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FIVE FILMS FROM...2002


28 DAYS LATER

(Directed by Danny Boyle)


'More infected will be coming. They always do.'


Depending on opinions, the first film to feature "fast zombies" (i.e. not the shambling corpses that Romero populated the world with in his original Dead trilogy) was either Nightmare City (1980) or Return of the Living Dead (1986). You could get into that particular argument and the baffling notion of which is "best" or more "realistic" all bloody day. Having said that, many genre fans associate the emergence of zippy cadavers with this modern classic (BTW: Can something that's 20 years old be called "modern"? Christ, we feel old!). Although, technically speaking, those afflicted with this condition aren't actually dead as such, leading to the popular sub-genre of zombiedom with streets running rampant with hordes of "The Infected" rather than stumbling stiffs with a flesh fetish. All that aside, this wonderfully quirky and game-changing horror was directed by Boyle in a somewhat surprising move after Trainspotting and The Beach. It has a great Brit cast, including; Cillian Murphy (A Quiet Place – Part II), Naomie Harris (the James Bond movies), and Christopher Eccleston (Shallow Grave).

It all begins with a well-meaning but ultimately clueless group of animal activists releasing a chimpanzee from a research centre. Twenty-eight days later (so there's that title), Jim (Murphy) wakes from a coma in a London hospital after a road accident. He is absolutely confounded by the fact that the entire capital city seems to be now deserted, and he appears to be alone. After some very eerie sequences (especially if you know London well), he discovers that the entire country has succumbed to an accelerated virus called "Rage", courtesy of Mr Chimp at the beginning. It turns people into animalistic individuals driven to violently attack anything that moves, although they mostly enter a hibernation state during the day. Jim finds other survivors as he attempts to survive in this crud new world and avoid infection. He also finds out that just because some people aren't infected, it doesn't mean they can't still be monsters…

In all honesty, 28DL was a ground-breaker and as much of an influence on the global zombie phenomena as Shaun of the Dead, which is a continual source of pride in Brit genre fans. Its fresh take on the apocalypse scenario drew not only on the lore of Romero's Dead trilogy but also on other classic sources such as The Day of the Triffids and grim UK sci-fi such as the BBC TV shows Survivors (1975) and Threads (1984), which showed how humanity would continually screw itself even after society had collapsed. It was also given a documentary-type feel to it due to the use of 16 mm and compact digital cameras and inventive location shooting, which is eerily effective. In fact, the scenes of Jim wandering through deserted London streets and past iconic landmarks became a benchmark for end-of-the-world cinematic atmosphere and a basis for the imagery used to market the movie. Today, this sort of stuff would generally only be attempted with CGI or studio shooting. That being said, an awful lot of the film's memorability also comes from confrontations with the massed infected.

Assisted by a superb soundtrack from John Murphy and artists like Brian Eno, some of the sequences are brilliantly mounted. These include; a lone rage zombie arising from a mass of bodies in a church, Jim pursued down a street by a sprinting zombie that's engulfed in flames, a single drop of blood falling from a height and instantly dooming a sympathetic character, and much more. It also works so well because of the many layers of subtext to it. Yes, it's a straightforward horror thriller, but it can also be read to contain comments on such issues as; the naivety of some liberal movements, the shifting moral compass of society, the dangers of authoritarianism, and the fear of global isolation, and much more. For all the saliva-spitting and frenzied attacks, Christopher Eccleston's military figure simply whispering "slow down" is a real gut punch. Whilst all that might seem a little pretentious, the film isn't, and it's a real white-knuckle ride, punctuated by small moments of solemnity and dignity. Probably for that reason, out of the three proposed conclusions that were filmed, it was the most positive one that made the final cut… and it's needed to be honest. A real genre (and UK) classic that should be on any horror fan's must-see list.

Fun Fact: Stephen King is a huge fan of the film. He bought out an entire showing of the film in New York City for a special screening and even reused some lines intentionally for parts of Doctor Sleep.

DOG SOLDIERS

(Directed by Neil Marshall)


'It's that time of month.'

While the werewolf movie has some benchmark moments, mainly An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, there are many exploitation furry-fiend films that have since faded from memory and never made so much as a ripple in the horror market. Happily, this was not the case with this wonderfully straightforward and well-filmed Brit-flick, which is fondly remembered by all those who saw it on the big screen back in the day. This is especially true in the UK, where it is strongly regarded as a cult film. The first full-length feature film to be directed by Marshall, it very nearly headlined Jason Statham and Simon Pegg! That said, it does have two fine classic British actors in the form of Liam Cunningham and Sean Pertwee. It partially came about as a way to flip the bird at the awfulness of the much-loathed sequel An American Werewolf in Paris and to harken back to the glory days of practical FX and outrageous gore. And it certainly does that with gusto!


A group of badass UK soldiers are engaged in a SAS training exercise in the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands (although, for tax reasons, it was actually shot in Luxembourg). Unfortunately, instead of army games, they find dead remains … of the SAS team. Sergeant Wells (a great sweary Pertwee) is attacked by some kind of animal and pretty much eviscerated, although he manages to keep breathing. The group finds a SAS survivor called Ryan (Cunningham) and finds sanctuary in a deserted farmhouse. Unfortunately (again), the aforementioned abode is lair to a family … who all happen to be werewolves and get a kick out of eating hikers and turning the occasional traveller into lycanthropes like themselves. But these army guys aren't going down without a fight.


