Mulberry St

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

27 March

Typhoid Mary quarantined, 1915

On this day in 1915, Mary Mallon was quarantined for the second and final time. A carrier of typhoid who remained healthy herself, Mallon’s career as an itinerant cook meant she was perfectly placed to spread the disease. As she moved from position to position after arriving in the US from Ireland, she spread typhoid at every kitchen she worked in. 49 people came down with typhoid; three died. She resolutely refused to give any samples to health researchers, claiming that since she was healthy herself, she couldn’t be spreading illness. She had been quarantined once before, after typhoid researcher George Soper had published a five-year study into Mary’s movements in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They eerily matched a map of typhoid outbreaks – of the eight families that had hired Mary, seven had contracted typhoid. After her first quarantine Mary had promised to give up cooking for a living. She became a laundress. But it didn’t pay well so she returned to cooking, changed her name to Mary Brown and kept moving to evade Soper’s sleuthing. After an outbreak at Sloane Hospital for women – 25 cases, two deaths – Mary was finally tracked down (she’d done a bunk) to Long Island, was arrested and was then put in quarantine, where she remained until her death 23 years later.

Mulberry Street (2006, dir: Jim Mickle)

Jim who? No, the director isn’t very well known. Nor is the cast (Nick Damici, Ron Brice, Kim Blair?). But don’t dismiss this unusually grungy zombie movie about a gang of life’s less fragrant people ganging together after a virus starts turning fellow Manhattan residents into ratlike shuffling monsters.

Things to like in this film which also goes by the more explanatory name of Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street are precisely the fact that these people are not your usual gang of chesty girls, buff guys + obligatory stoner. Instead they’re the people you don’t usually see being monstered in films – the old, the strugglers, the feckless, the fringe-dwellers. And Mickle and co-writer Damici spend a deal of time establishing character, disaster movie-style – we meet the residents of the house in Mulberry Street on the eve of their eviction to make way for gentrification, while news reports of an odd virus bubble in the background – before sending in the zombie apocalypse, which our gang of doughty battlers do at least respond to in a way that seems credible: they’re shocked to their core.

The basic plot is [Rec] (guys stuck in a house), the basic style is handheld mumblecore, though with a Christopher Doyle-style injection of neon into the garish, junky production design, thanks to cinematographer Ryan Samul’s excellent shoestring work. Though you could watch and make a list of obvious references – the chaotic 1970s street vibe of Mean Streets, a bit of Nosferatu, John Cassavetes realism, the Living Dead films of George Romero, [REC], as mentioned – the film has a flavour all its own, a more CCTV style, which is down to the fact that it’s shot on the tiniest of budgets ($60K has been mentioned), hence also the no-name cast, most of whom aren’t even actors. Which is entirely as it should be.

There is no Ethan Hawke or other former prettyboy doing the saving. It’s a bunch of oldish, fattish, regular guys and gals barricaded inside their building and making it up as they go along. Cutting to the chase, this is a zombie thriller in hock to a visual style. But it’s a good visual style. And it’s a good, tight, claustrophobic shocker suggesting Mickle, Damici and Samul have a bright (or do I mean dark?) future ahead of them.

Why Watch?

  • Ryan Samul’s expressive camerawork and lighting
  • The feature debut by Jim Mickle
  • The soundtrack suits the characters – Love, Lee Hazlewood
  • Gritty 1970s-style horror

Mulberry Street – watch it now at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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