Sunday, February 24, 2008
A Belated Valentine's
I had a sex dream about Rachel Ray. If there had been actual penetration in the dream I believe I would be too busy thumping my head on the floor in a widening pool of my own drool to be able to write this so evidently, my subconscious is capable of some small mercies. It was one of those dreams where certain knowledge and events are taken for granted and in this case, while Rachel was busy violating my kitchen to make us breakfast and throwing me knowing, over the shoulder glances with that unearthly, deep-sea giant clam grin of hers, I somehow knew that I had just finished banging her like a retard bangs a spirit drum at camp. Thankfully, my involuntary shudder woke me.
I blame this dream squarely on the squadrons of stomach viruses that had so recently had their way with my delicate, pasty body, as well as on the random association of Ray’s leering Jolly Roger mug staring back at me every time I’ve picked up a box of Triscuits over the last eight months. Which is often. I may be evil but that does not mean I get enough fiber.
I also blame those viruses for throwing me off my game and delaying this, a blog with a dash of romance that I had originally intended for Valentine’s Day. Horror makes for a surprisingly solid backdrop for romance and depending on the gore threshold of your paramour, also makes for a charming evening at home with a nice wine and perhaps a bowl of popcorn (with or without a hole cut in the bottom). While there’s plenty to be said about the sexiness of vampires or (if you’re Asian) the novel kink of a demon in chains and leather, for my nickel you can’t beat the romzomcom: the romantic zombie comedy.
When done correctly, the romzomcom is a perfect date movie. Moments of unyielding, brain-munching terror are in harmony with schmoopie love-conquers-all optimism, both with enough potency to simultaneously satisfy your inner George Romero as well as your inner Nora Ephron. The undisputed king of the romzomcoms is SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Shaun himself, Simon Pegg. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is, quite possibly, a perfect film. Hilarious, well paced, brilliantly directed, inventively edited, perfectly timed, and drenched in gore when it suits the story. For my ticket money, SHAUN is the greatest zombie movie ever made as well as being in my Top 10 for comedy and the only romantic comedy I can sit through without needing an insulin shot afterwards. I will not bore you with a recap because you have either seen this slice of fried gold already or you need to. Immediately.
According to many sources, SHAUN is the only romzomcom. That’s because many sources are fat and lazy and don’t love you like I do. SHAUN’s p.r. machine was indeed clever enough to coin the phrase but for all their genius, Wright & Company did not invent the subgenre. In fact, I can recall five other romzomcoms without even doing any research.
Twelve years before SHAUN, Peter Jackson (yes, the hobbitty one) released DEAD ALIVE (aka BRAINDEAD), which may be the first actual romzomcom. The action centers around Lionel, a likeable and unlikely hero, who is cursed by a clutching, domineering mother long before Mother is cursed with a nasty case of feral undeath. Even when her priorities switch to eating her bridge club and the mailman, she still has enough time to interfere with Lionel’s budding romance with the local shopgirl, Paquita. And by “interfere” I mean “try to eat Paquita.”
While DEAD ALIVE’s reputation as one of the bloodiest and goriest movies ever committed to film tends to overshadow all else, it does not change the fact that this movie is full to bursting with romance, zombies and comedy. Ergo, romzomcom. Like SHAUN, I also consider DEAD ALIVE to be required viewing and until you have seen it, the most you can aspire to is my contempt.
MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK (1993) is a flawed but likeable teen romzomcom where teen A, Johnny, is in love with teen B, Missy. Blah blah blah, Missy promises Johnny a date, Johnny dies, but Johnny also decides he wants to go on the date more than he wants to go into the light. The fact that he rots faster if he doesn’t eat people is a bit of a sticking point, as eating people is oft to be. My favorite thing about BOYFRIEND has nothing to do with the acting or the story: BOYFRIEND was produced by Touchstone and distributed by Buena Vista. That means that Mickey Mouse made a zombie movie. The delicious irony rolls over me like warm honey down my pants.
My second favorite thing is that BOYFRIEND has an eyebrow-raising cast of stars-to-be, including a barely shaving Philip Seymour Hoffman as a thuggish jock, and Matthew Fox, Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey all in their big screen debuts. McConaughey plays Guy #2. I love that. Then in 1994, he and Zellweger worked together again in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION. And in 1995 it's a fair bet they both got new agents.
Along the lines of BOYFRIEND, an Irish production company called Element Films trotted out BOY EATS GIRL (2005), another teen romzomcom with a conveniently self-explanatory title. I have not seen BOY yet and since it is 31 in my Netflix queue I probably won’t until summer. If any of you kids out there in the Intertubes want to comment on it, please do.
Back to 1993. Not all love is romantic, you know, and not all mothers are as hateful and domineering as Lionel’s Mombie-bitch-goddess in DEAD ALIVE. In ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER, Steve Buscemi has so much difficulty saying goodbye to his beloved mum, played to perfection by the sweetly battrachian Miriam Margolyes, that he jumps at the chance to bring her back when a shadowy company called Happy People Inc. offers him the means. Hi-jinx ensue. 1993 must have been a much simpler time because no one knew what to do with ED (or BOYFRIEND or DEAD ALIVE for that matter) and the early romzomcoms were largely box office flops that were lost to the cult sections of quirky, independent video stores.
Though not technically a romzomcom since the main monster is a demonically possessed severed hand, IDLE HANDS (1999) gets an honorable mention. There are indeed zombies (including ROBOT CHICKEN’s Seth Green), there is a love affair threatened by supernatural forces, there is much humorous mayhem, and an 18 year old Jessica Alba spends most of her screen time in various states of undress. The movie’s tagline is “A Touching Story About A Boy And His Right Hand.” I have nothing to add that’s funnier than that.
Most recently (in 2006), FIDO became the newest romzomcom on the block. Set in a dystopian 50’s-ish utopia a la EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, the Zombie Wars have been hard-fought and won with the help of Dr. Reinhold Geiger and the technlogical wizardry of Zomcon! Legions of the morbidly mobile are outfitted with behavior collars that turn them into the perfect servants. But of course, the collars stop working and hi-jinx ensue. FIDO centers around the Robinson family as they get their first house-zombie, played 100% vocabulary-free by comedian Billy Connelly. The love affair that blossoms between Fido and Mrs. Robinson (played to Betty Crockerish perfection by Carrie Ann Moss) is as predictable and heartwarming as it is unsettling. While not nearly on par with SHAUN, I appreciate FIDO for not being the same formulaic drivel we’ve all seen a million times before and for that alone it gets a big gold star from me.
This blog wasn't even two hours old when Chris Herndon - the artist and co-creator of the cult classic comic series, LIVING WITH ZOMBIES (not to be confused with Dark Horse Comics' recent, shamelessly plagiarized and significantly less funny LIVING WITH THE DEAD) - pointed out to me that I neglected to mention the Italian romzomcom, CEMETERY MAN (1996). Admittedly the definition of romance is a little strained (especially the one between the retarded gravedigger and the severed head) and the comedy is blacker than the cast of BARBERSHOP, but CM rightfully belongs on this list. Thank you, Christopher. I owe you a cookie.