random review: It Stains the Sands Red (2017)

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Firstly, the title absolutely does not fit the movie’s tone. It would be better suited to a chilling biopic of a ruthless Saudi oil baron or a Korean revenge thriller rather than a small horror with a small cast, all of whom are trashier than the film’s lone zombie. Secondly, I kinda don’t care, because the ‘It’ in It Stains the Sands Red is actually referring to the main character’s period. And I call ‘disgustingly brilliant’ on that.

it stains the sands red 2017 horror movie

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 24: Evil Dead: The Musical

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source: theshadowboxtheatre.com

And now for something completely different.

A friend of mine was up for taking in a nice evening at the theatre, so we decided to grab (what was apparently the last two) tickets to Evil Dead: The Musical, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was listed on Salem’s Haunted Happenings Events page, despite taking place in Lynn (and nothing outside of Salem had been listed in previous years). But if it hadn’t been for said listing (and my friend, who explained that Lynn is very close by car), I probably would have written this one off as something that wasn’t worth the trek, and, judging by local theater quality vs. price, I wasn’t expecting anything decent, either.

How wrong I was. Don’t be fooled by its tiny venue (Rantoul Blackbox Theatre), or, once you get there, the tiny stage – this musical was amazing. The fact that the website listed a “Splatter Zone” already sold me (though we spent half the price on perfectly-fine “cheap seats” tickets). Beer and wine and snacks available (I AM JUST STARTING TO LOVE SOMETHING CALLED CHILI CHEESE FRITOS): also a plus. Having to traverse a hallway decorated with cheesy Hallowe’en ceiling props to get to the performance hall: another plus. Having people gawk at my festive makeup (a successful attempt of this): brilliant!

I’m thoroughly ashamed to admit that I had not seen the first two Evil Dead movies. But, thanks to countless pop culture references/parodies and inclusion of that pencil/ankle scene, I was aware of the gist of what had happened. I’d also seen the recent remake as well as the third original instalment Army of Darkness. Still, a fair few jokes flew over my head, but the ones I did get, I tried not to squee all fan-girly over them. And for everything else, I found myself cackling like a loon. It’s that funny.

There’s a lot they can do on that tiny stage, even while playing it close to the source material. One utterly inspired bit of adaption was to have the possessing tree (s) played by actual men, and their comic timing and mannerisms never miss a beat. The singing is top-notch, the casting perfect, and the dry humour is balanced perfectly by the characters squirting toy guns full of fake blood. My only gripes are with some occasional off-key notes, and the vocalists’ volume dropping below the music.  Speaking of which, not once did I ever suffer from “oh, god, now a song; can we get back to the story, please?” – the songs were witty and catchy. Here’s my favourite of the evening:

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 23: Harold’s Going Stiff (2011)

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source: best-horror-movies.com

It’s only after watching this that I’d realized that Day 23 of my horror-a-thon had included an indie movie so indie that it didn’t even have a Wikipedia page. It also had practically first-time actors – the lead, Stan Rowe (Harold) had only a bit part in Casualty to his name, and Sarah Spencer (Penny) has no other credits (and a Facebook page result lists some recent theatre and small TV stuff, but implies that this was her first major role).

Far more bittersweet than I’d expected (from reading the paragraph of plot on IMDb), this is a sweet little flick. The plot revolves around the eponymous Harold, who, along with a few other residents of his North Yorkshire village, have been suffering from a muscle-stiffening disease (“Onset Rigour Disease” or “ORD”). Presented in a mock-u-mentary-style format, the invisible filmmakers present clips of interviews in which well-meaning but emotionally-stiff doctors conduct medical research to try to beat this thing. We’re told that it was spread through an addictive, Pepperami-style snack, and that it very slowly turns people stiff (arthritis-style), and then eventually they become violent, inarticulate zombies. And, unlike similar films, the characters actually know that the word “zombie exists”.

source: drafthouse.com

Harold’s case is unique in that he was the first to contract ORD, but his incubation period has been excruciatingly slow. Encouraged by the research implications of this, a local doctor enlists Harold to be his guinea pig for several trial drugs (of the dubious doctor’s own making). Bubbly young nurse Penny is dispatched as a home health care professional to provide stiffness-easing physio, but it soon transpires that the treatments are becoming less effective. As Penny and Harold’s strong friendship develops, so too does a group of yobbish, almost EDL-like vigilantes who are “helping” rid the world of these zombies.

