Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: Die and Let Live: 10th Anniversary Edition

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Die and Let Live: 10th Anniversary Edition
(aka Zombi 9)
Directed and edited by Justin Channell
Heretic Films I IWC Films
75 minutes, 2006 / 2016

To celebrate the release of their recent – er – release, Winners Tape All: The Story of the Henderson Brothers (reviewed by me, HERE), director Justin Channell and his two writers / stars, Josh Lively and Zane Crosby, have just re-dropped their zombie comedy film from a decade ago.

Zombie comedies were timely when this first came out, soon on the heels of Shaun of the Dead (2004), yet before the likes of Ah! Zombies!! (aka Wasting Away, 2007), Zombieland (2009) and Bong of the Dead (2011). This shows they were ahead of the game without even realizing it!

This crew specializes in “back yard” filmmaking, where they shoot micro-budget features, and this is actually a loving and yet enjoyably demented. It’s a bit amateurish, and yet they managed to keep it interesting, without losing any of the cheese.

Right from the beginning “prologue” scene, you know you are in for a decent film with bad acting and lots of zombies and blood, for which we are shown relatively plenty for the buck. And while this is an aside in a way, I’m impressed they got the rights to songs by the likes of Canadian ska group The Planet Smashers (I’m especially fond of their “Fabricated,” but I digress…) and Big D and the Kids Table, along with so much other fun music on the soundtrack. My fave cut here, though, was the inane “Fanny Pack,” by Rappy McRapperson (I kid you not). Anyway…

The two main protagonists are life-long pals Benny Rodriguez (Lively) and grammar nazi – which involve some great running gag bits – Scotty Smalls (Crosby), who are reminiscent of characters from Clerks (1994), but with a punk rock vibe rather than hipster. Benny has a very cute girlfriend, Liz (Ashley Goddard) but also has a crush on redheaded Stephanie (Sarah Bauer), who seems to date losers. As they say in the film, Benny’s definitely thinking with the wrong head. Perhaps a good theme, considering the film, would be Loudon Wainwright III’s “Unrequited Love to the Nth Degree.” Meanwhile, her over-jealous and body-modified musician boyfriend Andrew (Jonas Dixon) is cheating on her. As all this is going on, there’s a zombie apocalypse on the verge thanks to a leak at some nearby secret lab. And this is only 7 minutes in.

Written by the director and the two leads (as well as ad libs from the rest of the cast, for which the credits acknowledge), those writing sessions seem like they must have been a hoot and a half. And that arsine, juvenile humor translates into the story quite effectively. Hey, to be clear, the company name, IWC Films, is for the acronym “Idiots With Cameras,” and they take their silliness seriously.

Yeah, it’s micro-budget, yeah the acting is occasionally (okay, usually) not top notch – even though Lively and Smalls seem quite natural as though they seem to be pretty much playing themselves (I’m assuming, as I don’t know the gents, but I’m going by the “Making Of” featurette) – and yeah, there are the occasional continuity quirks, but the end result is a film that is, well, funny in a way that Clerks was meant to be but never quite achieved, in my opinion (I was never a fan of the film; to me the only watchable Kevin Smith is Dogma [1999], but again, I digress…).

The thing about this is that what I believe makes it so enjoyable is the fact that they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, and that they were out to have a good time making this. At least that’s what comes across, and it improves the viewing. If they had been as serious as some other micro-budgets, such as the overrated and drippy nosed The Blair Witch Project (1999), this would be excruciating, painful rather than incredibly funny.

The trio’s latest film, Winner Tape All, is indirectly about the process of filming this very kind of film, and I’m pretty sure is shot around the very same pool. Even though there is a decade separating these two releases, there are some consistencies, such as a bro code of honor, and the sense that “a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat.” In other words, they are not going to shy away from anything that’s non-PC.

