Army of the Dead, the long-awaited post-apocalyptic heist movie from director Zack Snyder, has a simple premise: Las Vegas has been overrun by zombies and cordoned off behind massive corrugated steel walls, becoming a kingdom for the undead who are ruled by a handful of intelligent and incredibly dangerous “alpha zombies.”
A Japanese businessman (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches a famed zombie killer (Dave Bautista) and tells him he’s got $200 million in a vault inside one of the now-inaccessible casinos. If Bautista and his team can fight their way in and get the money, half of it is theirs to keep.
The catch? They have a little more than a day until the US government plans to drop a low-yield tactical nuke on the city to wipe out the zombie plague.
Bautista and his crew hire a coyote (French actress Nora Arnezeder) to get them inside the city, and as they make their way toward the Las Vegas strip, they hear a blood-curdling roar. A four-legged figure approaches, obscured by dust, smoke and the ruins of abandoned cars, until it climbs on top of one of the vehicles and we see it properly for the first time — it’s a pissed-off zombified white tiger!
“Valentine,” Arnezeder says, turning to her huddled companions. “One of Siegfried and Roy’s.”
The zombie tiger, she explains, patrols the outskirts of the zombie “kingdom,” making a light snack of anyone who ventures too close.
Later in the movie there’s a scene in which the alpha zombie leader rallies all of his undead — including Valentine — and sends them en masse toward the hotel where the protagonists are trying to crack the safe and get at the piles of cash inside.
Snyder makes a great show of the endless zombie hordes thundering toward the hotel with Valentine among them, and it looks like the big cat is going to lead the charge until he stops, yawns and settles down on the hood of a car for a nap.
Is there anything more feline than that?
As it turns out, Snyder and his team were looking for a big cat expert to help them nail the tiger’s signature gait and physical tics as they created the CGI felid, and the consultant who agreed to provide them with feedback was none other than Big Cat Rescue’s Carole Baskin. As Variety notes, production on the movie began long before Baskin became a household name with the release of Netflix’s Tiger King documentary.
Although the inclusion of a zombie tiger was a fun surprise, my all-time favorite tiger from zombie fiction is The Walking Dead’s Shiva. She’s got a compelling backstory: The character Ezekiel was a zookeeper before the apocalypse and, realizing no one was tending to the animals as the world was collapsing, he risked his life to get back to the zoo and feed the trapped creatures.
When he got there, Shiva was so malnourished and hungry that her gratitude for Ezekiel’s intervention was obvious. Gambling that the powerful tigress — whom he’d taken care of for years — wasn’t going to hurt him, Ezekiel opened her enclosure to set her free. But rather than run off on her own, Shiva decided to stay with her human friend, and the two became inseparable as the world ended.
While Valentine was just another zombie, Shiva fought the undead, and she was badass. The show also earned praise from animal rights groups after opting for CGI instead of using a real tiger. The special effects team responsible for Shiva did such a fantastic job that viewers were convinced she was the real deal.
I finally got around to watching Netflix’s Don’t F*ck With Cats, a documentary about the effort to track down a narcissistic killer whose victims included several kittens, an adult cat and finally a Chinese-Canadian engineering student.
If you’re not familiar with the three-part documentary, here’s the short version: A man uploaded sadistic videos of himself torturing and killing cats, prompting a group of online vigilantes to conduct their own investigation and offer the information to police, who promptly ignored all of it.
The cat killer taunted the horrified netizens for two years, vowing to continue taking life and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for them to follow each time he killed more kittens, until finally someone found the headless, limbless torso of his first human victim in a garbage dumpster in Ontario.
The murderer had arranged to meet another man he’d met on Craigslist, then filmed himself killing the incapacitated man just like he’d filmed himself killing kittens. The video appeared online shortly after the murder.
The police, who couldn’t be bothered when it was “just” cats, suddenly got really interested. The killer fled to Paris — where he became the subject of an international manhunt and media circus — then to Berlin. He stopped in an internet cafe to Google stories about himself, but the cafe’s clerk recognized him and called the police. He was taken into custody without incident, then promptly extradited back to Canada for trial.
The police don’t exactly cover themselves in glory with this case. Not only did they fail to act on information from concerned tipsters, they were either unaware or uninterested in the statistical correlation between people who kill animals for pleasure “graduating” to human victims once killing animals loses its thrill.
They had a man in their jurisdiction torturing and killing cats, capturing the horrific deeds on camera and regularly uploading new videos. They failed to act.
The thing is, animal life has intrinsic value. We delude ourselves into believing that because the voiceless — human and animal — can’t express their suffering, it doesn’t exist. The police should have acted when the killer’s victims were “just” cats for the sake of the cats, and not only because animal abusers often move on to harming human beings.
Canadian police culture
It was also surprising to see how deferential and naïve the Canadian investigators seemed in comparison to their American counterparts. At various turns they failed to preserve evidence, missed important clues and underestimated the killer. In one scene an investigator casually mentions the discovery of a dead puppy in the same trash the human torso was found, failing to connect the dots despite the many warnings her agency had received.
When Canadian police finally got the killer into custody they handled him with kid gloves, allowing him to play the part of scared little boy who didn’t know what he was doing rather than what he was: A calculating 32-year-old man who clearly enjoyed inflicting suffering on people and animals, playing to his captive audience of several thousand people on Facebook as he led them on a scavenger hunt.
The killer routinely interrupted police interviews, shrugged off difficult questions by complaining that he was tired, and tried to buy time for himself to think by asking for things like warmer clothing, cigarettes and beverages.
In short, they allowed him to manipulate them as he had manipulated everyone else.
When the killer’s mother appears on camera, you can see the beginnings of his psychosis. She believes her son is a sweet little angel who was himself manipulated by a phantom, a person her son invented to excuse his deeds.
