31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

A sequel to Village of the Damned which is less a continuation of the plot and instead like a film containing characters who possess the same powers as the children in the original but under different circumstances.

Whereas the original took part in a countryside idyll, the action within this film is based in London. A gifted child called Paul is studied and observed by the relevant governmental authorities. Other almost supernaturally gifted children are also discovered and brought to the city so that UNESCO researchers can witness them at work. They are brought from places as varied as China, Russia and Nigeria.

These gifted children then abscond from each of their respective embassies that they are staying in and take refuge in an abandoned church. It’s here that the authorities and the army find them and have to decide whether to try to coax the children out or destroy them if they pose a threat to humanity. It’s here that a tense standoff encroaches.

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This film as opposed to the original is firmly on the side of the children who we see as persecuted and in need of human support. The original depicted them as inhuman, devoid of emotion and empathy and very much as villains in a horror film. Children of the Damned elicits sympathy and compassion for the children who are shown as unjustly discriminated against, ostracised and treated as freaks in many ways. Having high levels of intelligence and other powers such as telekinesis are gifts but also hindrances. Witness the speech Paul’s mother shrieks at him that she should have destroyed him before she took him in her arms for the first time.

I made the mistake of reading the reviews for this film before I actually watched it. The few examples I could find were derogatory and very unflattering. They were also wrong, in my humble opinion. Children of the Damned may not be as good as the original film it is a sequel to but is still a vivid, well written, engaging film that is well worth a view. The shots of 60’s London are beautiful. A special mention to Ian Hendry (Repulsion) who heads a stellar cast.

***and a half out of *****

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31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

It’s 1974. A French starlet who isn’t averse to modelling with no clothes on is seduced by an enigmatic young man who asks to take her home to meet his parents. However, his home appears to be some kind of old institution like a long forgotten prison. And this is exactly what it is. His mother is the sadistic Governor of her own prison where her son takes flagrant examples of the new ‘permissive’ society so that they can be punished and even executed because of their lax ways.

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This is Within These Walls on steroids. I love the fact that there is a notice at the start of the film that reads “This film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment.” This is obviously a film that is parodying and sticking up two fingers to the puritanical types who didn’t like that the society of the time was becoming more permissive and free, the ‘Bring Back Hanging’ brigade. Britain was moving away from it’s more conservative ways and some weren’t happy about this as they flocked to fill the letters pages of every national newspaper. Precedents were falling and were set to fall even further as during the 70’s. One prime example of this movement that directly affected film was Mary Whitehouse and her Caravan of Light both of which would try to get exploitation films like House of Whipcord banned. Whitehouse was massively active during the Video Nasties furore that would occur during the next decade.

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But within the film’s duration there are currents of dissent as prisoners held at the institution secretly plan to overthrow the evil wardens and hopefully escape this kangeroo prison. This film adheres to but also subverts the conventions of prison genres but especially the ‘women in prison’ genre and only excludes lesbianism which maybe for the time in Britain would have been a step too far for that still conservative time. Had it have been included then the film may have fallen foul of the BBFC. The theme of an uprising is one of the prime tropes of this genre and I love that this was so brilliantly depicted. But I also love the result of this which ironically delivers back to the prison the woman who had successfully escaped.

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Special mentions go out to Barbara Markham as the deranged Governor and Sheila Keith as one of the sadistic wardens. House of Whipcord was called Flagellations abroad. Quite. 

Another Pete Walker masterpiece. Now, can we have a Blu Ray boxset of his back catalogue please?

****and a half out of *****

 

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 15- Village of the Damned (1960)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 15- Village of the Damned (1960)

Mysteriously one day everyone in the village of Midwich suddenly lapses into unconsciousness. After a few hours everyone just as mysteriously wakes up. Two months later every woman in the village who is able to become pregnant finds that they are pregnant.  Whats more the embryos are found to develop abnormally fast.

The children look eerily alike with blond hair and strange eyes. They are also shown to possess intelligence way beyond their years. As the children grown older they are shown to be able to control other’s actions through using their ‘stare’ in which their eyes seemingly glow and hypnotise their prey. They are also able to read other’s minds. As if that wasn’t enough, they display a telepathic bond between themselves also.

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There soon develops a separation between the ‘normal’ children and indeed people of the village and the ‘gifted’ children. The twain very rarely mix except within their respective families.

But then strange and unaccountable deaths of locals start to occur in the village. One example is of a villager who was an excellent swimmer suddenly drowning. Another example finds the children causing a man to crash his car into a wall at high speed. The dead man’s brother tries to avenge his death but is forced by the children to shoot himself instead.

The children appear to have a complete lack of empathy, compassion or indeed, humanity. They appear to be complete devoid of emotion or warmth.

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When dealing with such entities it is realised that drastic measures have to be taken as has been demonstrated by other countries who have also shown evidence of similar mutant children in recent years.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you! The ending is a real shocker! In fact this is a superb adaptation of one of my favourite books (The Midwich Cuckoos) by one of my favourite authors (John Wyndham- and if you haven’t read any of his books I implore you to read some NOW!)

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Amazing direction, perfectly acted, a great sense of tension until the shocking conclusion. This film wasn’t just taboo then but also feels taboo now, such is the power of the material. This was remade by John Carpenter in 1995.

There was a VERY funny parody of this movie within The Simpsons with a new movie called The Bloodening playing at a Springfield drive-in. Have a look on YouTube for the clip. It’s The Simpsons at their best.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 14- Schizo (1976)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 14- Schizo (1976)

This is another Pete Walker horror sleazefest (hooray!!!)

Figure skater Samantha is about to get married to wealthy businessman Alan. Her mother’s former partner has just been released from prison and starts stalking her, travelling from the North East to London to accomplish the job.

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‘Hello? Police? I think I’m being stalked…’

This film mines into the whole phenomenon of being followed, peeping toms and was ahead of it’s time in depicting stalking which wasn’t widely known about at the time.

The film also gives Hitchcock-esque psychological explanations as to what schizophrenia is (again, a term that was relatively unknown by many at the time) to help the audience better understand what they are going to see and the kind of mental condition which would drive the killer to carry out their plans.

But is all as it seems? In a word- NO! The film keeps us guessing as to the killer’s identity right up until the end and takes us on a voyage through 70’s locales to do so with impeccably decorated flats and the London streets of the time (again, Walker is so good at capturing the time and place that he sets his films within. Here we get gorgeous snapshots of a bygone era and a time capsule of London in 1976 whether it be the exterior of King’s Cross railway station, the inside of a supermarket or the grimy flophouses cum hostels of N1).

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The cast are all fantastic especially Lynne Frederick as Samantha and an early appearance by Stephanie Beecham as her best friend Beth. There’s even John ‘Johnny Remember Me’ Leyton and Queenie Watts in supporting roles.

Watch out for the literally eye-popping clairvoyant meeting scene which is both terrifying and very funny. Walker also has the ability of making something truly scary and unnerving but bookending this with dark observational humour. The character of Joy embodies this perfectly.

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Another Walker masterpiece. He really is worthy of more praise and to be reappraised as the King of 70’s British Horror.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 13- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 13- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

A novel twist on the ‘demonic possession’ sub-genre. This is more a courtroom drama regarding the priest who tried to save a girl (Emily Rose) from possession by a demon but which resulted in her death. Father Moore faces life imprisonment for his activities trying to save the teenage girl’s life.

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There are of course flashbacks to the actual possession and how it manifested itself and also the resulting exorcism ritual.

Any film that deals with this topic will of course draw comparisons with The Exorcist and any film going up against the 1974 classic will ALWAYS lose.

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But The Exorcism of Emily Rose is passable even if it employs the broadest brushstrokes and whilst it may look great, there isn’t a great deal of detail, nuance or depth to the events.

If you flicked onto this whilst channel surfing this is perfectly enjoyable. But don’t scratch too far beneath the surface because you won’t find much.

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**and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 12- Frightmare (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 12- Frightmare (1974)

***TRIGGER WARNING!!!*** This is a Pete Walker movie.

In 1957 Dorothy Yates and her husband Edmund are convicted of murder and cannibalism (!) and sent to an asylum until the film’s present day (1974). They are then released supposedly fully cured and living a quiet life. But are they? The answer, of course, is no! The film shows Dorothy not being cured at all but using the cover of giving tarot readings to people who she then kills and eats.

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The film also deals with Jackie (Edmund’s daughter from a previous marriage) who regularly visits the couple offering gifts of animal brains whilst falsely telling them that they are actually human remains and that she is actually killing people so that her stepmother doesn’t relapse and remains free. It is also revealed that her father had actually faked being complicit in the crimes and faked madness so that he could stay with his wife. Jackie lives with Debbie, a wayward 15 year old who is the actual daughter of the couple who was placed into an orphanage as a baby just after her parents were institutionalised. She has recently been expelled from there as she is too much for the authorities to deal with and so spends most of her time with her boyfriend who is the leader of a violent biker gang.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this film that is typical Pete Walker fare in that it’s dark, violent and dares to go to the places that other milder horror films dare not go. Which is exactly why I love him. He knows exactly what horror fans want and he delivers it in spades.

