HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

What can be said about George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead at this point that hasn’t already been said, it’s one of the greatest horror films ever made and has lost none of it potency even today. Romero may not have invented zombies, but he turned them into their own genre and is responsible for inspiring almost every zombie flick or TV show we see today and created the template for the flesh-eating, shoot-em in the head characteristics that almost every zombie media follows.

Night starts out with siblings Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Steiner who also produced) driving from Pittsburgh into the country to place a wreath on their father’s grave. In the graveyard they are attacked by a seemingly deranged man (Bill Hinzman) who kills Johnny and then chases the terrified Barbara, who finds shelter in an abandoned farm house. A man named Ben (Duane Jones), who is also fleeing a similar attack, then arrives as do more of these apparently deranged people. Soon we find that not only are the dead returning to life and eating the living, but a group of terrified people, including the Coopers, Harry (Karl Hardman), wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman), daughter Karen (Kyra Schon) and local boyfriend and girlfriend Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley), have been hiding in the cellar right beneath their feet. Now the group must somehow fight off what seems like an army of the undead and each other, as the arrogant Harry clashes with the strong-willed Ben over who runs the house and gives the orders.

George Romero has created a horror masterpiece that is filled with dread in every shot thanks to some incredibly moody black and white photography. The film is shot much like one of the classic Universal horrors from the 30s and 40s or the silent Nosferatu with it’s stark and ominous shadows creeping into the frame or creating dark patches where any horror could inhabit. Romero also creates thick tension not only from the terror that lurks outside the house waiting to get in, but the conflict between those who fight for control inside the besieged home, because they can’t control what’s going on outside it. We share the occupants dread as the dead multiply and every chance to escape is dashed and hope dwindles while their fear grows. It tears them apart and soon the danger inside the house is no lesser then what awaits outside. Romero increases the horror when we see an escape plan go awry and it costs the lives of a few of the survivors. The rest get to finally witness what they’ve only heard about on TV as their housemates are devoured in graphic detail by the army of carnivorous corpses. The FX in this low budget film are good with the zombie’s looking quite nightmarish and the entrails they devour very effective…maybe more so…in shadow drenched black and white.

Romero also gets very effective performances out of all his cast, especially Jones as the tough and resourceful Ben and Hardman as the slimy and devious Harry Cooper. These are now considered classic characters in horror film history and Jones’ Ben is also boundary breaking, being the first black man to be cast as a horror film lead especially in the middle of the civil rights movement of the time. There are so many classic scenes as well, that still frighten even today with a proliferation of graphic zombie flicks, zombie themed video games and a weekly TV show. And Night also remains one of the most quotable horrors of it’s kind as well…“they’re dead, they’re all messed up!”…for delightful example.¬†It’s controversial ending still has power even after all these years and multiple viewings.

A true horror masterpiece that is one of the greatest horror flicks of all time and a must watch during the Halloween season. It inspired countless other like films and made a horror legend out of Romero, who added to the zombie pantheon with five more films in the series to date. I was fortunate enough to see NOTLD in a theater during the early 80s at a revival screening at my beloved Oritani theater in Hackensack, N.J.

-MonsterZero NJ

A classic 4 zombies!

Night rating

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CREEPSHOW (1982)

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CREEPSHOW (1982)

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

In 1982, horror masters Stephen King and George A. Romero collaborated on this anthology movie¬†that was inspired by¬†the old horror comics from EC Comics. The film, written by King and directed by Romero, presented five¬†horror-themed stories bookended by a segment about a young boy (Joe King) having his horror comic thrown out by his overbearing father (Tom Atkins). Outside in the garbage can, the¬†pages of the book come to life, opening up and¬†allowing the skeletal “Creep” to¬†present it’s tales. Our first is Father’s Day¬†which tells the story¬†of Nathan Grantham (The Boogens‘ Jon Lormer) a rich curmudgeon murdered by his daughter (Viveca Lindfors). As his children and grandchildren gather for Father’s Day, Nathan comes back from the grave for ghostly revenge. Next is The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill which has King himself playing a country bumpkin who has an unfortunate encounter with a fallen meteorite. This is followed by Something to Tide You Over, a story of infidelity, murder and revenge from beyond the watery grave with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson. Then we are treated to¬†The Crate, a tale¬†of an old crate discovered in a university basement and the horrific creature that lives within it. Finally we get They’re Creeping Up On You, a segment about¬†a mean, old, germ-fearing, Howard Hughes-like recluse (E.G. Marshall) with a very nasty bug problem.

