DAY OF THE DEAD
ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B Extras C
starring Mena Suvari, Nick Cannon, Michael Welch, Ving Rhames
screenplay by Jeffrey Reddick
directed by Steve Miner
LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE
*½/**** Image B- Sound B Extras D
starring Tad Hilgenbrinck, Angus Sutherland, Autumn Reeser, Corey Feldman
screenplay by Hans Rodionoff
directed by P.J. Pesce
by Walter Chaw As I'm an avowed fan of George Romero's severely underestimated Day of the Dead, imagine my unsurprised chagrin when über-hack Steve Miner's remake of Romero's third zombie outing falls far nearer in quality to Tom Savini's dishonourable remake of Night of the Living Dead than to Zach Snyder's better-than-the-original Dawn of the Dead. A mess from conception to execution, the picture's first misstep is to turn the splatter effects over to cheap-o CGI phantoms and allow the ridiculous cardboard stencils played by Mena Suvari and--horrors--Nick Cannon to run roughshod. The soul of Romero's flicks--of all good zombie flicks--lies in their social awareness and in the ultimate feeling that whatever chills and thrills enjoyed along the way, it was all a metaphor for something more interesting than an end-of-days high concept.
Take Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's remarkable 28 Weeks Later as the best of the recent examples: it's a film that delivers like a sonofabitch while speaking to ideas about our occupation in Iraq that function as time capsule, pure and direct, of this moment in our history. It's not a requirement of course that every genre picture fulfill the mandate to be gold mines of sociology and history, but you do have the reasonable expectation to be scared by a horror film or, if not scared, then maybe titillated, or perhaps grossed-out. Because this Day of the Dead's screenplay is so shoddy, there's nothing of value to hold on to; because its special effects are so sorry, there's nothing to cringe at; and because the acting and direction are so uniformly poor, the only possible response to the benighted thing is pity. Self-pity, to be precise, that there are such things in the world and you've just had the misfortune of sitting through one.
The moment I truly lose sympathy with this piece of shit isn't when Suvari (as soldier Sarah) and Cannon (ghetto improv'ing like a madman as soldier Salazar) first materialize, nor even when it's revealed that the zombie Bub from the original has been recast in this one as "Bud," a gomer with a crush on Sarah. No, the moment I lose sympathy for the flick is when the zombie outbreak begins in earnest and we see one of the legions of the undead crawling--super-fast, like one of Giger's Aliens--upside-down on a ceiling. What kind of virus, I ask Francis Lawrence's I Am Legend, turns people into great acrobats? It's a crisis of imagination, one that claims in its wake any hope that there's something of value to be mined from this quagmire. Accordingly, Day of the Dead has zombies shooting machine guns, zombies making noble sacrifices in the name of love, zombies following a charismatic zombie leader played by Ving Rhames... Zombies, in other words, doing a lot of stupid non-zombie shit in order to usher the film towards whatever ill-defined destination it's set for itself.
Miner is an awful director and brings nothing to the film except an ass in a chair, while Cannon, apparently operating under the assumption that his suspect charisma will save him from being Mariah Carey's Katie Holmes into pop cultural oblivion, takes it upon himself to create a jive-talking caricature so odious that nary a moment's not spent hoping against hope that he'll be the next thing on the menu. Without a plot, there's no endpoint and consequently no tension surrounding whether or not an endpoint will be arrived at, leading conveniently to the film petering out at some point prior to a de rigueur pre-credits jump-scare suggesting that not all the zombies are dead. The problem, of course, is that there never was the suggestion that they were sufficiently dealt with, rendering said stinger as senseless and un-scary as the rest of the exercise. It's no wonder this abortion went straight to video--the wonder is that it saw the light of day in any form.
