You wouldn't think that a load of reanimated corpses sent to feast upon the flesh of the living and crush all human civilisation in their rotting claws would be popular, but there you go. Zombies: we love 'em. This is particularly true of myself and my good buddy Mark, a man who built much of his education on their scabby green backs. But it's a symbiotic relationship; we get movies, books, comics and a whole raft of cultural icons and they get brains. Delicious brains! And what better way to celebrate this special bond of man and ghoul than with a twenty-four hour zombie movie marathon?
It began, like so much of life, in a pub. A brilliant, drunken idea that would ensure our immortality amongst them as likes that sort of thing. Buoyed up by the purity and energy of the notion we swung in action, laying plans and making preparations and after mere weeks we were ready. Ready to sacrifice a full day of our lives to our dead colleagues.
First, a note on the format. Twenty-four hours, a twenty minute break every two movies, thirteen movies in total. Purists will note some glaring gaps in our selection, most notably the Night of the Living Dead trilogy, plus the excellent Re-Animator and beardy hobbit-pusher Peter Jackson's Braindead. Why these omissions? Because we're not made of money and, typically, everything was cobbled together on an extremely ad hoc basis. Believe me, we'd rather have seen those gems than some of the tat we sat through, but I suppose we all have to suffer for our art. Or something.
1:00PM; Evil Dead.
Saturday, sometime in July. As so often happens with the British summer the day is cloudy, overcast and cloyingly warm and muggy. Bristol is one of the most polluted cities in Britain and we live in one of its grubbiest areas. The atmosphere is thick and heavy, drizzle and sweat sticking clothes to skin. The air tastes of dirt.
We've gathered enough sweets, crisps, cakes and sugary items together to give even the most casual observer diabetes. We also have a potentially unlimited supply of coffee and marijuana. These are basic precautions, without which the marathon wouldn't even have been considered. Safety equipment is very important.
First up is the seminal Evil Dead, one of the movies responsible for the Video Nasty hysteria that gripped the country during early eighties. Directed by Sam Raimi and starring the incomparable Bruce Campbell—who were younger than Mark and I when they made it, natch—ED is widely regarded as a benchmark in cheapo splatter flicks.
Even now, some twenty years after it was made, it still stands up to scrutiny. Whereas the later movies in the series played up the comedy aspects Evil Dead is pure horror. The scanty budget means that Raimi and co. had to use a fair amount of psychological trickery, leaving much of the hideousness to the audience's imagination. This is perfectly illustrated by the infamous tree rape scene; you don't actually see any branches disappearing into any orifices but it's played so well that you end up thinking that you did. What gore there is—and there's a fair amount—is used judiciously to extract the maximum shock value from the audience. This won't be news to anyone with even the most passing interest in horror movies; as a full-on scare fest Evil Dead can't be beat.
2:30PM; City of the Living Dead.
Our first Italian movie, from the stable of the legendary Lucio Fulci. The plot involves some foolishness involving a priest's suicide in his own graveyard that releases dark forces bent on world blah blah blah. If you're after plot summaries you're reading the wrong article; I wouldn't dream of spoiling them for you.
Not a personal favourite, CotLD is still a solid zombie movie. Highlights include a girl vomiting her own entrails, a gentleman whose brains are removed through the back of his head, a satanic wind of maggots and, of course, Bob: an unfortunate simpleton who finds himself blamed for just about everything bad that happens to anyone. Eventually a concerned parent attempts to cure Bob's mental problems with the application of a 3/4 inch drill bit to the temple. Who says care in the community doesn't work?
City of the Living Dead is fine and all, but in pales in insignificance compared to Fulci's masterful Zombie Flesh Eaters, more of which later. At about 3:00PM I find myself thinking about my own death. Better keep an eye on that.
Stew. Coffee. Doughnut.
4:25PM; Erotic Nights of the Living Dead.
Occasionally, at very special moments in human history when the planets are correctly aligned and the ley lines form up in sacred geometric patterns that speak of eternal mysteries of the universe unknowable to our simple ape minds, men of Destiny will walk the Earth and perform great deeds that will echo down the centuries. They will say things like "Hey—people like zombies, right?"
"And people like titties, yeah?"
"Then why don't we—wait for it—why don't we make a zombie porn movie!"
"Dude, you're a fucking genius!"
Of such bricks is the palace of human history made. Erotic Nights of the Living Dead; not so much a movie that I watched, rather something that happened to me. Five minutes in and a nurse is being porked by a beardy doctor in an insane asylum while a gurning patient rubs one out in the corner. The action then shifts to a boat where there'll be ten minutes of incomprehensible dialogue and then a shot of a hairy Italian getting his nob soaped in the shower. By this point I'm starting to worry about what God, should he exist, is going to say about all this. I reckon I'll be all right if I blame everything on Mark.
ENotLD was only released in Canada, and then in a heavily edited form. Mark owns the cut Canadian edition with the dodgy stuff spliced back in. These dodgy bits were recorded on a hand-held camera in a cinema somewhere in Italy during the 70's; this means there is a serious drop in quality when the movie reaches what I'll laughingly call the 'good bits', such as when Laura Gemser gives some bloke a blowjob and accidentally on purpose bites his cock off. We're then treated to a grainy shot of the unfortunate member hanging from the corner of the good lady's mouth like a cigar made of sausage meat.
The undoubted highlight of ENotLD wasn't originally part of the plot. Apparently the film crew were in some titty bar in the Bahamas where they saw a stripper with a singular talent: the ability to open champgane bottles using her pussy. The lads saw it as their singular duty to commit this phenomenon to film so, knowing their audience, they bunged her in the movie. Who among us can say they wouldn't have done the same?
Not a porno, not a real zombie flick, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead falls between two very widely spaced stools. it's barely even a movie, though none the worse for that. In fact it's highly enjoyable, if a little bemusing. A cultural artefact.
6:15PM; Zombie Lake.
Pausing only to eat a nourishing banana—Laura Gemser impressions are swiftly vetoed—it's time to plunge into Zombie Lake. The only French movie on our list, ZL has the worst make-up effects of the entire marathon. We're talking green face paint that rubs off when they try to bite anyone. It's also complete toss. There are undead Nazis at the bottom of a French lake and for some reason they've decided to start eating the locals. Crap acting, a pants story, inappropriately chirpy music and a lesbian netball team conspire to make Zombie Lake one of the poorer films on our list.
No matter; spirits are high. By this point we have accrued a full entourage of girlfriends, buddies and well wishers that provide a party atmosphere. The sense of occasion is tangible. And to think people were saying we couldn't do it. Hah!
I walk to the shop in an attempt to get some air and remind myself about the rest of the world. For some reason I keep thinking about my poor mother. The rain persists.
8:00PM; Zombie Holocaust.
And, with not a small degree of relief, we come to Zombie Holocaust. A most notable movie. Notable because a) unlike the previous couple of films it is actually some cop and b) it marks the first appearance of Ian McCulloch in our little enterprise. McCulloch is up there with the great cinematic zombie hunters, immortals like Bruce Campbell and Ken Forey. Ian McCulloch was, to coin a phrase, fucking sweet. The quintessential Englishman, he lent weight and gravitas to all of the zombie flicks he graced with his presence. If any foreigner became skittish and excitable at the sight of all the gnawed-off limbs, mangled faces and so forth McCulloch would simply slap the snivelling pansy's face before escaping from the zombie horde with at least one attractive lady in tow. Admittedly the mortality rate for his assistants, native guides and luggage porters was a little on the high side; to be honest it would have kinder if he'd just had them all shot before they left for the island or wherever but the man himself was bullet-proof.
Best bit of ZH: McCulloch splatters a zombie with the outboard motor off the back of a speedboat. Fucking harsh, and possibly my favourite moment in any movie ever.
9:40PM; Resident Evil.
Time now for a swift dip into the modern. Resident Evil is the newest movie on our list, zombies having made a bit of a comeback recently. Many of the hardcore among you will see this new strain of living dead pictures as nothing more than a phase, a passing fad shat out by a cynical industry. To these naysayers I reply—"Come aaahhhn!" By and large these modern films are put together with at least a degree of skill and usually a healthy respect for the traditions of the genre. This is particularly true of the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead, a film which many have decried as sacrilege but which I heartily endorse. Why? Because it's cool, that's why.
Unfortunately that hadn't come out at the time of the marathon so we were stuck with Resident Evil. It's all right; in fact it's one of Paul WS Anderson's better films. Despite being renowned as the worst hack director in the whole of Hollywood he makes a decent fist of this one. Shame the same can't be said of Alien vs Predator—seen it? don't bother—but Resi is at least watchable. Being based on a computer game will always be a drawback but with the application of flashy camerawork, modern themes about big corporations and whatnot and a starring role for Milla Jovovich—she's mine I tells you, all mine! Resident Evil passes without incident. Talk about damning with faint praise, eh?
11:40PM; Raiders of the Living Dead.
RotLD was, along with Zombie Lake and Return of the Living Dead 3, purchased specially for the marathon. This meant we hadn't seen it before; had we known what what to expect it would have gone slightly higher up the running list when we might have been arsed to actually watch the thing.
Kicking off with it's own specially written theme song, an hilarious 80's synth number entitled "The Dead Are After Me", Raiders of the Living Dead swiftly degenerates to the point where you'd rather be watching Trisha, or a porn video starring your Mum and half a dozen of your best mates. 80's sets, 80's lighting, 80's clothes, 80's titties, 80's hair; the 80's stylings are so pernicious you keep expecting it to cut to footage of the miner's strike. After about half an hour you'll realise you haven't been paying the slightest bit of attention but you'll soon realise that this doesn't matter because absolutely nothing has happened. The hero builds a laser cannon out of an old Laserdisc player; this involves a ten minute soldering scene. At the halfway point the movie had become an object of open scorn and by the end we were throwing glasses of water in our faces just for something to do. I wish I could provide a better account but I have literally no recollection of that 90 minutes of my life. A movie that, were you to take a girl to see it, would leave her with absolutely no memory of the previous evening, RotLD can only have been designed with date-rapists in mind.
1:00AM—Zombie Flesh Eaters.
Halfway. The posse fucks off, leaving me and Mark to it. As they leave a great depression settles on me; surely there can't be another twelve hours of this? This feeling of doom is exacerbated by the movie. Let's speak plainly; Zombie Flesh Eaters is grim. Ian McCulloch reappears but even he can't put a smile on my face. Like so many of the classics it all happens on a tropical island and the feeling of tense, claustrophobic malaria-ridden peril is almost tangible. This movie makes you feel grimy just by watching it. It also brings new meaning to the phrase "eye trauma". In between worrying bouts of dozing I start to hate the world.
In the cold light of day Zombie Flesh Eaters has much to recommend it, such as the classic fight scene between a zombie and a shark. It is in many ways the archetypal zombie movie; all the disparate elements come together to create an undisputed classic, the choice of the true connoisseur. I love it to death, but that particular viewing nearly finished me off.
2:30AM; A very well-deserved break.
Come on now, Williams. Chin up. We drink some OJ, listen to a bit of Gomez, I clean my teeth (anyone who spends a lot of time awake at unreasonable hours of the morning knows about the reviving powers of a simple toothbrush) and the mood improves considerably.
3:00AM; Evil Dead 2.
Only in this very special set of circumstances could Evil Dead 2 ever be described as light relief, but that's exactly what it was. Widely considered to even better than the first instalment, ED2 saw Ash mature from a non-descript horror film protagonist into the larger-than-life cinema icon he is now. There's very little I can say about this movie that hasn't already been said; if you haven't already seen it then I urge you to do so.
4:30AM; Evil Dead 3.
Or 'Army of Darkness: The Medieval Dead' to give it its full title. Here we have a full on comedy, a mercy for any poor sod in the kind of state we'd reached at this point. The relentlessly black slapstick makes Evil Dead 3 stand out from the pack; the horde of tiny Ashes, the whole "KLAATU! VERRATA! N-?" palaver, the host of immortal quotations and the rest have passed into zombie movie lore. The Evil Dead series is now a bona fide franchise with comics, computer games, cuddly toys and so on all contributing to the merchandising juggernaut. A fanboy's wet dream, although Mark and I strongly refute the implication that we're that geeky, despite the evidence to the contrary. 24 hours? It might seem like a good idea when you're sat in a nice warm pub but when 5:00AM rolls round you'll find you have to keep blinking back the tears, or in Mark's case start imagining that there's somebody watching through the gap in the curtains.
6:00AM; Something weird happens.
Think of your favourite food. Got it? Now imagine that by some stroke of luck you manage to land yourself a job in the factory that produces that food. On your first day the boss takes you to one side and says that you can eat as much of whatever it is you're making as you want. Fantastic! So you set to work stuffing your face with chocolate, or pork scratchings, or mini chicken kievs or whatever your preferred snack item happens to be, singing merrily while you do. What good fortune that you should live to see such a day!
Of course, we all know where this is going. After a few days the novelty is wearing thin, after a few weeks you're beginning to get quite bored, after a few months you never want to see another pork scratching as long as you live and after a few years you snap and burn the fucking factory to the ground with everyone in it. The point is that unlimited consumption, even of something you love, is very much a mixed blessing; often it's a downright curse. This is what happened to me and Mark at around 6:00AM. We could have watched another zombie flick. We were tired, yes, but by this time the sun had come up and our biological clocks had flipped into 'next day' mode; when this happens you can do a whole other day if necessary. We were ready for this, but what we weren't prepared for was simply not being arsed any more.
Despite the fact that it was a massive breach of the rules we paused for a while for a quick game of GTA: Vice City.
7:00AM; Return of the Living Dead 3.
My notes regarding this movie are somewhat on the scanty side—they simply read "90's. Goth chick." Since I haven't seen it since you'll have to bear with me while I do a bit of swift recollection. Directed by Brian Yuzna, RotLD3 would normally be a fairly anonymous horror picture. On this occasion, however, exhaustion coupled with too much weed, sugar and something in the region of twenty hours of non-stop killings and throat-rippings turned it into one of the most unpleasant movies I'd ever seen. The government are trying to create some kind of undead super soldier but due to an unforeseen set of circumstances a young goth-looking lady gets caught up in the whole sorry mess; not that we cared. By now the sun was right up and it was fucking boiling...I felt grimy and rough...I didn't want to be there, in that fucking room, seeing those horrible things any more. The knowledge that, only 15 short minutes walk away, my beautiful girlfriend was asleep in our comfy bed was like a weight on the back of my brain. Why would I stay where I was when I could have that?
All I had to do was give in...
9:00AM; Fuck it.
A wise man—I think it was DH Lawrence but I could be wrong—once said "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then give up. There's no need to be a damn fool about it." As Return of the Living Dead 3 lurched to its gory conclusion we made a decision; we'd given it our best shot, but to be honest we just couldn't be arsed any more. To have principles is a fine thing, but when the choice is between principles and a shower, bed, sleep, sex and breakfast I know what I'll go for every time.
Walking home through the blinding sunshine I felt a pang of shame. That lasted until about three seconds after I climbed into bed and snuggled up to the missus. Zombies? Principles? Fuck 'em.