Four Score and Twenty Zombies Ago
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (wearing sound-canceling earplugs whilst floating in a sensory deprivation tank), you are aware that the 2012 US Presidential election is upon us. It’s on us like a flea on a dog. And I’m sick of it all, as you are probably.
For that reason, I thought I would lead us back to a time when one of the United States’ most revered leaders was in charge. That man would be Abraham Lincoln. The cinematic path leads us to Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies. Do not confuse this movie with the recent 2012 theatrical release of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. They are not the same. One is not a sequel or off-shoot of the other. Also Zombies was a direct to DVD release and happened to come out the same year.
Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies stars Bill Oberst Jr. I don’t know if you are familiar with him, but when I was in college, we had these things called Fine Arts and Lectures events. It was a condition of graduation that you attended a certain number of these FLA events per year. Several of these happened to be one-man theatrical performances by a certain Bill Oberst Jr. He performed as Lewis Grizzard, Jesus, and Mark Twain. I remember being very impressed by his Mark Twain. But this isn’t about Twain. It’s about Lincoln—and zombies.
Our film intros with a young boy chopping wood outside his frontier house. We hear a gunshot. The boy runs inside the house to find his father bleeding out in a chair. There is a zombie lady chained up to a wall. The man has shot himself. When he’s not gasping for his final breath, he manages to utter “Sorry Abe. I couldn’t do it.” So, what’s a boy to do? Young Abe picks up a scythe (who keeps these in the dining room?) and beheads the zombie lady who I presume is/was his mama. Cue the opening credits!!
The bulk of the film takes place towards the end of the Civil War. Lincoln is planning a trip to Gettysburg to deliver what will be his most famous speech ever. As he’s heading out the door, one of his advisors announces that a group of Union soldiers had been dispatched to take down a Confederate stronghold. However, only one soldier returned alive, but not at all well. His symptoms seem zombie-like, and Lincoln, already familiar with zombies, decides to travel to the Union location to get a look at the soldier for himself.
Let’s talk about makeup. Zombies in this movie look less like your run-of-the-mill freshly dead undead. Instead, they look like they’ve been in the ground a few weeks. All of them are ashen-faced and have crazy eyes. Their clothes, however, seem sturdy and recently laundered. Even some of the undead remember to wear their hats and bonnets as is the custom of polite society. Manners, it would seem, are as important in the afterlife as they are today.
After visiting with the zombie soldier, Lincoln explains that a small team of men need to go secure the Confederate fort and try to get a handle on the zombie disease. Just as this decision is made, the zombie soldier gets loose and attacks his fellow men.
Obviously, bullets in the chest won’t work, and it seems President Lincoln is the one who must save the day; and boy does he! In an incredible slow motion shot from below, we see Lincoln leap through the air all Matrix-like. He’s to tall and leggy and this leap into the air is all crane kick from The Karate Kid. It’s hilarious and yet kind of cool if it wasn’t so hilarious. You know, because it’s Abraham Lincoln.
Oh, and Lincoln has a sword. Where did that come from? And then a guy tosses him a small scythe. He totally beheads zombie soldier like he’s made of butter. Lincoln decides to lead the mission to the zombie fort.
One would think soldiers would be the ideal choice for a mission to a zombie fort. No! Instead, it’s Lincoln’s Secret Service men or some men who work for him. The Gents (for that is what I call them) are all in their nicest suits and like to wave their flasks around shouting “Hear, Hear!”
The President and Gents arrive at the fort only to find it empty with just a scattering of zombies to dispatch. They do so with ease. Who knew zombies were such bleeders? I mean, there’s blood spatter everywhere. They’re like ticks or something. Ew. After all the fighting, General Andrew (Stonewall) Jackson and some of his men are discovered hiding away in a back storeroom.
Despite all the zombies and such, Jackson refuses to assist Lincoln in anything. His corporal who turns out to be Pat Garrett (famous for killing Billy the Kid and from what I can tell never crossed paths with Lincoln or even served during the war) sort of defects from the South and agrees to help Lincoln out.
