It’s COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES, and London isn’t big enough for the two of them; however, there’s ample room for them on Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory Blu-ray!
When workers plowing up London’s East End unearth a seventeenth-century plague pit, they unleash a virus that turns its victims into flesh-eating zombies. Meanwhile, on a lighter note, brothers Andy (Harry Treadaway, FISH TANK) and Terry (Rasmus Hardiker, YOUR HIGHNESS) are planning to rob a bank to prevent the demolition of a local retirement home so that their granddad Ray (Alan Ford, STRIPPERS VS. WEREWOLVES) won’t have to move. Their accomplices are their ball-busting cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan, TV’s EASTENDERS), none-too-bright security expert Davey Tuppence (Jack Doolan, CEMETERY JUNCTION), and steel-plated Iraq vet “Mental” Mickey (Ashley Thomas, THE VETERAN). As the quintet move in on the bank, the zombie hordes make their way from the construction site to the old folks’ home where Ray, love interest Peggy (Honor Blackman, GOLDFINGER), retired gangster Darryl (Tony Selby, WITCHFINDER GENERAL) – who now sells his medication to local hoods as a way of staying in the game – peeping tom Hamish (Richard Briers, TV’s THE GOOD LIFE), wheelchair-bound Eric (Dudley Sutton, VALENTINO), and geriatric man-eater Doreen (Georgina Hale, THE DEVILS) take up arms. The bank robbers – disguised as workers from the construction site – find the bank manager (Natalie Walter) strangely obliging until she realizes that they are not part of her boyfriend/construction foreman Eddie’s (Finlay Robertson, THE DISAPPEARED) plot to make off with the company’s payroll from the bank. The gang takes customer Emma (Georgia King, TORMENTED) and clerk Clive (Tony Gardner, RESTORATION) hostage against the police response only to discover that the cops have been decimated by a horde of zombies. As their own numbers dwindle with subsequent zombie attacks, the group takes up arms and cross London’s quarantined East End to rescue the old folks who are mounting their own spirited opposition to the “Trafalgars” (zombie by way of a particularly circuitous – and confused – bit of cockney rhyming slang).
Any British horror comedy of late – zombies or not – will inevitably draw comparisons to Simon Pegg’s and Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Director Matthias Hoene (BEYOND THE RAVE) and writer James Moran (SEVERANCE) take pains to distinguish it, but the pronounced cockney angle will probably be the most noticeable difference. It is indeed heavier on the cockneys than the zombies (although no subtitle translation is required for the former), but the film doesn’t skimp on the gore as well as a couple grisly sight gags (as well as a zombie soccer hooligan brawl set to Kaiser Chiefs “I Predict a Riot”); and the even the most odious of the principal characters is likable enough for the viewer to hope they survive. The zombie effects are well-executive but nothing we haven’t seen before – a combination of prosthetic applications and greenscreen suits – but there is the admirable desire to be epic even within the confines of the budget. It isn’t as funny as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but the feature itself is undemanding fun even if the Scream Factory’s Blu-ray’s wealth of extra features may keep your player spinning past the end credits.
COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES is already available on Blu-ray and DVD in several territories, but online specs suggest that Scream Factory’s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded widescreen (2.35:1) release is the only one with a couple exclusive extras. If the image looks a little soft, it is because it was photographed mostly with seventies-era Super Baltar lenses while some sharper inserts were shot with newer Cooke S4 prime lenses (the behind the scenes segments do show the extent to which the color was re-graded in post). The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track ably renders the effects and dialogue, while the volume of the songs seems calculated to blast the viewer out of their seats despite the upbeat lyrics (“We’re going head to head, with the undead!”), while Jody Jenkins’ fantastic symphonic/orchestral score – the composer is better known as a synth programmer on scores for bigger films like ATONEMENT and ANNA KARENINA – is rendered at a more supportive volume and may go unnoticed during the action scenes. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
The other editions feature the behind the scenes segments available here (29:12) as well as the trailer (2:21), but Scream Factory’s edition features a pair of thus far exclusive audio commentary tracks from director Matthias Hoene and co-writer James Moran. Although there is some overlap, both tracks are worth a listen. The concept was Hoene’s from the start and his discussion covers both the technical aspects of the shoot as well as the significance of the locations he selected (he immigrated to the UK fifteen years ago and has observed the changes the East End has undergone, particularly with the construction for the Olympics which actually has unearthed a plague pit recently). He also discusses the difficulties of maneuvering the “tonal puzzle” of combining multiple genres (especially during the set-up of the first act). Moran was hired to write the script and went into the project with his ideas of what a film with the title COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES needs to deliver (as well as staying as far away from SHAUN OF THE DEAD as possible). He also wrote the part of Ray specifically with Alan Ford in mind, and expanded “Mental” Mickey from a sketch of a steel-plated zombie to a major character.
Also exclusive to Scream Factory’s edition are selection of deleted scenes (6:21) – including a longer version of Ray’s cutaway Nazi flashback – which, like the feature, are accompanied by separate optional commentary tracks by the writer and the director. Most of them are cutaway flashbacks that both director and writer agree looked shorter on paper, while an amusing scene of Ray punching a hoodie establishes that his toughness too early. The behind-the-scenes segments introduce the cast and crew in “The Maguire Brothers” and “The Filmmakers”. Three segments cover the shooting of scenes at the bank, the docks, and the old folks home, and there is also a special effects featurette with make-up artist Paul Hyatt. “Andy TV” finds Treadaway with his camcorder interviewing his co-stars and the zombie extras (some of whom stay in character). Lastly, there is “Zombie School” which was an instructional video the film’s production crew prepared for their zombie extras to watch, with bullet points and a checklist of zombie behavior and mannerisms. A theatrical trailer (2:21) is also included, and a digital copy code is printed on a text insert inside the case with the retail discs. (Eric Cotenas)
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