Back in the day, those expecting a fright-fest of epic proportions from the collaboration of Romero and King were sadly disappointed by this comic bookish and tongue-in-cheek anthology that focuses on ghoulish humor far more than scares. Creepshow is a lot of ¬†fun, though, especially years later with the added 80s nostalgia, but while there are some chills, it is never really all that scary‚Ķand it wasn’t meant to be. The film retains the dark humor of the comics that inspired it and is even filmed as a comic book come to life, with comic style frames and scenes filmed like comic book panels, all with a ghostly animated creeper beginning each segment. First story Father’s Day is fun and spooky and features some nice visuals and make-up effects. The next story, Jordy Verrill,¬†is OK. King can’t really act, but his exaggerated style oddly fits with the story. Despite a bit of a goofy amusement factor, as his nimrod Jordy turns into a¬†form of¬†alien plant-life, the story itself really doesn’t go anywhere or have much of a point.¬†Third¬†story, Something to Tide You Over,¬†is the dullest, with Nielsen’s pontificating villain taking up most of the running time, happily laying out his diabolical plot to his captive audience. Creepshow picks up again for the last two stories which are, by far, the best. The Crate is spooky, gory and really works the dark humor as a beleaguered professor (Hal Holbrook) uses the discovery of a vicious and very hungry creature to rid himself of another monster, his overbearing wife (Adrienne Barbeau). They’re Creeping Up On You is fun and will make your skin crawl as the ruthless and heartless Upson Pratt is trapped in his germ-free apartment by a power outage with an army of invading cockroaches. You get three strong stories, two weak¬†ones and a¬†Halloween set bookend segment that is devious¬†fun, too. So, overall Creepshow is not perfect, but is ghoulish entertainment¬†made even more fun¬†by a healthy dose of 80s nostalgia, brought on by it’s charming hand-drawn animation and live make-up and prosthetics…something sadly missing in today’s movies.

With five stories and a bookending segment, we have a large cast¬†with¬†many horror veterans and each seems to get the tone of the material and have a good over-the-top time with it, in the varying degrees their individual roles call for. Stand outs are‚ĶTom Atkins (The Fog, Halloween III) as the bookending tales’ hard-nosed father. Atkins is no stranger to edgy characters and this time he gets to play a real jerk. Leslie Nielsen oozes malice in his segment and while it is the weakest story, the veteran actor makes a contemptible bad guy. Adrienne Barbeau is deliciously overbearing as the wife of her¬†The Fog¬†co-star Hal Holbrook’s meek professor, Northup. Barbeau really makes you hate her and beg for her comeuppance‚Ķcall her Billie, everyone does! Last, but certainly not least, is E.G. Marshall who is a delight as the modern day Scrooge, Upson Pratt. Pratt is a ruthless and heartless individual and his skin crawling encounter with an army of cockroaches makes us cheer on the bugs! Also good are Viveca Lindfors, Carrie Nye, Fritz Weaver, Ted Danson and there is a¬†fun cameo from make-up FX master Tom Savini and small roles from future Oscar nominee Ed Harris and Dawn Of The Dead‘s Gaylen Ross.

