JUMPSCARECUT: Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

Year: 2004
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Cast: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Lindy Booth

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

As a self-confessed wimp, I usually flat-out avoid all the spooky season shenanigans I see people partaking in. I mean, why would anyone choose to spend the whole month of October watching scary films and not being able to sleep!? But this year, I’m feeling a little braver than normal, and have volunteered to watch and review a handful of horror movies in the name of JUMPSCARECUT. First up is the 2004 remake of the classic Dawn Of The Dead, which as a fan of Zack Snyder and a tolerator of zombie horror, felt like a good place to start.

In many ways, this is pretty much your standard zombie-fare; a tale of survival in an apocalyptic world plagued by the flesh-eating undead. In typical horror movie fashion, our band of protagonist’s come from all walks of life, each bringing a different element to the group dynamic; from hard-knocks cop to playboy prick to amiable nurse, and we even get the added treat of a heroic canine and a pregnant Russian lady for good measure. Whilst this may all sound rather generic, it’s interesting that the actual zombies are kept at bay for much of the film, preferring to focus more on the tension, desperation, and moments of humanity between the survivors.

As an early-noughties horror flick, odds are that the acting will be pretty damn terrible, right? Well, that’s definitely true of some of the supporting players here, but for the most part, the main cast are actually rather impressive and very rarely cringe-worthy. Jake Weber and Sarah Polley lead the way with an endearing chemistry, and it’s a shame they’ve done very little in the film world since. The standout for me though, is Ving Rhames. From Pulp Fiction to Mission Impossible, I’m now starting to think Rhames may actually be a really great actor, and his turn here is one of brutish charm and stoic resolve. Another highlight is Ty Burrell – before Modern Family fame – playing a real asshole of a character who couldn’t be further from the Phil Dunphy we know and love. And you know what, even the zombie acting was pretty convincing, which is no mean feat.

Speaking of which, much of the special effects in use here are surprisingly decent, and combined with some fantastic make-up work, create an altogether impressive looking production. Zack Snyder‘s visual style is clear to see throughout, with sharp close-up shots, a splash of slow-mo and a fuckload of visceral violence. It’s interesting to work backwards from the grandeur of the likes of Watchmen and 300, and see Snyder tackling the horror genre in his earlier, more humble days. It’s a task he navigates with deftness, a self-conscious irony, and a finger firmly on the pulse of the humanity behind the horror.

Thankfully, this film is far from terrifying, instead providing ample entertainment, some cheap thrills and a couple of fun jump scares along the way. It’s a film which does very little wrong, at the same time as doing very little to go above and beyond the formulaic, well-trodden path of many before it. Where it succeeds in its characterisations and more tense moments, this remake does fall into the trap of predictability on more than one occasion, and suffers from a couple of ludicrous moments which you can’t help but laugh at. More hardened horror aficionados will most certainly be left wanting, but for this scaredy-cat, Zack Snyder‘s Dawn of the Dead was the perfect way to get in the spirit of things as Halloween approaches.

Jakob’s Verdict:

3

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Films I Watched Way Too Young

Written by Cameron Frew

A person’s relationship with film is often rooted in childhood experiences. Whether it be that first fateful trip to the cinema, that beloved classic you ruined the VHS of with repeat viewings, your first proper horror movie experience or perhaps a movie you watched alongside your family on a regular basis. Though, anyone who’s grew up around film will likely have a story about watching something they were probably a bit too young for, a movie their fun Uncle or naive Gran showed them without much foresight as to the trauma they were about to inflict. Over time though, that trauma turns into a treasured memory, and this article will look at a few of the films I recall watching at a hilariously young age, and how they changed my perception of film forever.

Film: The Ring 2

Age: 8

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© – Dreamworks Pictures

This is a bit of a strange one. I actually watched the first of The Ring remakes back when it was initially released in 2002. I struggle to recall how that came to be, but it was likely alongside my Mum at Halloween (we’d watch a horror film every year), and yes, it bloody terrified me. But in 2005, I was on holiday in Israel, and my Uncle decided to take us to the cinema. We had no idea what we were going to see, so he said, “We’ll just have a look at what’s on when we’re there.”

So we arrived at this metropolis-esque cinema. Greeting us first and foremost at the doors was a poster for the newest horror release – The Ring 2. Now, I know what you’re thinking; that I was too young to get into such a film in a cinema. And you would be absolutely correct, I was far too young, and the Israeli age rating system is not too dissimilar to the UK’s (unlike say, Canada’s, which allows kids into 18-rated movies if they have their parents). But my Uncle was utterly determined to go see this movie. So, as I stood enjoying the cool air-con, he waltzed over to the box office and started to chat. From a distance there appeared to be a lot of charming going on from his side, and a repetitive shaking head on the other. After around five minutes, he returned to us with a big smug smile on his face, with four tickets in his hand. It was happening, I don’t know how he did it, or why he thought this was a great idea, but we were actually going to watch this on the big screen. Upon a re-watch, this sequel is staggeringly average, contrived and not as tasteful as the still impressive sequel. But let me tell you, I was speechless at the time. Utterly shook, completely taken down by it. I mean, I was 8; what did he expect? I didn’t cry or anything like that, I just sat with a chalk white, stone-cold expression, processing and trying to dispose of any post-film thoughts that were tormenting me. With time, the fear faded, and looking back now, the experience helped prepare me for the much scarier efforts that were to come in my filmography.