More of a sweet character study than the black comedy I was expecting, the film admittedly moves at a relatively slow pace, and, much like other character-driven films I’ve been seeing this month, it’s vital that the central characters are played to near-perfection. Rowe is believable as what could easily be an allegory for real-life societal views on elderly healthcare, but Spencer is more than convincing as a kind, caring, unlucky, adorably-flawed nurse who grows to genuinely care for Harold across cross-generational and professional boundaries, and her charming presence illuminates the screen. I’m utterly flummoxed to find that she’s not acted before, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she had actually done a real-life stint in the NHS.

sources: mansplat.wordpress.com/hairballmedia.com

Because the film focuses mostly on Harold and Penny’s bond, we don’t see much of the other characters, and usually-major plot developments (such as the vigilantes’ character arcs or the aforementioned cause of ORD) are sidelined as bits of humour to supplement the mockumentary style. But even that is nearly shelved in the film’s second half, though it’s not too much of a loss, as it didn’t fully commit to it to begin with – title cards are sometimes missing, and it’s odd that the interviewers themselves are never seen or heard, so we’re just getting a shaky docu-style camera and character confessionals strategically-placed as transition devices.

But yes, this movie is so small it doesn’t have much in the way of an online footprint, and it didn’t seem as though there was any money in the kitty for a proper budget – every time the vigilantes kill a zombie, it involves carefully-edited shots back-and-forth of baseball bats stopping very short of the actors’ actual heads, and increased splodges of very cheap-looking fake blood (but no physical evidence of trauma – though far be it from me to suggest Hollywood-ing up a movie with money and gory SFX). I felt that if the editing had been tightened up a bit, some scenes could have done with being left on the cutting-room floor to make room for the rest of the vigilantes’ story, instead of having their scenes feel like half-hearted soujourns from the main plot. Still, I’m glad I saw this one – when was the last time you saw a bittersweet black comedy about a middle-aged zombie forging a friendship with his lonely young nurse? I expect a Hollywood remake shortly.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 21: Warm Bodies (2013)

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source: impawards.com

I’d first heard about this movie via its trailer, and I wasn’t expecting to like this one. I was expecting Twilight with zombies (particularly as lead actress Teresa Palmer looks like Kristen Stewart borrowed a smile from Scarlett Johanssen). Instead, what I got was a cute, sweet, self-aware love story in the time of zombie apocalypse. 

Indeed, the trailer made it look like a cheesy ’90s-era teen sitcom with very little depth, and there is a bit of a mopey young adult shambling about all lovesick, but said lovesick mope is in fact a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult). Not quite literally soft in the head yet, he’s able to communicate in bursts of words that he struggles to get out (much credit to Hoult for getting said words out without the forced tedium you’d expect of it), in the hopes of winning over Julie (Pamer). R can keep her safe for now,  but keeping her from the other zombies proves to be a bit of a tricky one.

source: spinoff.comicbookresources.com

The zombies themselves, even the non “R”-type ones, are different from movie zombies we’ve come to know. They don’t lurch like Romero’s undead; they don’t sprint like Romero’s rebooted undead; they just shuffle back and forth, or make repetitive movements (such as the permanently-waving TSA agent). They are slow, aimless, mostly harmless (until they see fresh meat). And here’s where it lends itself to its own lore (and this is something I’m such a sucker for); zombies are evolving; some can communicate with humans, some remain in their current state, and some (whose survival mode kicked in too early) have mutated into literally ravenous skeletons.

I love when a movie creates its own logic and genre rules for an already-established genre; it gives the story incredible cohesion by telling the audience, “this is why zombies actually eat brains” or “this is what happens when zombies don’t eat properly”. Hoult and Palmer have great on-screen chemistry as the film’s star-crossed lovers (who didn’t get that Romeo and Juliet reference at the balcony?), and John Malkovich is perfect as Palmer’s on-screen military father. Dialogue is sharp (as is R’s adorkably self-conscious voiceover, which provides a relief from his mouth-fart-words), and pacing is quick and fast from the start. The zombie makeup is a little hokey; I know we’re trying to establish that R is a little different (and so he needs to be presented as somewhat attractive to the audience), but his makeup borders on sullen sparkly perma-teenage vamp goth, but without the sparkles. It’s a little distracting; it looks a little cheap, and too precisely-defined.

source: anonlineuniverse.com

Clunky as this interpretation may be (again, it’s late), this is more than just a cute love story; it’s an interesting, if superficial look at survival, evolution and human betterment – man’s insistence to push on – especially in the face of near-human extinction…wrapped up in a cute love story. It’s very self-aware, almost as if it went up to Shaun of the Dead, had a conversation with it, and realized it didn’t want to draw too many comparisons (hard due to the similar genre mashup and light tone, but that’s really just about it). Pleasantly surprised at this one; I don’t want to even suggest I’m comparing it to Twilight by invoking both names in the same sentence, so I’ll just say that it’s just not like any zombie movie I’ve ever seen; even with its beatless heart, it has more genuine life in it than most other similar movies that hide behind a layer of snark or parody.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 18: World War Z (2013)

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source: zombiehamster.com

When I think of the most successful zombie movies/TV shows, they’re usually a bit of sombre affair, taking place in a barren, lawless, post-apocalyptic wasteland (like Zombieland, 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead). Or, if there’s a wee bit of civilisation left, it focuses on smaller, isolated incidents (such as [REC], which did touch on the military aspect, or Romero’s Dead series), or otherworldly settings (like Resident Evil). Up until only recently (even before The Walking Dead started), zombies were pretty much a niche thing. Then they exploded, cried for brains, and became teh internet’s new darling. They were the new bacon. They still are.

