Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Frank Review of "Day of the Dead 2: Contagium" (2005)

The Short Version? Dirty Cheap Zomedy.
What Is It? "Horror." "Comedy."
Who's In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? Not if you have brrr-AInnsss. Altered states optional.

Over the last few days, I've been talking quite a bit about my experience with horror movies, specifically George Romero's "Dead" films. After the landmark "Dawn" and a new appreciation for the original "Night," the third of these films left a great deal to be desired. In the classic clip movie "Terror in the Aisles," there's a wonderful excerpt from "Day" in which a mad soldier leads an army of the dead onto an elevator platform. As the flesh eaters begin their business on the soldier, he presses a button that begins to lower the platform. His fellows look on in horror as this terrible throng is ever so slowly presented before them, the mechanism moving as deliberately as the dead themselves, but with the same dire consequence. This excerpt, combined with my love for "Dawn," set me up for a massive fall when seeing "Day" as a whole failed to deliver on this promise. I've revisited "Day" many times since, and forgive it more of it's weaknesses with each viewing. Still, so much emphasis was placed on the grisly effects and overblown characters, it could never stand next to the prior installments.

The zombie craze that began with 28 Days Later... and continued throughout the Bush presidency freed up money for a pair of 2005 direct-to-DVD sequels to "Day," obviously with no input from and little regard for George Romero. As might be gleaned from my review of Diary of the Dead and mentions of "Land" and the original "Day," I see this as no great shame. I rented "Day 2" with no more prejudice than I would have toward any D2DVD movie with clearly dubious production values. From interview material during production, it's clear the filmmakers were passionate about the material and excited by the results of their efforts. I appreciate their enthusiasm, though it also makes me sad, because the movie they created is pretty darn terrible.

The flick starts in 1968, and purports to be a prequel to "Night of the Living Dead," seemingly with a lower budget than the original (without adjusting for inflation.) A dirty Ruskie stole a mystery substance from the Americans, before a defector returned it, but not without exposing himself to zombie dust. Seriously, this stuff is in some sort of mod sci-fi salt shaker that periodically opens up and releases glowing white pixie things. Like most of the movie, the effect is so unbelievably ill-considered, you're left wondering if the whole thing is a gag. So anyhow, a random hospital orderly steals a salt shaker in the midst of a zombie outbreak for reasons unknown, hides it in a thermos, and tries to escape a military clampdown. He trips, then gets back up as an insta-zombie, and is gunned down. This opening sequence is an excellent gauge for how gloriously awful the film is, and somehow manages to get worse when it jumps to the present. Let me count the ways:

  1. Between the zombie salt chess piece dispenser thingees and the ethereal light of the living dead, the movie recalls 1987's "*batteries not included." How's that for weird association?

  2. CGI jeeps, helicopters and classic cars that look like a cut scene from a video game. We're talking Sega CD here.

  3. Several obviously fake guns and rifles-- possibly made of wood or carved out of a bar of soap.

  4. There wasn't enough money for blanks, so soldiers just pretend to fire their weapons by jerking them upwards when "shooting." Sometimes directly into the camera during close-ups.

  5. Blood is cheaper than blanks, so that goes everywhere.

  6. ...but squibs are used sparingly, in favor of just falling down.

  7. Classic "look everywhere but at the approaching monster" stupidity.

  8. Zombie Patient Zero looks, acts and talks like Baron Zemo.

  9. Did I mention Zombie Patient Zero talks? As do all of the other major zombies.

  10. Vague references to and a pseudo-sequel of "Night of the Living Dead" is a trademark of the "Return of Living Dead" franchise, all rights reserved.

  11. An uncredited cameo by Adam Carolla as the military chief? Nah, his quote was much too high.

  12. All persons changing into a zombie must first drip Hershey's Chocolate Syrup from their mouth.

  13. Anyone being eaten must drip Hershey's Strawberry Syrup from their mouth, even if it's a leg wound.

  14. This is supposed to be a "sequel" to "Day of the Dead," which took place well into the global zombie apocalypse. Instead, its serio-comic tone fits better after "Return of the Living Dead Part 2," which itself sidestepped the nuclear holocaust at the end of its prior installment.

  15. The zombie thermos is found forty years later by mental patients forced to clean a park, who treat it as an object of great interest.

  16. "Mental patients" could easily double as leads in a D2DVD "Revenge of the Nerds" sequel, and can also double for more generally "mentally challenged," because I suppose some people find the conditions interchangeable.

  17. Each character, aside from the lead, is defined entirely by their neurosis.

  18. The males are mostly a freakshow. The females are all reasonably hot...

  19. ...which might explain why two of them get into a catfight.

  20. Zombies in an asylum is (c)1989 "The Dead Pit."

  21. Since the movie takes place in an institution, there must be a creepy head doctor conducting unholy experiments with his patients...

  22. ...and the abusive, rapist orderly, 'natch.

  23. ...and the "Patch Adams" good guy doctor, though he's responsible for most everything that goes wrong in the picture.

  24. The black mental patient seemed to take his acting cues from Wiploc and Zeebo of 1988's "Earth Girls Are Easy."

  25. We can give the evil head doctor a thick German accent, or make him sound like he's deaf? Hey, why not both?

  26. Zombie fist fights?

  27. Zombie sympathy pains?

  28. Zombie telepathy?

  29. Zombie cure?

  30. Zombie puns?

  31. Jerry, the Lone Gunman exposition geek.

  32. Hero cop Geraldo Rivera?

  33. At some point, when your monster is a virulent, talking bag of mutated meat, you're just not a zombie movie anymore.

  34. Especially when you have a clash between good zombies who don't eat flesh...

  35. ...and bad who taunt and gab with the intent to turn the good zombies to the dark side.

  36. Zombie immaculate conception? For no apparent reason? Even when addressed in the director's commentary?

  37. Instant zombie baby (c)1992 "Braindead/Dead Alive."

  38. I HAD to listen to the commentary track with the two (!) directors, which is the most patronizing thing ever...

  39. Stating proudly that you left the ending "wide open" doesn't make it artistically ambiguous, just vague and anticlimactic.

  40. Despite all of the above, still a better and more enjoyable picture than George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead."

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