Film: Alien

Age: 7

 

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© – 20th Century Fox

After getting a book out the library about movie extraterrestrials, I was unhealthily obsessed with Xenomorphs. Something about the nightmarish monsters drew me in, intriguing in their horrific, unique design (at this point I was still a fairly inexperienced viewer). I soon became very aware of the franchise they came from; to my joy there was four films on offer, plus an upcoming crossover with another major movie alien called Predator. The begging to the parents swiftly begun, trying the convince them that it wouldn’t scare me and that, as was always the golden rule with movies with a high age rating, I wouldn’t repeat anything from them. Ultimately, they decided there were worse things out there I could watch, so they allowed it.

The funny thing is, the film didn’t scare me at all. In fact, I can’t remember all that much about that initial viewing experience apart from the uncontrollable excitement. This was like a dream come true, finally seeing this crazy alien killing all these poor engineers, and me, the single spectator the carnage, sitting wide-eyed and jaw-dropped. But that excitement was my greatest downfall, as I definitely didn’t take it in as much as I should have. Don’t get me wrong; the slimy face-huggers still gave me the creeps, that scene in the air vents made me jump out my skin, and I was cheering on Ripley as she went up against the titular monster in the brilliant climax. But it wasn’t until I reached a later age I could fully immerse myself in its claustrophobic, thorough set-design, appreciate the unnerving score, and actually understand the graft Ridley Scott put in to create such a masterful horror. It’s now one of my all-time favourites of course. Anytime I see a Xeno, it feels like home.

Film: Dawn Of The Dead

Age: 7

 

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© – Universal Pictures

This isn’t the less trashy George Romero version from 1978 we’re talking about. This was the gore-soaked, ultraviolent, hyperactive remake from Zack Snyder. And who showed me it? That ol’ reliable Uncle who took me to The Ring 2 a year later. We were heading home from a day out in Glasgow, and he said we were going to get a McDonalds and watch Constantine. I hadn’t seen the film yet, and at the time I was a massive Keanu Reeves fan after falling in love with The Matrix early on and forever more. When we got in, he couldn’t find the DVD. Disaster. “What will we watch then?” I disappointingly asked, crushed by the lack of Keanu on the upcoming viewing schedule. From his trusty disc wallet, he whipped out Dawn Of The Dead. “Aw this is brilliant, it’s about zombies!” he exclaimed, with the kind of cheeky smile like he knew it was forbidden fruit to a youngster. Naturally, I agreed. Why wouldn’t I? And while now I can appreciate the satire and gentler suspense of the superior original, I maintain the remake’s opening, with the little girl in the bedroom, is a perfect sequence. It introduces you to the dangers in the small spaces and the widespread chaos outside like an escalating nightmare. I was petrified, and the rest of the movie didn’t do much to aid that. What I didn’t realise at the time was it subconsciously wet my appetite for more flesh-eating goodness, and although I was scared, I wouldn’t change that memory for anything (not even Keanu).

 

Film: Scream

Age: 6

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© – Dimension Films

Picture the scene. It’s a rainy late night in a dark flat, blinds down, still hearing the gentle taps of the water on the window and the symphony of the strong winds. My older brother, little cousin and I are huddled on a sofa bed around a TV, after enjoying a trusty late night snack courtesy of my Gran. The clock struck 11pm, and what movie comes on? Scream – Wes Craven, you ingenious devil. The opening, which I soon learned is fairly iconic in the horror sphere, was on another level. We innocently watched as Drew Barrymore made herself some popcorn on her lonesome. Then the phone rang, and the ordeal began. Barrymore is put on trial by this nefarious phantom caller, growing more sinister as the call goes on. At first it seems like a hoax call, but there is something much worse at play here. As a 6 year old, I couldn’t handle it. The heart was thumping; the covers were clutched up at my eyes. The way it inevitably goes (avoiding spoilers in case you haven’t watched it) knocked me for six. I was in bits, destroyed by the massacre on my senses. As I sunk under the sheets, bawling by eyes out, I wondered why anyone would ever want to watch such a film. But as the years progressed, and especially now as a film obsessive, I really admire what Craven did with Scream. Not many horrors are as funnily engaging, dissecting the tropes of the slasher movie while retaining the scares. One of the very best (but certainly not for youngsters).

Film: Chopper

Age: 5

 

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© – First Look Pictures

And the winner of the most stupidly inappropriate film I managed to see at the tender age of just 5 years old, is Australian, extremely explicit gangster biopic, Chopper. Initially released in 2000 and starring Eric Bana, it’s an adaptation of Mark “Chopper” Read’s autobiography. Chopper was a man seduced into a life of crime by a love of violence – he had no will to act as one should, he just wanted to be known as a legend, living in infamy. The way the film paints a portrait of someone whose psyche is so deeply steeped in vicious desires is quite remarkable, led by an electrifying performance from Bana. Now, the thing is, this film opens with a grotesque and realistic murder in a prison, and doesn’t really let up from there. There’s an age to watch a film like Chopper, and it certainly isn’t 5. I was so out of my depth. All I saw was blood, all I heard was swearing; other than that, I comprehended nothing. But it’s one of those memories that probably attracted me to the dark world of more adult entertainment at a young age, leading me to seek out films like Snatch and Lock Stock.

What are your favourite movie memories? Did you watch something you really shouldn’t of when you were younger? Let us know in the comments.