The Film: 4/5
After they lost their parents in a shootout with the police as children, brothers Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway) Maguire were raised to be responsible adults by their tough World War II veteran grandfather Ray (Alan Ford). Now Ray lives out his final years in the Bow Bells Care Home for senior citizens ("old age pensioners") in the East End section of London. The nursing home is about to be demolished and replaced with luxury apartments and its residents sent off to other facilities up North, and Terry and Andy figure that the best way to prevent that from happening is to rob a bank with their cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan), friend Davey (Jack Doolan), and wild card psychopath Mental Mickey (Ashley Bashy Thomas). As the gang prepares to hit the bank the construction crew responsible for knocking down the old folks' home unearths a tomb ordered sealed in 1666 by King Charles II. Upon opening the tomb (because that's always a good idea), the workers accidentally unleash a plague of cannibalistic zombies that quickly overtakes the East End.
The Maguires and their cohorts successfully nab the construction company's payroll and profits totaling 2.5 million pounds and are about to make their getaway when the zombies begin to make their presence known. They pick up hostages Emma (Georgia King) and Clive (Tony Gardner) and beat a hasty retreat. Meanwhile the care home comes under attack by the undead, leading Ray, his sweetheart Peggy (Honor Blackman), and fellow residents Daryl (Tony Selby), Eric (Dudley Sutton), Hamish (Richard Briers), and Doreen (Georgina Hale) to seal off the building and battle the zombies as best as they can. With their crime now pretty much meaningless Terry and Andy decide to risk life and limb to save their grandfather. First they need plenty of ammunition and a proper mode of transportation. Fortunately some of these individuals have seen a zombie movie or two before and with that knowledge and a knock-out combo of heavy firepower and Cockney attitude they're going to show these flesh-munching deadheads what happens when you mess with working class Englishmen (and women).
What's that you say? Someone has made a movie that crossbreeds the zombie movie and the British gangster flick - two genres of film I haven't given a shit about since the middle of the last decade? Nothing about Cockneys Vs. Zombies was screaming for my viewing attention. You might read that last sentence and want to smack me upside the head while imparting upon my dazed person the time-honored axiom that one should never judge a book by its cover. Typically you would have a point, but allow me to offer a counterpoint that this movie is a mash-up of two overexposed genres that seem to be the go-to starting point for rank amateur filmmaking wannabes who want to be the next Tarantino, Romero, or would gladly settle for being the next Adam Green. It wasn't until I watched Tower Block, a highly effective and claustrophobic thriller written by Cockneys Vs. Zombies' scribe James Moran, that Moran's latest writing effort started looking more like a tantalizing proposition. It's a very good thing I decided to set aside my well-deserved prejudices towards zombie and gangster flicks because Cockneys Vs. Zombies turned out to be one funny and entertaining action-horror-comedy, a genre hybrid that is often difficult to get right.
You have to admire a movie that not only wears its heart on its sleeve, but its influences as well. Moran and director Matthias Hoene (Beyond the Rave) studied both the violent crime dramas of the U.K. and the gory, apocalyptic zombie epics and combined the best (and most difficult for anyone to screw up, even a relative newcomer) ingredients from both genres into a single tasty milkshake of a motion picture that desires to amuse more than frighten. Cockneys Vs. Zombies does just that, but with a great amount of style and a few hearty helpings of practical gore effects and the occasional bit of CGI grue. It helps in the film's favor that Hoene and Moran maintain an uncomplicated narrative with a minimum of locations and are quite adept at making their small array of zombie extras look like a formidable army of the undead trying to destroy London. I was reminded of Dan O'Bannon's 1985 horror-comedy classic Return of the Living Dead in how the filmmakers successfully juggled the dueling plot threads of the hapless crooks dealing with hostages and a city overrun by the dead and the ongoing battle at the retirement home between the crafty pensioners and a relentless zombie assault and then managed to bring them together in the final act in perfect harmony. Hoene and Moran also perform a great service for their audience by giving their characters a decent knowledge of zombies from the moment the bloody onslaught kicks into top gear, sparing us countless unnecessary scenes where boring exposition that should be familiar to preschoolers at this juncture.
