There was a time when I was a steadfast foot soldier in the cause of Cool Movies. I joined the Films Committee at the union my freshman year and convinced the team to show Eisenstien and Bunuel movies. I knew the cult/indie/foreign section of every video store in the 20 mile radius. I gathered signatures to get to be able to screen "Pink Flamingos." In short, a Cool Movie dork. As time went on, the exuberance of youth gave way into being a 9-to-5-er, where bills and traffic and drinking and sloth usurped my energies previously spent pouring over "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" a second time.
Fast forward 13 years, the supposed trinity of Netflix, Sundance and IFC are here to fill my needs, but the law of supply and demand backfires. Back when you had to hunt for the scarce supply of cult cinema, every morsel was delicious. Now we are bombarded by every vanity project and 1.5 trick pony that could snatch funding off the tree. Case in point: "Garden State." The tale of a lost boy returning home to find the familiar to be equally empty as the destination they ran off to, is more common than muscle-bound warriors born to save the world with pure heart and sharp sword. Tabula Rasa Zach Braff manages to film himself doing the Holden Caufield to the camera for the better part of two hours, simulating the act of masturbating in front of a mirror, except more narcissistic. I won't ruin it for you by revealing the line that forms the hub of this motionless wheel of Braff, but when his hands manage to leave his pockets for once and are borne aloft, outstretched, you'll know what it is.
The other cool movie type is the tale of the Misfit. The fish out of water, except he is, um, in the water. "American Splendour" had some success in making Harvey Pekar the hidden everyman, but the whole time I felt it was trying to be "Crumb" the documentary, without the real life weirdness of R. Crumb and his family to uphold it. The latest 2005: A Dork Odyssey is the much hyped "Napoleon Dynamite." Like the lovechild of "Repo Man" and "Mary Gallagher Superstar," our hero with the unexplained name continues to kick against the pricks in his own delightfully inept way. While the movie was enjoyable (a trait that was mostly lacking from Garden State) I consistently wanted some break from the character. I wanted him to expand beyond his weirdness, but he never managed to do it. No explanation required in the world of Cool Movies.
Strangely, the one sub-genre that has surpassed Cool Movies, ones where the character wander their lives as zombies, is one where the characters actually fight against these zombies. Thankfully, the living dead are in full effect recently, no longer stumbling slow brain eaters, but amphetamine-fueled omnivores that want nothing more than to fuck your living shit up. Sad that a movie like the "Dawn of the Dead" remake starring Ving Rhames as both the muscle and conscience of the human condition, inspired more introspection and was frankly more "buyable" and either of the aforementioned movies. Who would've guessed that a Ving Rhames zombie movie would have one of the more touching relationships in recent cinema. (the one with himself and the gun shop stranded owner across the street, communicating only via handwritten signs on the roof over a sea of dead malevolence, with the inevitable looming on the horizon like an approaching storm. It's almost Beckett-esque in its implications.)
"28 Days Later" had the same effect. I really felt for the protagonists in this film fighting everything from fatigue and hopelessness to fear and an unstoppable enemy, while all Zack Braff has to do is get on his meds and get over himself. These hit home in that the characters, and the audience, don't necessarily know if they are going to make it. Horror movies have the delicious cathartic option of killing off its leads without ruining your buzz, whereas had Napoleon Dynamite died while having his head dunked in the toilet, it would've died on the vine. The dynamics between the characters in zombie movies, often thrown together by circumstance rather than an actual supposed bond, have a more believable relationship than those of the families and friends in the Cool Movies.
"Shaun of the Dead" brings this all full circle. Shaun, the surfer on the low tide of life is the archetypical Cool Movie protag. He has a bigger loser for a best friend, an impossible dick for a roommate, a babe he doesn't deserve for a tenuous girlfriend. The beauty of it is how the zombies make their presence gradually known. In Shaun's world, the line between the walking living and the walking dead goes unnoticed until the scale begins to tip toward the undead. His trials and triumphs are bigger than the average horror movie knight, which I cannot detail without ruining it, but trust me, he does more psychic damage to himself than he does to the slobbering monsters he eventually slays.
I am not, as a rule, a "Horror Fan." I don't sludge out to every slasher thing that comes out, and the humor of circus sideshows like Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses" has faded on me. I still have hope for the Cool Movie. I know they are still out there, waiting to hatch. But until the financial backing runs out on the current spate of Feel-Indifferent-Movies, my reserve is bolstered with the knowledge that there are always more zombies.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com