Speaking of Tom Savini, enter a DTV sequel, Lost Boys: The Tribe, that ups the gore quotient considerably from the opening minutes, with The Tom logging a typically embarrassing cameo in which he's torn to grisly pieces in the grand tradition of his old-school karo-syrup-and-sheep-guts nastiness. An auspicious start to what washes out as a pathetic redux of Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys that regurgitates its source material with enough precision to qualify for remake status. Think of this one as The Lost Boys smushed together uncomfortably with Blue Crush as the biker vamps from the first are lazily transposed onto the surfer vamps of the second. They're led by emo-weary, red-jacket-wearing ex-pro-surfer Shane, played by another Sutherland, Angus, doing his best--you guessed it--Jim Morrison. But Angus is not only no Jason Patric, he's no friggin' Kiefer, which makes the fact of him outperforming our dopey lead Tad Hilgenbrink (Chris) in every scene they have together both fascinating to watch and extraordinarily sad. Chris is in town with kid sis Nicole (Autumn Reeser) after the death of their parents transforms Chris into an overprotective douchebag who needs to save her from sleepy, boring Shane (he talks like the retarded character Seth Green voices on the late, lamented "Duckman") once Shane turns her into a half-vampire. More tits go along with more grue, of course, meaning this film is a lot like every other DTV movie that began life as something else only to end it with a franchise tag lending it a nugget of exploitation cred before stunned cultists realize they wuz had. If you don't tune out after Shane drones to Nicole, "I want you to take this dead rose in your hand," you're a braver man than I, Gunga Din.
Still, fans of disembowelment and tits--and c'mon, who isn't?--have reason to check out this "Uncut" version. For devotees of the original, it's testament to how much bad director Schumacher hit it out of the park (everyone gets lucky sometimes: see ponce Alan Parker's transcendent Angel Heart) with his focus on the mechanics of fraternal love, Michael Chapman's remarkable cinematography, and the lucky casting of Patric in a star-making turn. Fitfully interesting for all the wrong reasons (note the appearance of Corey Feldman as a surviving Frog), Lost Boys: The Tribe too obviously wants to tap the same vein as its host (but with tits! And guts! And greenscreen!), while knowledge of an Eric Red-penned prequel lying there unproduced hangs out like the proverbial white elephant in the room. Props are due at least to decent production values and a willingness to be cheap and tawdry when smart and funny fail; there's much to be said for a film that knows what it is. (It almost gets a pass, truth be told, for a well-timed joke about born-again Christians.) The shame of it is that it declares itself the sequel to a movie that's held up surprisingly well, ripping off huge swaths of The Lost Boys' premise down to its dialogue and twist whilst sprinkling in heavy doses of post-modernism that, more often than not, fall flat as a pancake, like when Nicole laments her blood-lusting status with the cry of "Do you know how gross that is? I'm a vegetarian!" Possible to enjoy if impossible to respect, the picture is barely worth a second thought.
Day of the Dead comes to DVD via First Look Studios slipcovered in a lenticular design (ditto Lost Boys: The Tribe) that starts the cheap exploitation from a lonesome, dusty perch on the shelf. What I'm saying is that a crudely-animated hologram of a zombie puking, though not a bad commentary on the enterprise in and of itself, severely dishonours Romero's thoughtful, brilliant classic. More bad news: the 1.78:1, HD-sourced anamorphic widescreen transfer is lamentably clear, the DD- and DTS-encoded 5.1 audio is adequtely loud (my ears couldn't tell the difference between the two options), and a feature-length yakker reunites Miner, screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, Suvari, and promising actor Stark Sands (Bud). The track is packed to bursting with self-congratulation tempered only by fleeting self-awareness; there's a bit where they observe of the ceiling-crawling zombie, "This doesn't work," then cover their asses with "...erm, until we animated ceiling tiles falling down." The worst part of all the plot regurgitation and faux squeals of excitement is the occasional singling out of the bad CGI effects, as though they were difficult for us to spot.
"On the Set" (14 mins.) highlights the shooting of the ceiling-crawling zombie as it falls down on its victim in a moment of bizarre self-knowledge that this is, in fact, an important part of the film without also seeming to understand that it's important because it's so memorably stupid. Anyway, that goes on for a while before the piece moves on to on-set video journal-type stuff that at best serves to underscore how difficult it is to make a movie--even a shitty one. The bright spot is that as it's neither tightly edited nor bound by narration, it reminds me of the special features on a Kim Ki-duk DVD. Never a bad thing to be reminded of Kim Ki-duk.
