October Horrorshow: Fido

Vampire bats fill the night sky, deranged slashers lurk in the woods, werewolves bay at the moon, and the undead walk the earth in search of human flesh. It must be October, when imaginations turn to Halloween, and Missile Test celebrates with the October Horrorshow, dedicating the entire month to watching and reviewing horror films. The good, the bad, and the putrid. If there’s blood, there’s always a reason to watch.

Fido, from 2006 and directed by Andrew Currie, tells a story set in an alternate history of the 1950s. In this bizarro universe, civilization survived a worldwide zombie apocalypse caused by space radiation, and life has settled back into a familiar, if strange, routine. Among the manicured lawns and picturesque streets of America in the Eisenhower years, are the zombie laborers that form the foundation of the American workforce. You see, in this world, the zombies were not only defeated, they were enslaved through the use of advanced technology developed by the fictional Zomcon corporation. The undead are fitted with collars that negate their flesh-eating desires, rendering them as docile as lambs, and as submissive as beaten down dogs.

In the town of Willard, the Robinson family has bought a zombie servant from Zomcon. The young son of the family, Timmy (K’Sun Ray), befriends the zombie after he fends off an attack by bullies, and names him Fido. Fido, played by the comedian Billy Connolly, utters nary a word the entire film, only dissonant grunts and growls, yet by his actions he becomes an indispensable part of Timmy’s life. Connolly, since he has no coherent lines in the film, acts through his expressions. He makes Fido a sympathetic dead thing, and also manages to make him seem like the only normal person around, watching this crazy family in this crazy little town, with not much he can do about it since he is far from being articulate.

Both coming of age story and social satire, Fido does a fair job of mocking the squeaky clean image of the 1950s we hold in the collective American consciousness. From the music, straight out of the Leave It to Beaver genre of sitcom soundtracks, to the gaudy wardrobe, to the bright colors of décor and automobiles, Fido evokes quite the range of feeling toward the formative days of American suburbia. Even the cast gets in on the act, especially Carrie-Anne Moss, who seems to delight in the upright stiffness she displays in portraying Helen Robinson, Timmy’s mother. At first, her character appears to be nothing more than shallow, obsessed with consumerism and keeping up appearances, but while she’s quirky, she turns out to be the most mature human character in the plot.

Timmy’s father, Bill, played by stalwart character actor Dylan Baker, is a mess. The zombie apocalypse has left him a stilted man, still obviously suffering from shell shock long after society has rebuilt itself. He can’t connect emotionally with his family, one of the reasons Timmy seeks out a father figure/friend/pet in the form of Fido. Bill is obsessed with making enough money so he can secure Zomcon funerals for himself and his family, in which the heads are buried separately to prevent zombification. So he cares, but he’s no good at showing it. If Fido weren’t a lighthearted film, Bill would be quite a morbid character, indeed. But here, he’s no more peculiar than his eminently more sensible wife.

Since we’re running the gamut, other performances worth mentioning include Tim Blake Nelson as Mr. Theopolis, a former Zomcon employee who has himself a zombie girlfriend, and Henry Czerny as Mr. Bottoms, Zomcon’s local head of security. The latter is pegged as the film’s antagonist early on, while the former, well, out of all the quirky and peculiar characters in the film, Mr. Theopolis takes the prize for most twisted.

There wouldn’t be much of a story in Fido if bad things didn’t start to happen, so they do. It turns out the zombie collars aren’t foolproof, and when they malfunction, people get eaten. That’s the general dramatic pastiche of the film. Rinse, repeat, until plot resolves itself. That’s not to say it’s formulaic, but that was kind of the point of the film. As satire, it works. As a zombie film, it could be more effective.

Zombies are the vehicle used to tell the story, but they are not the story. In fact, if some of the more traditional aspects of zombie fare had made it to the screen (excessive gore, small cast getting winnowed down, general hopeless atmosphere, etc.), Fido would have failed as a film. As it is, Fido isn’t an outright comedy. It tends to stay in the realm of the absurd rather than the realm of humor, but while it won’t have a viewer rolling around on the floor in tears, it should leave them entertained.