She also admits she knew about the cat videos and did nothing. In her view, people concerned about animal welfare are “crazy,” and those crazies shouldn’t have gotten so wound up over a few videos in which her son kills kittens while singing along to pop songs. Just a sweet little boy having fun.
Remembering Jun Lin
As for the killer himself, I’m not going to name him. His victim was Jun Lin, a 33-year-old engineering student who moved from China to Canada because, as his friend Benjamin Xu explained, the latter country is more accepting of gay men.
Toward the end of the documentary, Xu mentioned something I’ve often thought about: Society’s obsession with “true crime” and how our morbid curiosity gives would-be murderers precisely what they want. If they can’t achieve fame, infamy is the next best thing.
We do a great disservice by immortalizing the killers and forgetting the victims. Everyone can name the two Columbine killers, but how many of us can name the victims?
“The really sad thing is, everybody is talking about [the killer] and nobody has ever remembered Jun,” Xu said. “That doesn’t seem fair at all to my friend. He doesn’t deserve that.”
The other stars of the show
Finally, there are the two “sleuths” at the center of the documentary, who spent two years of their lives ostensibly investigating the killer while giving him exactly what he wanted. Contrary to what the documentary’s title suggests, they weren’t cat lovers, just a couple of people motivated by the thrill of the hunt.
As their Facebook group about the murderer swelled to thousands of members he reveled in the attention, intentionally leaving clues for them in each subsequent video like a scavenger hunt, a fun little game for them to play as long as he remained the star of the show.
The documentary glosses over their mistakes, and there were some big ones: At one point they were so sure a South African man was the killer that they made his life a living hell, with an entire team of online vigilantes across the world harassing him from afar.
That man killed himself and was likely collateral damage in this fun little game the “sleuths” had going, but who has time for that when there are fresh clues and leads to track down? We got the wrong guy, LOL! Oops!
In the end it was someone else — quite likely the killer himself — who provided the alleged sleuths with the killer’s name once they’d exhausted their leads and the hunt became stale. He wanted them to continue the chase.
While the would-be detectives did manage to collect some information via their own efforts, it’s not accurate to say they solved the mystery.
On the other hand it’s fair to question whether the killer would have gone as far as he did if he didn’t have tens of thousands of people on Facebook hanging on his every video and utterance.
The documentary ends with one of the killer’s obsessives, a Las Vegas woman named Deanna Thompson, looking at the camera and admonishing the audience for being interested enough to watch the documentary, as if everyone shares in the guilt for the killer’s actions.
But what she’d like everyone to forget is that her actions egged him on while he was on the loose and actively taking life. Playing into his scheme is a much different thing than passively watching a documentary more than half a decade after his conviction. There’s a good argument to be made that the vigilantes should be embarrassed by their role in this story, rather than reveling in the attention they’re getting as a result.
Remember Jun Lin. Remember the poor cats. Forget about the killer and the people who helped him achieve the fame he so desperately craved.
Note:I realize refusing to name the killer on this blog is like putting a single grain of sand back in a bottle after the whole thing has been spilled, but hey, we have to start somewhere.
Three robots on a sightseeing tour of post-apocalyptic, post-human Earth sit on a filthy couch in a decaying home and marvel at what’s in front of them.
“What’s the point of this thing?” one of the robots asks, leaning forward intently.
“Apparently there’s no point,” his tiny red droid friend says. “[Humans] just had them.”
“Well that’s understating their influence,” the third robot chimes in. “They had an entire network that was devoted to the dissemination of pictures of these things.”
The camera pulls back and we see what the robots are looking at — a cat, digging his claws into an old ottoman and stretching his back with a yawn.
The scene is from Love, Death and Robots, a new science fiction anthology series from Netflix. Each episode is an adaptation of a different short story from some of the best SF novelists working today.
Given the ubiquity of cats on the Internet, it’s probably not far-fetched to imagine archaeologists in the distant future — whether alien, machine or some sort of post-singularity humans come to see their primordial birthplace — would draw the conclusion that humanity built an instantaneous global communication network for the sole purpose of sharing cat images.
“All the evidence suggests primitive humans worshiped these quadrupedal, furry little beasts,” some expert on 21st century humanity might say.
In the Netflix episode [SPOILER ALERT!] the robots complete their tour at a nuclear silo, reflecting on humanity’s demise by its own hand.
But it wasn’t just nuclear winter that spelled doom for humans, the little red robot says: The nail in mankind’s coffin was bio-engineering cats to give them opposable thumbs.
The tomcat from earlier, who’d been tagging along with the robots and demanding they pet him, finally breaks his silence and speaks to the stunned robots.
“Yes,” the cat says, casually wiping a paw against his fur. “Once we could open up our own tuna cans, that was pretty much it for the human race.”
The episode ends with the cat conscripting the robots as his new servants, using a clever bit of leverage explained in an earlier scene.
So what would cats do if they had opposable thumbs?
Mine would be into the treat bag like a crack addict, shoveling junk food in his mouth until he can’t eat anymore. He’d open up his own cans as well, no doubt, eating his way through all the delicious turkey.
He’d probably steal my phone not because he has any interest in using it, but because anything that takes my attention away from him Must Be Destroyed!
And he’d gain the ability to open every door, not just those with handles instead of knobs. A Buddy with opposable thumbs is a Buddy who’d never allow me to use the bathroom in peace.
As for Love, Death and Robots, the “3 Robots” story isn’t the only one in which cats play an important role. In another episode a team on an archaeological dig accidentally unleashes an ancient vampire. Bullets and explosives don’t even phase the undead, but cats — regular meowing house cats — cause it to recoil and flee in terror.
So remember: If you ever come face to face with a vampire, hide behind your kitty!
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.