Hoene was (pardon the pun) dead on in his casting choices, the greatest being British tough guy character acting giant Alan Ford. A longtime specialist in playing unsmiling, opinionated men who don't shy away from a fight, Ford is probably best known to modern audiences for playing the fearsome gangland boss Brick Top in Guy Ritchie's crime comedy gem Snatch. The role of aging hard man Ray can be seen as a variation on that eminently quotable character, but what Ford brings to his performance this time is a tender, loving side. We see how stringent he can be with his grandsons but that's only because he loves them dearly and doesn't want to see them live and die by the sword as their parents did. Plus, Ray is given a sweet side relationship with fellow nursing home resident Peggy, played by none other than Pussy Galore herself - Honor Blackman. When Ford is given license to kick ass in his imitable, foul-mouthed fashion he embraces the opportunity with grand gusto. You have no problem believing Ray during his final rousing speech that seems to hock a loogie the size of the London Eye in the face of American zombie moviemaking. We Yanks are too disposed to allow armies of the dead to take over our country out of panic and fear, but the citizens of the city that withstood heavy bombardment and devastating human losses on the order of Adolf Hitler aren't about to cave in to a bunch of flesh-chomping ghouls. Come and 'ave a go!
Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway both did fine jobs and were convincing as brothers, with Hardiker having to be the more responsible of the two while Treadaway gets to play his part more as comic relief. Michelle Ryan is great as the gutsy lady of the group and Georgia King gives an equally sympathetic performance as meek hostage Emma. Ashley Thomas rips into his part of Mental Mickey - as he rips off the head of one zombie with his bare hands - with joyous aplomb and an unpredictable sense of humor, while Tony Gardner makes for an ideal useless and conceited asshole. Kenneth Branagh favorite Richard Briers has one of the most inspired scenes in all of zombie moviedom when he attempts to outrun a bunch of lurching zombies with only his trusty walker for transportation. I won't spoil any more of the little fan-pleasing surprises hidden amongst the dialogue and set design, but I will say that there is an easy-to-spot reference to Terry Gilliam's Brazil (the true fans will know it when they hear it) and a passing mention of "Hinzman R.A.F. Base" makes me wonder if that's supposed to be Hoene and Moran's tribute to one of the most famous zombie actors in the world - the late Bill Hinzman, who played the iconic "Cemetery Zombie" in George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead.
I can't complain about the Cockneys Vs. Zombies transfer. Presented in 1080p HD-mastered 2.35:1 widescreen, the image quality is solid with sharp visual detail and the gore effects look meaty and disgusting thanks to the vibrant color schemes and lack of overpowering print grain. The music, accented dialogue, and gruesome sound effects are all perfectly balanced in the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but the wildly jubilant song selection will occasionally have you reaching for the volume control. English subtitles are included.
Both director Hoene and writer Moran contribute solo audio commentaries that contain an excessive amount of stories and production info with little dead air between the two tracks. "Original Look Behind the Scenes" (29 minutes) is an eight-part documentary about the making of the film that covers the physical production, characters, special effects, and "Zombie School". The disc also includes nine deleted scenes (6 minutes) with optional commentaries from Hoene and Moran, a theatrical trailer (2 minutes), and a digital copy code inside the Blu-ray case that expires late next year.
Nowhere near as good as Shaun of the Dead but almost up to the level of Zombieland, Cockneys Vs. Zombies is a terrifically entertaining horror comedy that gives as good as it gets. If all zombie movies could aspire to be half as fun as this then maybe fright flick fans wouldn't be so sick and tired of them. Another solid release from Scream Factory, and it goes great with a greasy pizza and a few pints of lager too.