George A Romero’s 2009 zombie flick and a concept that involves the found footage of a film student assembled into a movie by one of the film’s other characters. All of the movie is shot on camcorders and other similar devices available at the time commercially.
This found footage chronicles a group of film studies students who are travelling home across country. They witness firsthand and record the apparent dead coming back to life as zombies.
The film gets the balance right between narrative for the casual film viewer, gore for the purist horror fans and metaphor/soul searching content for the serious cineaste (there are plenty of issues raised about what the truth actually is, the suppression of the truth by the mainstream media, the truth being conveyed by bloggers and those not working in the corporate media. The idea of what the truth is is also relevant regarding filmmaking in general as the ‘truth’ you are seeing is in fact the truth of the person who has shot the footage and also the person who has edited it).
The film never lags and feels like a fresh perspective on the zombie genre and Romero’s Living Dead series in general. The characters are interesting with the audience fully engaging with them and wanting to see what will happen to them. Most importantly, they’re not irritating.
But for the horror fans there are also new and innovative kills concerning how to kill a zombie. The scene involving a pickaxe being used whereby a freshly bitten human kills both himself and the zombie who has just taken a chunk out of him at the same time has to be seen to be believed.
We even get Romero’s take on if zombies should run or not after the Dawn remake and the undead’s speed and athleticism therein. A character says that zombies would never run as their ankles would break as (duh) they’re dead. And he’s right.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t even know there was a remake of George A Romero’s 1985 film. When I found out about it I was hardly looking forward to reviewing it as I found the original to be the runt of the litter of Romero’s zombie movies- it was too slow, talky and with not enough action.
The remake however is lacking in the intelligence of the original but doesn’t skimp when it comes to the action. However, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s an enjoyable enough ride whilst it lasts and I can think of worse films to watch.
In fact, if I had to choose I’d say that I’d prefer to watch this again rather than the original (Romero fans are tutting as they read this).
Ving Rhames stars but is criminally underused. But the rest of the cast do a great job without him. This was made for TV and feels like it but if I flicked onto this it would still hold my attention until it’s conclusion.
Great zombies, great effects (even if you can tell they’re working on a relatively small budget) and Colorado has never looked so beautiful in some shots.
Certainly not the bad remake I thought it would be even if only zombies and the military are the only elements that link the original and this later film.
A peach of a soundtrack to look at is the Trunk Record’s compilation of some of the De Wolfe library music that was used within George A Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. The fact that Romero used muzak that would be played inside a shopping mall within a film set in a shopping mall was both genius and audacious.
To use music that was intended as background music at best and drag it centre stage and use it within a film that would be placed under the microscope and examined closely by both critics and audiences was quite a gamble. Would the plastic music cheapen the film and dilute it’s power? Would critics and audiences alike ridicule the film because of the music used within it?
The answer was a resounding NO! Romero’s vision was so precise, well defined and strong that the use of library music added yet another layer of meaning to the film. Hence we get the goofy genius of The Gonk by Herbert Chappell, the otherworldly and futuristic Figment by Park, the strangely introspective and minimalist Desert de Glace by Pierre Arvay and the melancholic Sun High by Simon Park all used to underscore and emphasise key scenes within the film.
Just as the tracks gave Dawn of the Dead more meaning, so the film also gave the tracks a new dimension of meaning. It was the cinematic equivalent of Andy Warhol’s silk screens of Campbell soup cans and their being analysed in art galleries after being taken out of the supermarket. Genius.
I’ve heard songs from Dawn also used in schools programmes, porno movies, episodes of The Sweeney and Prisoner Cell Block H. That’s a testament to the tracks brilliance and versatility.
This collection of these songs hangs together very well indeed and feels like revisiting old friends as Dawn replays in your head as you listen to them. Essential.
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!!!
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.
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.
