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 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

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- Plague of the Zombies (1966)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- Plague of the Zombies (1966)

This has one of the most crazy plots of any Hammer film I’ve ever seen. I won’t give away everything that happens though.

A Cornish village is suffering from some sort of plague that is bumping people off at such a rate that the local doctor asks an expert friend to investigate what is happening. When opening up the graves of the recently deceased they discover that all of the coffins are empty. Could the answer to this mystery be connected with the tin mine which is on the land of Squire Clive Hamilton? Is it also relevant that he used to live in Haiti and the fact that he practiced voodoo and the black arts whilst he was there?

I remember seeing this in the 80s as my local television station used to show a double-bill of Hammer films every Thursday night (a blessing!) It was scary then and it’s retained it’s ability to shock. The zombies themselves are the stuff of nightmares.

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But unfortunately the film drags every now and again. But on the whole it’s worth seeing, even if it’s not the best of the studio’s output.

Fun fact- Martin Scorsese thinks highly of this film.

2/5 out of 5 stars

Day 18- 31 Days of Halloween- Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

Day 18- 31 Days of Halloween- Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

A boat sails into New York but the only person onboard happens to be a morbidly obese zombie who seems to be pissed off and hungry. The daughter of the boat’s owner decides to venture to where her father had been, a Caribbean island called Matul. She takes along with her a journalist who smells a story.

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This film was butchered by the BBFC on its initial release. The distributors decided to release a stronger uncut version that then lead to the film being banned and placed on the DPP video nasties list.

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This film is reknowned for going the extra mile. Ever wondered what would happen if a zombie took on a shark? Of course you have! This film features it. Add to the mix a revolutionary eye-gouging scene, a great score by Fabio Frizzi and one of the most iconic ending scenes in horror history. Oh, and some of the most annoyed zombies with especially bad attitudes and you have a great movie.

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This Italian shocker directed by maestro Lucio Fulci actually billed itself as a sequel to the Argento cut of Dawn of the Dead in Italy. Is it a masterpiece like Dawn? No. But its still one hell of a ride.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Return of the Repressed

Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Return of the Repressed

Last year I undertook a teaching course. At the end of said course we were required to give a presentation to the rest of the group that could last no longer than 30 mins and would be assessed.

We could choose any topic and so I chose Dawn of the Dead (1978).

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I’ve now uploaded this onto YouTube and set it to music from the film. Enjoy.

The video is HERE.

Night of the Living Dead 4K Restoration Premiere Press Release

Night of the Living Dead 4K Restoration Premiere Press Release

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.”

The Evil Dead (1981) – Day 16 – 31 Days of Halloween

The Evil Dead (1981) – Day 16 – 31 Days of Halloween

This movie is just as infamous for the furore surrounding the film as it is for the actual content.

I grew up in the midst of the Videos Nasties storm in a teacup in which the Tory government led by Herr Thatcher thought that the commoners who watched certain horror movies would grab a chainsaw and start the Tring Chain Saw Massacre.

This movie was dubbed Video Nasty Number 1 by Christian busybody and all round philistine Mary Whitehouse (even though she admitted she hadn’t seen the film from start to finish) and referred to it as if Satan himself had made a low budget horror movie and released it on video. The film would be placed on the infamous DPP list and banned.

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Herr Thatcher’s equivalent of book-burning

Was it as bad as this- a horror film to end all horror films? A film that can corrupt a nations viewers and instigate a countrywide bloodbath?

The answer is- of course not. But it is a brilliantly inventive horror which oozes intelligence, charisma and knowledge of film in general.

There are horrific sequences within the film to prove the points made by the country’s self appointed moral guardians. One such is the forest rape scene. This sequence feels like something from a really perverted Japanese horror movie. Its horrific, repellent and surreal all in equal measures. Apparently Raimi feels that this scene now sticks like a sore thumb and would never have shot it with hindsight.

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The precursor to the infamous forest rape scene

But theres a lot more to this complex movie. Its reference points are far reaching and reach beyond just the horror genre.

The film starts out innocently enough- a trip to a cabin in the woods by a group of unremarkable teenagers. But then things start to go awry and with the forest rape and the game of ‘Guess The Card’ things go completely insane. In this respect the film is like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre- a well worn storyline is suddenly massively subverted. In fact the scene in which Scott sees all of the animal bones hanging from the cabins rafters on entering the property was a direct reference to this movie. Another point of reference is that like TCM the hero is left battered, bruised and bloodied at the end of the film.

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Ash- battered, bruised and bloodied. Notice the clock motif behind him

There is also a torn Hills Have Eyes poster in the cellar- this was a reference to the torn Jaws poster in the Winnebago in Hills. The Evil Dead is also watched by Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street also.

Theres a real sense of disorientation in this film for the characters and the audience. Any sense of time or space in the ordinary world is jettisoned. The clocks stopping, running backwards or the sounds they make being exaggerated is one sign of this.

In fact, sound is exaggerated and altered within the film as a whole. The overhead scene in which the camera pans across the rafters of the cabin whilst Ash prowls around below is a great example of this. Where there should be silence and logic there is instead the nonsensical and bizarre.

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Logic is jettison to be replaced by the illogical and bizarre

Another aspect of the film’s sound is that it must be one of the loudest films I’ve ever seen. Just as the violence and horror is graphic, exaggerated and cartoon like then so is the sound. Screams and sound effects are turned up to 11. I once watched the film in a cinema after it had been released in THX. The volume for the screening had been cranked up to such a degree that audience members were covering their ears at some points. One such scene was where the possessed Shelly is stabbed in the back with the kandarian dagger- the level of the screeching is something to experience especially in a cinema.

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Shelly is stabbed in the back- literally. Are my ears bleeding?

However, whilst Mary Whitehouse would have Daily Mail readers believe that this film is evil incarnate, Raimi’s tongue was firmly in cheek when he made this. The violence is slapstick and colourful (its not just blood that is emitted but what looks like milk, paint and green bile) in nature, like a cross between a Tex Avery cartoon and an E.C. Comic. Your average filmgoer will realise this, your genre fan will lap it up with a spoon. The filmmakers are trying to gross out their audience but whilst they are also carried along with the film’s slapstick sensibility. A pipe rupturing and pouring out shitloads of blood into Ash’s face is the film’s equivalent to a custard pie in the mush. Maybe if Mary Whitehouse had watched the entire film she might have surmised this. But then again she seemed to hate other people’s pleasure so she would probably still have been outraged.

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Got milk?

The film’s camerawork is also noteworthy. The first person use of the camera to convey the evil presence lurking in the woods is genius and brilliantly effective. The film is full of examples of camera trickery to take the audience on a disorienting ride that feels groundbreaking and never showy. This film’s strength lies in the inventiveness of the filmmakers. Take note Hollywood- innovation and ideas are always better then throwing a huge budget at a project to make a mediocre piece of shit.

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The Evil Dead is now firmly ensconced on lists of critic’s lists of the best horror films ever made. And it deserves it. It continues to influence filmmakers today and is forever being referenced.

Now if only Sam Raimi would release Within The Woods karma would be complete for us Deadheads.

The film was eventually legalised in the UK. Mary Whitehouse died. Karmas a bitch.

5 out of 5