Zombie Month: A Virgin Among The Living Dead by Jamie

Well, I honestly thought that the recent Zombie craze which saw itself rise like… well, like a Zombie, in the early 2000s was kinda coming to end, replaced by a love for creatures which called themselves vampires and werewolves which in no way resembled vampires or werewolves. (Seriously, why is the Twilight series named after things relating to the night? None of the creatures powers in that series are linked in anyway to the night.) But the Zombie trend continues to shuffle on relentlessly like… well, like a Zombie, buoyed most recently by the awesome small screen adaptation of the awesome comic book ‘The Walking Dead’.

Because of this I’ve found myself more obsessed with Zombies than is probably legal. To try and get over this I have decided that December will be Zombie month at Cinepub. And really what better month than December to pick? For was December not the month that the man who would grow up to become the first Zombie, Jesus Hubert Christ, born? Well in reality probably not but the legend says it so and what’s better? The truth or an entertaining lie?

Clearly an entertaining lie.

So with all that in mind I went to Wikipedia’s list of Zombie films and arbitrarily picked thirty-one titles to watch and review. I decided to ignore the old classics such as Romero’s body of work and the beloved splatter films of the 70s and 80s because, well, what more can I say at them. (With the exception of one classic from the 80s because I haven’t seen it in years, I had a damn hard time finding it and this seems like a good excuse to finally rewatch it again). For the most part, many of the films seem to be made during the recent craze and many seem to be very, very low budget. I’m hoping that I’ll find a few modern gems amongst what I’m sure will be largely a pile of shit but hey, negative reviews are always more fun to write and read than positive ones so I’m sure we’ll have some fun.

Today’s entry in the marathon is one that didn’t come from the modern era. It’s titled ‘A Virgin Among The Living Dead’ and is from the 70s. It’s also European but I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly where. The opening titles are in French but according to IMDB the original language was German (my copy is dubbed) and it lists the country’s involved as France, Belgium, Italy and Germany but it certainly has a very French feel about it.

The basic story is… Well, it’s difficult to say. Let’s just say the film is a huge confusing mess, right of the bat. I’m also not sure exactly why it’s listed in Wikipedia’s list of Zombie films. We’ll come to that though. I guess the basic story is that a girl, Chirstine, who had been living in London returns to Miscellaneous European Country upon hearing the news of her father’s death in order to attend the reading of his will. She had never really known her father as he had sent her to private school in England after the death of her mother and had never met his extended family either.

Upon reaching the family castle (A ‘castle’ which it must be noted looked smaller than the villa I spent my summer holiday in Ibiza in) she learns that her father’s second wife is dying. Upon her way to see the dying woman she encounters a weird mute housekeeper who looks like an old version of Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite who had really let himself go, her uncle, her aunt and a woman who I’m guessing might be her cousin or something (Apart from the main girl, I never really picked up the character’s name). There all a bit kooky and weird and her uncle at least is strangely cold to the touch. I imagine she reconciles this in her mind by just assuming it’s because they’re from mainland Europe, a fair assumption to make, but it’s soon clear that there’s more going on here. Unfortunately the movie never makes it clear what that is.

So as time progresses, Christina has weird dreams about her dead father calling her name and he appears to her as a being caught somewhere between life and death. But I have see no real reason for him showing up because he doesn’t do anything except warn her about things at too late a juncture for her to do anything about them. And seeing as this is a European horror film made in the 70s, there’s also plenty of shots of Christina and others completely naked for no real reason. There’s one bit where Christina goes swimming naked in a pond and two characters who never appear again leer over her until they are shooed away by a third character who also never appears again. Basically it’s an excuse for the girl to frolic about with a kit of for a bit. Still she’s kinda cute and has a well managed bush by 70s standards at least.

So through all of this incomprehensible mess, there aren’t any actual zombies in this zombie film except for the vague implication that her family might be the living dead. And by vague implication I mean that but where she notes that her Uncle is cold to the touch. Her cousin also has a habit of drinking blood from her blind cousin’s breasts (who shows up vaguely warn Christina about something) and someone goes around putting the desiccated bodies of bed all over place because… well, because. I understand there is a later cut of this film where the director added scenes of traditional zombies and it’s apparently even more confusing than this version. That surely takes some doing.

By the end of the film Christina has gone quite mad after being attacked by her family some reason. Then she has another dream where Lady Death takes her into the pond she swam naked earlier and her family follow her. Seriously. I have no fucking idea what the hell happened in this film. When there weren’t naked people on screen, people were talking in vague and philosophical terms about death which is why I said that the film had a French feeling to it. That’s the kind of thing French people do.

So the first film of Zombie month has no Zombies in it and was completely incomprehensible to boot. This is not the best start to this marathon. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s film kicks things up a notch. Bam. I rate ‘A Virgin Amongst The Living Dead’ one pint out of five because the vaguely cute girl got vaguely naked a vaguely large number of times. Laterz then.