Overall, I like Creepshow¬†and it’s a lot of fun, especially now that it carries such heavy 80s nostalgia. I will admit I was a little disappointed back in the 80s that it wasn’t a more serious horror, considering who was involved, but it has grown on me considerably. It isn’t completely successful with all it’s stories, but the ones that are, really work and provide some fun and goosebumps to keep us entertained. The large cast gets the material completely and is filled with familiar faces to horror fans. An entertaining comic book style horror that sadly gets forgotten when people discuss comic book style films as it does convey the comic book feeling far better than many a superhero movie. Creepshow¬†was followed by a sub-par sequel in 1987, directed by Michael Gornick and written by Romero, based on some Stephen King short stories. A¬†third flick, without the involvement of Romero or King, was made in 2006 and seemed to go straight to DVD with little or no fanfare.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Creeps!

creepshow rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD (2013)

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BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD (2013)

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Birth is a fun and informative documentary on the making of one of the greatest horror films of all time. The flick chronicles how¬†George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead came to be, through not only interviews with the legendary filmmaker himself but, reflections and observations from others such as indie filmmaking fixture Larry Fessenden (who also produced), Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Heard, NOTLD star Bill Hinzman (earlier interview footage from before his death in 2012) and a host of others. They takes us through Romero’s interest in being a filmmaker, to his early commercial days, to the financing and filming and then to the struggle to get it released and it’s eventual impact. They also compare events going on in the world, at the time, such as the Viet Nam War and how it effected the way¬†people viewed Romero’s classic, to how Romero’s trend-setting zombie epic unintentionally reflected a lot of what was going on in the world, as well. It’s very entertaining and takes one inside the making of a little movie that has become a bonifide classic. We find out how some of the film’s most effective elements were sometimes by mistake or simply out of budgetary necessity¬†and how some of the most quotable lines were ad-libbed on the spot. We also get the sad story of how a simple mistake robbed Romero and company of any rights and profits from the movie to this day.¬†And we discover that¬†the groundbreaking casting of a black hero at¬†a time when¬†that¬†was still not a popular notion in Hollywood, was simply a case of hiring the right actor to play the part and no one saw the racial impact the casting of Duane Jones would have. The part wasn’t even written race specific. All in all, it’s a charming and very affectionate look at the making of one of horrors all time greatest flicks from one of it’s most celebrated filmmakers. A must for Romero and zombie film fans alike.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Romeros.

birth of the living dead rating

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WYRMWOOD (2014)

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WYRMWOOD (2014)

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“The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.”- Revelations 8:11

Leave it to the Australians to give life back to the stale zombie genre with this delightful mash-up of Evil Dead and The Road Warrior. This fun and sometimes intense and gruesome flick, tells the story of brother and sister, Barry (Jay Gallagher) and Brooke (Bianca Bradey) during a mysterious zombie outbreak. Not much is given to us about the cause except for an abundance of shooting stars on the night it begins and a biblical reference to Wyrmwood, a star which falls to earth during Revelations and brings a plague¬†of death. Barry is with his family and Brooke doing a photo shoot in the town of Bulla Bulla. Barry looses both his wife and daughter to the mysterious condition which, for some reason, spares those with A- blood. He eventually teams up Aborigine camper Benny (Leon Burchill) who lost both his brothers. Together they run into some locals and discover that while this ‘situation’ has rendered gas and fossil fuels inert, the zombies’ blood is quite flammable and the methane-like gas they exhale works as a fuel substitute. So, they go out armed and¬†armored to gather ‘fuel’ and rescue Barry’s sister. Brooke, on the other hand, has been kidnaped by a sinister military group who keeps her restrained and gagged in a lab where there are performing experiments on zombie and human alike. Experiments, unbeknownst to her captors, that render Brooke with the ability to telekinetically control the living dead. Obviously the two siblings and their stories will come together…and then the bloody fun begins.

