn't.
If some film school plans to offer a course on Zombie Movies, ZOMBIE MOVIES: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE, should be the text book. Glenn Kay sets the bar higher than any zombie book that has come before. The title says it all, this truly is the Ultimate Guide. Buy this, throw another corpse on the fire, and snuggle in your comfy crypt. You're among friends with ZOMBIE MOVIES.
This review copyright 2008 E.C.McMullen Jr.
|*No, George R. Romero doesn't need defending. If the man made nothing but Uwe Bolls^ movies for the rest of his life, is first three dead movies are a legacy that precious few movie directors will or have ever achieved. Still, Romero is a Patriarch of our Horror Thriller family and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was inspired by the writing of our Grand Patriarch, Richard Matheson. We can bicker about Romero's movie merits, but if any Merchant-Ivory or big studio types try and critically weigh in (Speilberg is exempt), it will be "To your graves O, Zombies!" And "Unleash the Werewolves of War" as we flood the Internet with Flames and go on a rightous Geekpage (which is like a Rampage only more pathetic)! This is family! We Horror and Zombie fans can debate about him, you can't.
So I totally understand why Glenn Kay would seek to defend Romero. This book might be casually perused by... Outsiders!
^That said, I don't think I'd ever try and defend Uwe Bolls.
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