Additionally, there are three trailers on/for this dud (the International one predictably the bloodiest) and, horrors, one-on-one interviews with principals Suvari, Cannon, AnnaLynne McCord, Michael Welch, Sands, Miner, and makeup man Dean Jones lasting about 2 minutes apiece. Suvari stutters through why she thought working with Miner was a great idea ("He's um, legend, um, in the, um, business and, um, horror") until she's unceremoniously cut off, "Sopranos"-style. Weird, right? Cannon manages to further embarrass himself. "Salazar is a cool guy. He don't play that. Know what I mean?" No. "He about his bidness, he gone get it done, DA SALAZAR WAY." Still nothing. He calls George A. Romero "Geor-Jay Romero" and claims to be a fan of the "dead" films and deep stuff and then he notes that in the small Colorado town where Day of the Dead takes place there aren't many black people. He doesn't say this because he understands Romero's legacy of social consciousness (the original Night of the Living Dead remains one of the most important Civil Rights pictures ever made), but because it's ghetto to talk about being black. I did enjoy his Gov. Palin assessment of Miner, though: "Yeah, all the way from Friday the 13th and many, um, other things."
McCord--who's hot in the way of low-budget zombie flicks--trying to justify her dragalong character would be easier to listen to if she didn't have Dyan Cannon's lips and hair, and Michael Welch is someone I already forgot was in the movie. I honestly believe that Sands is potentially a minor star for his Opie Taylor congeniality, and he has an affecting, genuine way of recounting his participation in this stillbirth. Miner takes this as an opportunity to regurgitate the film's premise as though he were selling the very thing we're presumably fresh from watching. He ejaculates all over Ving Rhames, using terms like "solidness" and "believability" several times, and describes Cannon as "quick" and "smart" with lots of good ideas--which I translated to mean "slow" and "stupid" and insistent on mugging and upstaging at every turn. He then opines that his film is different from the original. Jones ends it all with more fawning over Miner while saying over and over again that the picture's zombies are unique. Here's something to chew over: they're unique because they live as binary code on a silicon chip. There's a useless photo gallery, and an "Alternate Ending" (2 mins.) sees Cannon's Jar Jar Binks surviving and muttering something about how black guys don't always die in movies like this--making it far worse, it goes without saying. Trailers for slightly less sucky First Look releases (King of California, The Contract, Headless Horseman, The Perfect Witness, Blonde and Blonder, and Smiley Face) round out the platter.
Brought to DVD courtesy Warner Premiere in a 2.40:1, 16x9-enhanced presentation with DD 5.1 audio, the "Uncut Version" of Lost Boys: The Tribe looks and sounds like high-end DTV fare. (Rare for a film intended to bypass theatres, it was shot in Super35.) A few compression artifacts surface here and there, due, I'd betcha, to the fact that a fullscreen alternative is packed onto the opposite side of the bit-crunching single-layer platter. Two alternate endings extend the suffering, the first (2 mins.) sporting a reappearance of the Jamison Newlander Frog as well as the Corey Haim character from The Lost Boys, the second (2 mins.), also with Haim and Newlander, putting shades on Haim, which tells me it was reshot due to some fear that Haim's bloated corpse would be unrecognizable with his bloodshot, boiled-egg eyes obscured. "Lost Boys: The Tribe Action Junkies" (5 mins.) is full of idiot B-roll that allows us to revisit the picture's exciting BMX racing and night-surfing! Angus reveals that he's not acting like a zoned-out dimwit in the film and the stunt coordinator utters a lot of variations on "the sky's the limit" and "the bar's raised way up" and "dude." It's bad, but not as bad as "Edgar Frog's Guide to Coming Back Alive" (5 mins.), in which Feldman, in character, rattles off ways to kill a vampire. Interspersed with clips from a film that had little replay value to begin with, it's abominable. Music videos for "Cry Little Sister" (remixed by G Tom Mac or somefuck) and three Yeah Whatever cuts--"Downfall," "Hell is Full," and "It's Over Now"--tie the package up neat and tidy.
Both titles are also available on Blu-ray. Originally published: January 14, 2009.