“Dead Set” is a delightfully gory zombie satire

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AMC’s premiere of “The Walking Dead” may be the most anticipated horror event of the year, but zombie fans looking for an entertaining appetizer would be wise to check out “Dead Set.” After Stephen King included the British miniseries in his year-end Entertainment Weekly column listing his favorite TV shows of 2009, I’ve been anxious to see what all the buzz is about. And thanks to IFC – which is airing the horror series throughout the week starting on October 25th, as well as showing all five episodes back-to-back on Halloween night – “Dead Set” is finally coming stateside.

Set almost predominantly within the hit TV reality program, “Big Brother,” the series opens on eviction night when a zombie outbreak turns the outside world into a wasteland where the living are vastly outnumbered by flesh-eating undead. Protected inside the walls of the Big Brother house, the fame-seeking contestants are some of the only survivors remaining – and the last to hear about the zombies. But staying alive requires teamwork, and that’s easier said than done when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who have been specifically selected to not get along.

Drawing inspiration from the likes of “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later,” “Dead Set” is still a considerably fresh entry in the zombie subgenre thanks to a few unexpected twists and a solid script that doesn’t shy away from comedy. It’s not exactly funny like “Shaun of the Dead,” but rather a dark satire that plays on the idea of the contestants falling victim one by one in a cruel reflection of the reality show they were cast in. The actors also elevate the material beyond its potentially gimmicky premise – particularly Jaime Winstone as the unlikely heroine and Andy Nyman as the asshole producer in charge of the show – but it’s the amazing zombie effects (the amount of gore packed into each episode is pretty impressive) and the breakneck pacing that make “Dead Set” an absolute must-see.

  

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Avatar-mania, Oscar possibilities, the Obamas’ guest list, and cinegeeks bossing Stephen King around

I had a nasty case of food poisoning yesterday. Not that you care, but a lot has been happening while I spent a day catatonic before TCM and IFC.

* There’s a new “interactive” trailer for “Avatar” that you can download if you don’t mind also downloading some new Adobe software (at least I had to on the computer I’m using right now). The reason “interactive” is in quotes is that the only thing unusual about this longer trailer is that it pauses and allows you to watch additional short promotional films based around the various characters and some of the hardware, etc. It also allows you to buy tickets early.

I’m not sure what “interactive” really means because just about everything is interactive to some degree and this does not particularly impress me as anything new or different. Maybe we can think of a new buzzword.

Avatar movie image (3)

* And’s that’s not all. Anne Thompson has the scoop that “Avatar” may premiere at Harry Knowles’ annual, 24-hour invitation-only Butt-Numb-A-Thon despite some issues between Knowles and Fox. Also, you’ve probably heard about/seen this already, but the movie and writer-director James Cameron got the “60 Minutes” treatment Sunday night. Nothing earth shattering in the arguably slightly puffy Morley Safer piece, though it’s nice to hear Cameron admit that when it comes right down to it, amazing CGI/3-D or not, it all comes down to the story and what’s happening in the actors’ eyes. On the other hand, I really don’t need or want to see 3-D news stories. Will I will wind up doing so anyway?

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What’s all this, then? – “Monty Python: Almost The Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut”

If you’ve been checking in on Premium Hollywood over the course of the past few days, then you’ve probably spotted our man Bob Westal’s tributes to the 40th anniversary of Monty Python, and if you haven’t…well, they’re here, here, and here. Python fans will likely have already seen Bob’s finely-chosen clips, but if they’re new to you and made you laugh, then you really ought to be tuning into IFC’s ongoing six-part documentary about the history of the Python organization: “Monty Python: Almost the Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut.” As evidenced by the fact that there’s an Amazon link in the midst of the title, the documentary is indeed being released onto DVD on Oct. 27th, but don’t let that stop you from checking out the remaining episodes as they air on IFC. Those who aren’t obsessive types might find it a bit more Python than they can stand, but it’s definitely the comedy equivalent of “The Beatles Anthology,” leaving no stone unturned from the group’s career, showing their origins, discussing their TV series, films, and infamous live performances, and offering insights from other comedians who’ve received inspiration from the gentlemen in the Flying Circus.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that there is actually a theatrical cut of “Almost the Truth,” which comes in at a decidedly tighter run time of under two hours…and I know this because I was in attendance at the Ziegfield Theater in New York City last week when it was screened. The best bit about it, though, was that the screening was attended by John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, not to mention the group’s female in residence, Carol Cleveland.

