Monday, October 25, 2010

Zombies vs. Vampires: Celebrity Undead Death Match

Within pop-culture, there are a lot of monsters, ghouls and maniacs out there that want to terrify us. Especially around Halloween, werewolves, demons, ghosts, mummies, maenads, fairies and half-dead men with hockey masks or razor claws make their presence known. But let’s face it, these beasts that go bump in the night lack a certain bite.

For the true masters of horror pop, one need look no further than the two reigning champs of chomps, vampires and zombies. More than any other, these creatures capture the imagination and inspire ferocious loyalty. Zombie lovers corpse-up, congregate in flash mobs and hijack constructions signs to read “Caution: Zombies Ahead.” Vamp fans wear molded ceramic fangs, make pilgrimages to New Orleans and Transylvania, and drink Tru Blood.

But really, which beast is best? The walking dead or undead? The brain eater or blood sucker? In order to settle the Zombie vs. Vampire debate, we’ve collected notable films of both genres from the last 25 years, and arranged them in different categories (emphasis on gore) to determine who each might triumph.

Although judgments on winners are completely subjective, I tried to channel George A. Romero and Bela Lugosi for guidance since they were incredibly influential in both genres. Lugosi starred as the count in the first official version of Dracula in 1931; he also gave the world the grandfather of the zombie movies, White Zombie, in 1932. Meanwhile, Romero remains the reigning genius of the zombie genre after directing 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. Romero also contributed heavily to vampires on screen with the underrated deconstruction Martin (1978).

Supernatural slayer, male
(Ash vs. Blade)

Blade 2 [Blu-ray]
From the Sam Raimi-directed Evil Dead franchise (1981, 1987, 1992), Ashley J. “Ash” Williams (Bruce Campbell) is a wisecracking, S-Mart housewares employee who uses a chainsaw attachment for his missing hand and double-barreled, 12-gauge “boomstick” to fight zombie (ahem, Deadite) hoardes. Ash is a good fighter and inventive, but pretty dim-witted. The title character of his own film series (1998, 2002, 2004), Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a half-vampire “daywalker” who possesses speed, strength, healing powers and basically all the powers of a vampire – including blood thirst – but none of the weaknesses. He is a martial arts expert, and makes use of glaives, silver stakes, machine guns, anti-coagulant weapons, and an acid-tipped, double-edge sword. Being half-supernatural and completely tough, Blade has the clear advantage and could kick Ash’s ash.
Winner: Vampires


Supernatural slayer, female
(Alice vs. Buffy)


Alice (Milla Jovovich) is a rugged, superhuman zombie-killer in the post-apocalyptic world of the Resident Evil quadrilogy (2002, 2004, 2007, 2010); she combines occasional telepathic and telekinetic powers with martial arts skills, munitions and a curved “kukri” knife to dispatch enemies. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Summers of the 1992 film is a cheerleader – with valley girl slang and wooden stakes. Not to be confused with the TV Sunnydale version, this Buffy was played by Kristy Swanson, and although she eventually saves the day, Alice could have done it in half the time with far more bloodletting.
Winner: Zombies

Rodriguez/ Tarantino Terrors
(From Dusk Till Dawn vs. Grindhouse)
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (BLU-RAY)
Filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have collaborated on six films together, but the most well known are the duo’s work on the 1996 vampire flick Dawn (written by and starring Tarantino, and directed by Rodriguez) and 2007’s double-feature, Grindhouse. In the latter, Rodriguez directed the Planet Terror zombie segment, which includes Tarantino as zombified “Rapist #1.” Both films sport over-the-top action, plenty of bared flesh - as well as gory flesh-eating. Terror features a stripper who kills zombies with a prosthetic machine-gun leg, Dawn has mutated vampire strippers. The helicopter kill scene almost clinches it for Terror, but the fact that a bank-heist flick successful turns into an unapologetic popcorn bloodsucker movie earns From Dusk Till Dawn the win.
Winner: Vampires

Classic remakes of classics
(Bram Stoker's Dracula vs. Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead)

