31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Dawn of the Dead (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The sequel to George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead shows that the zombie epidemic has gotten much worse and society is on it’s knees. Two television workers plan to escape with two SWAT team members in the TV station traffic helicopter in search of…whatever they can find that’s better than their current situation.

There is so much to love about this friggin’ film. The tenement opening scene (the shoulder bite was cut by the BBFC as was the exploding head), the way the film suddenly changes course completely as the four fly off in the helicopter, the scene where they land to fill up the copter with fuel (theres the taboo of zombie kids being shot here. Theres also the amazing scene of the zombie having his head decapitated by the helicopter’s blades) and then we get to THE SHOPPING MALL!!!

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The shopping mall/man trap

The mall is one of the greatest locations ever used in a film. Imagine having this shopping centre at your personal disposal with everything inside being free and your property. I love Romero’s social commentary regarding this. The dream of consumerism quickly rings hollow as do the images being conveyed within the advertising produced before the zombie epidemic. Within the extended cut of Dawn (which is just as good, if not better than the original theatrical cut of the movie) the female character Francine is the only person who wants to leave the mall when the topic comes up of whether to move on or not. The men state that they have everything they need here and so should stay but Francine says that the mall is ‘a rut. A trap’. Ans she’s completely right.

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The four main characters

The zombies continue to come to the mall (Stephen mentions that ‘this was a big part of their lives’) which is a brilliantly wry observation by Romero. In this film the living dead have a very aesthetically pleasing blue tinge to their skin. Within the film the blood is redder than red making the film fully realise it’s comic-book vision. But it’s more than this. The film looks like a series of Pop Art paintings come to life. Andy Warhol had plenty to say about consumerism and mass production (his studio was called ‘The Factory’). It’s almost like he was art director on this opus.

But aside from all of the insights and allegories, this film is just great, great fun! The kills are innovative, disgusting and completely brilliant (Tom Savini returns to make-up and special effects duties and this film is probably the best demonstration of his work). Savini also stars as the members of a biker gang who try to take over the mall and seize it from the main four characters.

Wanna see a custard pie fight between bikers and zombies? Wanna see a zombie Hare Krishna, nurse and nun? Wanna see John Amplas (the lead from Romero’s earlier ‘Martin’) as a Pop Art Hispanic dude? It’s all in this film- and much much more.

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A zombie gets a custard pie in the kisser

I also love the character arc for Francine and the bromance between Peter and Roger.

This film has it all. Seriously.

5 out of 5 stars

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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 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 21- Beware The Rapist (1979)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 21- Beware The Rapist (1979)

When I was growing up I loved the Nanny State Public Information Films. They were akin to state produced horror shorts extolling the dangers of everything from playing near rivers to mixing different types of tyres on the same vehicle.

Beware The Rapist is an American PIF (called Public Service Announcements or PSA’s over there) made in 1979. Produced at the height of some of the most prolific serial killers being at large (Ted Bundy is obviously the inspiration for the preppy looking Christmas card salesman, the balaclava wearing perverts could easily be based on The Golden State Killer) this film offers common sense advice to vulnerable women so that they come to no harm.

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Telephone terror

This advice sometimes comes across as extreme (‘once you get home, lock yourself in!’) but this is shown to be better than becoming another victim. This film holds up a mirror to society at that time and the ghoulish events happening with shocking regularity. But it also reflects the somewhat doom-laden advice from American authorities. Protect yourself- or else!

This is a treat for horror and exploitation fans. Gritty, nerve-jangling and based on fact. Truth is stranger- and more brutal- than fiction.

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Beware The Rapist depicts many different scenarios and locales that can suddenly turn nightmarish. Every setting is here- the laundry room, in the supposed safety of one’s car, the late night walk home. In many ways this film reminds me of the ‘urban horror’ situations depicted in the opening credits of the mid-80’s crime series The Equalizer.

The music used is library based. The same library music used for Dawn of the Dead or the genius Australian women’s prison drama Prisoner Cell Block H. And if that isn’t enough of a recommendation then what is?

An amazing time capsule. You can watch it here.

5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- Martin (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- Martin (1978)

Martin is by filmmaker George A Romero and was his favourite film from his oeuvre.

Martin is a young man who we see travelling by train to Braddock in Pittsburgh to live with his elderly cousin, Tata Cuda who seems convinced that Martin is the latest in a long line of vampires (‘the family curse’).

