Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012) d. Hoene, Matthias (UK)
En route to its home video debut, this scrappy undead flick with the dubious title has stirred up a passel of goodwill at a multitude of festivals on both sides of the Atlantic and so arrives on Scream Factory’s shiny silver Blu-ray disc (their first non-revival release) with a fair amount of buzz and expectations attached. While Hoene’s zom-com may not be the gut-busting gut-munching game changer you’ve heard, it does manage to deliver some well-earned chuckles and more than its fair share of eye-popping splatter gags.
The main criticism to be leveled at Cockneys vs. Zombies is that it’s neither as clever nor as funny as Hoene and screenwriters Lucas Roche and James Moran perceive their high spirited shenanigans to be. Granted, in the ten years since Shaun of the Dead set the high water mark for spoof/homage, scores of imitators have staggered by, seeking to capture the same finessed yuk/yuck formula with wildly mixed results. Considering that Edgar Wright’s modern classic and CvZ share similar terrain, geographically and tonally speaking, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons. Moran and Roche have the innovation of having their moldering monsters crossing paths with a feisty bunch of old age pensioners, but strive for little more than the sight gag of seeing senior citizens arming themselves to their (false) teeth and blowing away some zombie ass.
The film’s other storyline – following a younger bunch of clumsy criminals lousing up a bank robbery – barely treads any new ground at all. The secret of successful horror and comedy alike is surprise, and it’s here that CvZ often comes up short. Yes, the characters and situations are outrageous, but they’re also shockingly conventional in their unfolding. Even the picture’s funniest gag – the world’s slowest foot chase – is so predictable considering the participants that the biggest wonder is that we haven’t seen it before now.
If it sounds like I’m being harder than necessary, it’s because I sense the potential for true greatness that lies beneath the sitcom stylings and wish that Moran and Roche had taken the time and pains to mine a little deeper. For instance, the lazy catalyst for the zombie plague is an excavation crew in East London breaking into a sealed tomb…that apparently has at least one zombie still kicking. Yawn. Along the same lines, the assemblage of mixed nuts that make up the robbery crew feels completely manufactured. The two brothers (Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadway) heading up the plan (to save their granddad’s retirement home, no less) are likeable ruffians, good-naturedly bickering throughout. Their cousin Michelle Ryan is a tough talking hot chick straight out of Tough Talking Hot Chicks ‘R’ Us, and their dopey overweight companion Jack Doolan and resident psycho Ashley Thomas (there to provide the firepower but has been advised that there won’t be any actual shooting – yeah, that plan is totally going to hold together) round out the generic hand of colorful cards.
Things are considerably livelier at the old geezers home, since these seasoned actors bring their combined decades of life and performance experience to the fray. Alan Ford, best known to Western audiences as the ferocious Brick Top from Snatch, is the leader of the aging pack, and he does the steely old codger bit to perfection. He’s well matched with golden age Bond girl Honor Blackman who plays sweet and saucy with equal aplomb, especially when toting heavy artillery. Veterans Dudley Sutton, Georgina Hale, Tony Selby and Richard Briers round out the group, each given at least one moment to shine.
Speaking of shining, the gore effects by Jenna Wrage and Paul Hyatt are where CvS really exceeds expectations. From the first building crew member’s unfortunate apprehension via his lower lip to several juicy exploding heads and squishy undead offings, there are a wealth of sanguinary gags on display bound to please. Lord Savini would be proud.
Despite minor moaning over what might have been, there’s no denying that Cockneys vs. Zombies provides ample entertainment for the hardcore horror fan as well as the casual shambler, and Scream Factory have done themselves proud for their first theatrical release, jamming the disc full of goodies including two audio commentaries (Hoene, Moran), a generous array of behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and promotional trailer. Special mention must be made of the zippy animated opening credits and use of The Automatic Automatic’s song, “Monster” – the damn thing is so catchy I had it stuck in my head for weeks afterward.
Cockneys vs. Zombies is available for pre-order now at Shout! Factory with a release date of September 3.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine