Tag Archives: movies

Are zombies the new vampires? Part 2

Someone rather foolishly once wrote on this blog that vampires and werewolves are easily cast as romantic heroes, while zombies languish as the unwanted and rejected lovers, unable to ever meet anyone because they always want to eat everyone.

Okay, that was me, and I was wrong. An astute reader of this blog (thanks Frank) pointed me towards a film called Warm Bodies (2013), a romantic zombie comedy film (rozomedy?) about a teenage girl’s romance with a “sensitive undead” after a zombie apocalypse.

Sensitive undead? Apocalypse?

Sign me up right now!

So it is time to admit my error – sorry, two readers of this blog – and update my previous musings on the topic of paranormal suitors.

Warm Bodies takes place in a post-apocalyptic North American setting, 8 years after the usual kind of vague apocalyptic plague thingy happened. We begin with R, a zombie suffering existential angst as he wanders around an abandoned airport now inhabited by fellow zombies. He wonders about the meaning of life now that he has none: he feels alone, longs to connect with other people, and wonders if his life would be better if he worked on his posture and had more respect.

Nearby, humans are living in a fortified urban enclosure, worrying about extinction, and occasionally venturing outside to find more resources and medical supplies. A human team sent outside encounters R and fellow zombies who are out for a stroll looking for food. They fight. Zombies eat the humans. Well, most of them.

The humans include a girl called Julie and her boyfriend, and R eats her boyfriend’s brains but saves Julie and takes her back to his crib (an abandoned plane). R is embarrassed about his love of eating brains but he also relishes it … bad pun, sorry … because when he eats someone’s brains he captures their memories and feelings.

So, when he kills Julie’s boyfriend, his initial interest in Julie takes on an added dimension because of those captured feelings. Cue unexpected romance between our leads R and Julie, Shakespearean connotations and all. He plays her bad music, occasionally summons up an actual word or two instead of his usual grunts, and struggles to understand her. In other words, your typical man and woman attempting to date.


The movie gives us levels of zombie-ness: R is unusual for the fact that he has some thinking and caring abilities despite his love of eating brains and limited speech, and over the course of the film he and fellow zombies gradually become more human. The bad zombies are those who have lost all humanity and turn into skeletal CGI “bonies”.

It’s a funny movie in a low-key way. There’s plenty of self-referential humour about the zombie genre and wordplay on life and death. “Welcome to the dead zone,” graffiti announces to the human team exiting the compound, “Look alive out there!!!!” “This date is not going well,” R thinks as he struggles to communicate with Julie. “I’m going to die all over again.”

At one point Julie holds up to R the DVD cover of Zombie (1979), the very image I chose for my earlier blog post to illustrate how unromantic most zombies would be as heroes, which is a nice contrast for this current post.

So was I wrong about the romantic lead thing? Maybe. R is appealing in the way of all awkward, socially inept characters whose communication skills might be lacking but whose sincerity can’t be doubted. Which makes a nice change from those uber handsome, rich, smooth talking vamps that so many teenage girls love. And the film’s celebration of brainy girls is worth some props.

OK so it’s kind of completely undermined by the busty blonde pose, but hey, let’s give them points for trying to be funny anyway. And, like the similar meme running round social media that there’s nothing hotter than a man who reads, they are sentiments we can heartily subscribe to here. But such sentiments mean the typical non-Warm Bodies zombie still remains unattractive as the thinking woman’s romantic lead, since most of them can’t exactly think, let alone read.

If nothing else, though, R has nailed the zombie version of the intense leading man stare, so maybe there’s hope for lonely zombies yet.






Iconic shapeshifters: Peter as the wolfboy in Jumanji. And, fake monkeys!

So a couple of corrections immediately: Peter’s not exactly an iconic shapeshifter. And he’s not really a wolf boy. He’s kind of a monkey boy. But there really are fake monkeys!

I want to blog about this because in a recent review of our book – which was very nice, thank you – the question of text choice came up. Our book covers a lot of novels, film and TV, but we never wanted to do a comprehensive survey of every shapeshifter, instead we wanted to pick some texts and discuss them in the context of particular themes. We also chose to focus on relatively recent texts from the last decade or two, because that’s what most readers are familiar with.

 But it did make me think about some texts we might have missed, and that will have to function as my segue into the topic of this blog post: Jumanji.

I have a weakness for this movie. Don’t judge me. Jumanji is a 1995 children’s fantasy film directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, and Kirsten Dunst, and, most importantly, Bradley Pierce, our almost-wolfboy. You can watch the trailer here.

If you’ve not seen the film, the plot is about a couple of kids who find a board game called Jumanji, which brings jungle life to the real world: dangerous creatures appear, there’s a stampede, monsoonal rain, and even a nod to Australia with a giant crocodile and enormous spiders.

Well, that’s what I call a Hollywood nod to Australia anyway. So when the kids play, one of them gets sucked into the game (literally), and 26 years later emerges when 2 new kids find the game and start playing it. They then battle the jungle terrors together until one of them manages to get to the end of the game, which returns everything to normal.

The movie is notable for the fakest looking monkeys ever (that is an entirely unsubstantiated claim and I’m willing to see faker monkeys if anyone wants to find them).

They were probably okay for 1995 but honestly, I kept looking for the bits of string holding up the paper monkeys being moved around the set.

There’s a lovely moment when the monkeys pass a shop with a television screening a scene of the flying monkeys on The Wizard of Oz, and they get quite excited.

