Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan, off-kilter, unpredictable manic energy seems perfectly suited for horror in general and the Zombie World in particular. And though Life After Beth had a whole bunch’a problems, Plaza – as usual – never fail to impress.
As one critic put it, “It's an age-old story. Boy loses girl. Boy finds girl. Boy realizes girl is undead.” And that basically sums up the premise. Conceived by writer/director Jeff Baena (Horse Girl,I Heart Huckabees), who also by pure coincidence happens to be married to Aubrey Plaza, the story doesn’t follow any classic zombie rules. Beth herself – killed by a snake bite – remains coherent for a long time, though increasingly hot-tempered and violent, until things get truly out of control in the third act.
Not a big hit, not terribly well-received, it seems to have more in common with “bedroom community” zomromcoms like Fidoor Warm Bodies than it does with Night of the Living Dead. But Plaza carries it well and – for the most part – makes it work. She’s also aided and abetted by an astonishingly strong supporting cast, from Dane DeHaan to John C. Reilliy to Molly Shannon and Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser and Matthew Gray Gubler and Anna Kendrick – Anna Kendrick! -- as the ‘final girl,’ of a sort.
Some good laughs, some memorable moments (love that refrigerator!) and a ‘must-have’ for the Aubrey Plaza completist, this one’s worth a few drinks and a lounge on some quiet Saturday night.
Bruce Campbell turned 65 in late June, and he sent out a great pic to remind us of just what a legend he is – not just in Zombie World, but all over the place. Speaking zombierifically, here are some of the high spots worth looking at as we celebrate @GroovyBruce in all his glory:
It all began with Evil Dead 2 (1987), where deadites and Ash and his chain-saw arm all first appeared – each one unquestionably a zombie icon (Evil Dead , the first one, was just… a preview)
It was a few years before Ash would return in Arny of Darkness (1992), when Ash was pushed into some skewed version of the Middle Ages to fight a whole different kind of deadites with his boomstick. By far the funniest (intentionally) of the whole ED set, and filled with more good memes than all the others combined.
Bubba Ho Tep (2002) deserves a mention as well. Let’s not get into the whole, “are mummies zombies?” thing – not here, anyway! -- but it’s clearly an alternate-universe story about at least one impressive character – and maybe others? -- returning from death (or never really leaving in the first place). If you haven’t experienced this half-hidden classic about an old, old man who may or may not be Elvis Presley in a fight against an abandoned mummy in an old age home, joined by a black man who claims to have the brain of John F. Kennedy – yes, we know, it’s odd – then you have not truly lived. Based on an equally toothsome (literally) novella by the equally legendary Joe R. Lansdale, this cracked gem will live in your heart and your brain for a long time.
There were video games and cameos and a crazy amount of work for the years in between and after, but Campbell didn’t return to Zombie World until relatively recently, with three seasons of the remarkably energetic series, Ash v. Evil Dead (2015-2018) Ash is older and maybe a little wiser (or at least world-weary), but not too wise to keep from getting caught up in yet another round of deadites from the Necronomicon. The series is reinforced by a great supporting cast, including the awesome Lucy Lawless for most of the episodes. We can always hope for more.
And most recently, a very different Bruce Campbell – complete with a truly ugly walrus mustache – joined with a strange new crew to fight an entirely different kind of zombie outbreak in Black Friday (2021). This time he’s a doughy late-middle-aged guy who has to be dragged kicking and screaming into defending the Walmart-like ‘big box’ store he’s sworn to manage and defend on – you guessed it – Black Friday. It’s clever and fast-paced, and it’s nice to see Campbell back facing the risen dead, even as he embraces his age (especially since he played an even older version of himself in Bubba Ho Tep, twenty years earlier).
Meanwhile, Evil Dead and the character of Ash himself have spawned multiple spin-offs and a near-infinite amount of merch. Apart from the 2013 remake of Evil Dead and the recent well-received ‘side story, Evil Dead Rise, there are graphic novels, posters, and even door mats and decals. Among our favorite Ash-centered items:
The Evil Dead Canvas Art Print is 16”x24”, printed on canvas rather than paper. Waterproof, moisture-proof, and durably colorful. You can even request alternate sizes with a single email.
The Evil Dead: 40th Anniversary Edition Graphic Novel. Mark Verheiden, a long-time comics writer and part of the Ash vs Evil Dead creative team, teamed up with innovative and exciting comics artist John Bolton in this slightly brain-blasting “expansion” of the film. And this fancy 40th-anniversary edition even includes an afterword from Mark Verheiden. (Other versions are available too, including an ebook version).
And from the far outfield:
The Ash/Evil Dead Decal, a 5.5” tall silhouette decal. Great for cars, laptops, tablets, skateboards, or a close personal friend. Available in a variety of colors.
Funko POP Pop! Evil Dead Ash Figurine
How can he look so innocent and yet be so deadly? Even the chainsaw is cute! 3.75”, styles may vary slightly. Whether this is your first or your fiftieth FUNKO, any Evil Dead fan has to have it.