As directed by Kiah Roache-Turner from a script he co-wrote with his brother Tristan Roache-Turner, this flick is a blast of fun and a breath of bloody fresh air for the¬†zombie sub-genre. A sub-genre¬†made stale by an over-saturation of¬†movies and weekly zombie TV shows. They make even the silliest aspects of the story work, and work very well.¬†They take their story very seriously‚Ķthough it is laden with that off-beat Australian sense of humor, which seems to fit in perfectly with the more gruesome aspects of this deviously twisted tale. The film has a really cool visual style and is obviously made by those who love these kind of movies and who also know what makes them work. This energetic mash-up is filled with subtle references to films like Dawn Of The Dead,¬†Evil Dead, the Mad Max films and even a playful nod to The Walking Dead involving a Samurai sword. Roache-Turner, however, creates his own flick from all the hat-tipping, despite borrowing concepts from George Romero and George Miller and makes his homage to the movies he loves in his own style. One of the things I loved most about it was that the combination of eclectic elements is mixed so well and works far better than it sounds like it should‚Ķcause it’s mixed in the right amounts and given the respect it deserves. The film is action packed but, never at the sacrifice of it’s off-kilter story, or characters, and can be very intense at times. There is also a lot of gory violence, which appears to be mostly‚Ķand thankfully‚Ķ well-rendered live effects, too. Abundance of action and bloodshed aside, though,¬†what makes it really work so completely¬†is a charming group of main characters and some¬†delightfully¬†eccentric supporting characters, such as a sinister scientist who prefers to listen to K.C. and the Sunshine Band while he¬†conducts his gruesome experiments. There really is little to not like about this film, made by film geeks for the film geek¬†in all of us.¬†Roache-Turner is certainly a filmmaker to watch.

As for the cast, they are all engaging. Gallagher is a charming and solid hero as Barry. Despite his loses and what is happening, he is valiantly going to find his sibling, as she is all he has left. Burchill is delightful as the oddball Benny. The character is given a lot of charm by the actor and is extremely likable. He has some of the best lines and is a perfect side-kick for Barry. As Brooke, Bianca Bradey is strong and sexy and her tattooed heroine becomes quite the powerhouse once she learns to use the side-effects of the experiments against those who hold her captive. The actress spends about 75% of the movie tied up with a fetishistic gag in her mouth and has to express her emotions and thoughts in her eyes and body language and Bradey does a great job. Long before she gets free, we like her immensely and are rooting for her. The supporting characters are also an eccentric lot and help add an offbeat atmosphere to the story and film. They seem both over-the-top and yet, somehow believably human, at the same time.

What little faults the film has are minor and not really worth bringing up when the filmmakers get so much, so right. They somehow mash-up quite a few different genres worth of ideas to fuel their homage and, as such, make sure to give nods to the types of film’s that inspired them. It reminded me of Neil Marshall’s Doomsday in that the entire film existed to pay homage to others yet, somehow, is it’s own movie. Energetic, delightfully gory and with a fast and furious pace, Wyrmwood is a real blast of George Romero meets Sam Raimi meets George Miller and yet remains very Kiah Roache-Turner. One of the year’s best horrors, so far, in my book and by a filmmaking talent to keep a close watch on!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Road Warrior-esque zombie fighters!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

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RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

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

I have to admit, I am not the biggest fan of this flick. True, I was first disappointed because, I was expecting something far more serious from the co-creators of Night Of The Living Dead and Alien and instead got a silly horror/comedy trying a little too hard to be hip. But, over the years I’ve come to realize that simply not all of the bits work and it wears out it’s welcome and gimmick long before it’s 90 minutes are over. Sure it has some fun scenes and a few quotable lines and I understand that many consider this a cult classic and I respect that, but, to me the flick is mediocre at best.

The film uses the original¬†Night Of The Living Dead¬†as a springboard, as medical supply warehouse worker Frank (Poltergeist’s James Karen) tells newbie Freddy (Jason Lives’ Thom Mathews) that the film¬†Night Of The Living Dead¬†actually happened and and George Romero changed the details to keep the army off his back. The zombie outbreak was caused by a military chemical weapon called Trioxin that accidentally raised the dead and an army screw-up brought some of the containers here to Louisville, Kentucky. He shows him some drums that he claims contain the imprisoned zombies and‚Ķ of course‚Ķ one gets punctured and Frank and Freddy become infected and the zombie inside escapes. With Freddy’s friends on the way to pick him up and party in a nearby graveyard and warehouse owner Burt’s (Clu Gulager) misguided idea to cremate a re-animated corpse during a rainstorm, it all adds up to a night of terror for all involved as the dead rise with one thing on their hungry dead minds‚Ķ BRAINS!

