The Life and Times of the Living Dead
It was a zombie pick 'n' mix at QFT, but Andrew Johnston asks if there is any unlife left in the genre
The zombie movie genre has started to look as tired and shuffling as its subjects lately. It seems every chancer with a camcorder has taken a shot at making their own living-dead movie. That hasn’t stopped Queen’s Film Theatre putting together a zombie season, with eight films in three days, as well as talks by QFT head Susan Picken, Queen’s University anthropology lecturer Anthony Stanonis, and authors David Moody and Wayne Simmons. Over the weekend, the gore-some foursome discuss the continuing fascination of zombies in cinema and the history of voodoo and witchcraft in America.
There are eye and tombstone-shaped cupcakes on offer in the foyer, as well as complimentary cocktails for anyone with a ticket for Friday’s opening movie, White Zombie. The 1932 classic is regarded as the first legitimate zombie film, with director Victor Halperin taking the viewer on a frightful journey as Bela Lugosi attempts to reanimate a dead starlet in order to win her affections. The movie creaks in parts (a running gag involving a minor character asking for matches for his pipe gets groans tonight), but the walking corpses and themes of voodoo and black magic seem remarkably fresh compared to today’s fast-paced flesh-eaters.
Later, the 2007 Spanish film [REC] reinforces its reputation as the scariest movie of the 2000s. The faux documentary is a prime example of the found-footage genre, and one of the few genuinely scary modern horror films. The shocking ending is still best watched from between the cracks in your fingers.
Saturday sees the premiere of the locally produced Deadville (along with George Clarke’s films, Northern Ireland is currently a hotbed of the living dead). Shot in HD on a budget of £1,000, this psychological horror explores just how far a person will go for someone they love. Also on Saturday are the Canadian Pontypool, about a team of reporters trapped in a studio during a zombie outbreak, and Brit-flick Autumn, starring the late David Carradine in one of his final roles.
Sunday gets underway with a feature-length showing of Charlie Brooker’s cult television series Dead Set – all two and a half hours of it. It holds together well on the big screen, though the special event is rather wasted on the handful of people who have bothered to turn up. Set in the Big Brother house, the most surprising thing about the 2008 work is how much it has aged already. That said, with a witty script and actual characters, Brooker proves to be better
at this zombie lark than many big-budget Hollywood directors.
French arthouse chiller They Came Back attracts a larger audience, though its mix of John Carpenter-style visuals, David Cronenberg body horror and a strange plot about dead people being reintegrated into their families creates a bit of a downcast mood.
The weekend finishes with a long-overdue cinema screening of George A Romero’s 2008 ‘fivequel’ Diary of the Dead. In the Romero canon, Diary shambles somewhere in the middle – not as good as Night…, Dawn… or Day…, but better than Land… and 2010’s Survival… Speaking of which, QFT take note: Romero’s latest would be the perfect starting point for next year’s weekend of the living dead.