APRIL 8, 2013
One of the movies I have been meaning to revisit is Dead Snow, because it's met with such scorn from just about everyone I know that I suspect I was just in a weird mood that day and it's not as good as I remember. But one thing I'll always defend is how it approached the material in a more slasher-film kind of way, and that's the same thing I dug about 13 Eerie, which starts off like a slasher (6 students, a teacher, and a lackey) go off to an isolated locale and start noticing something is "not right". But rather than a masked madman picking them off one by one, the threat comes in form of a few (3-4) zombies... that proceed to pick them off one by one.
Director Lowell Dean says they're not really zombies on his commentary, and while they don't resemble the rotting ghouls you see in Romero films or The Walking Dead, they certainly ACT like the damn things: they're dead (though fast), shooting them in the head is the only way to take them down, and if they bite you you turn into one. What separates them from others (and possibly why Dean wishes to make the distinction) is that they never overpopulate the movie - it's possible for our heroes to take them all out and the world will be safe, so structurally and tonally it feels more like a Wrong Turn kind of movie with a few distinct baddies, but I think we've seen enough zombie movies of late, so it'd be doing a bit of a disservice to say it's NOT one as zombie fans might enjoy the change of pace. It's not going to make my top ten list or anything, but I found it pretty enjoyable; I actually just put it on as background noise while doing some filing at work and found myself engaged enough to pause it when I had a real distraction. And hey, I'm writing it up post "retirement", so that's gotta be something worth a rental, right?
One thing I definitely appreciated is that it's actually kind of scary. No, not enough to make me turn the light on or whatever, but there are a number of times where I felt myself getting tensed up, and it's only by watching the opening credits that I was able to guess who lived or died (because of their billing prominence); if you DON'T read them (or just don't recognize any of the actors) you should be surprised, script-wise, who gets off first and who lives. This allowed for more suspense in many of the attack scenes, as I never was too sure about anyone's survival (except for Katharine Isabelle; not only a genre vet thanks to Ginger Snaps but also the requisite and obvious Final Girl). The zombies themselves are also quite cool - by limiting their number the makeup team was obviously able to dedicate more time and effort into their appearance, and they would ALL make for worthy action figures, a far cry from most of the zombie flicks we see nowadays, where they have one or two hero zombies and then everyone else gets a quick splatter of paint on their face and hands while the DP is instructed not to let them get into clear focus.
Oh, and it's largely practical FX, something I feel I've been over-explaining lately - and that's a good thing. In the past few weeks I've seen I think 4-5 films where they favored prosthetics over pixels, so maybe the tide is turning? Or is it just coincidence? Either way, it's nice to see, and there are some great gags sprinkled throughout - I LOVED the one zombie who got impaled (through the mouth) to the wall and kept coming, stretching its cheek and neck out as it tried to pull away without concern for the damage being done to itself. Awesome. Since there are so few of them, a simple gunshot to the head wouldn't be very satisfying, so kudos to Dean and his crew for making each death count.
Another plus is that the characters aren't total idiots - in fact they're pretty smart in many areas. Taking a cue from Mindhunters, they've been assembled in this isolated locale to train for criminal investigations (forensics here; the Mindhunters were profilers if memory serves?), so there are fake crime scenes set up around and everyone is paired off to do their thing. So they're quick to notice that things aren't right, and resourceful when necessary - one even makes a makeshift bomb out of some of their chemicals and powders. But being forensics types, they're not all familiar with guns or even combat, so it's not like they have a huge advantage over their foes. Likewise, the zombies are all criminals (they were used for experiments), so they're imposing enough to make up for their minimal number - a rational thinking human being in a room with a standard slow/bony ghoul isn't that exciting, but one with a hulking brute who can only be stopped by a shot to the head when they don't have weapons training? THAT'S exciting.
It's a bummer that their forensics know-how doesn't really factor into anything in the second half, however. I was hoping they'd at LEAST do some minor digging and find out how these guys were coming back to life and why, but once things go to hell, apart from the bomb bit, there's not much to their actions beyond running and scrambling. When we DO get exposition, it's just their teacher getting into one of the misguided guys' face until he explains what's happening, and that's almost at the very end. Not that I need to have zombies explained (Romero never did), but if they're going to set up the idea that our characters are dedicating their lives to using science and intelligence to solving crimes, it would have been much more interesting if they, you know, did that. Granted they're still in training, but it coulda been like, their ultimate test or something. That said, I like that even though they were kind of in competition with each other, they all got along rather well - the bickering and antagonistic behavior was kept to a bare minimum. They don't even really have any romantic subplots - the two girls are paired off and thus kept away from the guys for a big chunk of the runtime (that's another thing I liked - there's a real reason for them to be split up), keeping the nonsense to a minimum.
EOne's release of the film comes with some decent extras; Dean's commentary with producer Kevin DeWalt is pretty engaging (though they lose a point for doing the "Are people watching this before they saw the movie?" thing) and rarely silent, and thus worth a listen if you enjoyed the flick. They point out the film's few visual FX (courtesy of the team working on one of the Resident Evil movies - the two share a producer), praise the cast, offer some anecdotes... and they clearly WANT to do it, unlike some filmmakers who seem to be recording their track with a gun to their head. And even if you hated the movie you should check out the making of featurettes (running a little over 20 minutes total), as you get a look at one of the more unique forms of storyboarding I've seen in a while: they used action figures to plan out shots! You even get a side by side scene (the one with the "bomb") to get a look at how closely it matched. I normally hate storyboard comparisons but this felt like a fun way not only to carry out the process on their end, but make it interesting for us to look at. There's also a photo gallery, if you don't have an Xbox or a spouse that could use your attention instead.
Oh, and the cover art and DVD menus use the Friday the 13th font, which is awesome. Since it should appeal to slasher fans and zombie fans, it's a nice choice for those who can spot it. And it's not Trajan, so even better.
What say you?