Beginning the Day of the Undead 2012 in style was the HD world premiere of the classic Zombie Flesh Eaters, which upon its release in 1979, showed that George A. Romero was not truly the undisputed master of zombie film. Lucio Fulci’s work is of a more visceral nature, with great detail on physical effects giving the gore an uncomfortably tactile quality. The horror elements are ramped up as a group investigates a voodoo zombie uprising, with some truly gruesome deaths. Of course, the film has dated somewhat, with an over reliance on sound effects and a typically poor acting style, but these are all part and parcel of this type of film from the era. However, the film is filled with genuinely memorable sequences, with the underwater battle between a zombie and a shark (yes, it really happens) proving that some artistry can appear even in this genre. This is truly a film to be seen by any fan of the genre.
Next up on the bill came Muralim, the first zombie film to come out of Israel, whose film industry regulations make genre films difficult to come by. The title, which translates from Hebrew as ‘poisoned’, refers to the effect of the military on the minds of its soldiers. The film follows Danny, a gardener at a military base, who must fight off elite soldier zombies to save himself, as well as the object of his childhood affections. The film takes a comedic tact in its approach, providing some hilarious moments as well as an appreciation of the genre (fans should have no trouble identifying the Evil Dead references). The lead character is funny, likeable and good company for the short running time, and despite how the film both objects to, and glorifies, violence in a confused muddle of content, Muralim is surprisingly fun and was an unexpected highlight of the festival.
With the first of its UK films, The Day of the Undead welcomed Dominic Brunt to introduce his directorial debut film, Before Dawn. Better known as Paddy Kirk in Emmerdale, Brunt appeared at last year’s festival to unveil a clip of this film, and returned this year with the full feature. Written by Brunt’s wife Joanne Mitchell, the film sees the two appear as a married couple in a rather severe rut, taking a trip to the countryside in an attempt to recapture their affection for each other. However, things inevitably go awry as the zombie apocalypse begins.
Whilst the idea of centering on the disintegration of a marriage as society also breaks down is interesting, the film never quite manages to take this idea to its fullest potential. The couple doesn’t get much further than reminiscing before wife Meg is attacked whilst out on a run and Brunt’s character Alex becomes isolated. The couple’s relationship beforehand begins to show promise but is expunged too quickly, with the film reverting to being just another low budget zombie film. There are some good moments, with Brunt’s directing occasionally capturing some truly moving moments, but sadly this is not reliable, particularly in the more frenetic scenes where the use of manic shaky cam and extreme close-ups seem to be paced more by the chaotic soundtrack then any directorial style or flow. Whilst this was clearly a much loved project by those involved in its production, Before Dawn comes across as disappointing, with only a few moments to save it from being completely forgettable.
Next came another British production, The Eschatrilogy. Oddly taking an episodic structure, this collection of stories centers around a world in which a demon has risen to bring about the end of the world – yes, you guessed it – with the use of zombies. Beginning as a calm yet tense (and beautifully shot) story about a loner living in the woods, the film chronicles the stories of a mysterious figure who appears with a book filled with cautionary tales of the apocalypse. These personal stories involve the impact the zombie plague has had on families, and, while having interesting points to make, are let down by the less skillful direction. It is as though these episodes were shot completely differently, having lost all the artistry and confidence of the opening narration scenes in the forest. Due to this, the film’s disjointed structure is made all the more cumbersome, despite the early promise it showed.
The final two films of the festival were very similar in both style and tone, with the UK premiere of Gangsters, Guns and Zombies followed by the surprisingly acclaimed Cockneys vs. Zombies. The first of these has a much lower budget and lower production values, but more than makes up for it with good comedy and likeable characters. On his first job, getaway driver Q must contend with not only the zombie apocalypse, but also the group of London gangsters in the back of his white van whom he has just helped to rob a bank. By placing the majority of the film’s action in and around vehicles, the film cleverly hides its small budget in a way that serves the narrative. The characters manage to be diverse whilst still falling under the guise of London gangsters, with some proving to be genuinely enjoyable to watch; Crazy Steve and Muscles seem clichéd, but they quickly become crowd-pleasers. Overall, the film has a good road movie narrative as the characters seek out their safe house, it is comically effective thanks to the good characterisation and various takes on the gangster stereotype, and even resulted in an applause from the crowd.
The last film of the 13-hour festival was this year’s popular cult flick Cockneys vs. Zombies, a classic exploitation film brought up to date in London’s East End. The narrative follows two brothers, their cousin and a gang of bank robbers as they try to get their hands on enough money to save their grandfather Ray’s care home. Whilst inside the bank, zombie’s take over the East End and so the gang must get to the care home to save Ray and his friends from the undead. Zombie movies have always provided a good opportunity for an exploitation title, and this one delivers in spades, giving you exactly what is expected. Filled with well known actors, such as Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Michelle Ryan and the hilarious Richard Briers to name a few, the film can boast a respectable cast, all of whom are used well throughout. Cockneys vs. Zombies has no illusions as to what it is, and in some ways that is its charm. And with high comedy as well as gore, it made for a fitting end to the day’s bill.