Oh, no, wait, that wasn’t the best bit. The real best bit was when, after the screening, the gentlemen took the stage – with Cleese carrying a cardboard stand-up of the late Graham Chapman under his arm – to answer questions which had been submitted by the audience, which you can experience for yourself below:

No, hang on: the actual, honest-to-Brian best bit was the fact that I actually got to meet the Pythons.

Well, mostly.

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…but, on the other hand, IFC’s “The Wrong Door” is all right

Proof positive of the “you win some, you lose some” scenario, IFC has added “The Wrong Door” to its lineup, and unlike “Food Party,” it actually is pretty damned funny. You can possibly chalk a certain amount of that up to the fact that the sketch comedy series originally aired on BBC Three (everyone knows that comedy is 64% funnier when delivered in a British accent), but come June 9th at 11:30 PM EST, you’ll be able to determine for yourself if it’s just my Anglophile tendencies that are making me laugh. Or, of course, you could just check out a couple of clips:

And while this last one is sanctioned neither by BCC Three nor IFC, allow me to nontheless steer you toward this sketch about the inherent dangers of buying a star in someone’s name, which someone has kindly posted for your viewing enjoyment:

Sci-fi aficionados will hear that the producers have borrowed the theme from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” but most of you will just be thinking, “Holy crap, whoever heard of a sketch comedy series with these kinds of production values?” Yep, “The Wrong Door” looks great…and, even better, it’s actually quite funny. Sadly, there are only a half-dozen episodes, but the two I’ve screened left me chomping at the bit to see the other four.

  

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IFC’s “Food Party” is less than appetizing…

I’m all for off-kilter comedy, but getting through three episodes of IFC’s “Food Party” was damned near painful. The series, which appears as part of the network’s Automat line-up (which is loosely translated as the IFC equivalent of Adult Swim), is the brainchild of one Thu Tran, a Cleveland-based artist.

Here’s how the network describes the show:

“Food Party” is a mind-bending, non-reality cooking show with Thu Tran as your hostess, a cast of unruly puppets as culinary aides, and a cavalcade of fictitious celebrities as surprise dinner guests. Shot on location in a Technicolor cardboard kitchen as well as other foreign and exotic cardboard locations, each episode will or will not instruct you on how to prepare wild gourmet multi-course meals with ingredients you probably have on hand in your kitchen already, such as pretzel rods, eggs, narwhal lungs, bizarre plot twists, secret ingredients, and pizza. After all, you never know who might show up for dinner.

Each episode lasts about 12 minutes, and although I endured all three episodes provided by the network (“Thu Become One,” “Cave Duck,” and “Horrorsode”) in the name of TV criticism, it was such an excruciating experience that I feel obliged to warn off any who might consider watching it for themselves. While there’s certainly something to be said for the “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”-inspired look of the show, all I kept thinking while I was watching it was, “I don’t know a single person who would be able to sit through this without saying either ‘this isn’t funny’ or ‘this is gross.'” (The latter would almost certainly be uttered during “Horrorsode,” in which we see Thu’s water break, bear witness to all manner of disgusting liquids flowing forth from her nether regions, and eventually give birth to a pie filled with kittens.)

If you’ve ever watched “Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!” and thought, “You know, this would be great if it was just a little bit more out there,” then maybe you’ll enjoy “Food Party.” Personally, I found it ranging from terribly unfunny to legitimately disconcerting, but that’s me.

Feel free to make up your own mind by watching this clip from the show’s first episode:

  

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