Let’s take an awkward pause right here to talk about dialects. Oberst’s Lincoln is really quite impressive. He’s no Daniel Day-Lewis by any means, but he looks like Lincoln, and he seems to carry that same amount of gravitas that’s easily found on the five dollar bill. My only problem with Oberst’s performance is that his Lincoln sounds a lot like Lloyd Bridges in Airplane. I just can’t get past that. Also, his accent travels from that of a southern drawl to a little JFK in places. It’s never completely consistent.
Stonewall Jackson’s southern twang seems to come and go as it pleases. I really, really hate it when folks can’t commit to the dialect. Either commit and learn it or just don’t use it. This is why I think it’s nice when Kenneth Branagh doesn’t make his actors change how they talk in any of his Shakespeare adaptations. I digress…
So one of the major problems with this movie is that when there’s action, the movie is fine. But when there’s no slicing and dicing, the movie drags on and on. We do not need to watch the Gents as they split into teams and tip-toe around the fort. We do not need to see three minutes of “securing the fort” footage. I believe you. Just show someone slapping a lock on a door, and I’m convinced. Ten seconds. Done.
Apparently, Lincoln is bored with the fort too. He takes a small group of men, and they travel to a nearby town. Hidden in a house are two prostitutes and Teddy Roosevelt. I’m not joking. Feel free to read and then re-read that sentence a few times to let it sink in. The head lady of ill-repute is Mary. She’s a hooker with a heart of gold and also happens to be an old acquaintance of the President. Her protege, Sofia, is also her daughter. So it’s a family business. Okay… Never fear, kids. The theory that Abe could be Mary’s baby-daddy is defused straight away.
I bet you are wondering about Teddy Roosevelt, huh? It’s probably just a common name for the times….not. Nope, it’s a little boy named Teddy Roosevelt who will one day be President. Mary took him in because he had nowhere to go. So she’s caring for him, like any nice lady with a questionable career choice would.
Lincoln, his few Gents, Mary, Sofia, and future President Roosevelt all travel back to the fort mainly because there’s nothing else to do in this movie. Once again, there is much fighting and bloodshed.
Lincoln’s favorite move is to decapitate the zombies. He does this with ease; he does this with flair. Sofia is kind of like a ninja with whatever pointy farm tool she’s got in her hand. Mary, unfortunately, gets some zombie blood in her mouth and falls ill. If this was 28 Days Later that’s all it would take to infect her. I think the same rules apply in this movie as well.
Anyways, there’s a big fight coming up as is common practice in all movies. Our heroes must attempt a last stand. We get a nice hero shot of Lincoln. All we see is his silhouette as he’s backlit by the morning sun. He unsheathes his scythe and marches into battle.
So now we have shots and shots of heads being sliced off. During all this butchery, Lincoln takes the time instill words of wisdom to young Teddy. “Remember Teddy, a man divided against himself cannot stand.” Har har. Earlier in the film, when Lincoln gave young Teddy a shovel, he advised him to walk softly and “carry this big stick.” Wha wha….
There are also classic fight lines such as “emancipate this!!” Ha ha. Heads roll, blood flows, bodies fall. Yes, yes, all very exciting. Let’s get creative for a while. At one point, Lincoln and Teddy are in this enclosure. There are zombies on the other side of a wall. And before you can say “Millard Fillmore,” Teddy is sitting on Lincoln’s shoulders. He’s got a shotgun and is picking off the zombies one by one. Whatever works…
Anyways, the last stand doesn’t work out like it should have. Zombies chase Gents to and fro. One Gent even gets chased right under a moving train. So everyone falls back to the fort to regroup and take a breather.
