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Blood, Blood, Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

10/17/2011 06:02 pm ET | Updated Dec 17, 2011

Slasher films have never turned me on. I don't really mind the blood so much as the constant violence and bad writing.

Recently I discovered that I belong to a growing target audience: people who don't really like zombie films because of their excessive gore, but will buy a ticket to a horror film that is meant to be funny. In 2006, a Canadian zombie comedy named Fido won my heart. Not only was its script laugh-out-loud hilarious, the art direction was a delicious throwback to the past. Here's the trailer:

The "ZomCom" and "RomZomCom" genres continue to grow. From Peter Jackson's 1992 splatter comedy (Braindead) to Edgar Wright's popular Shaun of the Dead (2004); from 2004's Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead to 2009's Zombieland, more and more zombie product is being pushed toward a public hungry for fresh brains.

With a plot that revolves around a dead comedy writer, Zombie Dearest was released in 2009. After making the rounds of horror film festivals, George: A Zombie Intervention was just released on DVD.

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In her recent article entitled "Was Hamlet's Dad Gay?" Huffington Post intern Priscilla Frank writes:

"A new novella, titled Hamlet's Father, gives an alternate explanation for the series of unfortunate events which plague Hamlet, the ultimate tragic hero. According to the novella, the sticky situation stems from the fact that his father was a gay pedophile. Who molested Horatio. Who, it turns out, was the one who killed the father, not Claudius. Oh, and Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern? All molested, all gay too. Not surprisingly, critics are outraged at the publication, as well as the man responsible for it: science fiction writer Orson Scott Card (Brigham Young's great-great-grandson, who moonlights on the board of the National Organization for Marriage)."

For some reason, Shakespeare's melancholy Dane seems to hold a peculiar attraction for perverse filmmakers. I, for one, loved 2009's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.

The San Francisco Fringe Festival recently hosted performances of a grand piece of silliness entitled Hamlet vs. Zombies: Something Is Rotting in the State of Denmark. The script went into development shortly after Jeff Jenkins (the founder and Executive Director of both the Springfield Shakespeare Project and The Skinny Improv) pitched the idea to his friend Bryant Turnage (who had just finished playing Claudius in SSP's production of Hamlet).

Filled with moments of zaniness, Hamlet vs. Zombies takes the following liberties with the original text of Shakespeare's tragedy:

  • Claudius (Bryant Turnage) is a corporate weasel who has been experimenting with a zombie virus. Having convinced himself that no enemy could kill an army that's already dead, he's the only one who holds the virus's antidote, which he carries around in a test tube.
  • Hamlet's friend Horatio (played by the huge and hugely hilarious Christopher Lewis) is the hysterical right-hand man who must always do the Prince's dirty work.
  • The word "dude" creeps into numerous scenes.
  • With his mother, Gertrude (Jennifer Eiffert), crouching before him in fear, Hamlet (Eli Kurtz) finds himself in the perfect position "to give service to my Queen."
  • The script includes such lines as "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not dead -- they're UNDEAD!"
  • All of the Danes have trouble identifying the zombies because they tend to walk, talk, and act like Norwegians.
  • The authors even poke fun at Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta, The Mikado, by describing the zombified ghost of Hamlet's father as "a king of shreds and patches."

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Poster art for Hamlet vs. Zombies

While the creators of Hamlet vs. Zombies have thrown in lots of references to popular zombie films, their work reflects a solid grip on Shakespeare's material. The audience has lots of fun seeing how a tiny theatre company with no budget can use its imagination and craft to overcome difficult technical challenges:

  • Getting the zombie ghost of Hamlet's father offstage is accomplished by having Horatio push the limp body into a rolling plastic trash container.
  • Although armed with AK47s, BB guns, and small pistols, instead of trying to shoot stunt guns in a small theatre, the actors simply keep screaming "BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG."
  • In order to include lots of gore in the production, spurting blood is simulated with red confetti (which is constantly being tossed all over the stage by the undead and their victims).

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Poster art for Hamlet vs Zombies

Hamlet vs. Zombies offers audiences 90 minutes of inspired lunacy. I suspect this show will have a great future touring the college circuit and getting guest bookings with regional Fringe and Shakespeare festivals.

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Anyone who has worked in hospitals knows that much of the work is nowhere as glamorous or interesting as it appears in hospital dramas created for television or the silver screen. Audiences never see a clinical coder analyzing a chart or a medical transcriptionist listening to dictation. The cafeteria workers and gift shop volunteers rarely appear in a tense dramatic moment. That's why registered nurse Alison Whittaker has created her one-woman show to help educate the public about what nurses really do.

Seen recently at the Fringe Festival, Vital Signs is filled with pathos, scatological humor, and the battle for life that takes place every day in a major trauma center like the one where Whittaker works in San Francisco.

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Alison Whittaker, R.N. (Photo courtesy of Alison Whittaker)

As directed by David Ford, Vital Signs captures a variety of personalities (both patients and staff) trapped in the confines of a major hospital. In her artist's statement, Whitaker explains that:

"Nursing can be a rewarding career as well as a very challenging one. There is a high amount of suffering in the hospital. There are patients receiving devastating diagnoses, having surgery, recovering from surgery, enduring painful, uncomfortable treatments, living in an environment where they are not in control. It can be very scary. The stories that the patients tell me about their lives can be heartbreaking. Maybe the most important aspect for me, I've discovered, is simply being human: accepting my patients for who they, are and helping them through a difficult time.

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Alison Whittaker, R.N. (Photo courtesy of Alison Whittaker)

"Although I think the public has an understanding of the importance of a nurse, I don't feel the story of the nurse has been fully and accurately told by the media. I wanted to give my audience an experience of what it is like to be a nurse in a major San Francisco hospital. Within five minutes of meeting a new patient, I could be sliding a suppository up their anus! At times it can be challenging working with patients and staff from so many socioeconomic groups and of such diversity. There are the patients, some of them flying in from Dubai on their Learjets, homeless patients, prisoners from San Quentin, Christian fundamentalists preaching to us then getting their privates cleaned by a transsexual nurse's aide."

Blessed with a never-ending source of strong material, Whittaker's performance (which is strengthened by her skill at mimicry) is relaxed, endearing, intensely personal, and a solid reminder to treasure every day of good health. Here's the trailer:

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape