High School of the Dead (2010)
Writer: Yōsuke Kuroda
Director: Tetsuro Araki
Episodes 7-12 (of 12)
Last week we left off our hormone-ridden teens safe and sound with a cache of weapons, a Humvee, a high-rise apartment, and the ladies all spent some time molesting each other while the boys played with their guns. No really. Their guns.
Episode 7 introduces us to a new member of the crew, a small child whose father dies trying to get to safety. A puppy also enters the mix. Unable to let the little girl get eaten, our heroes decide that the apartment is no longer safe anyway, what with all the dead thronging the streets, so they rescue the kid and the dog and use the Humvee to amphibiously cross the river, sidestepping the bridges that are under military control.
Oddly enough, we don’t really see the military anymore. From this point on, our gang finds themselves in a barricaded mansion owned by Saya’s parents. Of course, by the end of episode 12, everything is in flames and our ragtag teens are on the road again.
Along the way, though, we get a few more introspective episodes as the danger subsides for a bit and it goes a long way toward countering the still too-common focus on the girls’ boobs and panties. Saeko reveals a secret from her past that informs her fairly passionate embrace of the zombie holocaust, and it’s not too far from Kohta’s realization that killing zombies is what he was born for. Parental stresses also allow some softening of Saya’s personality as we get a glimpse of the psychological pressures she was under well before the dead began to walk.
Meanwhile Takashi and Rei finally have a little chat that clears up some emotional tension between them. At the same time Takashi is finally pushed into the leadership position in a way that feels natural and doesn’t rub anyone the wrong way. As the series comes to an end, all of our heroes have roles to play and have become a fairly well-honed weapon against the undead.
Who would have thought that the series would get better the more it shied away from juvenile titillation and focused on the character development, their relationships, and establishing the world they find themselves in. I especially enjoyed the fact that the kids have proven themselves enough to Saya’s parents that they’re treated with the respect they deserve. I was afraid that was going to be a concern. It also leads to a fairly quick resolution to the return of the pervy teacher we saw earlier in the series and his busload of horny little girls. Saya’s father will have nothing to do with the creep and exiles him immediately on the basis of Rei’s assessment of his character and his own previous dealings with the teacher’s father.
Oh! I almost forgot to mention that the surviving US leaders have launched their nuclear arsenal in an attempt to, um, I don’t know what exactly. And while the Japanese navy is able to stop most of the missiles heading their way, one gets through, exploding at high-altitude. This creates an EMP that kills all but the most securely shielded electronics in the area of Japan in which our story takes place. That means everything but the Humvee, luckily enough.
I’m actually invested in this story now and want to see more. It looks like the manga has started back up and a second season of the anime was recently greenlit according to some sources. But there are a lot of mixed signals out there in Internetland, so who knows when we might see what happens to the gang after this.
The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
Director: John Gilling
Writer: Peter Bryan
Serving as the bridge between the pre-Romero zombie film and the wave of on-screen flesh-eaters that followed, The Plague of the Zombies is one of the most successful Hammer Horror films of the late sixties, and while it deals with the traditional voodoo zombie scenario, there’s a fair amount of undead imagery on display that foreshadows the horrors to come.
In true Hammer style, our story is set during the mid-1800s in a small Cornish village where a series of mysterious deaths have stricken the youth. The new young doctor from London is at a loss about what to do, so he sends a letter to his old professor. In short order, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), with his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare) in tow, arrives to help Dr. Tompson (Brook Williams) sort out the cause of the plague of death.
Being a small village filled with superstitious farmers and whatnot, Dr. Tompson hasn’t been allowed to perform autopsies on any of the deceased, which prompts Sir James to matter-of-factly suggest a quick round of grave robbing to get the job done. In a very nice twist, they are caught in the act, but when the coffin they’ve exposed proves to be empty the local constable (Dennis Chinnery) takes their side and helps them out. Hell, even the local vicar (Roy Royston) is easily swayed to Sir James’ side, providing him with readings on the occult.
Ultimately the deaths are the result of a combination of local fears and the desperate need of the new young Squire, Clive Hamilton (John Carson doing his best James Mason impression), to find a way to mine his family’s tin mine that has been deemed cursed and/or haunted by the locals. Although no one from the village will willingly work the mine, after spending his idle years in Haiti, Squire Hamilton knows just the trick. He gathers up some of his young friends — The Young Bloods, according to the credits — houses them, encourages their brash behavior, and together (with a group of Haitian voodoo drummers he keeps under his house???) begins working voodoo magic to kill the people of the village and then use them as slave labor in his mine.
As far as Voodoo Zombie Narratives go, it’s pretty much in line with every single one that’s come before it, all the way back to Bela Legosi’s classic White Zombie . But the mood of the film and its imagery is what really sets this one apart. The dead here are gruesome, looking like the sort of things we wouldn’t really see again until after Night of the Living Dead inspired the European explosion. But even then, it wouldn’t be until after Dawn of the Dead’s impact that we’d see zombies this effectively designed.
Granted, there’s no real gore in Plague of the Zombies, but given the time period that’s not really a shocker. The blood is pretty red though (it is Hammer, after all), and when combined with a horrific nightmare sequence where Dr. Tompson sees visions of the dead rising, emptying their graves, Hammer has staked a claim as inspiration for some of the most thrilling horror moments to fill the screens in years to come.
And if there was ever any doubt about the connections to the traditional Gothic vampire film and the zombie films that would soon be proliferating, then Plague of the Zombies is your missing link. The structure of the story is almost identical not only to films like White Zombie, but also shares elements of most vampire films, especially Hammer’s own Dracula: Prince of Darkness that also debuted in 1966.
I’d say this film, Carnival of Souls, and Last Man on Earth all had major impacts on a young George Romero when he was developing the look and story that would become Night of the Living Dead. Even if Plague of the Zombies wasn’t any good, it would still be worth a look just for that. Luckily it is good. Very good, in fact. I’m not as familiar with the history of voodoo zombie films, but of the few I’ve seen, this ranks with I Walked with a Zombie as one of the best.