Alan Ford, Apple Dumpling Gang, Ashley Thomas, bank robbery, British films, British horror, cinema, Cockney rhyming slang, Cockneys vs Zombies, Day of the Dead, Edgar Wright, Film, film reviews, former Bond girl, getting old, Goldfinger, Guy Richie, Harry Treadaway, Honor Blackman, horror films, horror-comedies, Jack Doolan, Matthias Hoene, Mental Mickey, Michelle Ryan, Movies, old-age home, Rasmus Hardiker, Ray, Shaun of the Dead, Snatch, the East End, Tony Gardner, zombies
As a guy who dearly loves horror films in every make, model and vintage, I’m also someone who has to wade through more than the usual amount of crap. For every new film that blows me away, there are probably at least four (or nine) that inspire rabid cries of “Meh.” Part of the problem is that there are a lot of horror films out there: the genre has become sort of the “gateway-drug” for burgeoning filmmakers, if you will (although Corman will probably attest that it always was). Since there are only so many hours in the day, I often find myself having to make snap decisions about certain films as a form of pre-screening: if this is going to get 90 minutes of my time, it should probably be, at the least, entertaining. I’m actually a big fan of B-movies and “so-bad-they’re-good-films” but some films are just plain dull: moronic cash-grabs that were probably sold in bulk to online sites like Amazon and Netflix similar to how you can buy 50-gallon drums of ketchup at Sam’s Club. These films aren’t fun: they’re time-wasters and that time could better be spent with something genuinely wonderful/awful like Troll 2.
Sometimes I can tell by the production company: I always know what to expect with the Asylum or August Underground, for example, which is why I steer clear from pretty much anything with their names on it. Spectacularly crappy cover art can do it for me, too: if it looks like it was designed for a ’90s-era CD-ROM game, I usually pass. In this day and age of generic poster art, it’s getting harder and harder to use this as a reliable yardstick (most new films seem to have generic, terrible poster art) but some covers are just too damn obvious. If the film is directed by someone whose reputation precedes them (Uwe Boll, Michael Bay, Brian DePalma), I tend to proceed with extreme prejudice. Sometimes, however, one of the very best early warnings is simply the name of said film. If I recognize the name from a video game, I’ll probably pass. If the title features the phrase “The Terror of…” and isn’t followed by either Dracula or Frankenstein, I’m probably outta there. If there’s a “Vs” in the title (ala Strippers Vs Zombies, Strippers vs Werewolves), I’ll probably look elsewhere, although this particular rule is put to lie by a few films. There is, of course, the unmitigated awesomeness of Billy the Kid vs Dracula. There is Tucker and Dale vs Evil, possibly one of the finest horror comedies ever. And now, of course, there is Cockneys vs Zombies.
At first glance, Cockneys vs Zombies is just about as generic as it gets. We start with the lazy title, which seems to indicate exactly where the film’s sensibilities lie. There’s also the incredibly generic “zombie-arm-thrusting-up” artwork that graces the official cover art (the artwork for this particular blog comes from an alt cover, which usually tend to be more my speed). Put together, this is a film that I would probably pass by at any other time. I’d heard good rumblings, however, and I’m an unabashed lover of British cinema so I gave it a shot. The good news? Beneath the generic exterior, Cockneys vs Zombies is a rip-roaring comedy-crime-horror film that puts Guy Richie and Shaun of the Dead into a blender, pouring out a concoction that’s definitely more Shaun than From Dusk Till Dawn. This is a surprisingly good-natured film, despite the copious amounts of torn flesh on display.
The movie kicks off with a pretty cool sequence that introduces the zombie threat as the result of unearthing an ancient tomb rather than as the by-product of modern living. This jumps right into a dynamic, comic-book-inspired credit sequence that perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the film. Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway) are a pair of brothers always one step over the line dividing “legal” from “go straight to jail.” Hard not to be, however, when their beloved grandfather Ray (Alan Ford) is one of the most notorious gangsters in London, albeit long retired. His retirement home is slated for demolition and Terry and Andy decide to do the only thing sensible: rob a bank with their moronic friend Davey (Jack Doolan), insane gun-runner “Mental” Mickey (Ashley Thomas) and locksmith cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan). As expected, the robbery goes ass-over-tea kettle mighty quick and the gang (which makes the Apple Dumpling Gang look like the Triad) are forced to take hostages. When they finally bluster out of the bank, however, they discover that everything, including the surrounding cops, has been over-run by your standard, garden-variety zombie outbreak. The group must work together (not always the easiest the easiest thing when one of your members is a hair-trigger gun-nut with a metal plate in his head) and make their way to Ray’s retirement home, where the decidedly non-helpless septuagenarian has organized the various old men and women into a lean, mean, zombie-killing team. He might not need help but he’s more than happy to put a boot up the lads’ asses for botching the hold-up: he has a reputation to uphold, after all!
