Friday, February 1, 2013

Worlds of the Dead


ZOMBIE DIARIES 2's decontamination suites recall images from George A. Romero's original CRAZIES. The cut-away scenes of the white figures rounding up civilians like cattle to shoot then burn them is detrimental to the "race against time" narrative.

RETURNING to the world created in their 2007 hit THE ZOMBIE DIARIES, Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates use the same lead character Leeann (Alix Wilton Regan, replacing Victoria Nalder) and predatory villains Goke (Russell Jones) and Manny (Hiram Bleetman) for the pro-military sequel THE ZOMBIE DIARIES 2: WORLD OF THE DEAD. Found by a squad of T.A. reservists - with their own documenting cameraman - traumatised Leeann journeys with them across zombie-infested Hertfordshire towards Hope’s Point, where rescue ships are due in two days. As the group head towards this destination, civilians are as much a threat as the ghouls. Starting effectively with an intimate family birthday gone to hell, ZOMBIE DIARIES 2 is more polished than the original, but doesn't bring anything new to the table. Its relentlessly grim facade rejoices in three rape scenes, the most self-defeating filmed in gloating close-up; and it is ironic that the most memorable aspect was produced by a fortuitous cold-snap during production, with snow adding to the struggle and providing an edge to the midnight dash through a graveyard.

Released four years after their claustrophobic and testosterone-fuelled OUTPOST, director Steve Barker and writer Rae Brunton widen the scope - and shift the tone - for OUTPOST II: BLACK SUN. In the present day, a NATO force is sent to Eastern Europe, where a sinister enemy appears to be killing everything in its path. Following in the footsteps of her late father, Lena (Catherine Steadman) - an investigator on the trail of the notorious German scientist Klausener (David Grant) - learns that the war crimes of the man she is looking for goes far beyond the blasphemy of extermination camps. Together with former colleague Wallace (Richard Coyle) - a physicist who has been chasing Nazi secrets for years - they team up with the NATO force to prevent the rise of a zombie 4th Reich.

The depiction of the Nazi undead is the highlight of OUTPOST II: BLACK SUN; relentlessly brutal, the zombies either club their prey or stab them repeatedly, with the visuals presented in an effectively dirty brown-and-grey colour palette.

Despite a promising opening salvo with an aged SS officer, Steadman becomes yet another ineffectual female lead and largely unable to look after herself, despite being a seasoned Nazi hunter. As usual, it is up to the military grunts to protect her, who are portrayed as the usual stereotypes: the ruthless one, the compassionate one, the belligerent one, and the wise-cracking one. In fact, the history of the Black Sun and its adaptations into popular culture are more interesting than anything in Barker's film. This motif may have originated from the Theosophy of Helena Blavatsky's Central Sun, an invisible or burnt out star which symbolises an opposing force or pole, and it was former SS member Wilhelm Landig who coined the idea of a mystical source capable of regenerating the Aryan race. Pop culture references include Grant Morrison's comic strip Zenith, which makes its Black Sun cult a combination of Nazi and Lovecraftian ideas; in the novel Satan's Seed by Mark Ellis, the Brotherhood of the Black Sun and Aleister Crowley use geomancy to travel through time; and in the computer game Wolfenstein, the Black Sun was actually another dimension altogether.

The feature directing debut of German Matthias Hoene - who rebooted Hammer for the 2008 online serial BEYOND THE RAVE - and co-written by James Moran, who penned SEVERANCE - the zombie-gangster-comedy COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES does everything it says on the tin, but isn't as wily as it thinks it is. A proposed building development threatens the Bow Bells Care Home with closure, and to secure the wellbeing of their war-hero grandfather Ray (Alan Ford), chancer brothers Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway) ineptly rob a bank with the aid of spunky cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan), friend Davey (Jack Doolan) and psychopathic weapons-specialist "Mental" Mickey (Ashley Thomas). But the East End of London has more pressing matters; workers at the development site have excavated into a plague pit sealed by Charles II in 1666, unleashing a mutated infection that transforms humans into shambling zombies.

"The Undead are Brown Bread." Former EASTENDER Michelle Ryan is effortlessly strong and sexy in the otherwise irksome COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES.

Overtly formulaic and a SHAUN OF THE DEAD facsimile, COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES suffers from muted action scenes, no real tension, and cockney rhyming slang jokes that wear thin pretty fast. Consequently, it's not funny enough to be a memorable comedy, and not scary enough for hardcore zombie enthusiasts. The film works best when it depicts the potential abandonment of the elderly. In the stand-out sequence, deaf Hamish (Richard Briers) hobbles along on his zimmer at the same pace as a ghoul eager for his flesh, and it is this old guard of performers - Ford, Briers, Honor Blackman, Dudley Sutton, Tony Selby, Georgina Hale - that provide the production with ballast.