There is some witty¬†stuff in director Dan (Alien) O’Bannon’s script from a story by Rudi Ricci and NOTLD co-creators John A. Russo and Russell Streiner but, a lot of it is fairly by-the-numbers, too and adding a lot of punk rock songs to the soundtrack doesn’t really cover up the fact that this should have been a lot more clever. It uses another classic movie as a springboard and while there is¬†the initial clever notion that¬†NOTLD¬†actually happened and there was a cover-up, the film doesn’t really use it for anything other then another routine zombie siege flick. I do like the notion that they eat brains to ease the pain of death. That was a clever touch, but, aside from that, it’s just another board the windows and doors zombie movie with some only half-successful comedy and slapstick thrown in. O’Bannon directs the proceedings with a fairly pedestrian hand,¬†translating the script to screen with very little style or finesse. The film could have used a director who was willing to really go for broke with the premise and doesn’t play it safe like O’Bannon. Even Scream Queen Linnea Quigley’s nude cemetery striptease is done quickly and over before you can blink without ever even trying to exploit the whole nude minx in a sacred cemetery angle. The gore and creature FX are well done but, stay well within the R-rated limits and the last act simply gets annoying as characters shout, curse and cry continuously about their dilemma but, accomplish very little. The slapstick reaches a fever pitch but, O’Bannon is not skilled or experienced enough a director to keep it down to a tolerable level and let’s his cast over-act and it just gets grating. The film basically showed us all it had in the first half and now just barrels along to it’s predictable conclusion. There are some fun zombie bits but, they are few and far between as the action remains focused on those trapped in the mortuary and warehouse‚Ķ and splitting the characters up and thus our focus, doesn’t help things either. It’s no surprise¬†when the film is discussed that the conversation and quotes are all about¬†the zombies as the human characters never really register.

The cast all over-act a lot, especially Karen who you just want to shut up sometimes. Don Calfa as the mortician is in constant bug-eyes mode even before the zombie show up and Clu Gulager¬†is shamelessly unrestrained¬†the whole flick. Quigley is certainly fetching as nude punk rocker/zombie Trash but, her line readings are flat and her dialog, not much better. And the film sadly makes little use of it’s naked, curvaceous brain-eating sex kitten‚Ķ again, O’Bannon playing it safe. Mathews spends most of his time shivering and whimpering as he takes over an hour to turn into a zombie and the rest of the cast play stereotypical Hollywood cliche’ punk rockers and hipsters‚Ķ two groups that would never have hung out together in real life. Even heroine Beverly Randolph is reduced to a crying, shrieking mess and it gives us no strong characters to endear ourselves too or identify with.

So, in conclusion my original opinion remains. The film has some fun bits but, overall plays it far too safe and doesn’t really make good use of it’s premise. Anything clever the film has to offer is basically in the set-up and aside from a legitimately creepy dialog scene with a dead corpse, the film really doesn’t do anything new with the whole zombie formula except to make a joke out of it in an attempt to be hip. There is some fun nostalgia at this point and the flick is very 80, but, overall it’s an overrated attempt to get more gas out of a classic movie’s legendary status and needed a far more deft and clever hand behind the camera to succeed in what it set out to do. Watchable but, very overrated. Made enough money to warrant a number of sequels with only Part 3 being a recommendable watch‚Ķand one that might be actually better than the film that inspired it.

2 and 1/2 tar men.

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

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DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

Day of the Dead is George Romero’s third film in the original zombie trilogy and was supposed to be a large scale movie that was to bring an end to the zombie plague and conclude the series. Despite the huge success of¬†Dawn Of The Dead, Romero couldn’t get the financing he asked for and the film was scaled back to what was released in 1985. While it doesn’t quite live up to the first two films in this series, Day still has plenty to entertain for fans of these movies and is actually very underrated once you remove the post Dawn expectations.

