Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Day #7 Coffin Joe takes me to Zombieland

Day #7 and still rolling along strong. Tuesday is $6 day at the movies so we took in the latest craze...

D. Ruban Fleischer

Sony/ Columbia Pictures

I really didn't want to like this movie. The trailers put me off of this like two week past the expiration date milk. Those trailers pretty much exemplified everything I hate in modern movies and the current horror genre in general. They were like a love letter to the current A.D.D generation that have grown up on video games and an MTV that refuses to actually play music videos anymore. A horror comedy that was catering to the mall crowd with ready-made action that would lead them out of the theaters and right into Hot Topic where than can buy the ZOMBIELAND mugs, T-shirts, soundtracks, video games and pooper scoopers. (To be fair, EVERY horror movie is now over marketed like this though). A trailer full of witty one liners, movie references, older rock music that is now hip, and a kid that needs to give Michael Cera back his DNA, right now! So yeah, it is pretty clear I was not thrilled with the trailers for this movie (get me rolling about the trailers for JENNIFER'S BODY sometime if you think I'm being hard on this one!). My friends kept saying I was getting on my high horse about it, that it looked fun. My girlfriend wanted to see it, so I gave in, because I'm a big softy like that. Besides, it IS Halloween season and a horror movie in the theater is still worth seeing.

So I parked my high horse near the front row, preventing several teenagers from seeing the screen - giving me much satisfaction - and settled in to watch the movie. From the first image on screen I was feeling like my worst fears were justified. The zombie who looks into someone's video camera and belches made me feel like I was gonna be in for a ride that I was going to have to endure instead of enjoy. Then Jesse Eisenberg (from here on out I will call him by his proper on set name Michael Cera II) starts narrating the movie and giving us the "rules" on how to survive the zombie apocalypse. Which I guess are new news to most movie goers, but are old hat to most horror fans who read the ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE (which I thought was a kinda lame one joke premise anyway) with the entire chapter of "General Rules" being played out here (find it and start reading on page 95 for a comparison). He survives some skirmishes before meeting up with Woody Harrelson, and they call each other by city names instead of real names to avoid emotional contact. They bicker, scavenge, look for Twinkies and kill zombies for fun. Eventually they come across two sisters (the young Abigail Breslin and they incredibly gorgeous Emma Stone, my god those eyes!!!) who are running scams to get their way across country to an amusement park that the youngest girl is convinced has no zombies.

Most fans online are saying that the first half hour of this movie is brilliant, action packed and some of the best horror comedy made yet. Then they are claiming it bogs down, gets slow, boring, turns into a teenage romance, abandons the zombies and loses focus before ramping back up in the final reel. I had the exact opposite reaction. I pretty much disliked the first twenty to thirty minutes. I found them to be trite, obnoxious, hollow and in-your-face while wallowing in self-importance and cleverness (which, as I've said, isn't even come by honestly). There are also so many product plugs and placements that it becomes maddening. For the end of the world, there sure is a lot of talk of Hostess cakes, Mountain Dew (Code Red no less!), various fire arms and lots of cars. But around the end of the first act there is a flashback to Michael Cera II's past and how he was first introduced to the zombie situation that is really great. It gives a nice insight into his character's life, his family, how he lived, AND has something legitimate to say about how society lives these days. The scene sets the bar a good deal higher than the film had been for the preceding several reels by throwing something into the mix that had been sorely missing up to that point: humanity. So while a lot of fans and audiences are bemoaning that the movie slows down at this point, I actually LOVED that it became about more than action set pieces that felt like watching other people play video games. (in fact who wants to wager on how long until the ZOMBIELAND video game hits the streets?) The dynamic between the leads daringly becomes the focus and heart of the movie, and dammit if it doesn't work.

So when the action does finally pick up in the last reel, it doesn't feel nearly as hollow or forced as it did in the first part. Granted there is no pathos to it. You know no one is going to die. This isn't that kind of movie (I mean come on, did I really just spoil anything for anyone out there? Really? Okay I heard the actual Michael Cera killed his agent for making him pass on this role because it was such a huge hit this weekend!) So it is the character dynamic that needs to be enjoyed, at least for me. Unless you just want to watch zombies get their heads bashed in, but I guess it has lots of that too. So ultimately ZOMBIELAND is way better than it has any right to be. I suppose I shouldn't always judge a movie by its hipster trailer.

