Anna and the Apocalypse
I can instantly give this movie plenty of credit for being what it is - a Christmas, comedy, horror, musical with zombies. I mean, for someone like me, that's a must-see. The trailer spoke to me with the tagline "'Shaun of the Dead' meets 'La La Land'", as I love both of those movies, and it wasn't hard to add this one to the list, knowing I'd take away more than the average person because I love the strange and unusual with a sense of humor. To top it all off, it's British comedy, which I tend to eat up.
Anna Shepherd (Ella Hunt) lives in the town of Little Haven, Scotland. On her way to becoming a secondary school graduate, she plans to travel for a year. Her Dad, Tony (Mark Benton), isn't a fan of this idea at all. Perhaps because he's also the school's janitor, and just wants something more for his daughter. In so many movies like this you have two characters fight, part ways, and try to find each other by the end of the movie. That's basically the relationship here between them.
Anna's best friend, John (Malcolm Cumming), is secretly in love with her, with the competition of a cocky jock type named Nick (Ben Wiggins). We kinda hate Nick for being "that guy", but damned if he doesn't have the best song of the film, 'Soldier at War'. More on that in a bit. Other friends, Chris (Christopher Leveaux) is having trouble with a school assignment, and Steph (Sarah Swire) is trying to get past the black and white ideas of our villain of this movie, Principal Savage (Paul Kaye), with her school paper articles. All are kinda facing their own thing, but the main focus is definitely the friend-in-love story between Anna and John.
As the film unfolds with its very humanistic story lines, a zombie apocalypse unfolds in the background, and before we know it, these kids are faced with more than just a few mild personal challenges. The group sings and dances their way through this musical comedy horror shindig, and by the end, I can openly admit that I had a lot of fun with this one, as I predicted. It's pretty well in my wheelhouse, but that doesn't mean it's just something I'd recommend to anyone.
Certain flaws this movie have include a few glaring things, one of which is having the whole zombie thing feel placed completely to the side and added in just because zombies sell. Really, they could have used anything as the threat. It feels more like a later episode of 'Walking Dead' when they manage to accept the zombies as a way of life. The difference being, in 'Walking Dead', lots of time went by before reaching that point. The film is definitely more about teen angst and things like that, using the zombies as the "more intense challenge".
Now, about the music. I feel very strange about it, because there's really only one song that stood out in regards to the zombie apocalypse (being 'Soldier at War'). This pushes it even further into the background, and the songs made for the movie mostly have some kind of deeper, double meaning. I can appreciate that, and I do enjoy most of the songs, but perhaps not for the reasons I'm supposed to. If you introduced someone to this soundtrack, it would be hard to narrow it down to 'Anna and the Apocalypse' based on its lyrical content. So, I think the songs are mostly pretty great, but as something non-movie related. My personal favorites being 'Turning My Life Around' and 'Human Voice', but again, based on lyrics much more than their relationship to the film.
While I say I had a lot of fun with this one, that's just me talking. Keep in mind that most of my favorite movies are pretty out there and imaginative, but don't necessarily speak to the masses. I couldn't see this becoming some kind of Christmas classic to watch annually (by the way, yes, there are some Christmas songs too. It's still a Christmas movie with a zombie apocalypse). But it is almost definitely something I'll be revisiting. I've seen better in the form of horror musicals ('Evil Dead' being the very best, even if it is stage), but it's still so out there that it can be a lot of fun if you allow it to be.
Okay, so it's not really a Christmas movie in the traditional sense. It's more like a light horror comedy that takes place around Christmas. It's less in the tradition of 'White Christmas' and more in the tradition of... actually this is the first Christmas horror comedy I can think of. And being that it was rated PG, I saw it probably way earlier than I should have.
But with that said, 'Gremlins' represents some of my first toe-dips into horror. It was kinda great at the time (I think I was around 5 or 6 when I first watched it). It had the cuteness of Gizmo (Howie Mandel), the kindness of Billy (Zach Galligan), the prettiness of Kate (Phoebe Cates), and that seemed to give a good balance to the otherwise scary premise.
The story centers on Billy, whose father (Hoyt Axton) brings him home a Mogwai from Chinatown while trying to sell his latest invention. The Mogwai, Gizmo, comes with a set of rules - don't get it wet, keep it away from light, and whatever you do, don't feed it after midnight (which is obscure, but we kinda roll with it). Eventually we learn that water makes them multiply, light is just plain bad for them (sunlight could kill them), and feeding them after midnight causes them to cocoon and eventually turn into Gremlins.
Gremlins, in this case, are mischief making, violent, and hilarious. But they're just frightening enough that when watching this as a kid, you kinda fear one may be lurking under your bed. These Gremlins wreak havoc on the town, and it's up up Billy, Gizmo and Kate to stop them, even if they do end up sidetracked by horrific stories about the harsh realities of Santa Claus - something this film has since become famous for to such an extent that they make fun of it in 'Gremlins 2'.
Of course, anyone familiar with this movie realizes that the Gremlins, in a way, are villains we kinda route for. When we see them causing mischief. But the biggest villain of this movie isn't any of the Gremlins, not even Stripe (Frank Welker), who's pretty much the Gremlin's leader. It's Mrs Deagel (Polly Holliday). Her biggest claim to fame is her desire to slowly murder Billy's dog. So yeah, we really wanna see her meet John Wick one day. But don't worry, she's also a reason to route for these crazy critters.
Surprisingly enough, though the Mogwais and Gremlins don't say a whole hell of a lot, the cast of voice actors is impressive. Aside from the two I've already mentioned, Peter Cullen (the one and only Optimus Prime), Michael Winslow (the sound effect guy from 'Police Academy'), Mark Dodson (Salacious Crumb from 'Return of the Jedi'), Bob Bergen (No Face and the Frog from 'Spirited Away' are among a few of the more well-known. That's an interesting tidbit I actually only just learned.
The film is considered a classic of an 80s monster movie, and it really fits in with its era. As time has passed, it hasn't aged incredibly well, but we still hold it close to or hearts as an important piece of nostalgia. Even though I say that, a newcomer could watch this and still have a lot of fun with it. I really don't think it was ever meant to be taken that seriously to begin with. It's still one I hold close to my heart.