Yeah, a weird sounding word. Kind of sounds like the brand name of the fictitious chemical you put in a pool to create a cloud of red dye that will identify someone who pees in the pool. “Wanna know who whizzed in the deep end? Use Pontypool! By Johnson and Johnson.”
But I’m talking about Pontypool, a zombie horror movie released in 2009 based upon the novel “Pontypool Changes Everything” by Canadian author Tony Burgess. Burgess wrote the screenplay for the movie himself, and according to the film’s director Bruce McDonald (a Canadian Director best known for 1996’s “Hard Core Logo”) the story was adapted from novel to screenplay in less than 48 hours. Pontypool is the name of the fictitious Canadian town in which the events of the book and movie take place. And those events are worth watching, I can’t recommend Pontypool enough.
Now you might be saying to yourself “but Jad… ALL zombie movies are exactly the same. A group of characters are the survivors of a zombie apocalypse, get trapped in a building surrounded by zombies, shotgun and chainsaw their way thru zombies, some of them get eaten or turned into zombies, and the main characters either survive or everyone dies. The end.”
And while Pontypool begins (after a bizarre, seemingly un-connected nude scene incident) exactly that way, the story goes sideways zonking crazy before anyone can even ask “Where’s the chainsaw.” If the stereotypical zombie movie is what you are craving (and there’s nothing wrong with that) then go check out “28 Days Later” which does the job pretty well. If you want a movie that spoofs the zombie genre, then Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” will keep you laughing. But if you want to watch something original, well-written, and genuinely creepy… I gotta suggest Pontypool. It would be far too easy to talk about it here and spoil if for you, so I’ll just describe my introduction to the film.
I work midnight to 9 AM (I leave right after the Steve and Ted show) and generally go to bed when I get home. However, on Fridays I stay up so I can “turn my weekends back around.” So by the time 8 or 9 PM rolls around on a Friday, I’m usually pretty dead tired. But since my friends are “stay up late and party on the weekends” types, I sometimes push past that to hang out with my pals. The Friday (or by then Saturday) I first saw Pontypool, I was just getting to bed at 2 AM Saturday morning when another of my friends called me. He needed a ride from a bar (where he had been working as a bouncer/bartender) and a place to crash for the night. And I’m a guy that’ll do most anything for my buddies (no matter how bone weary I might be) so I went and picked him up. We got back to my house just before 3 AM, and he kicked on the TV and brought up Netflix. I figured he’d choose a TV show to watch and I could sit thru one episode and then go to bed. But instead he picked a movie he’d heard good things about. I figured I’d fall asleep after a few minutes…
5:30 AM Saturday morning rolls around (remember, after not having slept since waking up at 10 PM THURSDAY) and I am still GLUED to my chair. Falling asleep was not possible; I NEEDED to keep watching that movie. As far as “scary” goes… it really only qualifies as “creepy.” Basically Pontypool evokes the fear of a virulent infection of a type no one has ever seen before (or even theorized could be possible.) But it’s fresh and original. Even in a genre as oversaturated as “Zombie horror” Pontypool manages to be totally unlike ANY other zombie movie ever made. And if you don’t think it’s crazy enough, watch until the end of the credits for an extra scene that totally waves goodbye to any sanity that movie might have had left.
Pontypool stars Stephen McHattie (best known for portraying Hollis Mason in Watchmen, or his role as Elayne’s boyfriend Dr. Reston in 4 episodes of Seinfeld) as Grant Mazzy, a Don Imus style morning radio host who had a Don Imus style incident in big market radio and has been banished to Pontypool (the middle of nowhere.) The Zombiepocalypse happens while he is live on the air, and we get to see the story from the backdrop of a radio station as Mazzy keeps Pontypool and the world updated on the bizarre happenings in his little Canadian town.
Yes I know… It happens in a radio station. No wonder it “speaks to me,” right? That doesn’t mean I’m wrong about the movie though, the setting makes it a great place to infodump the happenings surrounding the movie, and yet maintain a high level of dramatic tension. And it provides a pretty good bunker for the “spam in a can” zombie movie cliché, after all you need at least one zombie movie cliché or you can’t really call it a zombie movie.
So that’s Pontypool. It got a pretty lukewarm 54 on Metacritic, but there were only a few reviews (it was an independent Canadian release) and the naysayers couldn’t have missed the point harder. My suggestion, don’t go into it with an idea of an action/horror zombie bloodfest. This is a thinkin’ man’s zombie movie, available to view if you have a membership on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Otherwise you can download it from Amazon or try to track down a DVD.
Feel free to make a comment about Pontypool below, or just chime in to suggest your own favorite scary bit of entertainment. Next week… a trip to Silent Hill.
No question on either of those two. Romero's "Dead" series totally defines the zombie genre. And for anyone who is unfamiliar with zombie movies, George Romero's 1968 "Night of the Living Dead" is the natural place to start. It's been a long while since I've seen Vampyr, but for a movie released in 1932 it held up very well 15 or so years ago when I watched it and I don't suspect that has changed any.