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So, a few months back, when I saw the trailer for World War Z, the first thing that hit me was the sheer scale of what the filmmakers could afford to do. These shuffling, meandering, half-dead lummoxes were not only being given the big-budget, big-screen treatment, but they were also been given the Hollywood makeoever. Welcome to swarms of zombies, waves of the undead, piles – yes, PILES – of bodies using themselves to mount a wall to gain access to the sweet, sweet brains on the other side. These are infected people who are insanely fast (as is the virus that transmits it – seems to take effect within seconds), but the utter force of their bodies en masse is something akin to a bee swarm or a pretty violent sea wave. Unlike rational humans, these zombies have no problem piling upon themselves and using their collective weight to fuck everything up. Scores of them are shot (not effectively) by soldiers, but after enough of the corpses hang on to their helicopter, it’s dragged down and bursts into flames.

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I would offer up a plot, but in zombie movies, there’s really just the one plot – they’re a threat, much like those movies that show a global pandemic (is that redundant?) of some deadly, fast-transmitting disease. Central to the story is Jerry (Brad Pitt), who gets his wife and two daughters to safety on a UN freighter, only to be ordered to go on a short mission with a nerdy scientist guy to get some answers on how to cure this thing. Needless to say, that mission doesn’t go well. And even though it gets off to an odd start, with each destination that Jerry travels to, the movie improves, partly due to the increase in bit-part-actor quality (including The Twelfth Doctor himself). This risks making the movie feel episodic, but with a title like “World War Z” it’s not too far-fetched for him to get around in this movie.

It was smart to have mostly unknown actors in this movie, particularly when screwing with the audience to confuse them about who to root for, because Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, and is unlikely to trip up or do anything that makes him look stupid. At all.

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Having not read the book, I felt like I couldn’t really have honestly reviewed this flick, especially because of the backlash of how it bore no resemblance to the source material. My only gripe was that the zombies weren’t terribly frightening – they lurch and get stuck banging their heads against walls, but they croak and groan like a sad, lonely velociraptor with a sore throat. For anyone who isn’t great with gore, there isn’t actually that much when we see their attacks; it’s mostly running, as if the characters are going through the best Haunted House attraction ever. Throw in some product placements (oh hai there Capital One and Pepsi) and the undead have definitely got the slick Hollywood treatment.

On the plus side, zombies have never been cooler. Kinda hoping they’ll stay that way.

Fun With Claustrophobia

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The following groups of people should avoid ever travelling on public transport in Massachusetts:

 

This morning, I was forced to trample over a group of three people (not the infamous twats – who were STILL occupying the disabled-only seats at the front of the whole fucking train) who couldn’t quite fathom that they needed to shift their legs for five seconds so I could walk to the corner seat. Two two-seater seats that faced each other. Yep, it was one of those setups. Not like British trains, where, if you’ve got seats facing each other, it’s because there’s a fucking great big TABLE in the middle. No – these seats force you to spend your entire train journey trying not to stare at the feckless morons jammed in front of you.

My staring partner was fast asleep. Caked in the face with about a Kardashian-assful of makeup, she looked like a dozing, middle-aged  cartoon. It was terrifying. Worse still, was the fact that her gob was wide open and her face contorted into some intense confusion, which looked awkwardly filthy as I tried not to think about what sort of dream she might have been having. Instead,  I focused on the fact that her styrofoam cup, almost filled to the brim with hot tea, was inching ever so gradually from a vertical position to a horizontal position (much as she was – thanks for the leg room. Though, I guess it could be worse).

Her leg was constantly touching mine. The whole journey, her right leg touching my leg. Now, I may be English, and raised by South Asian parents, but I’m no prude. I have touched many a leg in my time and felt no shame about it, but this creepy woman’s O-face was starting to make me feel like I should have worn a leg-sized femidom.

Her leg was emanating heat at an alarming rate. This being public transport, I knew that I was being exposed to all manner of peoples (such as the woman who spray-tans her legs and nothing else; the man with tons of pigeon shit on his windbreaker; the pack of asshats who keep hogging the disabled-only seats). Her leg was warm and clammy. What if she was…pissing herself?? What was it?

