Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (and five other weird takes on literary classics)
If the success of Downton Abbey on the other side of the Atlantic has taught us anything, it's that a fondness for period dramas is not the uniquely British quirk you might imagine it to be. American viewers have lapped up the show in vast numbers, while other British exports like Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise have also performed well stateside. In fact, for a long time, period dramas like these have been the main British exports as far as American TV goes. God knows we make enough of them to go around.
But one of the other shows that has enjoyed popularity with American viewers is Steven Moffat's modern re-working of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective novels with Sherlock and one American in particular has taken the idea of a modern twist on an established classic to its extreme.
Seth Graeme-Smith's 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is exactly what it sounds like; take the well-worn narrative of Jane Austen's classic story, then throw in hordes of the flesh-eating undead for fun. Fully intended as a parody of Austen's most famous work, the book proved popular enough that it was followed up just a year later with another on a similar theme, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
The latter has already been adapted into a tongue-in-cheek feature film - directed by Timur Bekmambetov and produced by Tim Burton, no less – but earlier this year his Jane Austen-meets-George Romero novel also received the adaptation treatment and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies arrives in stores on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday.
Directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again), the film stars Lily James, Bella Heathcote, Ellie Bamber, Suki Waterhouse and Millie Brady as the five Bennet sisters, with Charles Dance and Sally Philips as their parents and Sam Reilly taking on the role of Mr. Darcy. Elsewhere in this surprisingly strong cast are appearances for Jack Huston, Lena Heady and former Doctor Who star Matt Smith.
Broadly speaking, the plot largely follows the basic outline of Jane Austen's original tale; the five sisters are all very much preoccupied with getting married and, if anything, the are viewed as more of a nuisance than the immediate threat of impending death that they are, but therein lies the source of much of the film's humour and the filmmakers were clearly determined to milk it for all it's worth.
There are plenty of laughs on offer though and if you're in any doubt about how seriously this film takes itself, you need only observe the climactic scene in which a horse-mounted Elizabeth slices off one of Mr. Wickham's arms.
If period dramas would normally leave you cold, but you're a fan of films like Shaun of the Dead, then this may well be right up your street. Is it ridiculous? Yes, of course it is, but it's a lot of fun and it may not even be the weirdest adaptation of a literary classic ever attempted. Check out some of the other examples we dug up beneath the trailer below...
Bram Stoker's classic vampire yarn has had a number of big screen adaptations, but none quite like this. Director William Crane is mostly known for his work on television series like Starsky & Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard, but he also did a sideline in very strange blaxploitation films, this being one of the oddest of the bunch. Crane's oddball film centres around an African prince named Manuwalde, turned into a vampire by Count Dracula himself at an 18th century masquerade ball before apparently slipping into a 200-year coma and waking up at a Los Angeles antique dealers in 1972. That and the trailer below should tell you everything you need to know...
Phantom of the Paradise
Brian de Palma's output as a director in the 1970s produced some genuine cult classics and this has to be counted as one of them, even if it is one of the weirdest things he's done. Most adaptations of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera stick to the traditional setting of a theatre, but here the action is transplanted to the music industry and a seedy club venue called The Paradise, owned by an even seedier music biz impresario named Swan. William Finlay puts in a terrifying performance as the tortured genius behind the mask and while it won't be to everyone's taste, it's up there with the strangest adaptations of all time.
On the face of it, Peter Hyams' 2001 adaptation of Alexander Dumas' D'Artagnan romance novels looks like a fairly straightforward one, but then you watch it and realise that what he's actually made here is a Jackie Chan movie in period costume, with enough wire-fu swordfighting to rival films like Kung-Fu Hustle. The cast is actually a really impressive one, with Tim Roth, Stephen Rea, Catherine Deneuve, Mena Suvari, Nick Moran and Justin Chambers all playing major parts, but even the cast list gets a little weird when they are joined by Bill Treacher, best known to most as Arthur Fowler from Eastenders. If Pride and Prejudice and Zombies set out to be the most unusual literary adaptation yet, it might have met its match here.
Not even Disney gets it right all the time and this animated, science-fiction themed take on Robert Louis Stephenson's most famous novel, Treasure Island, is a rare example. It's not even that it's a bad film, but with an estimated budget of $140 million it needed to pull in audiences far bigger than it did and it remains one of the biggest box office flops in history.
Pride and Predator
Again, it's exactly what it sound like – Jane Austen meets alien killing machines. Sadly, this is a film that remains un-made and with no word on development since shortly after its announcement in 2009, it looks to be dead in the water, but make no mistake; this was very real. Even on paper, it looks like one of the weirdest films ever considered. Elton John and David Furnish were going to co-produce through the former's Rocket Pictures company and they even lined up Will Clark to direct, but the trail has since gone very cold, which is a damn shame if you ask us...