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Must... watch... documentary... and eat... BRAINS

Film explores zombie-horror's creepy roots, current mania

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Call it a personal peccadillo. But if you want to impress me with a comprehensive work on zombie movies, you should always name-check the relatively obscure 1959 horror movie Invisible Invaders. The zoms of George Romero's subsequent classic Night of the Living Dead (1968) owe much to the shambling reanimated corpses of that comparatively cheesy John Carradine-starring thriller.

I'm delighted to say Doc of the Dead, director Alexandre Philippe's incisive film about the roots of contemporary zombie mania, does just that.

Philippe (who famously vivisected the Star Wars empire with his doc The People Vs. George Lucas) goes even further back in film history to discuss films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and White Zombie (1932) to well and truly explore the roots of the horror sub-genre.

Of course, he acknowledges the gross-out zombie movie as we now know it was sired by Romero with his 1968 film and embedded in the zeitgeist with his two brilliant sequels, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the underrated Day of the Dead (1985).

The question of why zombies seem to be gaining in popularity -- witness the crazy success of the TV series The Walking Dead -- is the question asked of miscellaneous expert witnesses, including Romero (of course), World War Z author Max Brooks (who frequently proves to be as funny as his dad Mel), and Shaun of the Dead star Simon Pegg, whose satiric take of the genre was still every bit as valid as the most humourless gutmuncher.

Those interviews are punctuated with a few lively diversions from the likes of Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell (featuring footage of his officiating a zombie wedding), make-up artist Tom Savini, Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon (yes, the film includes one of the more outré undead assaults from that notorious 1985 horror-comedy), and even a porn star named Joanna Angel, who fails to make a convincing case that zombies and eroticism are somehow a good mix. (Sorry. No. They're not.)

Fans should appreciate how the movie also makes a point of celebrating the most excellent zombie performances of all time, Sherman Howard (originally billed as Howard Sherman) as the semi-sentient zombie "Bub" in Romero's Day of the Dead.

Bless him, Philippe isn't afraid, in his own critical way, to geek out on zombie culture, specifically by spending time on the debate between fast zombies and slow zombies. Romero's Dawn of the Dead was all about the slow zombies. Zack Snyder's 2004 remake featured fast zombies.

To some, it's not even a question of which is scarier but which is more physiologically viable, because, you know ... they're dead.


In tandem with Doc of the Dead, Cinematheque will be screening the original Night of the Living Dead on Friday and Saturday at 11:30 p.m.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 31, 2014 C7


Updated on Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 9:13 AM CDT: adds photo

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