There I was, anxious to get off the train, my eyes nervously darting around like a happy hardcore raver on a coffee break at Wimbledon, when her twisted face relaxed a bit, and I guess that meant I was supposed to, too. I accidentally rudely nudged her awake to stop her from scalding my knees with her crappy lemon tea. She woke up to pretend to drink a sip, then put the entire cup next to my foot, and promptly went back to O-face snoring. What a catch.

If you’re claustrophobic, good luck getting on the train. If you’re unfortunate enough to be disembarking in Salem during rush hour, you will be crowded and suffocated by a horde of commuter zombies who try their feeble best to achieve the balance between letting people disembark and getting in the way of anyone else behind them so they can get on the train first. Reverse the process for disembarking the train. Add three times the amount of people, some vomit and some animal remains if you’re on the bus.

Maybe I’ll walk the 20 miles to work tomorrow.

Salem: Where Zombies Can Flourish Without Fear (Even Though We Want Your Brains)

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There’s the old ribbing joke by locals that tourists are an adorable, yet mostly harmless breed of dim. They wander around in fanny-packs, pulled-up socks, sun-hats (or emergency ponchos), cargo shorts and Timberland boots, pointing out things while holding impossibly-sized maps.

In short, they have no brains.

So why would we zombies waste our (clearly infinite amounts of) time chasing these equally feckless populations?

It was Saturday, October 8th. I recall it was unseasonably warm that day. The heat was wavy, you know, like it is in old war movies. I felt that my intestines, which were falling out slightly, could use a bit of sun, so I decided to go for a little walk. Being a ballerina, I found that the easiest way to get a hold of them was to wrap them around my leg in a criss-cross fashion, such as what a ballerina would do with her ballet shoe ribbons.

I could tell that I was drawing some attention from some of the screaming children in the park, because they didn’t quite understand why I was limping (I know, I know, I’m such a cliche). Feeling a bit slighted by their rudeness, I let out a half-hearted whimper and glared to make up for it.

Titanic survivors!

Finally getting to the Haunted Biz-Baz (October street fair) on Essex St, I noticed there were other fellow zombies trying to make their way through the crowds. My rancid, half-decomposed heart sank a little as I realized that none of the street vendors were selling any brains.

En masse, we stumbled in circles downtown (what awesome crop circles we could have made…if only we’d had the grey matter to have thought of that) and came across some Steampunk kids holding a brain on a stick to try to control our movements. Some of us weren’t falling for it and took down a few Slytherin students in protest.

The Lobster Shanty had deployed a brave girl to offer us real live calf brain burgers for free, to appease us. Being a relatively new zombie, I still maintained some of my original vegetarian leanings, and politely declined with an open-mouthed gape. One of the Shanty’s patrons was unfazed by what I thought to be my pant-wetting, menacing gaze, and instead burst into fits of laughter upon realizing that she was in a staring contest with a zombie ballerina. And lost.

We then happened upon a raving Southern preacher, who was advising all the tourists that spending their money on haunted houses, being witches, being homosexual, and other stuff would make us all burn in hell unless we accept Jesus Christ (who would never have said that to anyone). Despite the fact that he was in a large open space, many of the zombies (even the pus-covered, desperate ones) realized there was nothing there to eat and moved on.

We then turned our attention back to the tourists, lashing out at them for being warm, breathing, living bodies, but teasing us with their complete lack of substance, despite their large number. They stood and took photos of us.

It was then that we realized that…they were just like us.

Please find the following information presented in this handy-dandy table for your reading pleasure:

 

Similarities Between

  Zombies and Tourists

Zombies

Tourists

Almost always have difficulty communicating in any language Often have difficulty communicating in anything other than their own language
Always eating; tend to only eat brains, sometimes flesh Always eating; tend to eat only what they’re used to with little local variety
Often have terrible sense of direction; frequently allow brains to be smashed in with sharp/blunt objects (thereby killing them) without resistance Often drive the wrong way down one-way streets; frequently walk into oncoming traffic to cross streets without looking
Slow-moving Very slow-moving
Loud/obnoxious Very loud; very obnoxious
Often travel in large groups; horde mentality Often travel in large groups (and/or in large vehicles); horde mentality achieved once they stop in the middle of a busy street to plan their next move

 

So there you have it. Not that I’m being heavy-handed or anything.

Looking back on our mass infestation day out, what I thought distinguished us from other zombies was that we attracted a surprising number of  out-of-town corpses, who all stayed in local hotels, ate in local restaurants, spent their maggot-infested cash at the local street fair, terrorized several local shops and museums, and amused locals and tourists alike, who were more than welcoming to our putrefying stench. We look forward to next year.

Just don’t tell the vampires. Those sparkly bastards keep stealing our food and ruining our party.

his jell-o brings all the zombies to the yard.