Great, great fun. DS is an unashamed treat that pampers to the needs of the average British horror fan and doesn't feel the need to apologise for it. There is practically no CG, and all the werewolves are basically actors with prosthetic canine heads, very close to the ones glimpsed in The Howling. But it works tremendously, and any shortcomings are diffused by good editing and lighting. It's also helped by the decision that Marshall made to use male dancers as the villains, giving some statuesque elegance to their movements and some malevolent edges to the violence. It's also very bloody. One character literally has their guts hanging out for most of the film, and other cast members have their heads very slowly bitten off or bleed out in imaginative ways.

Admittedly, it's not exactly Shakespeare, and some of the plot twists wave at you from several miles away, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, and you won't need to keep the receipt. It is also gloriously British, having that sense of bravado, foul language, and dumb randomness that makes you feel proud to be from Blighty. There's an awesome fistfight (Yup. Fist. Fight.) between a squaddie and a towering werewolf, along with several other comparable confrontations, explosions, and bullets galore. Add that to some inspired lines that acknowledge other films ("There is no spoon") and are brilliantly judged in their own right ("I hope I give you the shits!"), and you've got the perfect recipe. Sadly consigned to the Sci-Fi channel for its US premiere, it has since picked up more fans worldwide, meaning that a forthcoming Blu-Ray release has been met with enthusiasm in the community.


Fun fact: Some of the corpse prosthetics seen in the cellar were actually created for "Event Horizon" (1997) and can be glimpsed in that film. They've aged pretty well.

BLADE II

(Directed by Guillermo Del Toro)

'You obviously do not know who you are fucking with!'

Given the reputation that the Oscar-winning director has now, it's kind of weird to reflect on this superior comic-book sequel that he made twenty years ago. Most loathers of the superhero/comic-book genre will point to Tim Burtons Batman, Richard Donner's Superman, or the X-Men franchise for kick-starting the MCU and the proliferation that now dominates multiplexes. In actual fact, it was Stephen Norrington's Blade in 1998 and its box-office takings that really started the ball rolling. It convinced the major studios that relatively unknown comic-book characters provided lucrative material for their movies, something which Marvel Studios used as a foundation for their shared-universe schtick and is starting to grate somewhat now. More importantly, for us at least, it also proved that these types of films could be expanded from "family-film" restrictions… and kick some bloody ass. This sequel followed that concept and is one of the few times del Toro wasn't involved directly in the screenplay of a film that he made. However, along with a returning Wesley Snipes and Kris Kristofferson, del Toro's regular bud-meister Ron Perlman and Luke Goss (from Bros!) also star.


Building on the first film's narrative, where Blade (Eric Brooks … no, really, that's his genuine name … played by Snipes) continues his quest as the half-vampire "Day-Walker" and is trying to wipe out the vampire civilisation and co-exists with the unknowing humans. However, in a particular genius hook, a mutant strain of vampirism has broken out in a … *ahem* … "pandemic" and threatens both the survival of "normal" vampires and humans. The bestial "Reapers", with Predator-like mouths containing a tentacular appendage and mandible "stingers", are multiplying quickly and led by the tragic figure of Nomak (a surprisingly good Goss). So the vampire nation forges an uneasy alliance with Blade, forming a "Blood Pack" of mercenaries into the bargain. So it's basically The Dirty Dozen meets Dracula with a touch of Dawn of the Dead. Sorta.


This could have been crap, and most mainstream critics of the day thought it was. Instead, it rocks as much as any mainstream horror-action film should do and is easily the best of the "Blade" trilogy of movies. There are a few solid reasons for this. Del Toro might not be stretching his artistic talents here, but his frantic visuals and the cinematography is absolutely on point. The fact that the legendary Martial Arts star Donnie Yen is one of the "Blood Pack" and also helmed the fight choreography is another pointer as to why the fight scenes are so fluid and awesome. Also, the plot is interesting and unique for a vampire movie. The Reapers make great antagonists, having developed immunity to garlic and silver and even armoured ribcages to prevent stakings. It's all about the UV. They also have green blood, which is much better for an R-rating even when they explode at the point of death.


One of the main criticisms at the time was that the characterisation is paper-thin, and that's mostly valid. There's no development of Blade himself, and he feels almost like a supporting character at times. He does lose some of his hostility towards the more noble version of the vampires due to a near-romance with Nyssa (Leonor Varela), but otherwise, it's still flip-kicking and bad one-liners again. There's more emphasis on sympathy for Nomak and the horrific nature of the Reapers themselves, who are pretty gnarly and spill mucho blood throughout the movie. The addition of the fractious "Blood Pack" and other characters such as Scud (played by a nothing-like Daryl, Norman Reedus) is more entertaining, as are the ridiculous gadgets and endless gymnastics shown in nearly all fight scenes. Del Toro also sees fit to play up some OTT Shakespearian elements with father vs son tragedy, villains killing themselves, and heroes dying for the greater good. Mostly though, it's good mindless, gory fun with a kick. If you only see one Blade film, this is the one…


Fun Fact: According to IMDB, over 30 members of the cast and crew were temporarily blinded by the UV lights being used incorrectly during the au