Cockneys Vs Zombies: Slow Zombies, Fast Walkers

Rasmus Hardiker, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Harry Treadaway 

The zombie genre is riding high on a wave of apocalyptic-size love lately with TV’s The Walking Dead, and the films Warm Bodies, V/H/S/2, and Brad Pitt’s World War Z.  Depending on what camp you’re in, the latter may be disqualified as a zombie flick because of its feverishly fast running zombies.  While I enjoyed World War Z, I favor the rigor mortisly slow zombies found in The Walking Dead and in the films of George A. Romero, the godfather of the zombie flick.  Slow, clumsy, dazed, zombies can be both scary and—as brilliantly shown in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004)—hilarious. Cockneys Vs Zombies is the latest zombie flick to come out of England. Directed by Matthias Hoene, this movie combines the horror genre with comedy, and features some of the slowest moving zombies to ever stagger across the big screen.

Set in London’s East End—clearly shot before the 2012 Olympic Games with a half-constructed Shard seen in the distance—Cockneys Vs Zombies follows two brothers Andy and Terry McGuire, played by Harry Treadaway (Control) and Rasmus Hardiker (Your Highness) respectively, along with their cousin Katy, played by Michelle Ryan (Bionic Woman, EastEnders), as they rob a bank to get money to save their grandfather’s retirement home from being turned into luxury condos.  They are aided by a couple of friends with unforgettable kick ass names: the supposed “criminal expert” Davey Tuppence, played by Jack Doolan (Cemetery Junction), and a loose-cannon, Iraq War veteran Mental Mickey, played by Ashley Thomas (The Man Inside). Thomas’s mad performance makes for a memorable character.  All hell breaks loose when, earlier at a construction site, a 350-year-old vault is unlocked, setting zombies loose on the East End.

Honor Blackman, Alan Ford 

Cockneys Vs Zombies cleverly follows two groups of characters: the bumbling, amateur bank robbers and the hip-replaced folks of Bow Bells retirement home.  The sluggish zombies are evenly matched against the hearing-impaired and wheelchair-bound old-age pensioners. In one amusingly suspenseful scene, a walker-tottering old man outruns (or outwalks) a hungry zombie who is disabled by his own lack of joint-lubricating fluids (rigor mortis is believed to set in around three to four hours after death).  Hoene is not making fun of the elderly; in fact, they are essential to the story.  The spirited and resourceful seniors—including octogenarian Pussy Galore herself, Honor Blackman (Goldfinger)—are led by Andy and Terry’s grandfather Ray, played brilliantly by Alan Ford (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Snitch).  They are fighting for their own survival:  first against the threat of losing their home and community, and second against the living dead.  Family loyalty is central to the film (the McGuire family and the family of old-age pensioners), as the robbers are forced to alter their plans from that of a bank heist to a rescue mission; their loyalty is to family first.  Screenwriters James Moran, Lucas Roche and Matthias Hoene have used the East End zombie apocalypse as a mild allegory of the family’s struggles against the urban development that is intruding on their way of life. With redevelopment and progress comes destruction and loss; the residents have to flee their long-time neighborhood because it’s overtaken by unfamiliar invaders—zombies and gentrification.  Which could be worse on one’s beloved cockney neighborhood?   This unique twist is what makes the movie work. It’s a story of a family‘s and a community’s struggles that happens to be set on a bright sunny day when zombies start to take over the world.

But Cockneys Vs Zombies is not that profound, really. I might be giving it too much credit. It’s merely a funny horror flick that’s faithful to its genre, as it’s aptly stuffed with plenty of gore; the gross-out factor is quite high, and sometimes may be too much when Andy cries after witnessing a series of zombie mutilations, “Too much, too fucking much for one day, surely!” I won’t spoil what he’s responding to, but it really was indeed too, too, much, surely (however, a bit funny, I must confess).  So everything a horror fan craves is there: smashing heads, devouring intestines, shooting off limbs, and even fighting off the walking dead with a wire whisk.  Zombie films provide us with a cathartic rush as we vicariously live through their brave characters who gun down pathetic, flesh-eating monsters. Would that for just one day Times Square was filled with nothing but sluggish, zombie tourists, and I was armed with a ninja sword. Thankfully, that will never happen, but in the movies, we get to live that fantasy and release a little pent-up rage.  Zombies Vs Cockneys has plenty of living-dead catharsis for horror fans.

 It’s London, the living dead are causing chaos, and Zombies Vs Cockneys  is a comedy, so comparisons to Shaun of the Dead are unavoidable. Not to say that there’s no place in the world for another funny zombie movie. There definitely is. But it would have been nice if the film’s writers could have raised the bar just a little bit higher. Where Shaun of the Dead leaves its audience to reflect that we—the living—are not so different from brain-dead zombies.  This zomedy keeps its humor on the surface; it’s fun, but sometimes misses the mark; lacks wit, and just remains nothing more then amusing. Cockneys Vs Zombies starts off with a bang: nice opening credits in comic book style, a rockin’ score, energetic editing, split screen action, and quick and amusing flashbacks that introduce the main characters. The special effects are the film’s weakest feature, with makeup, dismembered limbs and apocalyptic fires looking rather phony. There are some unfortunately noticeable continuity errors as well. But the rich characters and solid performances make up for the film’s defects.  If you’re in the mood for a late-night zomedy, then you should check this one out; just don’t expect a life-changing experience—in the words of Alan Ford, “it ain’t Chekov,” and that’s definitely OK for this zombie fan.
—John David West


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