Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of wandering the internet in a haze of nostalgia for a time that was never quite what you remember it being but dammit do you wish you had it back. Isn’t that the way, though? What we remember just has this way of erasing what it was really like living in a certain city or even a certain decade and makes it seem like it was the best thing that ever happened to us. This is a common phenomenon individually but with the advent of things like Buzzfeed quizzes and Cracked Lists and all manner of other things that ripped off both those formulas, we now have a veritable avalanche of memories at our disposal, just waiting for us to mis-remember how great those days were. And the further away they get, the less we really remember them and the more we fill in the blanks with things that feel right and what we actually wanted from those memories in the first place. The end result is a weird hybrid of wish fulfillment and fantasy versions of these memories and that is what movies are made of, friends.
We’ve seen a lot of nostalgia baiting in the last few years. I’ve mentioned it in my reviews on here before that we’ve been seeing the rise in popularity of all things 1980s, both in the things that we remake and the things that we consume now. We’ve all seen the jokes about how the marquee at the movie theatre looks like it might have done a time warp as we see familiar films coming back to the spotlight. If you’ve seen all these things, there’s also a good chance that you’ve run into a small mountain of thinkpieces whining about the saturation of nostalgia in our pop culture recently. The thing is that this has never been different, really. We notice it now because most of us who are of a certain age are seeing things we recognize and grew up with but we’re also seeing it in that make believe way that has reinterpreted what we knew into what we sorta almost remember it being. It’s kind of uncanny and there’s a decent amount of people who aren’t really about that life. Mostly because it reminds us that our shit has become nostalgic when we weren’t looking and seriously, why am I hearing songs I used to actually like in the grocery store along with the rest of the stuff that time forgot? While that’s pretty understandable that we of this particular vintage are a bit offended that our memories have become a playground of the next generation, we should remind ourselves that as weird as the 80s have become in pop culture, it’s nothing compared to what’s happened to the 50s.
It’s been about seventy years since the start of the decade and somehow a flashy combination of stubborn nostalgia, strange musicals, an awkward love affair with Americana and a lot distilling the time period down to ideas of what it used to be, we have a version of the 1950s that looks more akin to Peewee’s Playhouse than it does anything that came from those ten years. If you’re looking for a film that really eschews the artifice of Grease Lightning and the bright sunny colors and the poodle skirts, you will have to find a different film entirely because tonight’s film, Fido, is taking the 1950s that never were and adding something hilariously wrong to the mix.
This is another Canadian film, this time released in 2006, and it is the classic story of a boy and his pet zombie set against an idyllic backdrop of a version of the 1950s that’s so plastic that you can practically smell the factory fumes still coming off the eye bleedingly green grass. Our wholesome tale begins in a small town set up to look like the imaginary 1950s America despite being dead smack in the middle of the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Sorta. There’s a great introductory propaganda video that we get to see about the Great Zombie Wars that dispenses with any need to explain much beyond the apocalypse happened and then it was over and now everything is peachy keen. It’s never established if this took place in our own historic past and this is actually supposed to be the 1950s or if the world got a reboot and we’re now reverting back to those days. In any case, the apocalypse was not as apocalyptic as we thought it would be, with the problem basically getting fenced out of the clean cut, extremely white towns full of people doing mostly stereotypical white bread things. More on that soon but I’m getting ahead of myself. A twist on this slice of Norman Rockwell reality is that somewhere between a gruesome(?) off screen war and now, there came a corporate savior that not only fenced off the problem, thereby making it completely ignorable, but also found a way to make zombies into second class worker bees, doing menial work and generally just catering to the whims of the living. From here, we can meet our main characters.
The story hangs on the Richardson family, specifically their little boy Timmy. I’m almost positive that the filmmakers named him this for a joke you can see coming a mile away but whatever. Timmy is bright eyed, inquisitive, somewhat sensitive and struggling to figure out where he fits in amid a society that is all about appearances. He is bullied at school by two kids who have been indoctrinated by the anti-zombie messages supplied by the corporation and he is largely ignored at home by an image obsessed, if not well meaning, mother, Helen, and his largely absent, emotionally detached father, Bill. His father, also very much conscious of their financial place in society, is less concerned with the family he has as he is about making sure that they are capable of affording their very expensive funerals, complete with head coffins to ensure they won’t resurrect, which he designs. All of this gets thrown into a bit of a tizzy when Helen, in a bid to keep up with their well to do new neighbors, gets a zombie servant after lying about already having one to impress them.
Zombie servants, you see, are the norm in this world and, as I said before, they do literally all the shit work for the living. They serve meals, they act as crossing guards, they mow the grass and do garden work in public parks, and if you’re getting a kind of weird slave vibe from them, you wouldn’t be that far off the mark but again with the getting ahead of ourselves. The zombies are made docile through a domestication collar that curbs their need to eat human flesh and it is through these collars that they can be controlled. It is fairly common for people to use the living dead as unpaid labor, occasionally owning up to nine of them at a time, allowing them to do all the heavy lifting while the majority of the pulse having population lives in relative comfort. About the only person in this story that doesn’t have that kind of master/slave dynamic (sorta), is Timmy’s strange (and somewhat creepy) neighbor, Mr. Theopolis. Embracing the kitsch side of the 50s, Theopolis has a single zombie named Tammy that he is clearly using in the same way one might use one of those Real Dolls you can find through the internet. (If you aren’t familiar and can’t gauge what that is from context, this is definitely not something to google at work!!!) Creepy neighbor aside, however, not only are most people pretty cruel to their zombies out of a sense of feeling like they’re inferior, but it’s also pretty heavily enforced that they shouldn’t get attached to their living dead. If their zombies’ collar stops working and said flesh eater manages to make lunch out of a bystander, the zombie is destroyed and the person responsible is ushered out of the fenced area of the town into what’s called the wild zone wherein they are basically fed to the non-domesticated zombies. So maybe this is a bit more like the 50s than we thought.