As I watched this again recently I realised that there is an element of shapeshifting in this film that I didn’t remember: the boy, played by Bradley Pierce, turns into a half monkey in the film after he cheats at the game. I think it’s a half monkey but initially I assumed it was a half wolf, because the sudden hairy hands/face and pointed ears look like most other human-wolf hybrids on screen.

Also, the boy’s name is Peter, hence another lupine connotation. But then you see the big tail and no, it’s a monkey. He stays as this human hybrid until the game is over and everything reverts back to before.

If we were to position this film within the other texts discussed in our book, we’d probably include it with other shapeshifters who have been turned into an animal as a punishment; ie, shapeshifting functions as a moral lesson. Remember Eustace from Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in the Chronicles of Narnia? His greed for gold turned him into a dragon. Only once he’d learned his lesson could he return to being a human. Many shapeshifters these days are framed in terms of redemption, where they are trying to overcome their darker side, and sometimes they have become shapeshifters because of wrongdoing. And so we have Peter, who cheated in the game, so he lost part of his humanity and became part animal.

 The thing is, he’s a very cute little wolf/monkey boy and it’s hard to shake your head for his lost humanity when you see this:

This is one of those blog posts without a real point, which I was hoping to disguise in cute pictures of the little wolf/monkey boy, but as I reach this point I think it’s best to just ‘fess up and say it’s just for fun. Anyway, here’s to the forgotten wolf/monkey boys and other shapeshifters permeating our popular culture texts that didn’t make the final cut for our book.

Harry Potter exhibition + screen shapeshifters: the good, the bad, and the just plain weird looking

I saw the Harry Potter exploitation exhibition recently. Like the Lord of the Rings exploitation exhibition (which I also saw, and also loved), this had film props and costumes, plus a few interactive parts where you could pull a mandrake and hear it squeal or toss a quaffle through the hoops.

The amount of work that goes into films like these is extraordinary: the handwritten notes on Snape’s potions book; the wonderfully funny photos of Gilderoy Lockhart posing on book covers and fan pics; the horcruxes; the stickers around Ron’s mirror and Seekers Weekly in their room at Hogwarts.

The staff did a great job. The girl running the Sorting Hat ceremony at the time I visited looked uncannily like Emma Watson, and the queue-controller tried his best to stump the fans with questions: name the 12 (13?) fields of study at Hogwarts, name the dragons involved in the Twi-Wizard tournament, what was the creature that stopped Fleur in the tournament, how do you say “open” in parseltongue, and so on.

Less exciting was the bit at the end where you can buy $60 wands and $90 books and $50 marauders maps (huh? Fifty dollars for a piece of paper?), plus cheaper things like Bertie Bott’s every flavour beans, which really were every flavour. But the shop was incredibly crowded and kind of great to escape. Sadly, I did not escape unscathed (financially speaking).

What has this got to do with shapeshifting? Well … Lupin’s robes were on display, and Gilderoy “defeated” a werewolf from Wagga Wagga … But looking at some of the creatures on display – thestrals, centaurs – I thought how difficult it is to get some book things right on screen.

Shapeshifting comes in the too-hard basket, which is no doubt why most paranormal TV shows these days stick to those pale vamps more than anything. Ever since vampires stopped transforming, they’ve been easy to portray: couple of teeth prostheses, pale makeup, pouts, snooty look and hey presto, it’s a Cullen family get together.

Zombies are dead easy, too, and yes that dreadful pun was intentional: bloodshot eyes + jerky walk + waving your arms in front of you = zombie. So easy even Shaun of the Dead could get it right, and he wasn’t even particularly bright.

But shapeshifters rely on CGI on screen, and we’ve all seen enough dodgy CGI to know it doesn’t always work.

So let’s look at a few examples, starting with two that made me laugh out loud (not the intention of the director, I assume).

1. Teen Wolf (TV series) – S1 Big Bad. This werewolf alpha villain was pretty creepy until we actually saw him. Then it just looked like a gorilla suit.

2. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt 1 – the wolf pack. The pack’s shifting never looked too good or bad until now, but the scene where the pack run around in circles at the lumber yard was just silly.* To be fair, it wasn’t the CGI but the voiceovers that didn’t work for me, and I did enjoy most of the movie, surprisingly.

As the current crop of TV and film directors have learned, it is much easier to whip the shirts off the wolf pack boys if you want them to compete with today’s favourite monsters, vampires.**

* Sorry to all those Twilight fans in the cinema while I was laughing at the scene.

** If you hoped to see this point illustrated, you’re at the wrong blog, since we’re kind of not into objectification here. Try this one, where you can even vote for the SEXIEST werewolf!

And a random collection of other onscreen shapeshifters:

3. Olga in Night Watch makes shifting look pretty uncomfortable. One of the few female shifters on screen.

4. Robert Patrick as the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, with what I thought was pretty decent CGI.

5. Lupin in Harry Potter. Everybody’s favourite lupine shifter.

6. Scott in the Teen Wolf movie. Just as well this was meant to be a comedy.

7. The original Wolf Man, who looks like he’s just popped his head over the fence to say howdy ho, good neighbour.

8. Seth Green as Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Let’s just say lycanthropy didn’t win him any sexiest werewolf awards either.

9. Mason in The Vampire Diaries, showing lycanthropy’s not so fun outside Quileute territory, no matter how many awards you could win.

10. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Enough said.

So, who else saw the Harry Potter exhibition? What did you think?

And what are some of the other weird and wonderful onscreen transformations?

The Harry Potter Exhibition is at the Powerhouse Museum until April 9.