DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Dawn Of The Dead or Zombie, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Previously, I’ve compared David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and John Carpenter’s Halloween (link here), the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator with the B-movie sci-fi/horror Without Warning (link here)and finally the classic Evil Dead and it’s 2013 remake (link here). Now I’d like to compare two classics that are related in an interesting way. In 1978, George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was unleashed upon the world and was called Zombi in Italy. It was a hit and in 1979, Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci made his own zombie epic, one that was sold as a sequel entitled Zombi 2. But Zombie, as it was titled here in the U.S. when released in 1980, is it’s own movie and a classic horror in it’s own right. Now decades later, let’s take a look at Romero’s horror classic and Fulci’s unofficial Italian “sequel” and see just how different…or alike…they actually are…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

Romero’s film focuses on four characters (Ken Foree, David Emge, Gaylen Ross and Scott Reiniger) and their efforts to survive during a zombie outbreak in progress. Dawn is never clear whether this is a new outbreak, or if the outbreak started in the original Night Of The Living Dead has been ongoing for the last ten years and is starting to spiral out of control. Actually, we’re never sure the two films are even related as Dawn never references Night. Ken Foree’s Peter at one point announces that his voodoo practicing grandfather once said “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead with walk the Earth!”, but the cause of the zombie outbreak in the original film was radiation from a fallen satellite. Dawn never clarifies the actual cause as our characters barricade themselves inside a giant shopping mall. Romero’s tone is a bit satirical in this installment and there are moments of humor and satire throughout the film.

Zombie opens with the harbor police in NYC boarding a seemingly deserted craft. One of them is savaged by a zombie onboard who is subsequently shot and falls off the boat. The daughter (Tisa Farrow) of the boat’s owner, teams up with a reporter (Ian McCulloch) to find out what happened to her father. This leads the duo and another couple (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay) to the small Caribbean island of Matul, where they soon find, to their horror, that the dead are rising to eat the living. In Zombie, or Zombi 2, the cause of the outbreak is clearly voodoo as the drums beat continuously and characters warn that the local witch doctor has something to do with it. Aside from the dead rising, the villagers are all taking ill and dying, too…only to rise again with a hunger for flesh. Fulci makes no social commentary here and his tone is bleak and nightmarish with an absence of any humor to speak of.

Except for both films being about flesh eating zombies whose bite spreads the infection, the stories are vastly different.

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THE ZOMBIES

Dawn Of The Dead‘s zombies give the impression that we are dealing with the recent dead. Possibly due to budget limitations or artistic choices, the walking dead here are simply bluish with sunken eyes and a few show signs of being partially eaten or scarred themselves. They eat the living and there are hundreds of them wandering through the mall and it’s parking lot and they can only be stopped by decapitation or simply shooting them in the head. They seem to be mostly acting on instinct, showing only the most basic thinking, if it can be called that at all.

Fulci’s zombies are far more frightening looking, resembling decomposing corpses far more than Romero’s, with rotting flesh, hollow eye sockets and some covered in maggots. A stop at an ancient graveyard during the film proves even those long dead are rising and they too are ravenously hungry. There are somewhat fewer than in Dawn, but their appearances in fog shrouded deserted villages and their ghoulish make-up, makes them even more intimidating. They too can only be killed by decapitation, bullets to the brain and being burned completely.

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MAIN CHARACTERS

Both film’s focus on four main characters, though Zombie has some supporting characters as well, such as Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson), and his wife (Olga Karlatos).

Dawn‘s four main characters are newswoman Fran (Gaylen Ross), and her boyfriend and helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge), who are traveling with two S.W.A.T. team members, Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree). They are taking the helicopter and running, which brings them to find safe haven in a massive shopping mall deserted all but for the dead. While Fran and Stephen have little or no training with firearms, Peter and Roger are well armed and expertly trained, which gives the four an edge.

Zombie‘s four have no such edge. Peter (Ian McCulloch) is a newsman given the story of the deserted boat and dead cop. Anne (Tisa Farrow) is the daughter of the boat’s owner, a doctor last seen on a small tropical island called Matul. They hitch a ride to the island with vacationing couple Brian (Al Cliver) and his pretty wife Susan (Auretta Gay). Neither couple has any idea what they are getting into, as opposed to Dawn‘s four, who are fully aware and prepared for what they may face.

