Anna and the Apocalypse – The Scottish Teenage Zombie High School Musical We’ve Been Waiting For…?

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If the above description of forthcoming movie, Anna and the Apocalypse (a Scottish, teenage zombie, high school musical for those who can’t remember anything above the header photo), doesn’t grab your attention as much as it does mine, then you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Oh, it’s also set at Christmas, but at this time I can’t confirm the involvement of either Tim Burton or Shane Black.

The film is directed by John McPhail, and stars Ella Hunt, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye and includes up-and-comers Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins and Marli Siu.

Beyond its screening at this week’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, release details seem a little sketchy, but frankly the sooner this apocalypse is released upon the world the better.

Train to Busan – Much Needed Life For The Zombie Film

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Whether, like me, you feel the zombie genre hasn’t offered anything new or exciting in a while, or whether you’re still in thrall to the wave of undead films, games and TV shows swarming across our screens, Train to Busan will offer up fresh meat on those rotting bones. To put it simply, this South Korean horror movie has become a late entry on my top films of the year.

The plot is straightforward; a disparate group of passengers board a train just as we are given glimpses that something bad is happening around them. The bad thing, of course, is a zombie apocalypse and director Yeon Sang-ho handles the perfectly timed build like a master, cluing us in ahead of the characters just enough so we feel the noose tightening around them.

Really, saying anything more than that regarding the plot would just spoil the fun for you, suffice to say that all hell breaks loose and the passengers of the train must survive long enough to reach the promised safety of the final stop, the city of Busan.

The film knows what it wants to be and revels in the pleasure of a non-stop barrage of thrills and chills. But, much like George Romero’s high point in the zombie genre, Dawn of the Dead, Sang-ho uses the film to make some barbed comments on society. That it makes them is worthy of attention and even though the film makes them a little bluntly on occasion these moments tend to be undercut with character building emotion, so they’re rarely wasted. One particular revelation is actually groan-worthy in its attempt to tie things up too neatly, but the director is smart enough not to linger on it too long before leaping into the next bravura sequence.

And bravura these sequence are. In the interests of keeping this review spoiler free I’ll just mention a favourite, prolonged sequence where our core group of passengers attempt to rescue another group trapped at the rear of the train, meaning they will need to pass through several train cars of zombies – and back again. It’s a sustained line of set pieces highlighting both the film’s ease with character development and its ability to ratchet up the tension, making smart use of some interesting wrinkles on the usual zombie characteristics and in particular of the location and its surroundings. You might even shed a tear or two.

There are some clichés here to be sure (the noble sacrifice gets more than one airing), but Sang-ho and writer, Park Joo-suk give their characters enough life (the living ones at least) to carry you through any hiccups and do enough with the nail-biting action and visuals  to make this a first class journey (…oh come on, I had to say it at some point in this review).

Train to Busan is a wonderful, high concept action/horror movie told with breathtaking confidence. Stylish, elegant and exciting, this is destined to become a major cult horror movie, regarded in the same revered breath as John Carpenter’s run of work from the late 1970s through the 1980s. A far less interesting Hollywood remake surely beckons.

Just when you think there’s little left to be said or done with the walking dead, along comes a movie which shows there’s life in those shambling old creatures yet.

A Tale of Two Zombies – Dr Butcher M.D. & Zombie Holocaust

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In the mad, bad days of 1970s exploitation films, anything would go when it came to filmmakers and distributors attempting to satiate the cinematic hunger of the crowds who would flock to the grimy theatres and fleapits of 42nd Street. Any craze or genre would be leapt upon with gusto and promotion of the films would go to any length to pull in the punters – even completely changing one film to make something different!

Such was the case with Zombie Holocaust, directed by Marino Girolami, the father of Eurocult icon Enzo G. Castellari. Girolami’s film, made in 1980 under the pseudonym Frank Martin, is a budget-challenged take on Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters, which also throws in elements from the then popular cannibal genre, including such films as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust.

The paper thin plot involves an unfortunate Manhattan morgue which is having problems keeping its occupants’ limbs from going missing. It quickly transpires that these dirty deeds are being carried out by a member of a Caribbean cannibal cult. A nurse, a health department chief, an annoying reporter and her friend soon go on a foolish excursion to a group of New Guinean islands where they run afoul of a mad doctor, zombies, cannibal natives and Jack the Ripper (that last one might not be true). Much spilling of blood and guts ensues.

While the film wins plus points for its canny combination of two popular genres, it’s something of a mess. It distinctly lacks the verve of Fulci and Deodato’s works, and it definitely won’t win any anthropological awards for its depiction of indigenous people, but taken in the right light (and possibly aided by rigorous consumption of alcohol) Girolami’s film is nothing if not entertaining.

Zombie Holocaust did the rounds in Europe and finally landed in the U.S., on the desk of Terry Levene, who acquired it for his Aquarius Releasing distribution company, renaming it Doctor Butcher M.D. (Medical Deviate). In an attempt to make the film seem less Italian and more American, Levene took some footage from an unfinished film, Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out (directed by and starring Roy Frumkes, who would go on to script films such as The Substitute and the cult horror comedy Street Trash) and slapped it on the opening reel.

The footage, featuring Frumkes himself rising from the grave and wandering around like a Friday night office worker at closing time, is unconnected to the rest of the movie (despite some flash cuts of Girolami’s zombies appearing for no good reason).

But these additions, along with some trimmings in the original film’s running time and some wild promotional stunts (including misrepresenting the film as a slasher movie and hiring a truck splattered with Doctor Butcher artwork which drove around Manhattan in the run up to the film’s release) made enough of a difference to ensure that this cut would become a runaway smash on 42nd Street and a staple of the VHS gorehound’s diet in the 1980s!

However, the Levene Doctor Butcher cut has remained difficult to see, but this has now been remedied as dedicated cult label Severin have given both films the kind of gold star presentation usually reserved for somewhat less trashy sensibilities by the likes of Criterion!

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Zombie Holocaust and Doctor Butcher M.D. arrive as a two disc set, with both cuts having been fully restored with 2K scans using the original negative elements from the Aquarius Releasing vaults, alongside an almost insane amount of supplementary material. Severin give us an in-depth interview with Aquarius head honcho Terry Levene, who regales viewers with a history of the company’s successes via films such as Deep Throat and Make Them Die Slowly/Cannibal Ferox. We’re also given a guided tour of The Deuce, the area of New York around 42nd Street which once housed some of the most notorious grindhouse cinemas and sex emporiums. Our tour guides include the previously mentioned Roy Frumkes, and Severin have also included footage from Frumkes’ film which made up the beginning of the Doctor Butcher M.D. cut.

There are a gaggle of interviews with interested parties, including star Ian McCulloch, effects maestros Rosario Prestopino and Maurizio Trani, Doctor Butcher M.D. film editor Jim Markovic, Enzo G. Castellari (who discusses his father) and more, including theatrical trailers and, for the first lucky 5000 copies ordered directly from Severin, a wonderful Doctor Butcher M.D. vomit bag (I have one and it’s a tacky, wonderful delight). There are major Hollywood productions which haven’t been given this much love and attention to detail on home video.

 The film, indeed both versions of it, might be cheap and nasty fun, but Severin’s disc is first class all the way and will no doubt feature on many top disc lists for 2016. Take a number and get yourself comfortable, the Doctor will see you now…