Review: The Dead (dir. by The Ford Brothers)


I’ve heard the collective groans from many who have achieved zombie oversaturation. For some reason the renaissance of the zombie subgenre which began during the early 2000’s continues unabated. One just has to look at the huge popularity of Robert Kirkman’s long-running horror comic book The Walking Dead right up to the even more popular tv adaptation of the comic book which now enters it’s 3rd season on AMC TV. Yet, not everything zombie-related in entertainment could be considered scary or even entertaining. If one looks at the dozens of direct-to-video which seems to come out month in and month out that barely rises above amateur production and execution one does have to feel that the subgenre should just die and go away. Then something like The Dead by the British sibling filmmakers The Ford Brothers comes along and breathes some fresh blood into the scene.

An indie film shot pretty much in northwest Africa (Burkina Faso and Ghana), The Deadis a throwback to the classic Romero zombie films before the new millennium and, even moreso, the Italian zombie films of Lucio Fulci with emphasis on Zombie. The Ford Brothers pretty much shot the film in some of the worst conditions a film crew could find itself in. It doesn’t matter whether it was the baking mid-day heat in the open plains and desert right up to the very real armed conflict which continues in the region to this very day. These two British siblings definitely took some guerilla filmmaking lessons from their hero Romero in how to stretch their tiny budget and still come out with a very good production.

The Deadis a pretty straightforward zombie film and acts more like a road film than your typical zombie story which tend to focus heavily on the siege aspect of the genre. We don’t get sieges in this film. The openness of the African plains and desert made for an interesting change of pace to the typical urban and/or countryside locales past zombie films ended up using. The film also spent so much of it’s running time in broad daylight which also made it stand out from it’s zombie film brethren which used night time as a prop to create dread and mounting terror. The Ford Brothers were able to use that very brutal heat and searing African midday sun to give the film a beautiful look but also one that highlighted it’s apocalyptic and hopeless situation. The light showed zombies shambling along from every direction, slow as they may be, in that steady, silent pace that was as inevitable as Death itself.

The story of the film is quite bare bones with the opening sequences pretty much introducing the two storylines that would intersect very early and combine to become one. There’s the lone survivor of a military evacuation flight out of the area and back to America (at least Europe) in Lt. Brian Murphy (played by Rob Freeman) whose role as a flight engineer in the doomed flight gives him the necessary technical skills to fix an abandoned vehicle he finds, but who is not what one would call a hardened soldier unlike Sgt. Daniel Dembele (played Ghana actor by Prince David Oseia) whose role as a soldier gives him the skills to protect Murphy. The two become traveling companions who must traverse the post-apocalyptic West African landscape that always have zombies, silent and sure slowly and patiently finding their way to the two no matter how fast and far they go.

Murphy wants to get back to his wife and daughter back in the States though he doesn’t know if they’re still alive or not. Daniel wants to find his son who was rescued by soldiers in the beginning of the film as their home village succumb to an attack of the dead. These similar goals become the very thing which helps the two bond together despite their cultural and ideological differences.

The film doesn’t go too heavy with the themes and ideas of Africa and zombies, but they’re there and the Ford Brothers don’t try to avoid them either. Throughout the film one could see that the film could easily be a metaphor for the birthplace of mankind also becoming the beginning of its end. There’s also the shadow of the crimes of Western colonialism and interference in a land whose people have been exploited and used like chess pieces on the grand world stage. Like some of the best zombie films, The Deaduses the apocalyptic setting and the danger of the zombies as a way to explore serious themes and ideas but do so without being too obvious or heavy-handed. In fact, the Ford Brothers actually were quite subtle with their handling of these ideas throughout the film. This made for a much more streamlined story, but also kept the film from heading into epic territory.

Freeman spends almost the whole time on the screen which stretched his performance somewhat. At times his dialogue came out natural and then on another sequence he would come off stilted. It’s not surprise that some of the best scenes Freeman’s Murphy had was when in the presence of Oseia’s Sgt. Daniel Dembele. Hiss presence on screen almost overshadows Freeman at times and one could almost wonder how much the better the film would’ve been if it was just Daniel searching for his son and no Murphy character to distract things. Oseia’s performance becomes the moral center of the film and as the story unfolded one felt like rooting for the man to find his son even though the odds on him succeeding rises with each passing minute.

The Dead is not a perfect film and one could say that it’s very straightforward nature becomes too generic and evident at certain times during the film. Yet, the rough and raw way the Ford Brothers wrote and shot the film with some very good performances from it’s cast made up for any shortcomings the film had. Even the gore effects wasn’t hampered by the minuscule budget. This film should satisfy gorehounds and story aficionados both. That’s something that most indie zombie films can’t boast about that this film can. The film’s ending leaves things somewhat open for a sequel (something the brothers are open to exploring as a future project) with the final shot evoking a “Lone Wolf and Cub” vibe before the fade to black.

The Ford Brothers’ The Dead saw a very limited release in 2010 and 2011 but has now seen a wide DVD/Blu-Ray release for 2012. For some it would be a buy and a keeper, but at the very least it deserves a rental to see what all the hoopla was about.