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THE SETTINGS

The settings for these two film’s couldn’t be more different…

Dawn Of The Dead takes place in rural Pennsylvania, mostly at it’s massive Monroeville shopping mall which is near Pittsburg, where Romero went to college and made many of his earlier films. Here Romero uses his setting to make social commentary about class and consumerism.

Zombie‘s setting is the total opposite. While it opens and closes in New York City, the film takes place mostly in the Caribbean, on a small tropical island called Matul. Here, the only place our four have to hide is in an old church turned infirmary and that doesn’t provide them sanctuary for very long when the dead follow them there.

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THE OPENING SCENES

The opening scenes for both movies are effective in their own way but vastly different.

Dawn starts the tension by showing us Fran’s news station slowly coming apart as the situation outside spirals out of control. Rescue stations are closing and people are running from their desks scared. Panic is setting in as news to report becomes scarce and what news they are getting is too horrible to believe. The dead are returning to life to eat the living! This creates an atmosphere of dread long before we see the first zombies.

Zombie‘s opening sequence goes for the jugular…literally. It opens with a gun being fired at someone, or something, rising from under a sheet, drums beating in the distance. We then cut to an apparently deserted sailboat entering New York harbor. Once boarded by the harbor patrol, one officer is savagely bitten on the throat by what appears to be a walking corpse. Fulci gets us tense and grossed out right away with a graphic and savage attack in the first few minutes. We also get some early glimpses of what’s happening on Matul at Dr. Menard’s infirmary, so we know what is waiting for the two ill-fated couples before they arrive.

Both openings work in setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. One film does it by showing it’s blood and gore right away, while the other, by showing us the mounting chaos before we are thrust into the S.W.A.T. team assault scene where we see our first zombies in action.

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end with down or ominous endings…

After a pitched battle with a motorcycle gang that invades their mall sanctuary and lets the zombies back in, a surviving Fran and Peter fly off in the chopper knowing they have very little gas and nowhere really to go. There fate is left uncertain, but things aren’t looking good for the pregnant Fran and the demoralized Peter. Dawn Of The Dead leaves their fate to our imaginations, but with the dead slowly gaining the upper hand, we don’t imagine much of a happily ever after for our two survivors. The film closes on a shot of the mall parking lot filled with the undead implying all may soon be lost.

As with it’s opening, Zombie‘s climax leaves nothing to our imaginations. After a bloody battle with the living dead in the old church, survivors Anne and Peter find their way back to the boat with a bitten Brian in tow. Once back in New York harbor, they are treated to a radio broadcast proclaiming the zombies are everywhere, just as the newly risen Brian starts banging on the cabin door. The film closes with a haunting scene of zombies crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into the Big Apple while things are left fairly grim for Peter and Anne. Apocalyptic and still chills decades later.

Here the films have stark similarities as both endings are bleak and present little chance or hope of our survivors finding an escape!

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IN CONCLUSION

Interesting as how one of these films was made as an unofficial sequel to the other, yet both are vastly different and both are considered classics. Dawn Of The Dead‘s success in Italy under the title Zombi gave Lucio Fulci the opportunity to direct Dardano Sacchetti’s script and have it be a sequel in name only, released as Zombi 2. He made his own movie, his way and it is considered one of the greatest zombie films of all time right next to Dawn. Despite Italian audiences, at the time, being led to believe they are related, they are completely different films with different stories and different tones. There are similarities, too. Both are famous for their abundant gore set pieces, such as Zombie‘s splinter in eyeball and Dawn‘s exploding head…not to mention both films’ zombie dining scenes. They are also both known for their haunting soundtracks, Dawn‘s by Italian rock band Goblin and Zombie‘s creepy score by Fabio Frizzi. And who could forget Zombie‘s shark vs zombie sequence or Dawn‘s zombies vs biker gang finale. Regardless of how Romero’s zombie classic may have given birth to Fulci’s in a way, horror fans got two unique masterpieces from two legendary filmmakers.

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)

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THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

After making some true horror classics like Zombie and The Beyond, Fulci lost his way and this flick is a sad example. The story has a vicious killer stalking sexually active women in New York City. One who carves up their bodies in vile ways and makes ominous phone calls to the detective (Jack Hedley) investigating the case. The killer both kills and makes his calls while quacking like a duck…you read that right…and no woman seems to be safe as Det. Williams is baffled by this sadistic killer and his reign of terror.