Day is the first to be located elsewhere as it takes place in an underground missile silo in Florida where a group of soldiers and scientist are desperately trying to find an answer to the zombie problem which now has the Earth overrun and the last remaining humans in hiding. But as time goes on and desperation sets in, the two groups start to clash especially when the death of their commanding officer puts the tyrannical Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato) in charge and he has little understanding or patience for the scientists’ efforts. Even the scientists themselves are fragmented as Sarah (Lori Cardille) wants to find a cure for the rising of the dead and Dr. Logan aka “Frankenstein” (Richard Liberty) feels they can be domesticated…as long as they are fed. As hopelessness sets in, the group disintegrates and they begin to turn on each other with scientists vs the thug-like Rhodes and his soldiers and pilot John (Terry Alexander) and radio man Bill (Jarlath Conroy) caught in the middle….and let’s not forget about Logan’s “star pupil” Bub (Howard Sherman), a zombie Logan has trained and who is given reason to hate Rhodes and his men. It all explodes in a gore filled climax when the team not only battles each other, but the hordes of living dead that a deranged soldier lets into their underground compound. Will any of them survive?

It’s hard to say what Day would have been like if Romero had gotten the budget he had asked for. Zombie Bub is all that remains of the original script’s concept of humans in fortified cities training a legion of zombie soldiers to destroy the other zombies. But this is the film we got and it is a precursor to a film that never got made as the following Land Of The Dead in 2005 presented humans in fortified cities facing zombies who were gaining intelligence on their own.¬†Day is what it is and it is actually a pretty good movie when not compared to it’s two predecessors. The film might be talky at times, but it is faster paced than Dawn and the gore and zombie FX by Tom Savini are the best of the series at this point. There is also a great electronic score by John Harrison that adds a lot of atmosphere.

The acting is a mixed bag with Cardille, Liberty, Conroy and Alexander being the standouts and Sherman doing a nice job giving Bub a personality without dialog and just using limited facial expression. On the downside, Pilato goes way over-the-top as the bug eyed psychotic Rhodes and sometimes is more laughable than threatening and some of the other supporting players are either overacting a bit or are just bland. The uneven performances does hurt the drama somewhat at times, but not enough to sink the film and Romero wisely punctuates the dialog sequences with some action or bloodshed, so the film is far from all talk and keeps us interested till the all out chaotic action/gore finale. It also helps that we like most of the non-military characters and the soldiers are set up as far more villainous than the zombies that lurk above and gives us heroes to root for and villains to boo. This is a theme that runs through all Romero’s zombie epics that sometimes man’s greed and selfishness is more of a danger than the zombies.

So, in conclusion, Day may be a letdown of sorts when compared to the film classics that it followed, but taken on it’s own, it’s an underrated zombie flick and is well directed by Romero and gives us a lot of gore and action despite some long dialog scenes. It may not have been the movie Romero wanted to make, or the one fans wanted, but it is a nice addition to the series and better than the three films that followed and has rightfully obtained a cult classic status of it’s own over time.

3 and 1/2 “Bubs”!

Day rating

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

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DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth!”

George Romero’s sequel to his classic Night of the Living Dead is in itself a classic and much like it predecessor, is considered by many to be one of the all time horror movie greats. The story takes place with the zombie outbreak started in Night Of The Living Dead still occurring or having re-occured and this time we see the signs that the living are losing control of the situation and we are starting to be overrun by the flesh eating dead. The new installment takes place again in Pennsylvania with four¬†survivors, helicopter pilot Steven (David Emge), newswoman and girlfriend Fran (Gaylen Ross), along with S.W.A.T. team members Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree) taking to the air to escape the chaos and finding shelter and temporary haven in a massive abandoned shopping mall…abandoned by the living that is. They battle the dead to occupy their new home, but their victory and solace is short lived as they’ve lost one of their own, they begin to feel more like prisoners in their palace of consumerism and a vicious motorcycle gang arrives who¬†“don’t like people who don’t share”. ¬†This leads to an action packed and blood and entrails soaked climax where the 3 remaining survivors battle the heavily armed bikers and the legions of the flesh eating dead now released back into the mall.

