31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Night of the Living Dead (1968)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A mysterious radiation thought to have been brought back to Earth after a space probe to Venus is bringing the dead back to life to feast on the living. A young woman named Barbara is visiting her dead father’s grave with her brother Johnny when…

This film has so much of a great reputation amongst horror fans and cinema scholars alike. Does it live up to this?

In a word- YES. Not only does it feel real (it’s based in the America it was made in and looks almost like a documentary) but you get the impression that the events that take place in the course of the film could actually happen. We are witnessing the fabric of society unravelling magnificently due to the disaster which has occurred. Life (and death) will never be the same again after this literally Earth-changing event.

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Hitchcock may have ripped up the horror rulebook by disposing of Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane early on in Psycho when the audience wrongly thought of her as the main female character who would make it to the end of the film. But George A Romero goes one better in Night. Barbara is still in the majority of the film but is so traumatised by her ordeal that she is rendered catatonic for the rest of her tenure. And what a great performance it is- a mental breakdown captured on celluloid, a brilliant portrayal of a response to trauma. Watch the scene where Barbara comes across the music box. It’s one of the most unsettling scenes I’ve ever seen.

Romero also holds a mirror up to societal tensions and conflicts throughout the film. Duane Jones as Ben is the lead of the movie but is also African American- unheard of except when depicted by Sidney Poitier in mainstream Hollywood films that felt groundbreaking and progressive but also marginalised. These films squarely tackled race (and rightly so). But Jones just happens to be black and this is never mentioned in Night. His race isn’t an explicit issue in the film- but maybe directs the actions of other characters (check out the conclusion to Night. There are MANY different readings and interpretations of this. It’s the most shocking ending I have ever seen in a film and just as relevant today as it was back then. I actually get a shiver down my spine just thinking about it and what we see during the end credits of this film).

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Duane Jones plays Ben

But there are other societal echoes within Night. Notice how Ben gives his monologue regarding the backstory as to how he ended up at the farmhouse. Jones is truly astonishing especially here. But then watch how he reacts when Barbara tells her story- her account is no less serious or devastating as she’s just seen her brother being knocked unconscious after being attacked by a member of the undead during an event that should have been humdrum and routine. She is termed hysterical by Ben who tells her to calm down. Different oppressed sectors of society with equally disturbing back stories to tell but instead of each being given their time to share their experiences, a member of one group tells the other to effectively shut up. 50 years on, this film is still relevant.

This film also has a lot to say about the family of that time. The traditional family is under attack from the zombies (as Robin Wood expressed using his theory of ‘Return of the Repressed’). The notion of Mom, Dad and 2.4 children (possibly with an apple pie on the table) is no more. The new family in the farmhouse consists of disparate members of society who are forced together to survive against what has gone wrong in the outside world. In fact, in one scene we see Ben actually taking apart the notion of the family and the household from within as he starts taking apart furniture like the kitchen table to barricade the doors and windows with. The scene where the mother is stabbed to death by her daughter who has been bitten by a zombie represents the death of the outdated notion of the family in it’s purest form. The new killing and replacing what and who has gone before.

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Child kills parent, the new killing the old

The first time I saw this film it had actually been colorised but still worked. The thinking behind this colorisation was probably the video company thinking that all horror films made within a certain timeframe were ‘kitsch’, camp and unworthy of serious analysis or enjoyment. I believe the term is ‘so bad it’s good’ (vomit). I remember an advert for a screening of the film on the UK’s Channel 4 that billed the film as a typical 60’s drive-in B movie- cue emphasis on bad acting, rubbish make-up and all round tack. Wrong on EVERY count.

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It was a revelation when I first saw the film as it was intended to be seen in black and white. It’s actually a beautiful film with every frame resembling the work of the Nouvelle Vague rather than some Grindhouse fodder made on the cheap to be shown to the stoned.

I saw this film yesterday on the big screen. It was the Criterion 4K restoration and it looked and sounded amazing.

