Review

Review

FEARNET Movie Review: 'Doc of the Dead' [SXSW 2014]

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Anyone who sets out to make a documentary film about the history of zombie cinema is in a no-win situation: if you stick with the obvious stuff, then the hardcore horror fans will get bored, impatient, and very annoyed. But if you focus mainly on the oddest and most obscure information regarding cinematic zombiedom, then you're leaving out all the newbies -- or the geeks who only pretend to know White Zombie from Rob Zombie.

 
Fortunately the movie-obsessed documentarian Alex Philippe -- his film The People vs. George Lucas is recommended to any hardcore Star Wars nut -- knows how to cover a lot of bases in a short amount of time, and the result is a light and amusing film about some of the grossest movies you'll ever see. 
 
Without rattling off all the statistics, let's just say that Mr. Philippe and his team manage to touch on all the important stuff: how the earliest film zombies often dealt with Haitian or African voodoo rituals; how zombies represent a great horror villain for a variety of colorful reasons; how the "zombie apocalypse" is often just a stand-in for something society is actually plagued by; and how the argument over fast vs. slow zombies is actually a lot more interesting than one might think. Also a lot of stuff about "zombie walks" and awesomely gross special effects.
 
The film offers interviews with several admirably geeky zombie experts, as well as ghoul-stomping movie stars like Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, and Fran Kranz, but Doc of the Dead is at its most interesting and insightful when it points its cameras towards people like Max Brooks (World War Z), Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), FX masters Greg Nicotero and Tom Savini, and -- of course -- zombie godfather George A. Romero.
 
It's the special focus on Mr. Romero's contributions to popular zombie lore that gives Doc of the Dead a sense of intelligence and focus. Romero may not have invented the word "zombie" -- hell, he didn't even use the term on the original Night of the Living Dead -- but about 85% of what we now know as zombies is because of George Romero and the artists he inspired. OK, maybe more like 95%.
 
Astute horror know-it-alls, like me and you, of course, may already know half the stuff that Doc of the Dead covers, but taken as a basic "zombie cinema 101" lesson or as a quick reminder that "the walking dead" is neither a new nor an American concept, there's a lot to like about the slick and amusing Doc of the Dead. At the very least it might work as an explanation to that parent/spouse/child of yours who cannot fathom why anyone would like zombie movies so damn much.
 

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