A film opens on two men robbing a darkened house. As they grab as many valuables as they can and stuff them into their swag bags, the window behind them is illuminated. The camera cuts to show a car pulling into the driveway. And the audience’s first thought is- get out of the house!
We’re talking about burglars stealing someone else’s stuff, and the audience is rooting for them to get away. Whenever it comes to storytelling, we’re willing to forgive all kinds of crap if the person doing it is the protagonist. That’s why Macbeth, a play about a good man who defeats the power-mad serial killer who murdered his wife and children, is known as a tragedy.
You can see this right across the zombie genre. It’s obvious nowhere more so than I Am Legend, but numerous times, in Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and Braindead, we see our survivors doing completely bastard-like things which we’re happy to forgive, because we’re rooting for them.
Which brings us to our blog on the film that I believe is Billy Connolly’s greatest acting achievement, Fido. There will be spoilers (Also I spoiled Macbeth back there... sorry about that!)
|Yeah, this shits all over Mrs Brown|
Fido is, in short, Lassie, but with a flesh eating zombie instead of a dog. It’s set in an idyllic, 1950s style society, fenced off from the barren, zombie-filled Wild Zone. The 1950s are a strangely popular setting for zombie stories, given the first proper zombie movie didn’t turn up until 1968. You’ll find 50s like settings everywhere from this information film to the videogame Stubbs the Zombie- Rebel Without A Pulse, not to mention the apocalyptic 50s settings of Bioshock and the Fallout games. You could argue it’s down to the contrast between the wholesome, sanitised imagery of the fifties and the looming nuclear threat, or just because they had better music back then.
In Fido everything has this sanitised veneer, full of wholesome, suburban, all-white neighbourhoods with vintage cars and worrying what the neighbours will think. The movie is, if anything, post-post-apocalyptic. The standard of living is good, and the zombies are being used as a slave race controlled by ZomCon radio collars, not much unlike the zombies at the end of Shaun of the Dead. Some zombie fundamentalists will be enraged by the idea of friendly, subservient zombies, but I point them to Bub in Day of the Dead. Actually, the zombies in this movie stick incredibly close to the Romero Rules.
Beneath the whole exterior, it’s no surprise to find the world of Fido is all kinds of wrong. There’s the sinister weirdo over the road who is very probably fucking his zombie. There’s the family next door who were shipped out to the Wild Zone so that ZomCon’s head of security could get the house cheap, there’s the zombie-phobic father who’s biggest aim in life is to save up for funerals for him and all his family.
The dialogue is littered with tiny clues that this is seriously dark, off-kilter society, and none of the characters realise it. Then opening scene shows the ZomCon head of security asking a class of children “How many of you have ever had to kill a zombie?” followed by three or four reluctant hands. The closest Timmy gets to a father-son moment with his dad is when his dad says: “Now, I know you're not supposed to have a hand gun until you're twelve... but it can come in real handy.”
Now a worse film than Fido would have made its protagonists the likeable anachronisms of this society, the one family who, despite severe up-fuckedness of everything around them, somehow developed a set of morals and principals that are perfectly in line with those of 21st century viewers who haven’t had to face a zombie apocalypse.
What’s great though, is that Fido allows its protagonists to do incredibly wrong things throughout the film, without ever pulling punches or calling them on it. When Fido, Timmy’s pet zombie (Billy Connolly) kills an old lady (a mean old lady, but still) Timmy doesn’t hesitate to cover it up. When a scheme by two bullies ends with them both being killed, Timmy’s mother drags their corpses into a shed and sets it on fire. When this leads to Timmy’s zombie being taken away, the inevitable plan to rescue him involves damaging a zombie’s collar in the front lobby of ZomCon headquarters, resulting in many, many deaths. And the film’s climax ends with Timmy switching off Fido’s collar to sick him on the ZomCon head of security. All these acts are treated with the exact same level of seriousness and sincerity that you would see from the characters in Lassie or Skipper the Bush Kangaroo. Except neither of those shows had much in the way of brutal, gory murder.
|Despite the fact that that is all they ever think about.|
A wussier film would have found a way to make none of these deaths Timmy’s fault, or would have included some miraculous escapes to keep Timmy’s conscience clean. Fido doesn’t bother with any of this because the film makers realise that we don’t care. The people who die horribly are people who are either anonymous, or who, while not actually evil, are people we don’t really like all that much.
Okay, this week’s drinking game:
The first shot is controversial. The characters are not under siege in some manner of building, but they are in a fenced off community, and the film’s climax involves that fence being breached. One of the ZomCon head of security’s key lines is towards the end, when he says: “Take a look- out there is chaos, and in here, is safety.” So, for that reasons, we’re going to have a shot.
ZomCon is shown as not exactly competent, and is pretty much the villain of the piece, so we’re going to have two shots for that, with a chaser for “Mankind is the real monster”.
The zombies are proper Romero zombies, who are walking dead (One Shot) who move slowly (One shot) and can only be killed by destroying the brain (Head shot). No less than three kiddy zombies are seen in this film, so have yourself two shots for that. And the public information films warning people against trusting the elderly show that the dead rise regardless of whether they were “infected” (Two shots).