The famous Transylvanian Count created by Bram Stoker in 1897 has been portrayed more on film than any other villain. In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola’s contributed his take, which was meant to adhere closer to Stoker’s tale. The result had some problems (Keanu Reeves’ English accent, anyone?) but so visually arresting that it's one of the great Dracula films. Specifically, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of the count as both an old and young man stands out, as does Anthony Hopkins as the grizzled Van Helsing. Meanwhile, Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 celebrated zombies-in-mall sequel solidified the transition from the walking dead into the sprinting dead started by 28 Days Later. Snyder’s version starts fast and stays fast, and gives excellent gore and a pregnant zombie birth. Dawn fares better when viewed less as a remake than as a standalone zombie flick. Because the first 20 minutes borders on brilliance and the ending is so open-ended, Snyder narrowly snatches victory from the dude that gave us The Godfather
Winner: Zombies

Man-made monsters
(28 Days Later vs. I Am Legend)
28 Days Later (Widescreen Edition)
Before he was the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle was the man who popularized the fast-moving zombie in 28 Days Later (2002). Along with the first Resident Evil, the film helped change movie zombies from reanimated corpses to humans infected with a virus. As soon as the character of Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes from a coma to find London decimated, the film is an unsettling and unrelenting drama that helped redefine the zombie genre – and make it cool again. With its eerie scenes of an abandoned Manhattan, I Am Legend is the 2007 Will Smith film about primitive viral vampires and a scientist who may be the last living human. Legend could have been great when if it remained focused on Smith’s character surviving and combating loneliness, but the CGI virals look cheesy and the film flounders when more humans arrive.
Winner: Zombies

Scary Scandinavia
(Let The Right One In vs. Dead Snow)

Whether it’s Sweden or Norway, Scandinavia is home to cold, quick corpses.  In the 2008 film Let the Right One In, a 12-year-old borderline sociopathic, bullied boy befriends a vampire who appears to be a young girl. The vampire scenes are violent and scary in the cold environs, but the relationship between the two outcasts. The film frightens the most when things are quietest. Meanwhile, the 2009 Norwegian film Dead Snow about Nazi Zombies is successful because it’s so loud, unsubtle and schlocky. In the grand old tradition of horror movies, college students go to a remote cabin and battle monsters – this time they happen to be walking dead Nazis. Although it’s an excellent addition to the zombie genre, Let The Right One In is an excellent film. Period.
Winner: Vampires

Forget the future
(Land of the Dead vs. Daybreakers)

George A. Romero's Land of the Dead (Unrated Director's Cut)When it comes to vampire and zombie movies, the future looks pretty bleak. In the 2005 George A. Romero film Land of the Dead, it’s the “not too distant future” and humans are outnumbered by zombies and forced to live in an extremely gated community called Fiddler’s Green. The rich live inside a modern skyscraper, the poor must fend on the street, and the zombies outside are becoming self-aware and evolving. In the equally bleak 2010 film Daybreakers vampires outnumber humans in the near future, and blood supplies are running low. Ethan Hawke plays a vampire scientist trying to create synthetic blood while the remaining humans are hunted and harvested in blood banks. Daybreakers possesses a nifty concept with futuristic aesthetics similar to The Matrix, but it never captures the attention like Land of the Dead. In Land, Romero returned to form in a big-budget way and the audience is actually inspired when the dead begin to use tools and decide to work together.
Winner: Zombies

Postmodern monster mash
(Shaun of the Dead vs. Fright Night)

The postmodern zombie/vampire movie is one where characters encounter monsters as real, and proceed to draw on their pop-culture experience to dispatch of them. As such, the 2004 zombie homage (zom-mage?) Shaun of the Dead stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as low-wage and no-wage worker bees who lead friends through an undead uprising by drawing from the world of George A. Romero and 28 Days Later. Although the movie is comedic, it treats the creatures as serious threats and actually stands out as one of the best modern zombie films (with the slow-moving variety at that). The 1985 comedy-horror Fright Night revolves around Charley, a horror-movie obsessed teen who tries to enlist an aging actor  from vampire movies (Roddy McDowell  with spray-painted gray hair) to dispatch of a “real” bloodsucker living next door, played by Chris Sarandon. The pair apply all they’ve learned from vamp movies to destroy the undead. Even though Fright Night was successful at the time, it’s more cheesetastic than scarerific compared to Shaun.
Winner: Zombies


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