But there is more than meets the eye. Frightmare is also blackly funny, almost (and intentionally) vaudevillian at times and extremely intelligent. This is not just a horror movie but also a funny and very perceptive satire on family values and blood (pardon the pun) being thicker than water.

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Add to that gorgeous cinematography, amazing locales (loving the London scenes and surrounding area shots) and a moment in time being captured not just on film but also regarding film (this was a boon time for British horror with Hammer, Tigon, Amicus and directors like Walker all making great horror movies which would do amazing business at the box office).

I love the scene where Jackie drags her new boyfriend out of a screening of Blow Up. What a great statement on art movies which were then in vogue in some quarters of the mainstream.

All of the characters are brilliantly drawn and portrayed fantastically well with Walker regular Sheila Keith playing Dorothy with twisted relish. She is also able to be completely nuts one minute and then change into a repentant innocent little wife persona when her husband has seen what she’s done.

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The magnificent Sheila Keith

Kim Butcher as Debbie is also great when it comes to portraying a young girl with the quality to make others do her evil bidding for her. This is shown when she tells her biker boyfriend about the barman who wouldn’t serve her but then embellishes the story. Her boyfriend and his biker friends wait for him after the nightclub they are in has closed up to give him a good hiding. She reminds me of Chris Hargensen from Carrie.

The film hits every target it aims for with a bullseye and is pretty much perfect. I honestly think Frightmare is a twisted masterpiece.

***** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 10- Bloody New Year (1987)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 10- Bloody New Year (1987)

I knew very little about Bloody New Year prior to watching it for this review. I thought it might be another slasher movie themed around yet another public holiday just like New Year’s Evil.

How wrong I was! Every now and again I watch a film that is so ‘out there’ that I think to myself ‘What the hell was that?!’ Bloody New Year is one such film.

We see New Year celebrations at a small coastal hotel with the guests forming a conga and leaving the function room with only one woman remaining. The action then shoots forward to the 80’s whereby some young adults are at a funfair and see an American girl being harassed on the waltzers by some locals/carnies. They decide to rescue her but piss off the carnies in the process who chase after them. They all get into a boat and sail away to a small local island to escape them. They run aground and have to swim/wade to shore. Once there they see a small hotel in the distance and decide to go there to dry off and freshen up. Things turn increasingly weird when they get there.

This film is actually British made and feels like one of the Look and Read dramas that were made for schools in the UK in the 80’s. In fact I seem to remember seeing one which was called Fairground! (loving the exclamation mark!) in 1983. Its almost like this film was written for (and possibly by) a bunch of 8 years olds. That’s not to put the film down but just to point out that the whole film holds a remarkably non-jaded and innocent air to events that unfurl within the movie. 

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Notice the embossed video sleeve for the UK release. Maybe this is where the majority of the film’s budget went towards.

Bloody New Year is cheaply made, the special effects are sub-par, the events that happen within the hotel feel like a string of cliches. In fact, the film feels like a bunch of kids were given some video nasties to watch and then the film’s writers asked them what they had seen and noted their exaggerated recollections down and used them as the plot of this movie.

Whilst all of these points feel like criticisms, amazingly THEY’RE NOT! I watched it, was left with the feeling of ‘What the…?!’ when it finished but also realised that I had loved it! And that is one of the things about cult cinema- the film you hold dear might be completely inept and a poorly executed movie resplendent with shoddy production values. But it might have an air or an atmosphere to it that is specific to that film and that film alone. And Bloody New Year has this in spades. 

I love the fact that it is British made, with the male characters looking like contestants from a 1987 episode of Blind Date. They’re all mullets and C&A/Burton’s clothing. The fashions exhibited by the female characters is no better. It’s such a shame when they decide to change out of their clothes into the 1950’s togs they find at the hotel. 