Romero again deftly mixes social commentary with savage violence as the zombie uprising started in the first film has returned (or has it been ongoing?) and is spiraling out of control. Now the living are being overrun by the flesh eating dead and there’s nowhere to run and writer/director Romero paints a bleak and desolate picture of a world being taken over by a nightmare. We get some truly chilling shots of streets, fields and parking lots filled with the walking dead and the meager forces of mankind making a last stand to remain the dominant species on the planet. He paints a grim picture of a human race who are too busy fighting each other over superficial and political reasons to unite and save itself from extinction. Romero takes a satirical look at American consumerism as well, with our survivors battling the dead and the bikers not for survival, but for the spoils represented by the product filled stores in the mall and the notion that the dead return to the mall because “It was an important place in their lives.”. Dawn is presented on a much larger scale than Night and there are literally hundreds of zombies this time and they are everywhere. Again Romero gets good work from his leads and the make-up and gore FX from master craftsman Tom Savini (who also plays the biker gang leader and did stunt work) set a new standard and made him a legend in the film FX world. Add to that a haunting score by the Italian rock band Goblin (Suspiria) and the gigantic Monroeville Mall, which under Romero’s lens becomes a character of the film in itself.

While the flick has a bit more of a satirical sense of humor then the original, it is still horrifying in it’s own way and presented zombies on a scale never seen before up till this time. A sequel that equals and in some ways surpasses the classic original.

A classic 4 zombies!

dawn rating

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

What can be said about George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead at this point that hasn’t already been said, it’s one of the greatest horror films ever made and has lost none of it potency even today. Romero may not have invented zombies, but he turned them into their own genre and is responsible for inspiring almost every zombie flick or TV show we see today and created the template for the flesh-eating, shoot-em in the head characteristics that almost every zombie media follows.

Night starts out with siblings Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Steiner who also produced) driving from Pittsburgh into the country to place a wreath on their father’s grave. In the graveyard they are attacked by a seemingly deranged man (Bill Hinzman) who kills Johnny and then chases the terrified Barbara, who finds shelter in an abandoned farm house. A man named Ben (Duane Jones), who is also fleeing a similar attack, then arrives as do more of these apparently deranged people. Soon we find that not only are the dead returning to life and eating the living, but a group of terrified people, including the Coopers, Harry (Karl Hardman), wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman), daughter Karen (Kyra Schon) and local boyfriend and girlfriend Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley), have been hiding in the cellar right beneath their feet. Now the group must somehow fight off what seems like an army of the undead and each other, as the arrogant Harry clashes with the strong-willed Ben over who runs the house and gives the orders.

George Romero has created a horror masterpiece that is filled with dread in every shot thanks to some incredibly moody black and white photography. The film is shot much like one of the classic Universal horrors from the 30s and 40s or the silent Nosferatu with it’s stark and ominous shadows creeping into the frame or creating dark patches where any horror could inhabit. Romero also creates thick tension not only from the terror that lurks outside the house waiting to get in, but the conflict between those who fight for control inside the besieged home, because they can’t control what’s going on outside it. We share the occupants dread as the dead multiply and every chance to escape is dashed and hope dwindles while their fear grows. It tears them apart and soon the danger inside the house is no lesser then what awaits outside. Romero increases the horror when we see an escape plan go awry and it costs the lives of a few of the survivors. The rest get to finally witness what they’ve only heard about on TV as their housemates are devoured in graphic detail by the army of carnivorous corpses. The FX in this low budget film are good with the zombie’s looking quite nightmarish and the entrails they devour very effective…maybe more so…in shadow drenched black and white.

Romero also gets very effective performances out of all his cast, especially Jones as the tough and resourceful Ben and Hardman as the slimy and devious Harry Cooper. These are now considered classic characters in horror film history and Jones’ Ben is also boundary breaking, being the first black man to be cast as a horror film lead especially in the middle of the civil rights movement of the time. There are so many classic scenes as well, that still frighten even today with a proliferation of graphic zombie flicks, zombie themed video games and a weekly TV show. And Night also remains one of the most quotable horrors of it’s kind as well…“they’re dead, they’re all messed up!”…for delightful example.¬†It’s controversial ending still has power even after all these years and multiple viewings.

A true horror masterpiece that is one of the greatest horror flicks of all time and a must watch during the Halloween season. It inspired countless other like films and made a horror legend out of Romero, who added to the zombie pantheon with five more films in the series to date. I was fortunate enough to see NOTLD in a theater during the early 80s at a revival screening at my beloved Oritani theater in Hackensack, N.J.

-MonsterZero NJ

A classic 4 zombies!

Night rating

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