Being a zombie apocalypse film of sorts, there is a lot of blood and latex, which looks more cheesy than real, but it still works in the context of what the film is focusing towards, which is unabashed amateurism; this works in their favor, rather than against. Again, if they would have tried to do this seriously, it would not work at all. And, that it seems to be modelled somewhat on the paradigm of “I saw Clerks and I can do it too!”

The cast is full of odd characters, and what I like is it isn’t the same clich√© bunch of “high school students.” Zack Boyce is a hysterical scene stealer as the exuberant Todd, and make sure you listen to his throwaway lines; filmmaker Henrique Couto (pre-moustache, who I am guessing is wearing his own clothes during the shoot) does a great job as a television director who is friends with our two lovable misfits. Honestly, I kept looking for other filmmakers from their area of West Virginia up to Western Pennsylvania, such as these guys, Couto, Dustin Mills and Steve Rudzinski (who is thanked in the credits). Someone should do a documentary about this group of West Virginia-thru-Westylvanian genre filmmakers.

For the mandatory cameo, there is Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman, who plays a gonzo journalist named – I kid you not – Floyd Faukman. Then the wonderful Debbie Rochon in kinda on hand as a disembodied voice on ta phone, but her tone is totally recognizable.

I was particularly amused about a bit concerning PF Flyers sneakers, and smiled when they quoted the commercial about “running faster and jumping higher.” During the early punk days of the mid-‘70s, most of us wore either PF Flyers or Keds. Good enough for the Ramones, good enough for us.

The film is snarky, there’s no getting around that, and there is quite a bit of that non-PC humor, but the point of films like this is to be just shocking enough to show “look how cool we are, we can break the PC,” yet not get steeped in it by having other things be over-the-top outrageous as well.

Extras abound, such as the 58-minute Blooper reel, which feels a bit long, but definitely shows the camaraderie within the cast and crew (many of whom overlap). It also shows they certainly picked the right shots for the actual release. Same is true, choice-wise, with the 4-minute Alternate Takes and almost 3-minute Deleted Scenes. For the 40-minute “Behind the Scenes,” which is mostly the cast and crew acting silly, it is way more than I needed to see, but again, it’s clear that their friendships go beyond just working together.

This is definitely a bro film, with most of the males being somewhat loveable tools, but the women, as attractive as many of them are, appear as either fantasy images, stereotypically liking the one who treats them like crap, or they are fickle. To put it another way, in an alternate dimension, this probably would have starred Seth Rogan as Rodriguez and Jonah Hill as Smalls. Now, while I’m not a fan of those two actors (especially in films where they appear together), I actually mean this as a compliment, as this is actually funny, despite its low-budget, early-career flaws. Hell, it’s from 10 years ago, and we’re more evolved now, aren’t we? Well, Winners Tape All shows that these guys have grown for the better, but this is still a hoot to watch in the basement with the buds.
* * *
Post-review note from the Director, Justin Channell (thank you!): 
Judging by the PF Flyers paragraph, I think you might have missed that most of the third act is actually an elaborate homage to the '90s family film The Sandlot [1993]. The characters are all named after the kids in the movie and since the movie is about the kids trying to get a signed baseball from a huge dog on the other side of the fence, we swapped it with pizzas and zombies. Just for the record, I actually hadn't seen The Sandlot until very early in the brainstorming stage. I had actually pitched a subplot where side characters order a pizza, a zombie kills the delivery guy, so they order a pizza from another place and it continues until their yard is filled with zombie pizza guys. Zane just said, "Why not just have them try to get the pizza and it's just like The Sandlot?" and they made me watch it and it all spiralled out from there.I liked the idea because the characters were guys who weren't bright and when they're in over the heads have to step up to save the day, the only experiences they have to reference are from movies. The Forrest Gump [1994] flashback was meant to really drive that home. There was also a flashback in the script that was written as a soapbox derby race that was the ending from Cool Runnings [1993], but we didn't have enough money.

No comments:

Post a Comment