First of all, let it be said that Cockneys vs Zombies is legitimately, laugh-out-loud funny. Similar to other well-made horror-comedies like the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, C vs Z gets much of its biggest laughs from character development and well-timed extended jokes. While the film has plenty of fun gently ribbing the various clichés of zombie films (one character remarks that he’s surprised the dead don’t move faster, to which another quips, “Well, they’re dead, aren’t they?”; an old man “outruns” a horde of extremely slow zombies while using a walker), it has much more fun blowing holes in the conventions of gangster/Brit-crime films. Alan Ford, in particular, is absolutely magnificent as Ray, the hardest old man in the entire galaxy. Playing a role that’s like an age-advanced version of Brick Top in Snatch, Ford doesn’t chew the scenery: he napalms the landscape and toasts marshmallows in the ruddy glow. Ford is so intense, so spot-on endearing that he’s almost like a black hole: it’s impossible to escape his orbit for any given scene. In fact, the absolutely bananas ending, where Ray yells out “Oi, zombies: get the fook outta me East End” as he machine-guns hordes of the ravenous dead was so epic that I almost restarted the movie from scratch as soon as it ended. There’s a whole lot going for C Vs Z but don’t think for one minute that it would be half the film it is without Ford’s take-no-prisoners performance.
The rest of the cast, while nowhere near as magnetic as Ford, still bring their A-games. Hardiker and Treadaway are completely likable and believable as the slightly dense brothers who really do love their granddad and are always just one bad idea away from success. Ashley Thomas, as Mental Mickey, gets to chew up whatever scenery Ford leaves intact and he’s consistently fun to watch, even if his delivery eventually approaches cartoon levels. Tony Gardner deserves special mention as Clive, one of the hostages and just about the biggest douchebag to grace the screen in some time. Astute viewers might also notice former Bond girl Honor Blackman (Goldfinger) as one of Ray’s fellow rest-home residents. Like similar British crime-comedies, C vs Z is very much an ensemble piece and the whole cast works amazingly well together.
I’ve already said that Cockneys vs Zombies works great as a crime film: how does it fare as a zombie film? To be honest, it does pretty damn well. In some cases, I’d actually rank it above Shaun of the Dead, although Wright’s film is probably more consistent. There are two set-pieces in particular, the aforementioned walker vs shufflers bit and another where the tied-up hostages must navigate around a hungry zombie, that easily stand up to the best in the genre and the rest of the action is pretty solid. The gore, for the most part, is practical and looks pretty good: one of the characters dies in a manner reminiscent of Capt. Rhodes “wishbone” death in Day of the Dead and it’s definitely a little urp-worthy.
Ultimately, Cockneys vs Zombies is an incredibly fun, fast-paced and gleefully vulgar film that still manages to be surprisingly good-natured and vibrant. Whether the film is showcasing a character’s failed attempts at Cockney rhyming slang (culminating in one of the funniest, most fist-raising scenes I’ve seen in some time) or a white-knuckle double-decker bus chase, it never ceases to be endlessly inventive and wildly entertaining. Cockney’s vs Zombies has a genuinely smart script and some really interesting ideas floating around. As usual in these kind of British films, there’s a distinct notion of classism, made plain when Ray states, “We’re on our own: we’re old-age pensioners. We gotta take care of ourselves.” He’s taking about them, specifically, but he may as well be speaking for all of the old, poor and marginalized people who must fend for themselves. It’s a sobering reminder that the haves and the have-nots will experience whatever apocalypse might be coming in very different ways: some will observe from relative comfort while others will be getting dirty in the trenches. Cockneys vs Zombies, however, is a film that knows how possible, if highly difficult, it is for the little guy to make good. In the face of grave odds, the salt of the earth will always prevail. As Terry so eloquently puts it: “The East End has been through far worse. It’ll bounce back: it always has.”
He’s talking about them, specifically, but he could really be talking about any of us.