A few months back I saw a trailer for a South African zombie movie called The Dead. The trailer looked great and the advance reviews I read had largely positive things to say about it, so I was chomping at the bit to see it for myself. And yay, I finally got a copy and can only say “wow.”
Okay, I can (and will) say a lot more than “wow.” Not only is it an awesome zombie movie, The Dead is also one of the best all around horror films I’ve seen in years (and for an excellent plot synopsis and review go here). It has atmosphere up the wazoo (yes, I said wazoo and I meant it!), a tight script, excellent acting, and the creepiest zombies to chew flesh since the original cemetery zombie in the movie that started it all, Night of the Living Dead.
The zombies in The Dead are slow zombies. Really slow zombies. Sure, you can probably run right past them. But they are everywhere and they are relentless. They show no glimmer of humanity like Bub in Day of the Dead or Big Daddy in Land of the Dead. They are silent -- and as much as I like the whole “one zombie moan acts as dinner bell for the rest” gimmick, this silence is friggin’ creepy and shows how possible it is for the living to be taken off guard and bitten before realizing they’re in danger.
The zombies in The Dead are also everywhere. The movie takes place in Africa and sure, Africa is a huge continent with vast areas between populated areas. But no matter where our heroes go, there are always at least one or two zombies in the background and it’s clearly established that to stop for any length of time will inevitably mean those one or two zombies will find them. Trying to find a safe spot to sleep is pretty much impossible. As someone who finds sleep deprivation to be torture in the extreme, I found this element of the movie especially horrific.
One of my biggest gripes about many horror movies is a lousy score, whether it’s because it’s overwrought (You WILL feel emotion during this scene because the music TELLS you too!); never-ending (You WON’T notice how crappy the acting/directing/script is because the constant music won’t let you think!); or just plain wrong for the story being told (so many to choose from, but for the moment I’ll go with Fulci’s Zombie 3 as most irritating and inappropriate zombie movie score. Zombie 3 also has a zombie head flying out of a refrigerator, so it’s got problems beyond the score, but that’s another post).
The score for The Dead, on the other hand, is subtle almost to the point where it seems more a part of the African landscape (soundscape?) than movie music. It was similar in that regard to the opening scene “heartbeat” music in the original Dawn of the Dead (also used in the scene when Peter exterminates the zombies locked in the basement of the apartment building), or even the voodoo drums of Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters .
All in all, The Dead embodies what, to me, makes zombies the scariest monster out there. And next week, more on what (IMO) makes a good zombie movie.
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