Reviews

Bleedin' Nora! 'Cockneys vs Zombies' Is a Horror

A parody of the caper and zombie genres—Cockneys vs Zombies presents working-class Cockney spunk and resourcefulness as the heart of London spirit.


Cockneys vs Zombies

Director: Matthias Hoene
Cast: Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Ryan, Georgia King, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman
Distributor: Scream Factory
Rated: Not Rated
Year: 2012
Release date: 2013-09-03

London’s long, colorful history has many gruesome episodes. Take 1665–66, the year that saw the last wave of bubonic plague decimate the city—before the Great Fire destroyed most of it. What better pedigree for a modern zombie scourge?

When a construction crew breaks into a crypt sealed by King Charles II in 1666, they discover that not all the withered corpses within are dead. Once unleashed, the zombie contagion quickly overtakes the city, imperiling, in particular, a retirement community in the East End.

Coincidentally, the grandkids of one of the residents have already planned a bank heist to restore the care home to financial solvency, and thus avoid its imminent destruction as part of the wave of gentrification convulsing the region. Their financial scheme becomes a rescue expedition after the outbreak.

A double parody—of the caper and zombie films—Cockneys vs Zombies plays both genres for laughs, while presenting working-class Cockney spunk and resourcefulness as the heart of London spirit.

Since the film invites it, let’s adopt the vocabulary of epidemiology and explore several vectors offered by Cockneys vs Zombies. One is linguistic. On full display here is not just the Cockney accent, but also the hallmark of Cockney speech as it emerged in the mid-19th century: rhyming slang. A pair of related words is chosen to represent an omitted word that rhymes with one of the paired words (e.g., apples and pears for stairs; mutt and jeff for deaf). Then the non-rhyming word (or sometimes the word pair) is used to signify the referent: e.g., ‘he’s completely mutt and jeff’.

It’s inventive and satisfying in its own right, but also the perfect feature of a dialect whose speakers wish to remain incomprehensible to outsiders. Cockneys vs Zombies works as a primer on how rhyming slang works, and also captures the downside of what linguists call a cryptolect: sometimes even the initiated don’t have a clue what others are saying. Such is the case in the care home, where the grandfather, Ray (Alan Ford), and other residents regularly have to ask fellow pensioner Eric (Dudley Sutton) for explanations of the convoluted constructions he utters.

Another vector is class. The zombie plague stands in for the latest threat posed by the dominant culture on working-class denizens of London’s East End. Most recently the area has been subject to the construction of venues and other projects for the 2012 Olympic Games, work glimpsed through several shots incorporated throughout the film. A banker kidnapped as part of the heist and a construction contractor measuring the care home in preparation for its demolition represent the cold, mercantile forces threatening a way of life characterized by hard work, resourcefulness, and authenticity.

A third vector is durability. The long sweep of history thumbnailed by the desecration of the mass grave from 1666 presents the Cockney as eternal, a type that predates the fire and the plague—never mind that the archetypal rhyming-slang-spouting Cockney only dates from the 1840s. While the film also acknowledges the constantly changing nature of Cockney identity and speech (rhyming slang often incorporates topical words, or the names of contemporary celebrities), a reactionary subvector marks some changes as threatening, at least those involving racial and linguistic impurities introduced from the UK’s former colonies.

Our band of heroes—brothers Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway) and cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan) initially includes a Cockney of color—Mental Mickey (Ashley Thomas), a volatile, violent Iraq vet, whose bloodthirsty ways on display after he becomes a zombie aren’t much different from his behavior as a living man. One of the deleted scenes features Mickey headbutting an old woman who is interrupting him as he’s ‘trying to pray’. Perhaps the producers thought that this association of religiosity (we don’t know if he’s holding a Bible or a Koran) with violence made the reactionary thread too explicit.

Another deleted bit extends a scene in which Ray reprimands a group of black and white ‘hoodies’ outside the home. The long version includes a taunt uttered by one of the black members: ‘We run this place now; it’s about time you respect that.’

Once rid of Mental, our merry band are free to reunite with grand-dad and his co-inmates in a multigenerational, pure Cockney tribe who have the run of the East End (humanly speaking, anyway).

Cockneys vs. Zombies has some genuine laughs. It manages to make fun of zombie conventions and a doddering pensioner in a walker without being disrespectful, either to genre conventions or the elderly. When the kids run into rival football fans still scuffling with one another, Terry remarks, ‘Even when they’re zombies they can’t stand each other’.

It’s also good to see Alan Ford (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) and Honor Blackman (Goldfinger) recruited for juicy roles in a genre generally not kind to seniors.

But like Eric’s obscure productions of rhyming slang, Cockneys vs. Zombies strays too far from substance. Just as the linguistic referent must always be implied for slang to be comprehensible, so parodies are most successful when they resonate with the same themes addressed in the best examples of the target genre. Finally, the Cockneys, reduced to an agglomeration of stereotypic features, are as insubstantial as the zombies, from which the film has taken such pains to distinguish them.

Extras include a series of making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, and the ‘Zombie School’ instructional video screened for the film’s 526 zombie extras. It includes such ‘zombie style secrets’ as ‘think stagger not swagger’ and a tutorial on the zombie ‘smash and grab’ attack strategy.

5

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image