Could there be any more natural alliance than a post-apocalyptic zombie film married with the clean-cut silvery sheen of achingly conservative ‘50s pop culture? Though the concept alone carries enough narrative thrust to support a 90 minute film, Fido falls far short of the classic status it could have easily attained.
Sometime in the ‘50s, space radiation (!) descends upon Earth, causing the bodies of the recently dead to spontaneously reanimate, thus spawning the zombie wars. After a long and bloody effort, humanity prevails and the remaining undead are reappropriated for use as a slaves thanks to the technology of Zomcon, a conglomerate corporation founded on the assumption that a brain-altering collar can be used to train the zombies for domesticity. Aching to preserve appearances during a potential classist problem created by the recent relocation of a Zomcon executive to their neighborhood, the matriarch of the Robinson family maintains the services of a walking corpse named Fido who seems to capture everyone’s hearts. Once off the leash, however, Fido is prone to hijinks involving both biting and the consumption of vital organs. Oh my!
Put lightly, the opening newsreel recapping the zombie wars is perfect; it captures the artifice and naivety of the time effortlessly, skewering trivialized perceptions of the ominous dangers represented by nuclear warfare. In fact, numerous themes are present throughout Fido, not the least of which impale patently commercial consumerism and the fulfillment of outdated gender roles with a few pokes put in concerning potentially taboo sexuality as it pertains to at least one member of the undead; it’s like Mad Men with zombies. With such a prevalent display of ideology, you’d figure that Fido has something to say about ‘50s culture. Unfortunately, it does not.
Yes, the ideals of the ‘50s are funny now that we can look back upon their puerile marveling at basic technology and their stodgy posturing about public and personal life. What about the presence of zombies makes this funny, or relevant? While some moments in Fido suggest the kind of suburban malaise parodied in Happiness and excoriated in Blue Velvet, seeing the undead semi-comically chow down on the middle class ultimately doesn’t add up to much more than a few sight gags.
However, Fido is structured coherently enough that this absence of good ideas can easily go unnoticed in casual viewings; there’s enough common sense in the plot structure and gore in the violence to keep fans of both zombie films and verisimilitude satisfied. The only thing it’s missing is a point. Of course, very few films cash in on the opportunities of their source material like Dawn of the Dead, where the shopping mall zombies stand in for the dispassionate consumers of the late ‘70s while others struggle for survival, or Shaun of the Dead, where the same sort of satire is lovingly parodied, but is it too much to ask for at least one contemporary issue to frame the jokes?
In 2006, Bush was president and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still raging, despite the proudly flown banners claiming ‘Mission Accomplished’. If any sort of humor could have been milked from the zombie wars, surely it should have been pulled from this teat, particularly since life carries on in safe areas while the large majority of the world is fenced out in wild zones. Perhaps some parallels between the vilification of communists and terrorists in a world that needs one unified group upon which to heap their hatred? Maybe a comment here or there regarding the similarities between the enslavement of a few obviously conscious zombies versus the awakening of civil rights? If these themes exist, they’re too muddled to really stick out, and this is the fatal flaw of Fido.
As is often the case, you can’t fault the performers. It’s always a delight to see Carrie-Anne Moss, and the same goes for career character actor Henry Czerny, but Dylan Baker does an excellent job stealing the show as a typical ‘50s dad; as far as the market is concerned, only he and William H. Macy have this particular niche cornered. Billy Connolly is good as the eponymous lead, but he looks and acts a bit too much like Bub from Day of the Dead to sell his protagonist as an original creation.
All in all, Fido may keep zombie aficionados buzzing with the odd chuckle and a few titillating kills, but those looking for a truly satisfying genre experience will undoubtedly be left wanting; the zombie trend did not belong to the ‘50s, so those looking to connect with throwbacks to classic horror would be better off getting their hands on Night of the Living Dead.
While copies of Fido may not exactly be flying off the shelves, those seeking rich diversity in their zombie film collection will find this readily available for a pittance on Amazon.