You can buy a version of ‘A Virgin Among The Living Dead’ from the Cinepub Store for £3.99

Review: Pontypool by Jamie

Well, today is February 15th which means that, according to wikipedia, it is National Flag of Canada day which marks the day that the Canadians took down their old banner which featured the mighty Union Jack, symbol of the Great British Empire of old and chose a flag with a maple leaf on it instead. Seems like a bit of a step backwards but, you know, whatever.

Of course I kid Canada. ‘Tis a lovely flag and a lovely nation that just so happens to be home to my favourite film podcast, Film Junk. So it’s only right that we honour this day of proud heritage for the Canadian people by looking at one of the best damn Canadian films I have ever seen, the 2009 horror film, Pontypool.

Now, I don’t want to spoil this film but there are certain aspects that I simply can’t review without revealing a few little things that might be considered as spoilers so if you desperately want to see this film and haven’t gotten around to it yet then I would recommend you watch it before reading this review. Like I say, I’ll be trying to reveal as little as possible but I won’t be able to really write a review without revealing the cause of the events within the film. It’s up to you now if you read on. You have the power.

So Pontypool is named after the small town in Canada where it takes place. Perhaps the greatest thing about this film is that it takes place almost entirely in one location, a radio station where our main character, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), works as on-air talent. With him is his producer, Sydney Briar and her assistant Laurel Ann. Mazzy is a pretty fun character, a apparent former radio star who was known for having controversial opinions on things such as law enforcement who now finds himself in a small town, tin-pot radio station, constantly being told to try and reign his personality in a little.

The shit begins to hit the fan when the radio station receives a report from Ken Loney, a traffic reporter who travels the air in his Sunshine Chopper, of some extremely violent riots occurring outside the offices of Dr. Mendez. These riots soon spread throughout the town and it seems as though the rioters are somewhat dazed and confused, constantly repeating certain phrases over and over again. They also extremely violent, attacking people and apparently eating them as well.

Mazzy continues to broadcast, hoping to keep the people of Pontypool informed about the terrible events going on within the town but it soon becomes clear that the people within the radio station are quite possibly the only ones left unaffected by the strange things occurring outside. Or perhaps not. Laurel Ann suddenly seems to be incredibly confused, unable to string an entire sentence together and finally just repeating one word over and over again. Whilst this is going on, Dr. Mendez manages to find his way to the radio station and make his way inside. Upon seeing Laurel Ann he informs Grant and Sydney that it might be a good idea for them to get into the sound-proof booth and lock themselves inside away from the confused looking girl. He explains that she has been infected with a mysterious virus that is spreading around town which will cause her to hunt them and that their speech will attract her, hence locking themselves in the sound-proof booth.

That’s pretty much all the writing about the plot that I’ll do as things really start to take a turn for the worse from there. Instead I want to talk about the method by which the virus spreads itself. It is revealed throughout the course of the film that the virus is beginning to spread itself via speech, specifically the English language. There are certain words which are infected and the key is that understanding. Upon hearing an infected word and understanding it, the person becomes infected themselves. This causes them to repeat the infected word, apparently as some form of the body trying to fight the virus before finally succumbing to it and becoming aggressive whilst also trying to spread the infection.

It’s certainly a different way of trying to tackle a zombie-esque outbreak and one that’s incredibly effective. How do you fight an infection that can’t be stopped by things such as vaccines? Something that’s spread by such an intrinsic part of everyday human life as speech? I know I’d be screwed especially if the virus spread itself solely through the English language. I only know a spattering of unhelpful phrases in French and German and how to ask for a beer in Japanese. Yep, I’d either be fucked or incredibly drunk in a Japanese bar. I really hope for the later.

Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of this film are the comedic elements that are layered throughout it. There’s the revelation that Ken isn’t actually in a helicopter at all. The Sunshine Chopper is actually his Dodge Dart which he parks on top of a hill in order to give him an aerial view of the traffic situation below. There’s also an hilarious scene with the cast of a local theatre troupe who are putting on a musical version of Lawrence of Arabia. And I can’t talk about the humour of the film without mentioning the character of Grant Mazzy himself. The man’s brilliant and McHattie does an excellent job of portraying a man who clearly dislikes the idea of restraining himself on air.

Despite all this comedy, Pontypool remains a genuinely creepy movie. There’s an undercurrent of unease running through it, particularly early on in the film when it isn’t really clear exactly what’s going on, especially with Ken’s recurring reports on what’s going on outside. It’s a classic example of not revealing too much too soon and it’s masterfully done here. When the infection does reach the station, the film doesn’t shy away from the odd bit of gore and violence either, literally spraying the sound proof booth with blood at one point.

Unless you hadn’t guessed by now, I highly recommend Pontypool. It manages to achieve something that horror films rarely do these days, make me feel genuinely tense and that’s a very good thing indeed. Five pints out of five.

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