October 23, 2011

Toronto After Dark 2011: Zombie Appreciation Night

To coincide with the Toronto Zombie Walk, last night at Toronto After Dark was Zombie Appreciation Night: a double bill of zombie movies. And zombies got discounted admission.

Last night, zombie lovers got the chance to see two new undead films and shorts. First, it was the Canadian premiere of DeadHeads, the buddy zombie comedy from writer/directors Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce. DeadHeads was preceded by the zombie short "Play Dead" about a group of dogs trying to survive the zombie apocalypse after their owners are killed.


Zombified Adam Lopez (festival director) and his zombie minions

DeadHeads was a very entertaining and goofy comic romp about Mike (Michael McKiddy) and Brent (Ross Kidder), two zombies who have retained their personalities and ability to speak. Mike and Brent go on a road trip to find Ellie (Natalie Victoria), the love of Mike's (un)life.

After the crowd-pleasing screening of DeadHeads, co-writer and co-director Brett Pierce took to the stage for a Q and A. Alongside Pierce were actors Natalie Victoria and Markus Taylor. Taylor received a round of applause for his role as the soft-headed and soft-hearted zombie named Cheese.

Brett Pierce describes the hard work it took getting DeadHeads made
Markus Taylor, Natalie Victoria, and Brett Pierce swap production horror stories
Pierce talked about his passion for the film which was a financially long and hard ordeal to create while Markus Taylor described the difficulty of doing fight scenes in blinding contacts. Natalie Victoria talked about the hazards of kissing zombies.

The second film of the night was the World Premiere of WAR OF THE DEAD, the almost-never-made WWII zombie film from Finnish director Marko Mäkilaakso. War of the Dead was preceded by the short "You Are So Undead," a cautionary tale for the Twilight generation about going "all the way" with vampire boyfriends.

War of the Dead, I'm sad to say, was a major dud. Filmed in 2007, War of the Dead went through years of funding problems, reshoots, and casting changes before finally seeing the light of day at Toronto After Dark. Despite the hype, War of the Dead was mediocre verging on the the terrible. In the film, an alliance of American and Finnish soldiers is sent on a secret mission to destroy a Nazi bunker in Russia. Evil experiments in reanimation have escaped the bunker and are spreading a 28 Days Later-style infection across enemy lines.

War of the Dead director Marko Mäkilaakso drops F-bombs
As an action film, War of the Dead was almost impossible to watch. Save for a few scenes, the majority of action sequences were so dark and so blurry that it was impossible to see who was hitting who or what was going on. The plot was as muddled as the picture, and characters were dull stereotypes whose only traits seemed to be "machismo" and "man-pain." I never thought I'd be bored by a Nazi zombie film, but War of the Dead proved it was possible. I'm disappointed that the film wasn't more engaging or more exciting as payoff for the nightmare the filmmakers faced in getting War of the Dead made.

Finland Represent! (L-R): Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen, Jouko Ahola, and Marko Mäkilaakso 
Far more entertaining than the film itself was the Q and A with director Marko Mäkilaakso, actor Jouko Ahola, and cinematographer Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen. Although professing love for his film, Mäkilaakso seemed as exasperated with the film as I was, no doubt on his end relating to the Sisyphean-struggle he had getting it made. Dropping copious F-bombs throughout the Q and A, Mäkilaakso's sarcasm and jaded cynicism were surprisingly refreshing, but the movie was still a bore.

A lovely young zombie I shared conversation with in the snack line
While it's a shame that the big film of this year's TAD Zombie Appreciation Night was a dud, I give big props to Toronto After Dark for continuing to appreciate zombies and give them a dedicated night of celebration in conjunction with the Toronto Zombie Walk.

I'm already looking forward to next year.