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Mullets and clothes from C&A. One of many reasons to love Bloody New Year

The chain of events that happen in the seemingly possessed hotel feel like a million miles away from The Shining. In fact, instead of merely regurgitating the events from Kubrick’s film albeit with a fraction of the budget (although there are unavoidable similarities regarding past events being held in both locales), the film seemingly goes down the route of using The Evil Dead as a primary influence. This is interesting as the filmmakers must have seen the film, admired it’s low budget ethos (they knew that this was the route to go down for their film with it’s apparent lack of a sizeable budget) and how it worked admirably for Sam Raimi (and also how the film was absolutely huge and not just in the UK because of the video nasty furore and the film being banned but also worldwide) . Thus within Bloody New Year we get bodily dismemberment, characters turning into zombies/demons and even a male character who returns to the hotel only to then turn into a zombie/demon. There even a scene that takes place in the woods near the hotel in which they seemingly come to life and sounds of people’s laughter (in reality possibly a sitcom laugh track obtained by the filmmakers) being heard by the characters trying to escape this particular madness. There is even a POV shot with the camera rushing at the characters through the woods like Raimi used to great effect in his film. 

Then there is the make-up used for the effects in the film that looks like it was done by a GCSE art group. A trick within low budget filmmaking is not to focus on the make up or effects for too long especially if they were done on the cheap. This film bravely chooses to go the opposite route and focus on them in lingering shots. Potentially not a wise move but another quality of the film that makes it so endearing.

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The makeup and hair expertise of the film

I’m loving the fact that one of the deaths was seemingly inspired by The Exorcist with a character’s neck (one of the carnies from the beginning of the film who hated the group so much that they actually went to the trouble of finding another boat and sailing to the island after the youngsters to wreak revenge) being twisted around not just once but multiple times for added horror effect.

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Also within this mess is the fact that within the hotel seemingly inanimate objects have the power to come alive and attack the group (a fishing net and carved head on a bannister being but two), the character of a ghost chambermaid who reappears and then disappears numerous times during the film’s running time and a sequence involving all of the monsters/demons/zombies coming together to ask the two human characters to just give in and ‘join us’ (again, The Evil Dead influence resounds loudly!).

Look out for the scene near the end where the house seemingly gets bored of the couple of characters who are still human and just chucks them out of one of it’s windows. Hilarious.

Blend all of these ingredients together and you have a cheap horror movie made for the straight to video market in the UK where the whole ‘video nasty’ moral panic was going through a second wave (possibly because Sam Raimi had just released The Evil Dead 2, ironically). Bloody New Year should have been bogged down by it’s seemingly negative aspects and forgotten about.

But that’s the thing. Even though it should be rubbish, it’s not! One major plus is that it’s never boring. My interest never flagged during the runtime and I was gripped until the end. The film has so much wide-eyed innocence to it and that fact that it feels like an especially bloody ‘made for schools’ special or episode of Dramarama that it works. It also has heart. This is cult cinema at it’s purest and before you ask I would never call this ‘so bad, it’s good’ (I would never call any film that redundant term). It has qualities that any number of big budget horror films will never have. I’d see this again in a heartbeat. I think this is infinitely better than It and the recent Halloween reimagining put together.

And the strange thing is that others agree with me. I thought I was going mad at how much I enjoyed this film and so I did something that I rarely do- I search online for other reviews. Sure there were the idiots who said that this was trash. But there were others who loved the film also despite it’s flaws or limitations. I’m not mad after all! There’s even a Cinema Snob episode devoted to it.

I look forward to buying the Blu Ray release of this from the States on Vinegar Syndrome. Fortunately this film is also on YouTube here.

**** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 7- The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 7- The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

This Tigon film takes place in Swinging London as we see a bunch of twentysomethings at a party who then decide to liven things up by going to an old out of town mansion that is reported to be haunted. The backstory as to why is that the family who used to lived there twenty years previously had all been butchered by a family member.

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Things go awry when the group decide to split up and explore the inside of the property with candles. Two members of the entourage are then killed with the rest fleeing the mansion in fear for their lives. The police then investigate.

The film explores an interesting conceit that the group members who weren’t murdered and escaped now have to grapple with regarding the murderer. Was it someone already at the mansion or more shockingly, was it a member of their group? Paranoia and ennui ensue.

The version of this film that I saw was a 2K restoration and looked gorgeous. The colour palate for the film is shown off beautifully with the finest in late 60’s mind expanding fashions being shown in all their glory. The interior design is just as ‘of the moment’.

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Frankie Avallone stars as the only Yank in the film (he also looks like he’s been beamed in from the 1950’s) whilst his co-stars include Richard O’Sullivan and Jill Haworth.

