It takes a lot for me to get excited about zombie films. As a fledging horror fan that’s a bit picky, the genre of the undead has yet to take hold of me with its teeth bared. Once you’ve seen George A. Romero’s iconic zombie apocalyse movies, especially Night of the Living Dead (1968), many fail to seem like a rehash or another off-colour resurrection, with occasional exceptions (see The Girl With All the Gifts (2016) on Amazon Prime!) over the years.
Shin’ichirô Ueda, the writer-director of Japan’s seventh highest grossing film of 2017, One Cut of the Dead, with its knowing nod to Romero’s series in its title, it has thrown the weight of this over-bearing responsibility out of the window like a recently severed arm, and combined guffaw-inducing laughs with the genre’s signature gore.
Containing all the elements of a low-budget horror film, the kind you wish you could make with your friends on the weekend but neither have the skill nor even the ‘low-budget’ to cobble something together, it confounds the persistant narrative that collaborative, independent horror filmmaking is innately amateurish. As probably the most inventive film I saw at last year’s Leeds International Film Festival, I instantly needed to tell everyone about it, while also wanting them to view it as I did, with little-to-zero knowledge of what lie in store. So here, I’ll tread carefully…
The film beings quite ordinarily. We enter a horror film set on an abandoned water treatment facility. The manical director is a terror to his young cast and crew and seems unfazed when real zombies interrupt the shoot and starts preying on the crew. Picking up the camera, it seems to be his opportunity to record real reactions from his terrorised cast. There’s strange moments when the actors seems to overplay their scenes, scream for a little too long, and it appears altogether cheaply made…something’s just not quite right.
Oh and it’s all done in one 37-minute tracking shot too. I’ve been thrilled by this method ever since watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) as a teen, so to see this breathtaking medium make a comeback in this ode to the quick ‘trick’ not suited to long form cinema, is a dizzying joy. It does look like far more trouble than it’s worth though, as One Cut of the Dead soon reveals…
So after that strange 37 minutes, it cuts back to one month earlier, and it transpires that what we have just watched is in fact the final cut of a live TV horror broadcast for a new zombie channel. The jaded director, Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), was hired to put together a cast made of the usual suspects: the drunken actor, the pretty-boy startlet, the fresh-faced but naive new girl, and an increasingly impatient crew along for the ride. His wife (Harumi Shuhama) and daughter (Mao) are also tasked with making sure the film comes together against the odds.
To say more would give it all away, but be assured that you will be utterly charmed by this ambitious, oftentimes hilarious love letter to the low-budget horror genre and the trials of filmmaking. Doing the rounds on home cinema and still selling out showings across the country, it’s definitely a film that horror and comedy fans have taken to their hearts alike. Check it out.