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May 16, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Don't Try This at Home

If you've been following the nerd world over the past few years, you've probably come across the newfangled mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Devised by a formerly unknown fellow called Seth Grahame-Smith, it's the story of the Bennet family, Mr. Darcy, and....well, zombies. It's also rumored to be heading to the big screen soon, with Natalie Portman and director David O. Russell currently attached.

Inspired by this creation, and backed by a few close friends, I set off to recreate what the P&P&Z experience might be like. The results? Well, I finally have something to join Twilight in the "Things We Never Mention Again" section of my archives.
The Films:
Pride and Prejudice (1940, Dir. by Robert Z. Leonard.)
Starring: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Edmund Gwenn
Synopsis (via IMDB): Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five unmarried daughters, and Mrs. Bennet is especially eager to find suitable husbands for them. When the rich single gentlemen Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy come to live nearby, the Bennets have high hopes. But pride, prejudice, and misunderstandings all combine to complicate their relationships and to make happiness difficult.

The Return of the Living Dead

(1985, Dir. by Dan O'Bannon.)
Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Thom Matthews, Linnea Quigley
Synopsis (via IMDB): When a bumbling pair of employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapors cause the dead to re-animate as they go on a rampage through Louisville, Kentucky seeking their favorite food, brains.

Now, I'm not gonna lie here. The reason this whole thing started was because I, The Mike, happen to own a copy of that Pride and Prejudice feature. What can I say? I'm a sucker for classic cinema almost as much as I'm a sucker for genre cinema, and when I considered the promise of Garson and Olivier trading barbs at a bargain barrel price, I picked the flick up with the intent to watch it someday. When pondering Laurence Olivier with an Austen obsessed friend (after we had watched Hitchcock's magnificent Rebecca), demand for the movie grew.

Of course, I'm never going to full out agree to a "girls' night" of movies, so I insisted zombies based on a) the fact that the above book exists; and b) the fact that zombie films are often awesome. Thus, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Night was born.

The Experience
To say that this idea went belly up is like saying Arby's makes tasty treats - it's so true that other true things seem false in comparison. For starters, what I expected to just be a crowd of three viewers - said Austen fan, her husband, and Mikeself - was a crowd of five viewers. This was a welcome change, as it was good to have more friends around, but it became most problematic as soon as the idea of Pride and Prejudice was brought up to the unsuspecting male viewers. Last time I saw that "disappointed by movie choice" face was when I looked in the mirror the night we all went to The Blind Side.

I like to think I can be a sophisticated gentleman, but when I'm with what Paul Walker would call my "bras" things tend to go juvenile quickly - despite our age, level of education, or company. And, when we outnumber the girls, we're undefeatable. In this case, that meant that before the movie we had to share some laughs at the expense of an episode of Tim and Eric, Awesome Show, Great Job! - which quickly set the tone for three babbling buffoons to make the most of this period drama while getting evil glances from the hostess.

As I said, I actually wanted to see the Pride and Prejudice flick, and I tried to do my best to avoid the side conversations. But this is not a movie for a crowd. I missed about 40% of the dialogue while listening to their comments, and missed about 58% more while joining into and/or laughing at the comments. This wouldn't be a problem, were it not for the ladies actually trying to watch the film. The vicious glares sent from wife to husband are officially reason number 4,719 I'm happy to be single. I did catch the fact that Mr. Bennet was played by THEM!'s Edmund Gwenn, which made me happy.After 118 mercilessly tense moments (and the tension darn sure didn't come from the movie!) passed, it was time for things to get real with The Return of the Living Dead. Of course, by this point the annoyed hostess was checked out, pulling up her laptop to check out Perez Hilton or TMZ or whatever else girls who don't like horror flicks look at. The rest of us never really managed to focus entirely on the movie, as relief from the "mommy just hit daddy at the dinner table" feeling that was in the air through the first film opened us up to talk even more, but RotLD has never been a movie that it's entirely necessary to take seriously.

Between us males, and I think even the remaining attentive female, O'Bannon's zombie flick went over pretty well. While I've never found it to be a favorite zombie flick (I just think it goes a little too madcap, especially with Karen and Matthews' characters; and that most of the punks are incredibly one-note zombie snacks), it's a great film to sit around and chortle about. The high points, like Tar Man's rise and the "Send more paramedics" moment, brought many laughs, and much discussion was had about the intelligence of these trioxin fueled brain eaters.

So what did I learn from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies night? I'm tempted to give the Billy Madison answer (We are all stupider for having considered it), the gender research answer (males and females should never be allowed to interact), or the obvious answer (21st century blu-ray lovin' males don't generally like period dramas from the '40s and girls who like Jane Austen don't generally like zombies). Maybe there's not a correct answer, except that the combination of these films with this crowd was about as useful as the combination of Vault cola and milk in a bowl. (Seriously, don't try that at home either...grossest thing you'll ever see. And I watch Fulci.)

To Russell and Portman, or to whoever else tries to bring Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to cinemas...I sure as heck hope you have better luck than I did.


Emily said...

As a fan of both Austen's novels, classic movies, and horror movies, this sounds like a awesome concept, but it does seem like you would need to choose a very select group of people for something like this to work without anyone getting annoyed or offended. I like the idea of mixing up different genres/time-periods, but you probably need an audience that has the same appreciation for various types of film, or at least be willing to give something different than their "norm" a try.

The Mike said...

Yeah, I think I would have enjoyed doing it at home, but with an unprepared group it went horribly wrong.

Alas, I will learn from my mistakes and be ready for Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter night!

Jose Cruz said...

Hahaha. I'm sorry, but as uncomfortable as that must've been for you, I thought it was pretty funny. The idea behind it seemed really great. Like you said, with the right crowd it could've been a hit.

How about next time you do How Green Was My Valley and Black Sheep?

Jinx said...

That was a brave and forward thinking experiment. Shame it didn't quite pan out.
At risk of disgracing myself and making myself unworthy of the name woman; I have serious issues with Jane Austen. The addition of the zombies was the only thing that got me through an entire novel and that's despite having written extensively about her works at university. I'm a disgrace. I much preferred Queen Victoria Demon Hunter.