The film centres around whether Martin is actually a vampire or if he is just a very confused young man suffering from a severe neurosis and only commits his bloodthirsty acts because of a self fulfiling prophecy.

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In fact the film constantly makes reference to Martin proving that there is ‘no magic’ in the world and that the conventions surrounding vampirism (many inherited from books and films) are untrue and so disproving the myth.

On the train journey over to Pittsburgh we see Martin sedate a woman, making love to her naked body before slashing her arm and drinking her blood. This very sequence shows how Martin accomplishes his ‘vampiric’ impulses. Instead of the well established tropes of hypnosis, fangs etc we see Martin use modern implements such as injections, chemical suppressants and razor blades. He has more in common with a rapist/serial killer than a ‘Nosferatu’. The woman as she is becoming subdued even refers to Martin as a ‘rapist asshole’.

It’s just before Martin enters his victim’s train compartment that he has a vision (in black and white) of how his prey will greet him- reaching out to receive him whilst looking beautiful and seductive. In reality when she is seen leaving the bathroom after being sat on the toilet, her face grotesquely covered in a green face pack and blowing her nose- the exact opposite of the vision Martin had just prior. Martin has a few of these visions throughout the film- are they actually age-old memories (suggesting that he is a vampire) or are they imaginings that he has gleaned from books and films but has confused with memories as part of his brainwashing?

There are other examples of Martin disproving the conventions of the vampire legend. When he arrives at Tata’s house he sees that there is garlic nailed to both Tata’s and Cuda’s granddaughter’s bedroom door. Martin rips this off and takes a bite into a clove to prove to his cousin that this myth isn’t real. He also takes a crucifix from Tata’s hand and rubs it against his own face to prove the same thing- ‘there is no magic. Not ever’.

After Cuda employs an older priest to carry out a makeshift exorcism, Martin appears in front of Cuda dressed as a vampire resplendent with cloak, fangs and make-up. He then spits out the plastic fangs and wipes the white pan-stick from his face to show that this is just a costume. Again, the reality disproving the illusion.

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After interactions with people who treat Martin as a human being (the bored housewife he makes deliveries to, Tata’s granddaughter), instead of some kind of age old Dracula from ‘the old country’, he seems to curtail his bloody excursions and finds that instead of murdering he ‘just lets people go’.

Another aspect of reality that Martin observes is the truth beneath the illusion of the all-smiling American family that permeates advertising. It’s the couples in the film that have the most affluence and comfortable lives who seem the unhappiest and are either having affairs (the couple Martin invades the home of- only the female inhabitant of the house isn’t in bed with her husband) or completely alienated, misunderstood and unfulfilled (Mrs Santini).

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Braddock also provides a harsh reminder of reality. It’s working class, shabby and down at heel. The once active steel mills that were the town’s bread and butter have long since closed down leaving a town to slowly die and rot.

Far from being the villain or monster of a horror film, Martin himself earns nothing but the audience’s sympathy. He’s more like a victim of circumstance, even when we see the crimes he commits.

As you can guess, theres so much to analyse and, in fact, cherish with this film. This is a film with many layers that presumes that it’s audience have the intelligence to make up their own minds as to whether Martin is a vampire or not.

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Original newspaper ad for the Leeds cinema release of ‘Martin’

I first saw this film when it was shown on Channel 4 here in the UK in the mid-80’s. It’s so poignant that it has stayed with me ever since and even with regular viewings it loses none of it’s charm, brilliance or innovation. In fact, with every viewing theres something new that I missed previously.

This may be a small budget film but it feels like Romero gained from this rather than letting it detract from the film and it’s production. Romero and crew just used their ingenuity to overcome any limitations and work around them and it works beautifully. Martin feels intimate and personal as a film.

Romero’s original cut of this film was significantly longer, clocking in at 2 and a half hours and was completely in black and white. Only one copy of this version ever existed and mysteriously went missing from Romero’s office many moons ago.

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This film should be readily available on Blu ray but apparently there are, ahem, ‘rights issues’ that prevent a definitive version of this or Dawn of the Dead being issued on a restored Blu ray. Criterion or Scream Factory could give this masterpiece the treatment it richly deserves. Let’s hope these ‘issues’ are resolved soon so that these glittering jewels of the horror genre can be widely accessible and enjoyed further.