VGM Entry 40: End of the NES era (part 2)

VGM Entry 40: End of the NES era (part 2)
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Once again, by 1990 the Nintendo had fallen way behind the times. The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, the Commodore Amiga 500, and the NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 had all left it in the dust. The fourth generation of home and computer gaming was in full swing, and Nintendo were not prepared to launch their version until November. NES composers struggled to keep up with higher standards in the meantime, pushing the Nintendo to its limits.

Mega Man 3 (Capcom, 1990) had a lot to offer. Yasuaki ‘Bun Bun’ Fujita (not to be confused with my favorite talking rabbit) picked up the job this time, and it’s pretty amazing that three different musicians could all so effectively maintain the series’ quintessential sound. Mega Man 3‘s opening theme is as excellent as any of them, and the rest of the music really is a good bit more compositionally consistent than may meet the ear.

“Hard Man” (1:52) for instance is written in unmistakable Mega Man fashion. The only reason it doesn’t sound entirely up to par is a product of bad mixing at the final stage. Every take I’ve heard of it just sounds a bit washed out. The volumes of each track don’t feel properly balanced, and they could perhaps have chosen fuller percussion. But the fundamental song-writing is ideal, and I think if you put it in the hands of say, Bit Brigade, it would shine as brightly as any track from the first two games. Whatever flaws it may have are only visible if you seek them out.

While I think this minor mixing problem persists throughout the game, the next track in this collection, “Snake Man” (2:45), is just so well written that any potential flaw in the final production is masked entirely. Mega Man 3 does have some less memorable tracks; it’s not quite as consistent as the first two games in that regard. You won’t hear them in this mix. garudoh did yet another excellent job of choosing only the best, and “Spark Man” (3:42), “Get Your Weapons Ready” (4:40), and “Proto Man” (5:18) finish off a very well-conceived compilation. But the likes of “Gemini Man” and “Magnet Man”, not featured here, leave something to be desired. Mega Man 3 is not quite as good as the first two, but Yasuaki Fujita definitely finds and maintains the Mega Man sound throughout, and by any other standard this is an excellent NES soundtrack.

The best NES music of 1990 though, as you may have guessed from my previous hints, belongs to Tim Follin. Follin carried his capacity to pack a huge punch into limited sound systems over to the NES, and the introduction to Solstice (CSG Imagesoft, 1990, produced by Software Creations) is not afraid to employ a little shock value. I’m not sure why the music in this sample is out of order, but you can hear how the game kicks off if you skip to 3:37. The cute little 10 second jingle at the start is almost tongue-in-cheek, mocking typical NES songs before exploding into musical fireworks in bombastic Follin fashion. The majority of the album feels to have benefited heavily from his recent work on Ghouls’n Ghosts. No individual tracks really stand out with the memorable qualities of that previous work, but you can definitely appreciate the level of imagination that went into the whole soundtrack. Follin had more up his sleeves for the NES anyway. He reserved his best efforts for a game which we would all expect to have an outstanding soundtrack….. Pictionary?

I don’t know. Tim Follin’s music was seldom relevant to the game. I suppose it’s quite possible that he submitted this soundtrack to Software Creations without even knowing what game it would be used for. But I picture a giddy Follin setting out to intentionally make Pictionary (LJN, 1990) one of the most exciting and absurdly uncharacteristic soundtracks on the NES, laughing all the way.

That’s about all I have to offer from the Nintendo for the time being, but it’s worth taking a brief look at some other systems before we move on. I don’t want to say the pickings were slim outside of the Nintendo–that would certainly contradict my entire point in these past two posts–but I did struggle to find much of interest in 1990 specifically. The PC Engine is quite obscure to me as a western gamer, and many of the Amiga titles that best caught my eye date to 1988 and 1989. The Genesis/Mega Drive was still a musical disappointment in so far as it rarely lived up to its full potential. Elemental Master (TechnoSoft) by Toshiharu Yamanishi deserves an honorable mention, but its music is nothing special really. I think the system just lacked much competition to spur it on. With the Amiga appealing to European computer gamers and the PC Engine pushing the Japanese market, the Genesis/Master System for a time stood alone in a number of markets as the only available fourth generation home gaming console. Phantasy Star III (Sega) saw Izuho Takeuchi take over Tokuhiko Uwabo’s role as composer, and the transition brought a whole new style of sound to the game. I would describe it as unremarkable but more consistent–where Tokuhiko Uwabo presented a rather unique RPG soundtrack that was fairly hit or miss, Izuho Takeuchi is a little more traditional and at no point that I’ve noticed really falls flat. But his music is nothing to brag about either.

Before I move on to the Super Nintendo, one final 1990 release that really caught my attention was Iron Lord (Ubi Soft). Now, this version that you’re hearing above is the original 1989 Atari ST version. I want you to hear it first, because I want you to know what Jeroen Tel had to work with when he made the Commodore 64 and Amiga ports.

I don’t know who the original Atari ST composer was. I don’t know who was responsible for the MS-DOS version either. But I bet it wasn’t Jeroen Tel. C64 composers had a certain attitude about them. They knew they were the best, and they were going to keep on proving it every chance they could get. And let’s not forget here; the Commodore 64 was a year older than the Nintendo.

Hence why Jeroen Tel’s Iron Lord could introduce a power metal song. The effects of layering a medieval tune with big chippy bass and that same higher spacey tone he used on Cybernoid 2 are almost comical, but they’re entirely effective. Like a typical C64 musician, Tel expanded way beyond the scope of the original composition and made it entirely his own.