Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy

Shaun of the Dead | Bite Me!

By Steve Anderson
March 1st , 2005

Shaun of the Dead
****
DVD
Directed by Edgar Wright
R
99 mins

Right now, there are half a dozen people screaming at their screens "This isn't direct to video! This was in theatres!" Which is technically true. If you lived anywhere near a city that had over, say, one million people, or had a particularly active arts community, you might have caught "Shaun of the Dead" in theatres.

For the rest of us, the roughly eighty percent of the country who didn't manage to see "Shaun of the Dead" in the dozen theatres it was shown in nationwide, it's as direct to video as it's going to get.

So to borrow the parlance, shut it, you wankers, and let's get it on.

So what we have here is the story of Shaun, a pushing-thirtysomething whose life is going nowhere, and not very fast, either. He lives with old college buddies in a small house in the middle of London, works a truly awful job in electronics retail, is on the outs with his girlfriend, and is being horrifically dominated by his stepfather.

Of course, the whole thing changes after the zombies hit.

"Shaun of the Dead" is packed to the gills with fantastic homages, especially to its obvious namesake. Check out the opening sequence, before even the title crawl. You'll hear music authentic to the Romero "Dead" saga. Shaun works for Foree Electric--Ken Foree was one of the original stars of "Dawn of the Dead" and he even reappeared in the theatrical rerelease. The fish restaurant is "Fulci's", based on Lucio Fulci, one of George Romero's inevitable decendants. There's even a "We're coming to get you, Barbara" sequence at the thirty seven minute sequence.

Even better is the avant title sequence. None of the people you see here are vicious flesh eating ghouls, yet after a fashion, they're all zombies. They even groan authentically, but the only thing separating them from actual flesh eaters is their appetites.

The plot is actually far more interesting than you give it credit for. Romero's movies involved joining characters in the midst of Zombie Apocalypse, but "Shaun of the Dead" goes in a new and interesting direction. "Shaun of the Dead" actually begins just before the Zombie Apocalypse, allowing you an interesting look at how things progress when they only just start. Fewer and fewer people show up for work. The streets get strangely deserted. Bloody handprints appear randomly throughout town.

It's also very interesting to take a character like Shaun, who isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and drop him into the midst of Zombie Apocalypse. He has no idea what has happened, and the zombies don't move fast enough to attack him. Thus, he can literally wander the streets, going about his normal non-work day activities and not even notice that something has gone wrong until this brilliant sequence at the thirty minute mark.

"Shaun of the Dead" also provides an excellent study in what not to do in the midst of Zombie Apocalypse. If you can't identify at least three major bungles, then you're not paying close enough attention.

The ending is a laugh riot, as zombies slowly become integrated into what's left of society following "Z-Day". Television details in strange and amusing ways how the zombies are becoming part of things--notice as they push shopping carts, compete for prizes of raw meat on TV game shows, and are the subjects of a benefit rock concert and talk show fodder.

Check out also the brief stab at "28 Days Later."

The special features include Simon Pegg's video diary, casting film, a storyboard film sequence, special effects comparisons, featurettes on makeup and a brief featurette on the plotline. Plus, we get a photo gallery, poster designs, an advertising campaign featurette, an original theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, extended scenes, a featurette called "plot holes" in which some important questions are answered, in comic book form. As if this weren't enough, we also get a series of little featurettes called "TV Bits."

Truly, "Shaun of the Dead" is a film that didn't skimp in the least on special features.

All in all, "Shaun of the Dead" is by turns the funniest and most suspenseful horror comedy to be released in some time. A quality comedy and a killer zombie flick makes "Shaun of the Dead" a movie worth your time to find.

Steve's columns are now sponsored by Horrormovies.com. You can get a solid deal on "Shaun of the Dead" over there, and visiting my sponsor allows me to keep bringing you timely and solid data on the newest stuff on the video store shelves.

Bite Me!
*
DVD
Directed by Brett Piper
R
85 mins

Brett Piper...once again you pour your cinematic pablum down the collective throats of the unsuspecting video watching public. And now that you've had the misfortune to come across me again, you're getting the full treatment.

For those of you who don't follow the industry, old Brett's been a busy, busy boy. First, he released a shoddy little title called "Arachnia," which redefined cheesy with a combination of giant spider puppets and vaguely lesbian bedroom / bathing scenes. This stellar resume made him a killer choice to be picked up by the schlockmongers at Shock-O-Rama, the people who brought us such cinematic swill as "Suburban Nightmare." Brett then piped out "Screaming Dead," a film that does little more than titillate every S&M fanatic who gets his or her sweaty little palms on it.