Another great component of the film is the soundtrack by Donald Rubinstein. A few years back this was reissued on CD and is currently on iTunes. The music is just as haunting as the film itself.

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The pop group Soft Cell wrote a song (also called ‘Martin’) based on the film which is very faithful to the movie’s narrative and is just as brilliant as the film. There are even snatches of the film’s soundtrack used on the song. Check it out here.

Martin is a peach of a movie. In fact, it’s a masterpiece just like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 8- See No Evil (1971)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 8- See No Evil (1971)

I knew this would be a great film when I saw it was written by Brian Clemens who wrote, amongst other things, the amazing series called Thriller. I wasn’t wrong. This is a cracking movie.

Mia Farrow plays Sarah, a girl who is returning home after being in hospital after a fall from a horse has made her go blind.

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She is greeted by her mother and father. She goes for a nap and doesn’t realise that when she wakes up her entire family have been murdered. There is a VERY unsettling sequence in which she doesn’t realise this and goes about her business with the dead bodies of her nearest and dearest around her. When she enters the kitchen we are shocked to discover that as she makes a cup of coffee the killer is actually sat at the kitchen table watching her every move while she is completely oblivious.

She soon discovers everyone is dead. And thats when things start to become really tense.

The killer is kept secret from the audience but it identifiable only because of a distinctive pair of boots he wears, each with a star on them. The killer’s walk from the cinema at the very start of the film is an incredible sequence.

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Theres stars from stage and screen in this film. Norman Eshley (Tristran’s dad from George and Mildred), Michael ‘Boon’ Elphick, Paul ‘Just Good Friends’ Nicholas and Lila Kaye, the landlady from The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London all appear.

Mia Farrow is totally believable in the lead role and coupled with some excellent direction and we have some truly tense, edge of the seat moments. Check out the scene where she moves around and through the arches in the huge house she lives in so that the killer won’t see her. Outstanding acting and camerawork.

I watched Indicator’s Blu ray for this review and it is exceptional. Theres even another cut of the film that went by the title ‘Blind Terror’ on the disc. Indicator are fast becoming a Blu ray label to rival the very best Blu ray companies out there.

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4/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Burnt Offerings (1976)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Burnt Offerings (1976)

A family rent a huge house for the summer from it’s brother and sister owners who have one condition for the rental- that their elderly mother stays in the house and they provide her with meals. Things then start to go crazy for the new inhabitants and it’s almost as if the house is alive and playing with their minds just for it’s own amusement (I hate it when houses do that). The family members start to act very differently to how they would normally as if the darkest parts of their psyches are being brought to the fore.

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The genre of a house as a living being and force of evil can either work really well or can come across as very cliched and tired. Burnt Offerings does both. The big scares feel a bit overplayed and done better elsewhere especially after having seen the genre changing horror of The Shining on one end of the spectrum and the unabashed popcorn cheesiness of The Amityville Horror. But Burnt Offerings has smaller, more subtle scares that work brilliantly well. Check out the scene when Marian sees the family portraits for the first time or when Ben, taking a break from gardening, suddenly sees a pallbearer arriving in a hearse at the house.

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It’s a shame that the film is such a mixed bag rather than being consistently brilliant as the cast (Burgess Meredith! Oliver Reed!! Karen Black!!! BETTE FUCKING DAVIS!!!!) reads like a wishlist of crazy brilliance who would work amazingly well together in a 70’s horror film. Davis especially is wasted in her role as she doesn’t have enough to do although wearing floral polyester prints and being Bette Davis comes close. I think it’s also because she’s playing a nice character. She disappears halfway through the film as if she had better things to do than last until the closing credits in some mediocre 70’s horror flick.

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Even though there are slow moments and the film could be so much better, the ending of the film is completely crazy, gory and genuinely unsettling. If you make it through to the last five minutes you will be richly rewarded.

The look of Burnt Offerings is beautiful. It’s almost as if the whole film was filmed with a veil of mist in front of the camera.

Fun fact- The location used for the house was later used in the horror masterpiece Phantasm. The photos below show the house in Burnt Offerings, Phantasm and as it is today.

So, a film with interesting moments but not enough to fill 90 minutes. But stick around for the ending- it’s a corker!

2 out of 5 stars