If punk is seen as Year Zero for music then this is Year Zero for horror and one of a whole slew of films that represented a turning point for American film in general.

Fun fact- this is the film on in the background when Harold is having a sandwich made in Halloween 2 (1981).

5 out of 5 stars

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- The Amityville Horror Part 2- The Possession (1982)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- The Amityville Horror Part 2- The Possession (1982)

I love a sequel that not only ups the ante regarding the original film but decides to be as extreme as possible and really ‘go for it’.

In this film theres a new family who move into Amityville. You know that any family that includes Burt Young and Rutanya Alda as members is going to be dysfunctional. And, by Christ, I mean VERY dysfunctional. Any film that deals with incest is going to be special. Theres also a domestic violence subplot which is just as shocking.

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Keeping it in the family

Add to that some of the grossest special effects as the teenage son is possessed and transformed into an utter beast of a nightmarish character and you have a great, twisted and truly messed up (in a good way) sequel.

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I remember this having one of the most disturbing sleeves of any horror video in my local video stores which instantly made me want to investigate this further.

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Truly disturbing VHS art for Amityville 2

There is also a scene involving a Sony Walkman which freaked me out so much that it made me question using mine for days after seeing this filth classic.

Don’t miss this messed up gem of a movie.

4 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- The Legacy (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- The Legacy (1978)

Katharine Ross plays a woman going to London with her partner (played by Sam Elliott at his homoerotic best) for a job interview.

Whilst riding on a motorbike in the countryside surrounding London they are almost crashed into by a Rolls Royce. The owner apologises and, as their bike has been damaged, they are put up for the weekend at his huge country mansion. But then things start to turn weird. Very weird.

There seems to be a fair few films from the 70’s which prompt me to think ‘What the…’ when I see them. The pinnacle of this sub-genre (lets call it ‘Cocaine was involved’) is The Exorcist 2: The Heretic.

Whilst The Legacy doesn’t reach that film’s dizzying heights of coke-fuelled weirdness (and no other film does), it does still deliver to such as extent that viewers’ eyes will be popping out of their skulls at some scenes. Wanna see Roger Daltry get a trachioctomy on top of a banquet table? Wanna see the guy who played Blofeld (Charles Gray, not Donald Pleasance) being supernaturally burnt to a crisp? Sure you do! And lets not forget the demonically possessed swimming pool and shower.

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If you don’t believe me about how fucked up this film is then just look at this still. Like a bad acid flashback.

It will help to be stoned whilst watching this movie. The film will only make perfect sense this way.

2/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Creep (2004)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Creep (2004)

A privileged and thoroughly unlikeable woman ventures out to try to get into a party that George Clooney is supposedly to be at (really) and after failing to flag down a cab decides to get the last tube train from her local underground station. She then briefly falls asleep and on waking up discovers that she is all alone in the station. Or is she?

There have been horror films in the past that are either centred entirely around the London Underground (Deathline is one) or have had a scene set in a station on it (An American Werewolf in London springs to mind).

As someone who used to live in London I know how unsettling a tube line or station can be late at night when they are eerily quiet. Creep has this setting but unfortunately wastes this great location and premise.

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Maybe it’s the fact that the female lead character is just so vile. At one point in the film she seeks help from the homeless living under the station. This social divide between the rich and poor should have been explored in more depth but wasn’t.

Also, when the person stalking her is finally revealed it’s a massive anti-climax. He’s a Jason Voorhees of the Piccadilly Line but without the hockey mask, charisma or ingenuity when it comes to killing.

I would have loved to see the brattish lead suffer more for her horrible personality and thus learn some compassion and humanity as a result, a kind of cathartic redemption. But this doesn’t happen. A wasted opportunity.

2 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- The Gorgon (1964)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- The Gorgon (1964)

A Hammer film that looks to Greek mythology for the basis of it’s plot with the mythical creature known as The Gorgon (a woman with snakes for hair and the ability to turn anyone who looks her in the eye to stone) being adapted and shone through the Hammer Films’ prism.

