The night of the half-living dead: an evil walrus and a zombie-mom

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The night of the half-living dead: an evil walrus and a zombie-mom

One theater. Four films. Seven hours. Five-hundred-eighty people. Zero sleep.

11:05 p.m. The crowd is psyched up and I'm surprised. It's the first all-night film screening at this year's Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, featuring four movies by Peter Jackson. Before a little film you might have heard of, "The Lord of the Rings," it was hard to find anyone who knew the director's name. Now, however, nearly 600 people are prepared to stay up all night to see a bevy of the New Zealand filmmaker's bizarre early films.

I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't this sort of enthusiasm. "Tonight's screenings have been sold out for weeks," says Kim Hong-joon, director of the festival. He promises to find a folding chair or something for this lowly reporter.

12:04 a.m. The theater darkens to whoops and cheers. The music cues and puppets appear. A children's movie. No, no, a thousand times no. It's "Meet the Feebles" (1989). Ask anyone about this film and you always get the same answer: "It's the muppets on acid." True, but it's so much more. Violence, sex, drugs, all doled out in quantities that begin with outrageous, then climb.

The plot? Such as it is, the story is about a Vaudeville-style stage show owned by a large, evil walrus. But the show isn't doing well and will be canceled if he isn't able to get a syndicated television contract. The live, pilot episode is just days away, but the obstacles are legion ?a heartbroken hippo diva who won't stop eating, a drug-addicted lizard knife-thrower with terrible aim and a star rabbit dying of a venereal disease are just the beginning.

A heavy wooden barrel smashes through a door, rolling over a half-dozen Feebles, leaving only bloody puppet pancakes on the ground. The crowd moans. A rat proceeds to eat the detritus. "Aaayyeee," comes the wail, somewhere between disgust and laughter. It's a sound I will hear with much frequency for the next few hours.

But the shocks and gross-outs get a little redundant after an hour, and the audience, so quickly desensitized, quiets down.

1:39 a.m. A dash to the bathrooms and outside to smoke. Everyone seems to be doing well, energetic.

Next up is Jackson's "Forgotten Silver," a 1995 documentary that could not be more different from "Feebles." The documentary concerns New Zealand's first filmmaker, Colin McKenzie. Fate has led to McKenzie being forgotten by history, but he was brilliant, inventing synchronized sound, color and film developing methods involving egg-whites and berries. The story is, of course, complete bunk. But Jackson tells it with a straight face, including interviews with the film critic Leonard Malton, the actor Sam Neill and the Miramax uber-producer Harvey Weinstein.

3:06 a.m. The biggest cheer thus far goes to ... eggs? The festival organizers announce they are giving out free eggs to the hungry audience, to much applause.

No one is leaving, but the late hour is beginning to take its toll. Eyes are not open as wide, and the line at the coffee machine is longer than ever. "I am not going to fall asleep," one rather sleepy-eyed young man tells his girlfriend.

3:17 a.m. After a tasteful, almost sweet film, it's back to classic Jackson. The first Jackson film, actually, which he had the insight to name "Bad Taste" (1987). Homicidal aliens have attacked the earth, beginning with a small New Zealand town. It's up to a very ragtag band of government agents to stop the aliens from turning humanity into food for an intergalactic fast-food franchise. One of the heroes splits open an alien head with an axe. "Aaayyeee!" everyone screams. Ah, back to form.

4:44 a.m. As the lights go on, slouching, flopping heads reveal that not everyone made it through the last film. A few sleepy souls call it quits and head to the subway, still 30 minutes from resuming service. Many of those remaining look like zombies.

"I told my parents I was going on a trip with people from work," says a Ms. Lim, 24, whose parents would not be impressed with their daughter's taste in films at all.

4:53 a.m. After so many hours of so much disgust, isn't the crowd completely desensitized, immune to the gore, impossible to shock any further? For most filmmakers, probably yes. But the last film tonight is "Dead Alive" (1992), Jackson's bloodiest film. Perhaps the bloodiest ever made. And very, very funny.

It's 1950s New Zealand, and Lionel is firmly under his mother's power. So much so that he's willing to give up his love, Paquita. But then his mom gets bitten by a demonic monkey and turned into a zombie. Lionel tries to minimize the damage, but zombie-mom gets loose in a big party, and before long it's only Lionel, his ethically-challenged uncle and Paquita versus hundreds of the undead.

6:05 a.m. The film's going strong and no one is sleeping now. The theater is awash in endless "Aaayyeees." Tension and disgust build in equal measures. Until, when things look most dire, Lionel appears -- with a lawnmower. No moaning this time. The result is so abhorrent that dozens of people in unison yell out "Oh my God!" Why the Korean crowd, in such a moment, switched to English, I'll never know.

6:40 a.m. The lights go up to great applause and laughter. Many people look almost shell-shocked. Laughing, but shell-shocked. We all exit to the bright sunlight, blasting like God's flashlight. Amused but drained and squinty-eyed, the crowd heads to the subways and buses.

by Mark Russell

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