Coming home angry

Who says the dead can’t vote? Ted Bonnah says it’s only right.

From the very first scene of Joe Dante’s Homecoming, in which a couple stranded on a desolate road at night fight off approaching undead, I knew I was trapped in the familiar territory of the zombie movie. But the woman’s battle-cry as she unloads her shotgun into the shambling returnees hints at the equally dark world of Washington politics: “We are definitely not giving up to a bunch of crippled … BOOM-kachink … stinking … BOOM-kachink … maggot-infested … BOOM-kachink … brain-dead zombie dissidents!”

A segment in HBO’s Masters of Horror series, Homecoming is presidential advisor David Murch’s flashback account of the events that cause fallen American G.I.s to burst en masse from flag-draped coffins and from graves in Arlington cemetery to vote against the war in Iraq. His insincere wish that all “our boys” could return home is the mysterious catalyst which allows the dead to rise.

And although the rotting undead form the shambling husk of the story, its beating heart is the Washington DC spin-doctors like Murch who has turned the lower class into political game pieces.

The vicious Washington conservative monster is embodied by Murch’s female companion, conservative pundit Jane Cleaver whose S&M escapades and attacks on liberals and average Americans makes Homecoming all the more riveting and horrific.

The movie’s special makeup, lighting, cinematography and eerie soundtrack meet and sometimes exceed the increasingly impressive standards of the zombie genre. But it is the slick and scary escalation of both supernatural and political tension that makes for fascinating viewing.

In Dante’s dark political world, reversals and spins are put on any event. At first, the corpses rising from their graves are interpreted as divine approval of the president, and later as the emptying of Hell. The escalation of the story and eventual bursting loose of hell had me riveted to my chair, both in horror of imaginary undead, and the too real politics of fear south of the border.

For zombie lovers, there are even nods to the genre, including a G. Romero tombstone in Arlington, and echoes of the priest in Dawn of the Dead in the TV evangelist’s speech.

Although one thing I hate about many American films is the iconography, the zombie “Spirit of ’76” piper, drummer, and flag bearer who shuffle across the ending of the film weren’t the usual examples of tired patriotism, but gave a darkly humorous warning to those who keep America from living up to her democratic ideals.

Four and a half groans out of five, a half-groan off from politics-haters. Out now on DVD.

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