D. Jose Mojica Marins aka Coffin Joe

20th Century Fox(!!!) - Unreleased


After nearly three decades in hibernation from the director's chair, Coffin Joe returns to the horror scene with the blood-drenched horror tale that is sure to raise hackles if it ever gets a real release stateside. It is also the third movie in the trilogy that began with the films AT MIDNIGHT I WILL TAKE YOUR SOUL and AT MIDNIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE featuring Marins as the penultimate character of Coffin Joe, an evil gravedigger who doesn't believe in god, morals, or good and evil. Just in the flesh and what he can prove in the here and now. Humans are of no value to him unless he gets immediate pleasure or usefulness out of them. In all three films he is in search of the ultimate woman of superior intellect and breeding to bear him a son and continue his bloodline. Naturally he failed in the first two films.

Here, the film opens forty years later with him being released from prison after serving for all the murders he committed in the previous films. He is being released much to the consternation of the prison officials and police in San Paulo. His hunch back assistant Bruno and several nearly sub-human worshipers await him on the outside and waste no time getting back down to business. He may be in his seventies but he has not slowed down with the need to get laid and to kill! Meanwhile the corrupt cops in the small town are killing the poor locals, the criminals are running extortion schemes, and the priests are closet masochists who hook up electrodes to their nipples for self-abuse purposes. Seems only the town witches and whores are close being honest. Joe finds a beautiful atheist writer who openly gives herself to him for his purposes, and he puts through one of his horrific and painful tests to make sure she is worthy of his offspring: making her eat the flesh of her own buttock. Which she does greedily to prove her prowess. Still, he has his servants kidnap about a half dozen other women from the town to torture and impregnate for good measure. He also catches the local cops beating on his crippled assistant Bruno at one point, leading them to horrors and suffering they could have never dreamed of.

The narrative of EMBODIMENT OF EVIL should be rather simple, but somehow it gets really messy rather quickly. Several plot threads get raised, then forgotten, then pop back up almost at the end of the film. There is this business of Joe being tormented by the ghosts of those he has killed in the past films. It sort of plays into the movie, but awkwardly at best. And when the climax hits, that plot strand pays off in a way that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Really, it is kind of a mess in a lot of ways because what you are left with is a movie of images and nightmares. Thankfully those are the things that Jose Mojica Marins has always done best and he's still in top form here. There is a long trippy sequence where he ends up in purgatory, guided by an old man who shows him the pits of hell below him (not represented by lakes of fire, but instead by landscapes of sand and desert, filled with tortured souls and lakes of blood) which is simply stunning. Preceding that is a moment where he fucks one of the women while corpses above them rain blood upon them until the room becomes an ocean of blood and literally buries them both. Another great scene has Joe cutting open a dead pig and a nude Asian woman emerges that he embraces and kisses. Then there are the vile torture scenes. Scenes that do not owe their power to the SAW/HOSTEL school of film-making since Marins has been doing stuff like this since the sixties. The usual spiders, bugs and other creepy crawlies make appearances, but this time he dowses a woman in molten cheese and has a hungry rat chew into her exposed vagina! People are dunked in vats of blood and guts, crucified, whipped and pierced and hung from the ceiling. A lot of the piercing in the film appears to be for real as well, using actual body modifiers, a practice that once again, Marins started using back in his old B/W films in the sixties. Except back then they were circus performers and geeks.

Which brings me to the question; How and why did 20th Century Fox pick this film up for release? There is no way in hell it can ever get an R rating! Even though it was passed uncut in the U.K. (which mystifies me because almost all of the violence is sexually tinged. Not rape, mind you, but with a healthy does of S+M involved which used to be a BIG no no in the UK). This is about as far from studio safe horror fair as you can possibly get. It's gory, brutal, ugly, anti-religion, anti-government, anti-establishment, and last but not least, NOT in English. You cannot convince me that Fox has any real interest in releasing this, at least not theatrically. Boy, I'd love to be a fly on the wall at the MPAA screening though.

This was co-written by Dennison Ramalho, who directed the short film LOVE FOR MOTHER ONLY (which is on the Synapse DVD SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA) which is excellent. He also directed the second unit. Problem is, often the film feels more like his work that Jose Mojica Marins. The themes of Marins work are all present, but stylistically this is more like Ramalho's shorts, especially in the approach to violence, and in the editing. even the casting of the actresses feels more like Ramalho's shorts and less like the voluptuous sirens of Coffin Joe's previous films. But then, he was also a driving force in getting the project made at all, so I can't complain. I should be grateful that Coffin Joe got another real movie made, on 35mm no less, before he passed out of this mortal coil. Of course, he is still kicking around pretty well, so he may still shoot out another before long. I'd be game for that.

Andy Copp

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