A Fantastic Fest ’09 review


Stephen Graham as Vince

Danny Dyer as Neil

Noel Clarke as Mikey

Lee Ingleby as Matt

Keith-Lee Castle as Patrick

Emil Marwa as Graham

Neil Maskell as Banksy

Christina Cole as “Candy”

Terry Stone as Sgt. Gavin Wright

Directed by: Jake West


What happens in Moodley stays in Moodley.

Or so hope the seven friends who get up to all manner of mischief during a lads-only weekend getaway to this remote English village that the rest of the country has forgotten. It has nothing to do with the buddies doing anything that would get them into further trouble with their better halves: they just don’t want Moodley’s army of female zombies following them back to London.

Yes, Doghouse – which screened during Fantastic Fest – is Shaun of the Dead mutated into The Hangover. While not as hysterical as either instant classic, director Jake West’s comedy heartily achieves its goal of tickling your funny bone while the so-called Zombirds gnaw away at their male victims’ funny bones.

Does it really matter why an airborne toxin only targets the ladies of Moodley? Or why they’re turned into man-hating zombies? Not really. West does give us the lowdown – and not a bad one at that – but it wouldn’t detract from the fun if he decided against explaining the origins of the outbreak. All our unexpected heroes need to know is that the Zombirds want to rip them to shreds for no other reason than they’re not members of the fairer sex.

It’s a bad sign when they arrive at the deserted Moodley and discover there’s no one behind the bar at the local pub to serve them beer. But it’s for the best they can’t get their drink on. The Zombirds on are the prowl, and they’re not fussy about the men they pick up and pick clean. Even their minibus driver, affectionately dubbed “Candy” (Christina Cole), comes down with a bad case of the munchies. No one now wants Candy, but she wants everyone.

With the help of Sgt. Gavin Wright (Terry Stone), the only surviving soldier sent into Moodley to neutralize the Zombirds problem, the buddies use their limited resources (and smarts) in a desperate bid to flee to safety.

West sends into Moodley seven male stereotypes: the sensitive and depressed divorcé (Stephen Graham); the irascible womanizer (Severance‘s Danny Dyer); the neglectful husband (Dr. Who‘s Noel Clarke); the nerd (Lee Ingleby); the businessman suffering from a midlife crisis (Keith-Lee Castle); the understanding homosexual (Emil Marwa); and the unreliable and oblivious overweight oaf (Neil Maskell). They’re nice enough chaps, but West also makes them very easy to ridicule. For all their bluster, they’re don’t possess much in the way of brains or brawn. So West does everything he possibly can to humiliate them, especially the male chauvinist pigs among them. No one gets it worse than the typically mouthy Dyer. Minutes after being stabbed in the hand by a Zombird, he’s captured, bound and abused by a horny housewife with a fondness for finger food.

As Dyer’s torture session reveals, Doghouse never skimps on the gore. All the violence is obviously played for laughs, so the killing and the maiming border on the cartoonish rather than the disturbing.

A pattern quickly emerges among the order of the Zombird’s victims. To say more would give away a nice little twist on things. Those who do survive, though, certainly earn back their man cards.

Don’t expect West and screenwriter Dan Schaffer – of U.K. comic-book series Dogwitch fame – to shed much light on the continuing struggle for gender equality in the 21st century. OK, so some of the Zombirds represent female archetypes that induce fear in many weak-willed men – the bride, the ex-girlfriend, the feminist, the warrior woman – but that’s about as heavy as West and Schaffer get. They’re not out to offer any significant observations about men’s rights and female empowerment—their goal is to make our eyes pop out at the absurdity of the situation. How else are you expected to react to the sight of an obese, sexually frustrated Zombird jumping off a roof and crushing a man half her size?

Besides, West and Schaffer relish playing one side against the other. One minute they’re taking Dyer to task for objectifying women, the next they ogling over one Xena-like Zombird’s generous bust or setting the stage for an old-fashioned, hair-pulling, eye-gouging catfight. Still, Doghouse is more saucy than offensive, just like those British Carry On sex farces of the 1960s and 1970s.

Even with its fresh spin on George A. Romero’s Dead sagas, Doghouse won’t make anyone forget Shaun of the Dead. It lacks Shaun‘s wit, personality and honesty. But there’s plenty in Doghouse to enjoy, most noticeably its “to hell with it” attitude, lively dialogue that’s seeped in British cockiness, and comically creative encounters between man and Zombird. The jury’s still out on whether the director who unfortunately gave us Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes can scare us senseless, but Evil Aliens and now Doghouse proves West can do splatstick with the best of them.