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This film features the combined talents of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Patrick Troughton who are all amazing. In fact, the storyline between Cushing, his wife and her lover overshadows the actual gorgon at one point. This isn’t detrimental to the film’s narrative though.

This film looks absolutely beautiful. I watched the restored Blu-ray version from the first Indicator boxset and they have done a phenomenal job. I hadn’t even heard of this film before the release of the boxset but I’m glad I did. It’s a brilliant film and deserves to be seen more widely. I would love a cinema release of some of Hammer’s films so that their full glory can be seen on the big screen.

4 out of 5 stars

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- Bug (1975)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- Bug (1975)

An earthquake uproots cockroach-like bugs that can set fire to things and, more importantly for a horror film, also to animals and humans. But never fear, a biology professor played by Bradford Dillman is on the case.

This great little 70’s B movie is directed by Jeannot Szwarc (who would go on to make the hugely enjoyable Jaws 2 and the brilliant campfest that is Supergirl) and produced by William Castle (no introduction needed). Gorgeous Californian locations, bugs setting cats alight (is it un-PC to find this hilariously entertaining?) and also crawling into huge teased 70’s women’s hairdos and letting rip. This is a great popcorn movie.

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But then the movie changes course and gets all metaphysical as the film’s designated bug expert starts to research the incendiary insects in greater depth and even starts to communicate with them!

This is the kind of film that you could stumble upon on a late night TV channel and absolutely love. A low-key joy.

4 out of 5 stars

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 24- Maniac (1980)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 24- Maniac (1980)

William Lustig’s depraved classic was massively controversial when first released. It garnered the ultimate accolades for an exploitation film- it was HATED by Siskel and Ebert (Gene Siskel said he made it to the shotgun murder then had to leave the preview screening as he couldn’t stomach anymore!) and it was picketed by feminist groups.

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Feminists give ‘Maniac’ free publicity

The film centres around serial killer Frank Zito who likes to scalp his victims and place the scalps on top of shop mannequins in his apartment. It’s also shown that hes a victim of abuse by his mother who later died in a car accident (did he cause this?) On the walls of his apartment are paintings of deformed children amongst other things.

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Everyone should have a hobby

Tom Savini provides the special effects and does so with gay abandon. He also stars in the film with explosive results!

Maniac isn’t just a great piece of sleazy horror cinema but is also a snapshot of a time when New York really was run-down, dangerous and crime-ridden. It feels more like a gritty documentary than a film made for 42nd Street. The scene in the deserted subway station at night is the stuff of nightmares!

The movie also places actor Joe Spinell centre stage in the role of Frank. He gives one of the greatest depictions of psychotic psychopathy ever captured on film. Spinell can also be seen in Taxi Driver (he delivers that ‘You talkin’ to me’ line in Maniac) and William Friedkin’s masterpiece Cruising. An amazing actor.

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The film also looks gorgeous. Check out the framing of the murder of the couple on the beach that opens the film. It’s exquisite. In fact the film seems more like a giallo, an opera of blood, splattered brains and strands of hair.

The first time I learnt of the film was when I saw the poster for the movie in a copy of the French horror magazine Vendredi 13 in the mid-80s- a close up of the killer’s midriff and crotch (which leaves nothing to the imagination), the words ‘I warned you not to go out tonight!’ written in spiky font, a knife in one of the psycho’s hands and a severed woman’s head in the other. Even this poster wound up in trouble and had to be censored in certain countries.

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The greatest film poster ever?

The film was rejected for cinema release by the BBFC in 1980 and again in 1998 for a potential VHS release. It was then cut for a DVD release in 2002. But worry not- Blue Underground, the director’s Blu-ray label are releasing a 4K transfer in December.

A sick, disgusting film that proves itself to be worthy of the hype. Highly recommended.

4/5 out of 5 stars