So back to Timmy and his heartwarming tale of being a dick to his zombie. No seriously, this kid really does start off being a bit of an asshole, punching downward when his father abandons him for a golf game and his mother leaves him to make nice with the richer neighbors. After wandering away from home, Timmy is threatened by his boy scout, suck up bullies only to be saved by his zombie, who scares the shit out of his tormentors. From here our tiny terror starts to get a bit more of a personality and he decides to name his new companion Fido. If this is starting to sound a bit too saccharine for your liking, you’ll be happy to know that a game of catch goes awry and suddenly there is gore and a dead old woman. Happens to the best of us, honestly, but considering that the head of security for the anti-zombie corporation lives on his street now, Timmy is forced to conceal the death Fido caused and this, naturally, leads to shenanigans and some minor gore. It also allows them to bond more as he begins to treat Fido less like a servant and more like a pet and even a bit of a friend. In turn, it’s revealed that Fido isn’t really much of a monster, even when his collar accidentally turns off a few times. Their friendship also catches the attention of both his parents, awakening a more maternal, defiant side to his mother and revealing a more selfish and even slightly wounded side to his father. And none of this escapes the watchful eye of the head of security who isn’t exactly pleased to see that Timmy and Helen are stepping out of line with his perfect world order.
This isn’t the first time we’ve tackled horror comedies on this space and this one does tend to lean further into comedy territory than it does horror. That said, I think that the bite of the satire is well done and that tends to make up for the lack of gore or actual horror. That said, let’s not get too excited about the satire either. While this is a great premise and a good movie for the most part, there were some valid criticism lobbed at it that we should at least give some time to. The one that I’ve seen most often is that it is a film that straddles the lines of wanting to have too much of its horror compromised by the wacky premise. This isn’t helped by the fact that zombies have become domestic slaves to the cause of white America, allowing the town’s people to project this idea of wholesomeness while actively engaging in some weird kinks on the side. It’s never quite played up enough that you get the kind of really disturbing level of dichotomy like you might see in films like Blue Velvet but it’s there in Theopolis’ character, especially when you hear how he managed to get Tammy, and some very muted scenes that are very much blink and you’ll miss it kind of color added to the main story. That said, I also can’t say that it ever runs into too much horror territory because the zombies themselves are more sympathetic than the main characters, even Timmy. No one who gets killed is anyone you care about or are supposed to like so their threat level is mostly just they might eat someone you already hope gets eaten. That’s hardly anything to get your pulse racing and what little you see of their actions is mostly implied so you don’t get your gore fix either.
All of this said, despite a more weak horror showing, this film is charming and I think it tackles some interesting levels of satirizing the 1950s. For one, the aesthetic is really something to see and though I do think it leans on the plastic side, I don’t think this is a waste or meant to push nostalgia that never was buttons. The film is aware that its characters are pretty fake and shallow themselves and it’s perfectly reflected in their fake, cheery world. Again, Theopolis is the only stand out and he openly embraces his kink and his kitsch, making him seem a little more authentic than the rest of the neighborhood who are all trying to play one up on each other. The artificial nature of the town is also a pretty big reveal for exactly how fake the people are when you see the wild zone when Timmy is thrown out in it. And maybe most important is when seeing how fake this is, we are able to really appreciate how much of this idyllic world is built on the backs of those who are assumed to have no feelings, given no agency and are understood to be nothing more than just things that are no more human than robots. Fido himself is able to shine right through that facade despite having no dialogue. He never once says anything but you gauge his thoughts through his facial expression and his body language. There’s a part of him that is still alive in there and capable of connecting to the world and thus, we complete our venture into on the nose slavery comparisons!
I will say that Fido is flawed but worthy of a watch. There are some groaner moments (seriously, you went with the Timmy joke??), but there are also some pretty interesting ideas behind it and the humor does land more often than it doesn’t. And if nothing else, the aesthetic is fun to watch. The clothing, the buildings, the decorations and everything are just so spot on that it really just hits the spot when you are itching to enjoy something that never was. There was a lot of care and detail that went into the crafting of the world and I think that alone is worthy of seeing, nevermind that the acting is actually pretty awesome, especially from Billy Connolly who plays the title character. As a horror, it’s not going to scare you but as a popcorn flick, it’ll tickle your brain more than most and you can enjoy a damn fun story between.
Thank you again for joining me for another Friday Nightmare Review. For those of you who enjoy finding out about what to watch before the weekend, you can get early access to this and all of my online content early through my Patreon. For a couple of extra bucks a month, you get exclusive content, including things that I am hard at work on behind the scenes, set to come out later on this year. If, on the other hand, life hasn’t handed you extra dollars to spare, you are always welcome to join me again each week for stories and movie and book reviews. Until next time, here’s hoping your grass stays green, your zombie stays on the wholesome side and may all your nightmares be pleasant ones!