Here’s where if the movie wasn’t skewed enough, it just gets better. One of Lincoln’s Gents turns out to be John Wilkes Booth. Yes, that one. As he explains to a zombie (I don’t know why) he used his acting skills to infiltrate Lincoln’s inner circle. He’s actually a Confederate spy. Mwah ha ha.
As the survivors of the next to the last stand take a few minutes to themselves, Lincoln takes the time to pray for the living and the undead. As he does so, Booth sneaks up behind him with a knife but doesn’t do the deed. For the next two minutes, it all straight out of Hamlet. Booth even quotes lines from the play with him acting as Hamlet and Lincoln as Claudius. What gives?
Right, so after all this time, Jackson has a change of heart. He shows Lincoln his secret stash of gunpowder. It’s a huge room chock full of the stuff. Lincoln has a plan to lead the zombies into the fort and have them bottleneck in the gunpowder room. Then, he’ll light a fuse and ka-boom. No more zombies. Seems like a good plan.
What he didn’t count on though, was the zombies trodding all over the fuse, thereby snuffing it out. Jackson goes on a suicide mission and takes a torch with him into the fray. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, he makes it through the zombie horde to the gunpowder cache. He lights the fuse and BOOM!!!
While all that was happening, we get a cool shot of Lincoln and one of the gents escaping the fort on a zip-line just before the blast. There’s all this smoke. Our gents and hussies and future politicians were all safely hidden in tunnels. Through all the smoke, we see Lincoln walk out in slow-motion. This would have been way cooler had we not seen him zip to safety 30 seconds ago.
All seems totally fine with the world at this point, except Mary decides to be a Debbie Downer and die now. The thing is, she’s very chatty and seems to be healthy. But she keeps going on about how this is it. Lincoln takes her away so she can die with dignity or something.
Cut to the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln gives his speech. I really think this is just a venue for Oberst to display his talent at reenacting historical figures, which he does very well. Now his speech has a double-meaning because the words now include what went down at the zombie fort.
The big twist at the end—AND YES, I’M GOING TO REVEAL IT—is that Lincoln never did take Mary off to die. Nope. He’s got her chained in a barn. There’s a doctor there whose only job is to keep her alive and study her. Lincoln wants to better understand this zombie disease. This goes against everything he’s advised his Gents in the movie since he’s all about killing thy neighbor if there’s so much as a scratch on them. Must be love then.
Anyways, Lincoln loses all intelligence and unlocks Mary’s chains. So of course, she attacks him. And now he’s infected. We also learn that Lincoln was aware that Booth was a spy and also knew that Booth was planning to kill him.
So he makes it easy. He sends word to Booth of his planning to attend the theater that evening. And we all know what happens from that point on.
Our last shot of Lincoln shows him walking out the front door of the White House for the last time. He’s not looking too great, and he knows this is the end. He takes one last, forlorn look upon his house, his nation (if you will) and walks away into the night.
So what is this movie trying to tell us? Is it trying to tell us that Booth is sort of the hero of the tale? He’s inadvertantly stopped a further zombie epidemic from happening. Is the movie suggesting that Lincoln’s great love was a hooker with a heart of gold? Are we supposed to believe that Lincoln was some sort of mentor for Roosevelt? Nah… All of those are just silly.
I really should have anticipated the campy and ridiculousness of Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies. After all, this movie was brought to us by The Asylum. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, let me enlighten you. They are the delightful people behind Grimm’s Snow White (you can read my review of that one here) as well as other fun films such as 2-Headed Shark Attack and everybody’s favorite, Nazis at the Center of the Earth.
But whatever. This was my Halloween/Election Day pick to watch. I’d like to give a special shout-out and credit to my friend Jessica who brought this movie to my attention. If you have any suggestions for me, please let me know, and if I use your selection, I’ll make sure to give credit where credit’s due.
Remember kids, if you are a registered voter in the US of A, please go out and vote this Tuesday, November 6. The future of our nation is at hand, and personally, I’d prefer to avoid a zombie apocalypse. My scythe is out for repairs, so now’s a bad time.