Watching Fido reminded me that a lot of folks have debated the effectiveness of zombies as villains, with both sides of the divide having valid arguments. Sure, these creatures will munch on your flesh and induct you into their undead horde, but it's hard to be scared of a bunch of lumbering ghouls you could get away from while doing handstands. But one can't deny their versatility as symbols, thematically boosting the likes of such pictures as Dawn of the Dead and now this movie, an absolute genre blast whose success comes from its dedication to keeping the cheeriest of dispositions in the face of walking corpses hell-bent on gnawing your legs off.
Fido takes place in an alternate version of the '50s (or perhaps a current world stuck in the past), in which the planet passed through a cloud of space dust, causing the dead to rise and attack the living. Luckily, a scientist found a way to subdue the flesh-eaters with the help of an electronic collar that turns them into gentle slaves. Now virtually everyone has a zombie servant to do the dishes or deliver the paper, creating a thriving industry for the powerful Zomcon company. A zombie who comes to be named Fido (Billy Connolly) is purchased by the Robinson family, comprised of doting mom Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss), zombie-phobic dad Bill (Dylan Baker), and their son Timmy (K'Sun Ray). Fido makes fast friends with Timmy and becomes his defender from schoolyard bullies. But not all is idyllic among the Robinson clan, as Fido's collar has a tendency to switch off and send him on a neighborhood feeding frenzy, forcing Timmy to do some quick thinking in order to protect his new best friend from any harm.
Some viewers will probably consider Fido as a one-trick pony, a movie with a deviously clever idea that runs for only so long a time. However, a closer look beneath the surface reveals a much more sly side to this production. True, there's a very thin line within Fido that separates it from a deftly-structured horror parody and a straight comedy with some genre elements thrown in. But the filmmakers have taken great care of their baby, crafting a horror-themed satire not unlike Scream in which the whole shebang works because the story is played almost 100-percent straight. This isn't so much a movie that winks at the audience as one that lets out a little smirk once in a while, never allowing itself to seem too obvious with its lampoons but always keeping viewers in the know when it comes to such undertones. Fido's approach is so straightforward it could be mistaken for a much lazier film (the horror elements are kept down to a scant few limb-munching scenes). Then along come some laugh-out-loud funny scenes -- such as a commercial warning about the dangers of frail old people -- to remind viewers of the demented sense of humor at work here.
For years, Bub from Day of the Dead has reigned supreme as horror's most famous zombie, but Fido's titular ghoul has a good chance of inheriting the title, thanks to Connolly's pitch-perfect performance. He brings a true sense of life to a character that's undead, giving Fido a sweet edge in his tame state (including resurrecting some traits from his pre-zombified existence) and just the right amount of ferocity when he's "unleashed." In short, Connolly plays a human dog and does a great job of it, right down to the obligatory scene where he has to get help to save Timmy from danger (think "Lassie," only with a rotting, walking corpse instead of a collie). Connolly receives assistance from a mostly firm supporting cast, with standout turns from K'Sun Ray as Timmy and Tim Blake Nelson as an oddball neighbor who uses his own zombie servant for more than just bringing him drinks. On the downside, Moss is pretty wooden as Timmy's mom, who's so starved for excitement she even flirts a little with Fido, and Baker's anti-zombie antics soon get a little old.
Although horror comedies make for some of the more entertaining movies out there these days (Slither, Snakes on a Plane, Shaun of the Dead, etc.), they remain cult favorites rather than financial successes. Fido may not be a blockbuster, but it's a bright, witty, and darkly hilarious production. I hope it will find a home in the hearts of horror hounds for years to come.
(Released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment and rated "R" for zombie-related violence.)
MY RATING: *** 1/2 (out of ****)