The dead walk…to the Phoenix!
Saturday 15th November 2014 meant only one thing to many British zombie fans – the annual UK Festival of Zombie Culture, held as ever since its inception at the Phoenix Arts Cinema in Leicester.
Now in its eighth year it has become the longest running Leicester film festival and thankfully, unlike its subject matter, shows no sign of dying soon. Following the now established format this year saw around 12 hours of films, the return of the arcade of the dead, retail stalls, author appearances and the fantastic 3 minute zombie killing challenge amongst much more.
In a departure from the programming choice of last years sell out event, a quick glance at this years film schedule showed a return to a more international flavour, featuring two UK premieres and some of the best films of the last four years, many of which are yet to be released over here.
I arrived at the cinema a bit before midday and was immediately greeted by the sight of the undead coming back to haunt the living but thankfully these creatures were not craving (my) human flesh but the freshest slabs of celluloid featuring their kin.
After collecting my composure and an early pint it was time for the first film, a slot which I usually associate at past festivals with zombie classics, particularly the films of Lucio Fulci (City of the Living Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters) so it was surprising to see a 2014 film scheduled for this time, although less surprising when I saw that it was a Fulci inspired American zombie flick called ‘Bombshell Bloodbath’. Before the film however we were treated to a reading by Birmingham author David Moody, which added a nice touch to proceedings and helped showcase that this festival celebrates all areas of zombie culture, with it being particularly encouraging that Moody is a Midlands born and bred published and successful writer.
On to the film itself, director Brett Mullen combines the eerie-faux Gothicism of Fulci’s unofficial ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy with a strong grindhouse element via Gordon’s Re-animator combining to make something not quite like any of the other films at the festival. With a script paying homage to the golden age of the Italian zombie cinema but without seeming clichéd and featuring a lead character coming across as a mix of Alice in Resident Evil and the women in Baise Moi it was easy to fall under the spell of this film, which showed there is still plenty to be done with the genre.
Before the next film, it was Wolverhampton based goremonger and author Adam Millard’s turn to treat us to some zombie literature, even if it did heavily contain cowboy masturbation, and was another fine example of talent not only coming from the Midlands but being recognised for their contributions to the genre.
At a festival timing is everything, and sadly for me, both the pace and tone of Exit Humanity fell flat after the action of Bombshell Bloodbath. Despite boasting a stellar cast of genre stalwarts including Bill Moseley (TCM 2, Devils Rejects), Brian Cox (Troy, Manhunter, Trick r’Treat) and Stephen McHattie (300, Watchmen, Pontypool) something just didn’t click and it appeared to be a paycheck and nothing more to these guys.
The film follows Edward Young (Mark Gibson) as he tries to survive in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak during the end of the American Civil War; he joins up with a fellow survivor but soon learns that building a life and keeping ones integrity comes at a heavy price. Although some loved it for me, the film took too long to get going but even more disappointing was that it set itself up as a poignant and character driven film yet lacked the substance to connect on that level and was a clear case of the sum of its parts being greater than the whole.
The third film of the Festival saw its first Indian entry (although not the first south Asian film as previously the Pakistani film ‘Hells Ground’ was shown) with the 2013 zombie comedy ‘Goa Goa Gone’ which followed a group of friends join up with members of the Russian mafia getting stuck on a remote island off the coast of Goa, as they witness a party drug turning ravers into zombies (sounding vaguely similar to the maligned Uwe Boll mess House of the Dead). Unfortunately I missed this film but only heard positive reports regarding it.
Back on track and after a food break was the Australian effort ‘Theatre of the Dead’, also 2013, which saw a dance troupe trapped in their theatre as the zombie apocalypse threatens to get in. Although, as with many zombie films, you need to be just as wary of the living as the dead…especially when events could lead to a bad review.
Perhaps just because of the setting I was immediately put in mind of a zombie take on Soavi’s ‘Stagefright’ and also the many zombie stripper films which are essentially very similar in tone and set up. Theatre of the Dead provided all the right laughs but none of the gore or tension required to pull off this style and essentially left us with a mediocre and derivative siege movie which borrowed liberally from Romero’s films amongst others. However, of special note was the guy who played the director in the film who seemed to have the majority of the best lines and a great presence when he was in screen, channelling Andy Nyman’s asshole character in Brooker’s ‘Dead Set’.
One film that is not average though is Cuba’s ‘Juan of the Dead’, and while almost every zomcom since Shaun of the Dead claims comparison in terms of quality this one genuinely deserves the praise.
In the film, Juan and his down on their luck companions don’t see the destruction caused by the zombie apocalypse, as they already have next to nothing, but the opportunities as they set out to, ironically capitalise on the nations misfortune all while the government claim that the undead are simply dissidents revolting against them and, most likely under U.S. influence.
This film is not only full of fun but, like all the best genre films, also has an underlying message and meaning adding weight to humour and connecting on multiple levels and it is to the credit to Zombie Ed and the festival that they do put on overlooked gems such as this.
The final film was the 2013 film ‘I Survived a Zombie Holocaust’ and considering the countries previous efforts expectations were high for this zombie comedy and it didn’t disappoint which saw a young runner on the set of a zombie film get more than his jobs worth when genuine zombies crash the set.
After over 12 hours of zombie mayhem, the crowd shuffled out back into the night, reverently discussing the movies, costumes and fantastic time that they had at what is undoubtedly the UK’s premier zombie film festival. Same time next year.
To learn more about the festival, visits the Terror4Fun website and add Zombie Ed on Twitter - https://twitter.com/ZombieEdUK