Ex-Heroes: A great series of Super-Heroes v. Zombies novels
Movie / Shambler / Years After the Apocalypse
What comics fan hasn’t asked themselves, Who would win a fight between Superman or the Hulk? By the same token, what comics or zombie fan hasn’t wondered how the cape types would fare against the walking dead if it ever came to that.
From 2013 to 2016, novelist Peter Clines had a hell of a good time answering that question while building a whole pantheon of convincing stretch-suiters along the way, in a series of novels from Broadway Books that are, quite basically, Superheroes vs. Zombies taken to the logical extreme. It's called the Ex-Heroes Series.
They’re fast, frequently funny, often bloody and both exciting and tragic, as we follow the superheroes who fight a losing battle against the hordes of the shambling dead and their extremely noisy teeth – your basic virus-based biters that have taken over whole cities, whole countries, and left the last few humans cowering behind a dwindling number of walled compounds. Many of the characters continue from book to book – books with totally cool names like Ex-Patriots, Ex-Communciation, and our personal favorite, Ex-Purgatory. And plenty more die heroic and occasionally pointless deaths. There’s no true ending to the timeline, and we can always hope for more, though Clines has gone on to best-seller status with his non-zombie-ish Threshold series. Still, you can spend plenty of happy hours following the dark adventures of Stealth, Zzzap, The Mighty Dragon, and the rest.
Pretty much anything by Peter Clines is worth the read. You can check out his full repertoire here. Exactly what you’d expect from the one-time prop master of Psycho Beach Party.
OG Tough Guys andDumb But Cute Would-Be Thugs Fight the Undead
Movie / Outrbrea / Underrated
Cockneys vs. Zombies offers a truly ridiculous premise: a group of young Cockney toughs are simply trying to rob a bank, no big deal, when, bam, here comes the zombie apocalypse. They fight off the walkers with some understandable difficulty – I mean, there are not the sharpest bulbs in the basket -- but eventually, they get the job done – or they survive at least -- and somehow end up at an old folks’ home that’s populated by aging Cockney toughs from two generations back… and damn, can those old folks kick ass. It’s only a matter of minutes before the oldsters – the literal OG’s – are taking charge and beating back the horde of the hungry dead.
There’s absolutely no reason this should be as funny, engaging, and even exciting as it is. But it is. There’s a mad exuberance about old folks blasting away at the shamblers while the hapless younger generation barely keeps up. Much of it has to do with the performances of some great tough-type character actors from long ago – Alan Ford (who you will recognize immediately as playing the Cockney Tough guy since the 1960’s about 200 times -- Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, etc.) and Honor Blackman (yes, the GoldfingerBond Girl and The Avengers‘ Mrs. Peel before there was a Mrs. Peel), not to mention Harry Treadawayas the only young’un with half a brain. Treadaway went on to distinguish himself as Dr. Frankenstein inPenny Dreadful, as Brady Hartsfield inMr. Mercedes, and most recently as Narek in Picard.
You might have skipped this as another one of the Stripper vs. Zombies or Bigfoot vs Zombies low-budget throwaways, but in fact, this is a surprisingly well-made and just plain fun addition to your zombie collection. Or another great surprise for the zomfan who’s missed it for years.
Native Americans vs. Zombies in a Grim, Effective Film
Movie / Post-Apocalypse / Underrated
With so many low-budget zombie movies sneaking in through streaming services or film festivals, it’s easy to miss unexpected quality and creativity when it appears. Here’s an example.
Blood Quantum (sorry, kind of an awful and pretty much inexplicable name) has your standard virus-based flesh-eaters, and the opening scenes that establish it are deceptively familiar. But the truly intriguing part comes after a timeshift, as we focus on the stories that rotate around the effect of the zombie apocalypse on the First Nations and an already devastated Mi’kmaq reservation – a reservation that survives because Native Americans seem to be immune to the zombie virus, maybe because of their connection to the Earth itself.
Virtually all the principle players here are Native Americans, and many of them came from and went on to fascinating careers. Elle-Maija Tailfeathersis a multi-award-winning actor, writer, producer and director; her co-star Michael Greyeyes paid his zombie-dues in multiple episodes of Fear the Walking Dead,showed up after Blood Quantum, in the not-wonderful V Wars, and was excellent in the underrated mystery series Home Before Dark. He also has the dubious distinction of playing Rainbird in the otherwise awful remake if Firestarterin 2022. No George C. Scott, maybe, but at least the part was played, more than passably well, by an actual member of the First Nations as Stephen King meant it to be. The writer and director, Jeff Barnaby, is a member of the Mi’kmaq himself, and continues his work on projects based on the realities and fantasies of native Americans, past present and future.
It’s a bleak and brutal plot and worldview, but not without good reason, and probably one of the best – and most overlooked – ‘serious’ zombie movies of the decade.