October is back. You know what that means.
No, not playoff baseball. 31 Days of Halloween! It’s right there in the title of this article. Why would I call this “31 Days of Halloween” and then write about baseball?
I guess that is odd. Whatever. Who ya got in the World Series? Because I don’t see anyone beating the Astros or Dodgers.
I’m just going to ignore you now, undefined other person. I need to explain to the reader how 31 Days of Halloween works. You see…
Then again, the Yankees are pretty legit.
Again, stop that! So, 31 Days of Halloween is where you watch a…
But it’s a mistake to ignore the Cardinals when it comes to October baseball.
Well, you see that’s where you’re wrong. If the Cubs hadn’t imploded, the Cardinals wouldn’t be where they are. Sure, they have pitching, but what about their offense?
Hey, weren’t you talking about horror movies?
Oh, right. Right, right, right. So, horror movies, 31 of them, one a day, all October. That’s…well, that’s pretty much it.
So which one did you watch today?
A little treat from Japan known as One Cut of the Dead!
What Is It?
One Cut of the Dead is a challenge to write about because what makes it so great is actually a completely premise-altering spoiler that doesn’t happen until over a third of the way into the movie. So, I’ll start by saying One Cut of the Dead is a zombie movie unlike any zombie movie I’ver seen before and I loved it. Everything after this, however, comes with the following warning: SPOILER
So, Really, What Is It?
A 2017 Japanese zombie movie that’s not actually a zombie movie. Instead, it is 37 minutes of one-shot zombie mayhem followed by an hour of fictionalized behind the scenes peeks into how they pulled it all off. It’s like a movie immediately followed by a “making of” except the making of is infinitely more entertaining than the movie.
Why I Watched It
In the old days, horror fanatics got their viewing recommendations from Fangoria, Rue Morgue, or just picked the movie with the best box cover at the local video store. These days, they increasingly gravitate toward the internet, social media, and podcasts. In that latter category, I have yet to find a horror podcast as valuable as Shock Waves. It’s a weekly show hosted by four former Fangoria/Blumhouse.com staffers who have since moved on to teaching college courses and making their own horror movies. For weeks now, the hosts have been talking up One Cut of the Dead as one of their best finds of the year. Rebekah McKendry even showed it to her USC film class. So, once I saw Once Cut of the Dead pop up on Shudder I had to check it out.
Did I Like It?
I am an absolute sucker for movies about movies. I don’t know if that’s a “me” thing or “all cinephiles feel that way” thing. I suspect it’s both. Either way, throw something super well-known at me (Boogie Nights, Singin’ in the Rain, Ed Wood, Inglourious Basterds) or incredibly obscure (Stuntman, The Dirties) – doesn’t matter; if it’s about people making movies, you already have my attention. The horror genre is by no means immune from this. Shadow of the Vampire, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and Scream 3 stand out as obvious examples.
Yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything quite like One Cut of the Dead. It opens with its movie-within-a-movie but never lets us know what it’s actually up to. As far as we can tell, we’ve been dropped into the middle of a low-budget Japanese production with a pretty clever plot:
A handful of actors and a small crew are filming a zombie movie in the Japanese countryside. When an actual zombie outbreak pops up in the middle of their shoot, the maniacal director just rolls with it and energetically pushes zombies at his cast, yells “Action!” like a madman, and points his camera at them to get their real, terrified reactions on film. Sure, some of them die in the process, but at least that’s real, dammit.
The thing about this opening, however, is it’s really not that scary. Sure, it’s a zombie movie on steroids, but it never looks real. The acting is insanely over the top. The zombie makeup and prop blood never look like anything other than movie make-up and fake blood. At one point, one of the actors runs into the unseen cameraman, and you’re not sure if it’s intentional. You can see the low budget dripping off the screen. It’s more technically impressive than anything else, particularly the longer it drags on and the more you realize they’re just going do all of this in one, long continuous shot.
When the twist finally happens and we time jump to a month earlier to meet the fictional cast and crew responsible for what we learn is actually a live TV movie, One Cut of the Dead turns into a lovely and often quite funny ode to the “overcome all obstacles” spirit of low-budget filmmaking. Every little quirk or “what was that about?” part of the 37-minute opening – such as why one of the characters instantly loses her mind – turns out to have an amusing backstory. Almost nothing, we learn, really went according to plan, but they pulled it off because that’s what you do when ambition and determination meets limitations and adversity.
That makes One Cut of the Dead the rare zombie movie that doesn’t really trade in metaphor. Romero and Night of the Living Dead’s commentary on racism set the template for how to make a zombie movie with big ideas. Others, such as Fulci, ventured off into pure gore instead of social commentary. Since the late 90s, largely because of the influence of the Resident Evil aka Biohazard video games Japan has produced its fair share of genre-mashup zombie movies – a musical here, a Yakuza crime drama there – that don’t really say anything but certainly entertain.
One Cut of the Dead follows in that tradition. It combines the movie-about-movies strand of storytelling with zombie movie tropes and allows us to flinch when one character ends up drenched in blood and later laugh when we see how there was a crewmember just off-camera squirting prop blood at her the entire time.
So, did I like it? No; I loved it.
Did It Scare Me?
No, but this isn’t the type of movie which is really meant to scare you.
Random Parting Thought
Be sure to watch the closing credits. It quickly shows the making of this “making of.” In other words, there was a real crew following the movie’s fake crew, and clearly, in some cases, there was even a third crew filming it all to show how they did it. It might just be the most meta thing I’ve ever seen.
Where to Stream
Next Up: Another horror movie about horror movies.