Is there sex after death? ‘L.A. Zombie’ says ‘yes’

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From Aug. 31, 2011 – With pop culture in the middle of another big zombie revival no one should be too surprised by the crazy Bruce LaBruce picture “L.A. Zombie” (Strand Releasing) — due on DVD next month — which presents “intimate” moments among the undead that are probably beyond the wildest dreams of George Romero and Danny Boyle.

LaBruce is a Canadian independent filmmaker who has been exploring the links between standard narrative filmmaking, horror and porn for many years.

The director has always been heavily influenced by Andy Warhol who went from his rambling improvised “art” films such as “The Chelsea Girls” to more commercial fare that helped open the door to hard core porn in the 1970s — Warhol’s “Flesh” and “Trash” contained nudity and sexual situations that were considered quite shocking in the years just before the hard core “Deep Throat” opened in legitimate movie theaters across the country.

Bored with sex pictures, Warhol turned to horror with a 3D “Frankenstein” that was a considerable hit in 1974 and then a less successful “Dracula” a few years later.

LaBruce has followed a similar trajectory with early improvisatory films about bohemian life in Canada, populated by colorful artist and performer friends of his whose willingness to be uninhibited in front of a camera echoed such Warhol “superstars” as Viva and Holly Woodlawn.

The best of these early films is “Super 8-1/2” (1994) which stars LaBruce (below) as a neurotic, self-obsessed actor who is in and out of mental institutions. LaBruce included explicit sex scenes that were highly unusual for art house fare of that period (this was a decade before “Shortbus” and “The Brown Bunny”).

The filmmaker earned points for not asking his actors to do anything on camera that he wouldn’t do (and that was a lot).

In recent years, LaBruce’s interest in horror and porn has been evident in films like “The Raspberry Reich” and “Otto; or, Up With Dead People.” The performances have suffered in some of these movies because of the director’s switch from lively art-world pals to porn stars (Steven Soderbergh ran into the same problem two years ago when he starred XXX actress Sasha Grey in “The Girlfriend Experience”).

The films are more technically accomplished than the earlier ones but there isn’t as much humor and the performers from the porn world are painfully limited actors. The violence and the sex cancel each other out – the sex scenes are too gruesome for the porn audience and the gore elements are too sexually explicit for most horror film fans.

“L.A. Zombie” is in the same enervated spirit as “Otto.” The picture jumps off from a good joke — a zombie newcomer to the City of Angels fits right into the funky drug and sex underworld. And there could have been more humor to be found in the notion of zombie sex — slow, laborious and with seemingly no pleasure involved — being indistinguishable from the deadening sexual mechanics of modern pornography.

But the repetition of the zombie connections becomes as dull as the “plots” of porn pictures — no doubt, one of LaBruce’s points — so what the viewer is left with is a beautifully shot “art” film with a dead-end narrative structure. The result is a very long 62 minutes.

Joe Meyers

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