The kills are just as lurid, colourful and ‘pop art’ as the fashions with the blood being bright vivid red and very paint like. It’s aesthetically pleasing and reminds me of the blood used in George A Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead a few years later.

But whilst the film looks great and acts as a time capsule for what was going on in 1969 (albeit a sanitised filmmaker’s version), the rest of the film is a bit pedestrian. The police investigate, the groovy bunch decide to go back to the mansion to look for clues (!) and then the film concludes (no ending spoiler here). It’s mostly unremarkable with bland characters, not much plot and middle of the road dialogue.

A bit like one of the groovy beautiful characters in the cast, the film looks great but is quite empty. A shame.

*and a half out of *****

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A beautiful film but somewhat empty

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 6- The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 6- The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984)

I remember seeing this on video shortly after it was released way back when. The original Hills Have Eyes wasn’t on video at that time and so seeing this was the next best thing especially in hindsight as there are LOADS of flashbacks to the first film. Yes, even a dog from the first movie who reappears in the sequel (‘the best character in the sequel’ someone wrote on YouTube!) has a flashback!

In fact this is the greatest thing about The Hills Have Eyes Part 2- it makes you want to watch the first (and far superior) film. It does this really early on and so I doubt many people have watched more than half an hour of the sequel. I watched it all the way through for this review. Do I deserve a medal for this as it sooo bad? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, this film isn’t good. But it’s passable. If you flicked onto it whilst bored, it would pass the time for you.

But as a sequel to a (in my opinion) masterpiece and the film that in my opinion is Wes Craven’s best, this could have been a lot better. Craven said he only made this for the money. That’s not really good enough. There was loads that could have been explored within this film but wasn’t.

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An ad for HHE2 from 1984

It’s great to see the characters of Bobby, Ruby (now renamed Rachel), Pluto and Beast. But the rest of the cast are largely wacky (i.e. irritating) teens and deserve to be dispatched much quicker in the movie. The motorbike plot device holds no interest to me whatsoever.

Even Harry Manfredini’s soundtrack is sub-par sounding like trimmings from his far better music scores he’s composed for other movies especially the Friday the 13th films.

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A trade magazine ad for The Hills Have Part 2

New mutant cannibal family member The Reaper is pretty good. He features prominently on the film’s artwork. In fact I’m guessing it’s this artwork which persuaded viewers to rent the video. Never judge a video by it’s cover. 

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Some films that I watched on VHS as a kid in the 80’s have stood the test of time really well and become some of my favourite films (take a bow Halloween 3). But then others may have been passable or even enjoyable when watched through a child’s (i.e. not yet jaded) eyes but The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 isn’t one of them. Strangely I feel kind of reassured that such a clunker of a movie still got a deluxe release from Arrow Video. Even rotten films are loved by somebody and deserve the best treatment possible. 

*and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 5- Land of the Dead (2005)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 5- Land of the Dead (2005)

Land of the Dead is George A Romero’s next instalment in the Dead series after 1985’s pedestrian and plodding Day of the Dead.

This involves the human race who are still at the mercy of a world overrun by the undead and now being split into the ordinary folk who are forced to live in slums whilst a few privileged individuals live in luxury in a part of Pittsburgh called Fiddler’s Green.

Whilst the zombies in the film are shown being unfeeling killing machines, so is Kaufman (brilliantly played by Dennis Hopper) who resides over Fiddler’s Green and the rest of the city. It is understood that he engineered the whole new division of the slum dwelling majority and the richer minority who live in luxury.

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There are analogies abound within the film with parallels being made between the film and the real America at the time of the film’s conception. The majority of American society have to scrape by to survive yet those who are in control have unfair access to the rewards and luxuries afforded to them because of it. Kaufman is shown to be completely devoid of empathy, humanity and scruples. His character is blatantly based on a certain US President who was in power at the time.

There are also comparisons between the zombies and the slum dwellers at the end of the movie with the undead leaving alone the surviving subjegated humans. The zombies also show signs of intelligence within the film with them making the trek to Fiddler’s Green by learning that they can travel underwater. There are also examples of them starting to use guns and firepower during the film’s running time.

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But the film’s moral message feels very heavy handed in retrospect as well as being way too simplistic and a bit too ‘right on’. Theres no nuance.

That being said this is a zombie flick with the undead kicking ass, looking amazing with action sequences coming thick and fast. But whereas Day of the Dead, this film’s predecessor was too ‘talky’, some of the action here feels a but hollow and almost like filler.

A satisfactory film but not a great one.

** out of *****