Doghouse

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I have often asserted that any movie or book is made instantly better by adding the living dead.  Consider the top selling books of all time in the English language: The Bible and Dracula.  One features the dead rising from the grave, cannibalism and the drinking of blood.  I know!  That’s some pretty juicy stuff!  Oh, and the other
book, Dracula, has a vampire.

They are not alone.  Some recent best-sellers get a boost from revenant power.  Just taking a look at my own bookshelf we have: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Happy Hooker .  Um.  Heh-heh.   I’m kidding about that last one (as I slip it discreetly into my sock drawer).  Take a moment to think about how boring these books would be without the living dead.

On the other hand, take something rather boring to read such as, I dunno, Gone With the Wind. Add zombies!   Tara is barricaded up.  Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler stare grimly at the growing  legion of zombies through a space between the boards nailed to the window frame.  A panicking maid cries, “Mizz Scarlett!  Mizz Scarlett!  I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout killin’ no zombies!”  Awesome!

 

Now imagine that we have a “chick flick” about a group of friends in the throws of mid-life crisis.  One of girls is getting a divorce that she doesn’t want, but her husband left her, so she hasn’t much choice.  To cheer her up, all her friends get together and decide that they will all take a group vacation to a small town where the men outnumber women and have a big party, all in the name of getting in touch with their inner goddess or something.  I know!  That sounds really vomitable, doesn’t it?   It would probably have Barbara Streisand in it; or the slags  from Sex in the City (which is another example of something that would be made better by orders of magnitude with the addition of the walking dead.)

Let’s say that we take the premise above, about the women having a “girls only” retreat, but instead of women in mid-life crisis, change that to men in mid-life crisis.  And instead of a town filled with men, make it a town filled with women. And just to make things really interesting let’s make all the women into zombies too!  Now that sounds like a movie that I want to see!  In fact, I did see it.  I give you–  Doghouse.

Let’s face it, the premise of the Doghouse is all or nothing.  Either you are going to find the idea cheeky and fun or repellent and misogynistic.  If you fall into the later camp, then it’s likely that no matter how good the movie turns out, you’ll probably still hate it.  Feel free to use Shaun of the Dead as a barometer here.  If you liked Shaun, you’ll probably like this.  If not, then . . . why are you even reading my blog?

Doghouse, like Shaun, illustrates the bonds of male friendship, and the nature of relationships between men and women. While both are horror comedies, Shaun was bigger in scope and far darker.   Doghouse is lighter and funnier.  To use an analogy that all you blokes out there will get, Shaun of the Dead is a pint of Guinness properly drawn from the tap, a thing of beauty and a joy forever (by forever I mean the two hours it takes until you piss it out).  You get what I mean.  Doghouse is a pitcher of lager that you have with pizza and a few of your mates.  And everything is going great until the phone rings.  It’s your girlfriend.  She wants to know if you want to take a flower arranging class with her at the community center.  The class starts in half an hour.  You promised that you’d try and do more things with her that she wanted to do! Argh!   I’m kidding.  You don’t have a girlfriend.  All you have is furniture made of old pizza boxes, a game console and a really big TV.  Cheers!

Let’s tick off the pertinent details, shall we?  First, I like the cast.  It’s more or less an ensemble cast featuring: Misogynist Horney Guy (Danny Dyer, I recognized him from Severance), Sad Divorce Guy (Stephen Graham), Mickey From Doctor Who (Noel Clarke, who played Mickey in Doctor Who and pretty much plays him again here, not that I’m complaining), Stressed Out Guy with a Pony Tail (Keith-Lee Castle, who looks familiar to me, but I can’t quite place him), Comic Book Nerd Guy (Lee Ingleby), Token Gay Guy (Emil Mara), and One Note Character Who Dies Guy (Neil Haskell).  The characters are not too deep, but that’s okay.  We’re not here for that.  We  need, not detailed character studies, but characters with whom we can at least identify.  They fit together organically, by which I mean that I could totally believe that these guys are lifelong pals, with the possible exception of Comic Book Nerd Guy.  He seemed out of place.  I just had a hard time visualizing how he fit in.  Anyway, these guys are fun, they reminded me of some of my own friends. I could easily imagine hanging out with them.

And what of the ladies in the film?  They’re as good as the lads.  Many of the “zombirds” have their own unique identities, both in appearance and in personality, at least in so far as you can have a personality and still be a zombie.  Christina Cole is especially good in the scene where they are trying to lure her out of the bus, going from comic, to menacing, to sympathetic in a quick one-two-three.  Annie Venders deftly managed to combine comic and terrifying at the same time, seductively licking cake frosting from a severed finger.  The lovely Emily Booth puts in a good appearance as the scissors wielding hair-dresser zombie.

So how are the zombies?  The zombie and gore effects are really good.   They are in the middle-ground in that they are neither the brain dead limpers of the Romero tradition nor the fast, infected flavor of zombies. They stagger along with some speed, but never full out sprint.  They use tools and carry over some aspects of their personalities in a rather limited way, which is explored with darkly comical results.  The only thing novel about the zombie-ism in Doghouse is that it is not transmitted by bites or scratches.   The gore effects are good.   They look real enough to allow you to kick in the suspension of disbelief, but not so vivid as to make you want to wretch up.  It’s a fine line to walk in a horror comedy.  It’s well done here.

Overall, the movie moves along at brisk pace, never lagging.  It’s funny when it’s supposed to be funny and scary, more or less, when it’s supposed to be scary.   The dialogue is well written and often witty.  Though the characters are stereotyped in shorthand way for brevity,they  don’t lapse into boring lampoons, which a danger in ensemble movies.  IMDB doesn’t list any other screenplays for Dan Schaffer.  Bummer.

People are going to compare Doghouse with Shaun of the Dead, heck I did and that was just a few paragraphs ago, because they are both British zombie comedies that deal with some of the same themes.  And that’s fine if you are going to compare and contrast.  That conversation could lead into some interesting directions.  What I hope people don’t do, is to dismiss Doghouse as not being worthwhile because of Shaun of the Dead.    To ask, “Is it as good as Shaun?” is rather unfair.  Shaun is brilliant and iconic.  That’s like asking “Is Animal House as good as Citizen Kane?”   It might just be a guilty pleasure on my part, but I found Doghouse as watchable and entertaining as 2009’s other zombie horror comedy, Zombieland.  I’m going to make an effort to hunt down director Jake West’s other films.

Starring:
Danny Dyer
Stephen Graham
Noel Clarke
Christina Cole
Keith-Lee Castle
Emil Marwa
Lee Ingleby
Terry Stone

Screenplay:
Dan Schaffer

Director:
Jake West

Four out of five Vincents

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