I also love the character arc for Francine and the bromance between Peter and Roger.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
More great news today! Heres the press statement regarding the 4k premiere of Night of the Living Dead-
Press Release: NEW YORK, October 19, 2016—The Museum of Modern Art announces the addition of George A. Romero’s horror classic Night of the Living Dead to the upcoming To Save and Project festival in November. The iconic horror film, widely diminished by duplication due to infamous copyright issues, will have its world premiere in its originally intended quality, thanks to a painstaking 4K digital restoration by MoMA and The Film Foundation. Director George A. Romero will attend the world premiere on November 5 at 8:00 p.m. at The Museum of Modern Art to introduce the screening. Tickets for that program go on sale October 22. An additional screening will take place at the Museum at 7:00 p.m. on November 12.
Perhaps the most influential horror film of the last 50 years, Romero’s classic is also one of the most abused—subjected, because of its public-domain status, to well over 100 home video releases of deteriorated quality. The film has now been restored to its full, original glory by The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation, working from the original camera negative, which was carefully guarded over the years by the members of Image Ten, the Pittsburgh partnership that originally produced it.
Night of the Living Dead has long been the subject of restoration discussions after a missing copyright notice upon its original 1968 print left it open to duplication and public rerelease. Recognizing its cinematic impact immediately, MoMA first acquired an original print in 1970 for its collection. Now, decades later, the Museum presents this important motion picture in its best possible state after a painstaking audio and image restoration.
“It’s an honor and a thrill to have MoMA restore and present a horror movie that I and a group of Pittsburgh friends created nearly 50 years ago,” said Romero. “After working closely with MoMA and the Film Foundation on this restoration, I know the meticulous work that has gone into creating this new restoration and I am excited to terrify new audiences and devoted fans with a version that returns our film to the quality we originally intended.”
“Our annual To Save and Project festival showcases the best new restorations of masterworks and rediscoveries of world cinema. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead set the standard for horror, and the figure of the zombie in its myriad incarnations on screens large and small. Until now, however, it has been impossible to truly appreciate the film’s formal beauty and visceral power,” said MoMA film curator and festival co-organizer Joshua Siegel. “Our state-of-the-art restoration draws upon the best original visual and audio elements previously thought to have been lost, ensuring that audiences will be able to enjoy Night of the Living Dead as originally intended by its creators for generations to come.”
“The Film Foundation is thrilled that George Romero’s groundbreaking film is being restored from the original camera negative and track. We hope this will allow a new generation to experience the film and appreciate the elements that made it so innovative at the time, and give it continued power and relevance today. George Romero’s involvement in the restoration means that this version will be definitive, and the only one that truly reflects his vision,” said Margaret Bodde, executive director of The Film Foundation.
The film was restored by The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation. The restoration was overseen by George A. Romero and Image Ten—most especially, Gary Streiner, Russ Streiner, and John Russo—with restoration work done by Cineric Inc, NYC, and Audio Mechanics, Burbank, CA.
Among its many influences, Romero’s film is credited with creating the zombie as we know it today: the reanimated corpse with a taste for the living, seen in everything from The Walking Dead to Shaun of the Dead. Despite its humble Pittsburgh working-class origins, exploitation genre ties, and inadequate handling by the original distributor, Night of the Living Dead has set numerous precedents for motion pictures throughout the world. It was the first film of its kind to cast an African American actor as the lead character based solely on the strength of his performance, and tramples widely held taboos of the time—from respect for the dead and authority figures to traditional family relationships and the narrative tradition of heroes surviving to the film’s conclusion.
Night of the Living Dead premieres as part of The Museum of Modern Art’s 14th annual edition of To Save and Project, an international festival dedicated to celebrating newly preserved and restored films from archives, studios, distributors, foundations, and independent filmmakers. Running from November 2 through 23, 2016, To Save and Project is organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, and Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.
Tickets for all screenings are available two weeks prior to their screening date, beginning October 19. Tickets for the first screening of Night of the Living Dead will go on sale October 22.
Special thanks to Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan and Cindi Rowell for their assistance on this exhibition.”