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Thursday, March 17, 2005 03:53 am

flicks 3-17-05

The horror! Why has there been such a flood of horror films this year? Is it a reflection of the times? Could audiences be using the fantasy of horror to escape the horrors of the real world? So far in 2005, we have had Hide and Seek, Boogeyman, Alone in the Dark, White Noise, Cursed, and The Ring 2 — and it’s only March! If you’d rather bring your horror home, a zombie flick is a good bet. Zombies are all over the new-release walls at the video stores, and apparently many showed up at the polls last year.

Movies about the undead have had a long history in Hollywood. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) may have jump-started the subgenre for modern times, but it all began more than three decades earlier with White Zombie (1932). Bela Lugosi stars as a lunatic on a remote Caribbean island who uses a potion to turn people into zombies. The slow, lumbering pace actually enhances the creepiness of this cult classic. White Zombie can be found in bargain bins at many retailers for only $1. It’s worth every penny.

Romero followed his landmark film with the superior sequel Dawn of the Dead (1978). Remaking the best gore film ever made was decidedly a risk, but the new version (2004) is pretty good in its own right. The remake diverges from the original’s storyline considerably, but the use of the shopping mall as a refuge remains the film’s centerpiece. Odd bits of humor break up the hopelessness and despair. My favorite gag is the rooftop sniper picking off zombies who resemble Burt Reynolds and other celebrities.

Box-office failures rarely spawn sequels, particularly those that are slammed by critics. Resident Evil (2002) is actually good mindless mayhem, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) was necessary to continue the story of Alice (Milla Jovovich), the beautiful-but-lethal zombie fighter. As video-game adaptations go, the Resident Evil films are really not that bad, and anything featuring Milla is worth seeing at least once. House of the Dead (2003) is another movie based on a video game, but this time the undead is completely brain-dead. Director Uwe Boll could have made a better movie by filming the actual game.

The genre has a new classic: Shaun of the Dead (2004), a British comedy that has “cult” written all over it. Shaun is an English working-class stiff who fails to notice that most of the people around him are becoming zombies until it’s too late. Much of the humor is derived from the random choices of weapons. Shaun is quite skilled with a cricket bat, but the funniest scenes involve the flinging of record albums at the heads of zombies. Although humorously billed as “A romantic comedy. With zombies,” it is a gore film that definitely warrants its R rating. Romero was so impressed with the film that he cast the film’s stars in the continuation of his saga, Land of the Dead, which is slated for release in theaters in October.

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (March 22):Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Finding Neverland,Being Julia, Fat Albert, The Final Cut, Uzak, Amarelo manga, and Rachida.

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