1981’s House By The Cemetery was a lesser effort by Fulci and he followed it up with this sleazy and perverted slasher that seemed to be more mean-spirited than anything else. Gone is the artistic flair the Italian horror maestro directed his previous classics with and instead this is a vicious little movie that mixes some very nasty kill sequences with the silly premise of it’s killer quacking and talking like a cartoon duck when committing his horrifying acts. The mix of extreme violence and this comical plot element is unsettling, but not in a good way. Fulci’s films were always filled with blood and gore, but they had class. Here his camera lingers on perverted acts such as an unnecessary sequence of a promiscuous woman (Alexandra Delli Colli) being foot raped by a thug in a bar and the vicious savaging of a bound and gagged women with a razor blade. When it comes to exploitation, sleazy can be just fine, but here Fulci seems to be reveling in these misogynistic acts and it makes one uncomfortable as it has an edge to the viciousness that goes beyond trashy entertainment. Once we get our climactic reveal, the killer’s motivations really don’t make sense and the explanation is extremely convoluted. He doesn’t even have a solid reason for his butchery…or his disturbingly comical choice of vocalization. It doesn’t really work as it’s just a weak excuse for all that has preceded it.

One a technical level, the film is well made enough for a modest budget and the gore is top notch as always in a Fulci film. Hedley and the rest of the actors are all fine for an Italian horror and there are some very pretty women in the cast, though some meet very gruesome fates. The beautiful cinematography of Sergio Salvati is sadly missed as are the atmospheric scores by Fabio Frizzi. Instead we get adequate but unremarkable cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller and a functional but forgettable score by Francesco De Masi. The script was written by Fulci and three co-writers and yet still seems weak despite all the collaboration, including Dardano Sacchetti, who worked on all of Fulci’s best films.

Overall, this is a lesser effort by a man who only a few years earlier made at least three films now regarded as Italian horror classics. Sadly, the maestro would never reach that pinnacle again, though his legacy as one of the horror greats is solid, just based on his work from 79-81. This film is effective, though sometimes not in the rights way and does have the extreme gore Fulci’s fans look for. Unfortunately, it can also be a mean-spirited film and one which wallows a bit too much in perversion and sleaze and comes across as somewhat misogynistic with it’s extreme brutality towards women. Not to mention the killer’s silly M.O. Worth a look if you are a horror fan discovering Fulci, but sadly a film that signals the beginning of a lesser chapter in Fulci’s legacy that he would not really recover from.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 razor blades.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION

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I watched this double feature recently and found this classic and it’s prequel to be a lot of fun together!

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THE AMITYVILLE HORROR  (1979)

The Amityville Horror is renown as a horror classic and I certainly won’t argue that. While I find it more corny than creepy…even when I saw it at the Rialto Theater in Ridgefield Park, N.J. back in 1979…it is a lot of fun and created many of the clichés that now permeate today’s haunted house flicks.

Based on a supposed true story, the film has newly married couple George (James Brolin) and Kathy (Margot Kidder) Lutz moving into a large house that was the site of a grizzly murder the year before. The Lutzes are hesitant, but they can’t beat the price. Soon after they move in, strange things begin to occur…and always at 3:15 a.m., the time of the murders. George’s behavior also seems to start to become more and more odd, as he appears sick all the time and the peaceful man has developed a bad temper almost overnight. A priest Father Delany (Rod Steiger) comes to bless their home and is made to flee as some unseen entity forces him from the house. Now under attack from some malevolent force, the family begins to realize they are in great danger from something inside that house that certainly means them harm. With a history of murder, Devil worship and Native American burial grounds, can the family escape this Hell they call home with such powerful forces aligned against them?

Whether it’s believed this actually happened or not, is still being argued today. Demonologists, the Warrens, who have been brought back to attention with The Conjuring, were the investigators on the case and their legitimacy is debated about as much as this incident. A recent investigation on the TV special Real Fear: The Truth Behind The Movies, revealed new facts that George Lutz practiced the occult and validated that the house was build on Native American burial grounds. So is it real? Who knows. As a movie it is a lot of fun and even though I personally don’t find it very scary, director Stuart Rosenberg and writer Sandor Stern do concoct an entertaining and sometimes innovative horror that established some supernatural elements that now have become movie standards. They take their film, based on Jay Anson’s book, and make a very theatrical horror with bleeding walls, bloody hallucinations, threatening voices and a house that does seem to ooze evil. It just looks spooky, even in daylight. Rosenberg gives it a moderate pace and there are some chilling moments, but to me it’s more fun than actually scary. The film is a bit overly melodramatic, which holds it back for me. The dialogue is corny, especially from Rod Steiger’s very over-the-top holy man and while Brolin and Kidder perform their roles with stark seriousness, they do lean toward over-the-top, too, on occasion. I will admit it has lots of atmosphere, though and Rosenberg is helped in that department by a very chilling score by Lalo Schifrin and there is some moody cinematography by Fred J. Koenekamp. Maybe not very scary, but it is a good time especially with some added nostalgia from it being very 70s.