Now, we get "Bite Me!", a film that manages to combine Brett's career-making films of bugs and boobs in a package that will make you cringe.

So what we have here is the story of some super joints ending up at a not so super joint. I know, I know, that's just far too glib to be a passable explanation, but you know what? It actually isn't too far from the truth.

A crate of "bio-engineered marijuana" inadvertently settles in at a strip club. Now, the concept of "bio-engineered marijuana" fills me with the kind of stunned, vaguely disgusted awe I normally reserve for car wrecks and the Bush administration, but it only gets weirder from here. This genetically goofy grass has been followed by a rogue DEA agent and a swarm of mutated insects. Apparently, they're the kind of bugs who like their Cheech and Chong. The strip club's owner decides to keep the incident quiet, and his club safe from repossession, by calling in a local exterminator to take care of the problem. Needless to say, the local exterminator isn't exactly the best in the business.

Hell, who am I kidding? This guy isn't fit to carry Delbert McClintock's poison tank. He makes Dale Gribble look competent.

Not even the long arm of the law is safe, and the DEA agent falls prey to the bugs. Or does he?

"Bite Me!" wavers wildly between funny, disgusting, and just plain sad. For instance, check out the most inept striptease ever at the thirteen minute mark. While it's certainly ludicrous enough to qualify as a genuine comedic gem, you can't help but feel bad for the poor girl who just had to go through this humiliation. Even better, at the twenty five minute mark, the world's only stoned, bitter, narcoleptic stripper hits the stage, falls asleep, berates the audience and then leaves. Several of the bugs drink their fill of blood only to explode via one means or another--I don't recall one bug ever escaping with a full load of blood.

John Fedele, the relative no-name they got to play the DEA agent Myles McCarthy, was probably a masterstroke. He's annoying. He's shrill. He's John Ashcroft: DEA Agent. Everyone's guilty, but the country must be protected. And he has a really punchable face. Watching him get assaulted by bugs was almost a pleasure.

Almost.

Worse yet, "Bite Me!" decides that the best way to reach its audience is to pander like there's no tomorrow. Of course there are literally dozens of striptease sequences--it's a movie set in a strip club. Of course it's going to have strippers. But then it screams upward into shower scenes, extended lesbian scenes, and of course the kind of bloodshed that Shock-O-Rama Cinema is rapidly becoming notorious for.

The ending of this magnificent pile of steaming cinematic dung is a continuity buster the like of which has seldom been seen. The concept stays unexplained despite the end of the movie, and will leave you scratching your head.

The special features include a featurette on the Canadian National Horror Expo entitled "Rue Morgue: Festival of Fear," a series of web links, a music video from CKY featuring Misty Mundae for the song "Shock and Terror," a making-of featurette for the preceding music video, an interview with Misty Mundae, a behind the scenes featurette, a screen test, a short film entitled "How to Crash a Car in Two Minutes" and trailers aplenty for "Suburban Nightmare," "Lust for Dracula," "Bite Me!" "Screaming Dead," "Vamps 2," "Sinful Wives," and "Chantal."

Shock-O-Rama is truly dependent on Misty Mundae. She's in the movie. She's in the special features. She's in the music video. She's in the making of the music video segment. She's in the making of the video segment. She's in several of their upcoming films, as evidenced by their trailers. If Misty Mundae ever dropped dead, Shock-O-Rama would probably have to close its doors in disgrace forever.

All in all, "Bite Me!" is indeed a film that bites, and I'm not referring to the bugs. "Bite Me!" is the worst kind of one trick pony, so desperately reliant on stage blood, bare-breasted antics, and Misty Mundae that it goes so far beyond pandering as to leave pandering choking on its dust. It's getting to the point where anything with the Shock-O-Rama label should simply be renamed "Schlock-O-Rama" as a common-decency warning to its viewers.

 

Want to receive an expanded version of Reel Advice as an E-Newsletter?? Email to thevideostoreguy@columnist.com with "The Advisor" in the subject line.  Steve Andersen, much to his own chagrin, is a five-plus year veteran of the direct to video market. He has spent an alarming amount of time in video stores and seeks to provide the public with advance information on all the video releases that they may never have heard of...whether they want to hear of them or not. Steve appears in one way or another weekly, biweekly, or monthly on such fine entertainment-related ezines as Film Threat, Dream Forge, Reel Horror, Acid Logic, Chaotic Culture Magazine, Malicious Bitch webzine, and many others. Readers, agents, or editors can email Steve at thevideostoreguy@columnist.com




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