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An impromptu horror weekend is ahead of us as Zack Snyder’s latest film Army of the Dead returns to the director’s early roots in gory thrills, and Shudder releases a new original Psycho Goreman, a loving pastiche of 90s tokusatsu shows.
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Army of the Dead - Netflix
It’s been a busy year for Zack Snyder. Army of the Dead is his second feature film of 2021, hot on the heels of his recut of Justice League. It’s a film that’s equally as liberal with its runtime, as evidenced in an opening credits sequence that, while incredibly fun (and of course scored to Viva Las Vegas), is quite decompressed even by Snyder’s standards. The premise is quite the hook: Dave Bautista has to heist millions of dollars from a casino vault in a zombie-infested Las Vegas, walled off from the rest of the world and set to be nuked by the US government (on the 4th of July, because the sitting president thought it’d be cool).
For those who found Justice League stolid and humourless, Army of the Dead feels like a corrective. It's comfortably silly in its conception of zombies (Tigers! Horses! Intelligent zombie monarchs riding horses) as well as people’s reactions to them. Not all of that humour works, but it’s a welcome change of pace, even as someone who appreciates Snyder’s very sincere treatment of comic books as scripture. That doesn’t mean it’s all jokes and gore, as the main arc of the film surrounds a father-daughter plot that, like the familial drama in the Snyder Cut of Justice League, hits particularly hard considering the context of the filmmaker’s personal life.
Watch a clip from Army of the Dead
As for the action, it’s slow to wind up. It doesn’t quite have the pacing of the heist planning down, which is mostly salvaged by a hilariously flippant Tig Notaro. The filmmakers have a better handle on the action of the heist itself; standouts being a tense set piece where the crew has to creep through a room packed to the walls with hibernating zombies, and an hilariously gross sequence where they utilise shambling zombies to set off traps.
Once it gets going it’s surprisingly involving, even as the narrative does unspeakably, hilariously stupid things with its new breed of zombie. It’s full of all the nasty violence and charmingly literal needle-drops you’d expect from Snyder (he plays Zombie by The Cranberries - a song about The Troubles, for god’s sake). If not for its often languid pacing Army of the Dead would probably be one of his best.
Also new on Netflix: Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, Highlander, The Doors
PG: Psycho Goreman - Shudder
Writer/director Steven Kostanski’s films are recognisable for their incredibly creative creature designs and practical effects, and Psycho Goreman is a stunning, trashy, and frequently entertaining showcase, of such. The story and aesthetic are winking, self-aware and gore-filled pastiches of American-imported tokusatsu movies and shows like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers blended with a morbid spin on Spielberg-esque adventures led by young, wide-eyed protagonists.
The story is this: Siblings Mimi and Luke unwittingly resurrect an ancient alien overlord after digging up a magical amulet near their house. Using that amulet, they force the monster — who they promptly name Psycho Goreman, or ‘PG’ for short — to obey their childish whims, as a result accidentally luring a cabal of intergalactic assassins to their small-town suburbia.
Mimi in particular is a fun counterpoint to the open-hearted idealists of Spielberg movies and their copycats — a borderline sociopath who enjoys her control over a monster just a little too much. The super-powered aliens that her escapades attract are all delightful in their big, rubber-suited designs. It’s knowingly wacky — though the comedic tone works in fits and starts, as funny as it is to see Goreman quietly fuming at every frivolous order. The better parts come when it’s playing things straight, as names like ‘The Templars’ and ‘Planet Gaigax’ appear amongst expository narration backed by a wailing electric guitar.
But it’s hard to resist, its commitment to the homage - right down to the 90s rap song in the credits - mostly coming off as incredibly charming.
Also new on Shudder: Def by Temptation, Black Roses, Fried Barry
The Ring - BBC iPlayer
Gore Verbinski’s English language remake of the instant classic J-horror film Ringu worked plenty well on its own merit than just a rehash of the original. In this version, newspaper reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) has seven days to unravel the mystery of an urban legend telling of a videotape that foretold of the viewer’s death a week from their viewing it.
Of course, Rachel tracks down the video and watches it, leaving herself in a race against time. The tone is more in line with that of a paranoid thriller than one might expect, slow and deliberate in its desperate investigation for meaning of a tape that may ultimately have none.
Also new on iPlayer: Frozen, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Dangerous Liaisons