In this column, cult columnist Saoirse takes you on a biweekly jaunt through the obscure annals of the cult film world. We’ll touch on everything from Giallo to J-Horror to Wakaliwood & so much more. If it’s a low budget genre film, or even a big-budget flop with a dogged audience, or even an undiscovered gem, it belongs here.
This week we look at cult comedy-horror, Cockneys vs Zombies.
Titles are important. Many horror films have been made and broken by titles. Halloween’s title means not only is it now an inimitable brand in its own right but it will forever be tied to, and brought back out in one month, and it’s the perfect month to sit in this movie’s autumnal nostalgic bliss. A title like A Nightmare on Elm Street captures that movie’s sheer terror and surreal, dream-like softness that blends into a razor sharp knife edge, and sells it with pop appeal. Even for another Wes Craven movie, Last House on the Left, that title perfectly implies the nihilistic emptiness that film holds for you once you reach the end. You feel like the film’s final emptiness is the house you meet on the end of the road that is the movie. Then you get into the likes of Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, the name-first-movies. Now, as it turns out, films like Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, or even Fearless Vampire Killers, are actually widely regarded as pretty good, (and if we’re being honest, this definitely includes Jaws), whereas with the likes of Lesbian Vampire Killers or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, (I’m noticing a theme), are… not as well regarded. A bad name-first-movie feels like a bad pun, where the punchline was thought of and then the set up was reverse engineered out of parts to make the contortionist of a joker’s punchline make sense. With a good name-first-movie, you want it to feel like it wasn’t necessarily the title that was come up with, but that the title merely captures the smart idea that grew naturally out of something that they actually wanted to say. With Mothra vs. Godzilla you want it to exist because someone saw something about Mothra that contrasted with Godzilla in a way that would be interesting or entertaining and the movie grew out of that, although it was almost definitely not that idealistically made. So it is with British horror comedy Cockneys vs Zombies, a movie that everyone I follow on Letterboxd hates, a movie that I receive sneers for recommending every time without fail, but a movie I hold incredibly dear to my heart.
Cockneys Vs Zombies at first plays like a Guy Ritchie by way of Hammer Horror, not least because it opens on an actor who I mistook for a major actor in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, talking like the characters from Snatch, finding a tomb in the middle of a London construction site, in which many a zombie is found. Before long we’re at an old people’s home with an actual actor from Snatch, (an always magnetic Alan Ford), where we learn the plot of the film, that the council are about to shut down the old folk’s home for it to be converted, with all of these working class pensioners about to be turfed out. So the grandkids, who these old folks raised, are going to rob a bank to raise the money, but oh no! It’s the zombie apocalypse! Also, we’ve accidentally taken a psychopath with a steel plate in his head along with us and he keeps antagonising the police! What do? As it turns out, take hostages, take the getaway van to an abandoned warehouse, kill zombies, grab loot, go to the old folk’s home, have a shoot-up and wait for all of this to blow over. I hope that clears things up.
The appeal of this thing is that the filmmakers didn’t just say, ‘wow wouldn’t it be funny if we made cockneys versus zombies, that’d make a fast buck’, this clearly came from a place of love for these character archetypes and these people, (and it’s told with a hell of a lot more authenticity than anything, bless him, Guy Ritchie ever made in this idiom). Like the fact that the conflict is over orphans saving their grandparent’s care home from what, at the time of writing the script, would have been a freshly elected neoliberal Conservative-Liberal coalition establishment that would go on to let down every principle it was elected on. That has real subtext, and if anyone else was making this movie it would star Vinnie Jones and Danny Dyer robbing a bank to save their estranged daughter who would be played by a random blonde 5 year old with no personality. Yes, this film has its hard men, but they’re ultimately ridiculed, emasculated, or kind of loveably pathetic and past it. The real focus of the film is, well yes, viscera and gore, but also relationships.
It helps that the script is razor sharp and often totally outrageous. Very few films would involve kick dropping a zombified baby and still be this wholesome and pleasant. We get a gag that seems to foreshadow one done almost identically in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood in which Alan Ford’s character reminisces about killing Nazis in the war that I have never not seen take an audience’s breathe away. There’s also jokes about a zombie with a metal plate in its head not being able to be shot in the head that’s gorgeously realised, and a fantastic joke about old people and zombies being in a slowed down equivalent of a high octane chase.
That’s the thing about this movie, it finds humour where others wouldn’t think to look, not least in the premise of the film. It is brimming humanity to the very top, and it is told with a lot of heart, so why isn’t it so loved? People see the name and judge the book by its cover I think, or take its cheap aesthetic not as the bonus that it is, giving it the appropriate intimacy and home grown feeling, but as something indicative of unworthy filmmaking. Or maybe they just see this movie that celebrates working class characters for being working class that makes very niche and British jokes and just want it to be the equally great but more bougie Shawn of the Dead, which I love but it’s not the best Cornetto film OR zombie comedy. I’m sorry but its the truth. The fact is, if you are the kind of person willing to watch a comedy about cockneys fighting off zombies that’s kind of cheap and actually does it justice, this might be for you. When I bought it to a movie night it bought all around derision and sneers, but when we played it, it took the fucking roof off. I mean God, like the zombies in the film, it is rambling, and shambling, and all over the place, but God do I love with my whole heart.