Tuesday 19 July 2022

Tom and His Zombie Wife (UK 2020: Dir Kevin Short) NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM

Kevin Short is a rather unsung British maverick. A regular on the south coast arts and festival scene, his first claim to fame, way back in 1978, was as the front person in the parody punk band 'Kevin Short and the Privates'. The group were signed to EMI, and while their only single 'Punk Strut' didn't trouble the charts, Short's continuing life and times on the music scene, together with other ageing punk mates, informed his second feature, Punk Strut: The Movie (a bit of a contrast to his debut, 2016's Speed Love, about dating for the over 50s, starring Elaine Paige). He even put the band back together 30 years later to record an album, songs from which pepper all his subsequent features. 

His third feature, A Reel Life from 2018, was a dark and surreal comedy drama about a screenwriter who cannot distinguish fact from fiction, reality from unreality, who finds his life slowly becoming a film; it was shot on the mean streets of Bognor, West Sussex.

But we're here for Tom and His Zombie Wife, a kind of zombie tragicomedy subtitled 'A Love to Kill For'. Orignally shot in 2020, it did the rounds of the festivals in 2021, with some success, and as a result is now being marketed by Bayview Entertainment for release in the UK later this year.

At first glance it's maybe difficult to see what Bayview found to get excited about. Shot in black and white (there are nods to George Romero's zombie movies throughout), we meet Tom (Short) who, following an unspecified apolocalyptic event, has taken shelter in an abandoned schoolhouse with his unnamed wife (Claire Lewis). Outside the dead walk; sadly his wife was bitten by her zombified son (Jamie Lemetti) and as a result, Tom has imprisoned her in a separate room to avoid infection but to keep her near him.

It's clearly an impossible life: while Tom snacks on a seemingly endless supply of tins of cold beans (with the inevitable gaseous results) he is forced to source bodies for his wife to chow down on, hacking them up in the kitchen so he can feed her (praise here for some very disturbing limbs supplied by award winning uk company Millennium FX Ltd). All the while Tom finds it hard to believe that his wife, although still in bodily form, is no longer with him in spirit - an Alzheimer's analogy possibly - and struggles to encourage her to remember her pre zombie life.

But despite his attempts to humanise her - again a nod to the 'Bub' character in 1985's Day of the Dead - Tom realises that he still needs to procure bodies for food. And it's on one of his sorties that he runs into his zombie son.

Tom and His Zombie Wife has a bit of a 'cake-and-eat-it' thing going on. Early scenes in the movie are almost too sad to watch, a husband and wife duo who were once close but now emotionally and physically separated; in one scene Tom reviews footage of the pair filmed on video while she was still in pre zombie mode, discussing their shared anguish that Tom had to shoot their son to save his wife (neither worked), while his turned wife watches the footage, oblivious, from her makeshift cage. But then, and because this is Kevin Short, he decides to throw in some light hearted calypso based songs and even a couple of zombie dances, recalling the final scenes of Tim Burton's 1988 movie Beetlejuice. It's all rather bizarre, but I applaud Short for attempting to do something idiosyncratic that doesn't play by the rules; and for pulling an almost upbeat ending out of the hat.

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