First published by Little White Lies
Though itself wonderful, Edgar Wright’s North London rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead (2004) unleashed a plague of frankly inferior British comedy horrors pitting classic movie monsters incongruously against specific contemporary London subcultures. In Dead Cert (2010) it was gangsters vs vampires, in Strippers vs Werewolves (2012) it was – well, you can probably guess. Now, coming from the director (Matthias Hoene) who revamped Hammer with Beyond the Rave (2008), and co-written by James Moran (Severance), Cockneys Vs Zombies resurrects all at once the zombies, the knowing, absurdist humour, and most importantly something of the quality, of Wright’s film, while also unearthing the Blitz spirit of old as an antidote to these bleak Tory-led times of social abandonment and exclusion. It is an affectionate mash-up of the undead and the East End’s underworld, with a half-buried subtext about England’s overlooked underclass.
As WWII veteran and old-age pensioner Ray Macguire (Alan Ford) faces eviction and an uncertain future, his hapless grandsons Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway) rob their first bank, hoping to rescue their beloved granddad’s care home from redevelopment as luxury apartments. Meanwhile the adjacent building site, which resembles nothing less than the East End under the Blitz, spills out the contents of a plague pit that has lain buried and sealed since 1666 – and so, as an old zombie apocalypse begins anew, Ray and his fellow retirees, beleaguered as always, also rise up once again, while the brothers and their cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan) live up to their family’s legacy of dogged defiance.
As austerity bites and the cold, dead hand of Conservative policy pulls the guts out of the general populace, Cockneys Vs Zombies is a rabble-rousing, banker-baiting last stand for community values. It is also, with its cartoonish credits, its mangled rhyming slang, its Zimmer frame chase sequences, its still-scuffling undead football supporters and gratuitous baby-kicking, very funny indeed – while the singalong knees-ups and the climax on a red double-decker bus all appeal to a kind of retro-jingoism that the film seeks to reawaken in the viewer. “The East End’s been through far worse,” declares Terry, responding with die-hard sangfroid to the catastrophe unfolding before his (and our) eyes. It is a historical perspective on present problems, as well as a new call to arms, severed or otherwise.
© Anton Bitel