So while I don’t think this is quite the scare-fest it was meant to be, I do enjoy it as much now as I did when seeing it in 1979. It portrayed some haunted house elements in a way that have now made them tradition in these films and treated what could have been a silly story with dignity and respect. It’s atmospheric and just plain fun. Maybe not one of my all time favorites, but a film I recognize and acknowledge as the classic it now is.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 haunted houses!

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AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Even in the 70s and 80s, if it made money, there was usually a sequel. While The Amityville Horror told the complete story of the Lutz haunting, legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis found a way to give us more. The film was a prequel and based it’s story on the real-life DeFeo family murders that occurred in the house before the Lutz family moved in. They changed the names in Tommy Lee Wallace, and an uncredited Dardano Sacchetti’s (Luci Fulci’s Zombie), script and now we get the tragic story of the Montelli family. As with the Lutz family, the Montelli’s, Anthony and Dolores (Burt Young and Rutanya Alda) move in with their kids and almost immediately strange things start to happen. As dad Anthony is an abusive jerk, there is already tension between he and older son Sonny (Jack Magner) who the entity targets as it’s vessel. Also, like with the last flick, there is a priest involved, Father Adamsky (James Olson), who detects an evil force in the house and vows to take it on. The film chronicles Sonny’s being broken down and possessed to the point where he murder’s his family and then Father Adamsky’s attempts to drive the demon from him to prove his innocence.

I actually enjoy this sequel, but this time, for all the wrong reasons. Director Damiano Damiani presents everything with such a dire seriousness that it just accents how silly it all is. While the real-life crime was tragic and horrifying, the film just comes across as campy despite the solemn tone. We get some really cheesy levitation effects that are flagrantly over-used, delightfully corny dialogue and intense over-acting by most of the cast, as well as, some well-executed, but out of place make-up effects to simulate Sonny’s possession. The addition of an incestuous relationship between Sonny and pretty sister Patricia (80s film hottie Diane Franklin) also adds an uncomfortable creepiness, but not of the good kind. It is, however, supposedly a plot point based on a factual relationship between Ronald DeFeo Jr. And his sister. Lalo Schifrin returns to score and it gives the film some atmosphere, as does Franco Di Giacomo’s cinematography. Having the murders occur about two-thirds of the way through and then turning the last act into a routine possession/exorcism flick, also hurts what could have been a very intense finale. The film should have been leading up to the murders, which are very effective, but then the film goes on for another half-hour for Adamsky’s attempt to free Sonny of the demon and that just get’s silly…but it’s fun to watch and entertainment is the point.

The cast all over-act. Burt Young is just doing another version of his “Paulie” though one that likes to smack around his wife and kids. Having one of the leads being intensely unlikable also doesn’t help the film overall. We actually don’t have much sympathy when Sonny guns him down. Rutanya Alda does some really over the top facial expressions and James Olson’s priestly dialogue seems made up as it goes along and never convinces as legitimate prayer. Magner is actually somewhat fine as Sonny. He has his over the top moments, but isn’t quite as flagrant as some other cast members despite having to act out demonic influence. Rounding out the leads, Franklin has some pretty bad dialogue to utter and the script has her way too accepting of her brother’s sexual advances…demonic influence or not. The scene doesn’t have the shock value it needs because she goes along with it way too easy…and it makes her later guilt seem a bit insincere. Maybe not the actress’ fault, but some of her dialogue does invite some generous chuckles….sorry, I don’t envision a demon ever saying “make love” it’s just laughable.

I have fun with this flick. It’s cheesy, corny and has some laughably fun bits. It tries way too hard to top it’s predecessor, so much that it goes over-the-top and neuters a lot of the effect the story should have. It takes what could have been a dramatically intense and disturbing climax and serves it up about an hour in, leaving the last act to fall into a routine and silly exorcism flick. All this does make for an entertaining movie though, but definitely for all the wrong reasons. Also, despite taking place before the late 70s set Amityville Horror, the film has a definite 80s vibe to it. Nostalgic and entertaining in spite of itself.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 “so bad it’s good” haunted houses!

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