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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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND

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This week’s double feature are two films that go very well together, at least in my opinion. They are both from the 80s, both co-written and directed by Stuart Gordon, both are based loosely on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and both star the incomparable Jeffrey Combs and the lovely Barbara Crampton. Not to mention, they are probably two of the best features to come out of Charles Band’s prolific Empire Pictures… certainly the most infamous.

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RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, this delightfully fun gore-fest opens in a university in Switzerland with something going frightfully wrong in one of the labs and security and faculty rushing to see what is going on. They burst in to find famed Doctor Hans Gruber (Al Berry) a bloody screaming mess with brilliant student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) at his side with a syringe. Gruber dies and West is accused of his murder causing him to reply that it was he who gave him life. We then cut to Miskatonic University where West has appeared and seeks to continue his education. He rooms with fellow medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) who is dating Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), who is Dean Halsey’s (Robert Sampson) daughter. But West’s true goal is to continue his experiments with defeating death using a serum he’s developed and he begs Cain to assist him. After being given some gruesome proof, involving Cain’s cat, that West’s serum works, he agrees. But one of their experiments goes horribly awry and not only leads to the death…and re-animation…of Dean Halsey, but also gets the unwanted attention of rival Doctor Carl Hill, who wants West’s serum as his own. This sets a series of blood-soaked events in motion that sees corpses rise and headless foes carrying out their own diabolical plot that puts the lives of West, Cain and the lovely Megan in grave danger…emphasis on grave.

Directed by Stuart Gordon, Re-Animator is a really entertaining and deliriously blood-spattered treat that perfectly straddles the line between comedy and horror. And it’s my experience that comedy/horror is one of the hardest types of flicks to make as the blend has to be just right to work…and Gordon nails it here. There are some set pieces here that are both grotesque and hilarious, such as West and Cain’s first experiment gone wrong and the really over the top morgue-set finale that includes Megan as a nude and bound damsel being menaced by a perverted severed head…it’s the scene this flick is most famous for and I will always have much respect for Barbara Crampton being such a good sport in performing it and with such seriousness.

And while we are on the subject of the cast, they all do a perfect job of taking the material seriously yet adding that touch of theatricality that gives it a much welcome energy and buoyancy despite the gruesome subject matter. Few films with so many severed limbs and so much spurting blood have been this giddy. This is the flick that introduced the genre world to Jeffery Combs who is not only a horror icon, but equally iconic in the world of Star Trek as well. He plays West very seriously, but takes him over the top just enough to delightfully evoke the mad scientist vibe he needs to make his part work. Abbott plays the straight man to West’s demented yet determined scientist and is a noble, if not flawed hero. Crampton’s Megan is basically required to be a feisty girlfriend who mistrusts West and then become a damsel to be rescued, but she’s beautiful and hot and a real sport for her work in the last act that has earned her special status among horror fans. This and her equally racy work in From Beyond make her a real trooper in my book. Rounding out the main cast is Robert Sampson as stern father and school dean Alan Hasley and he seems to play both dean and zombie henchman with equal relish and David Gale provides a truly dispicable villain in Dr. Hill whose villainy extends quite beyond decapitation and death. The performances hit the right notes and keep Gordon’s flick balanced on that horror/comedy line.

The gore FX are excellent and quite disgusting, especially during a final act that sees all manner of corpses, limbs and viscera coming to life and reeking havoc. Again if the FX didn’t work, the film wouldn’t have near the impact it does. Add a witty script by Gordon, Dennis Paoli and William J.Norris and an energetic score by Richard Band and you have a cult classic movie that hits all the right marks and doesn’t miss a beat. One of my favorite horrors and one I can proudly say I was able to catch it in a theater…the Hyway Cinema in Fairlawn, N.J. to be exact…back in the day in 1985. A fun, gory good time!

-MonsterZero NJ

4 disembodied heads.

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FROM BEYOND (1986)

Stuart Gordon followed up his cult hit Re-Animator with another H.P. Lovecraft inspired story, this one about experiments to expand the senses into other dimensions. The result is a weird, sometimes kinky and moderately entertaining film, but it didn’t live up to the instant classic it followed…which admittedly, were big shoes to fill…though it has developed a cult following of it’s own.

The film opens with scientists Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) and Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) initiating The Resonator, a machine that uses sound waves to stimulate the pineal gland in the human brain which would allow one to see into other dimensions. The experiment works until something from another dimension sees them back. The result is Pretorius left without a head and Tillinghast driven out of his. The young scientist is institutionalized and the authorities want answers. Enter beautiful Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), a psychologist who volunteers to take Crawford back to the Pretorius house to determine if he is truly crazy or if they really did unleash something through their experiments. Accompanied by Det. Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), the three try to restart The Resonator and piece together what happened that fateful night. But the more Dr. McMichaels sees of the accomplishments the two men made, the more she is seduced by needing to push the experiment further. And despite Crawford’s dire warnings, Katherine unleashes a horror upon the three that none of them may escape.

From Beyond is a far more serious and ambitious flick then Re-Animator and could have used a bit more of that film’s theatrical tone. Gordon directs with a far more somber and dark feel then his last flick, despite the borderline goofiness of some of what goes on. While there is a smattering of humor, the comic aspects of his re-animated corpse epic are gone and replaced with a bit of a surreal atmosphere with a touch of S&M, as he once again portrays science gone too far. This time his story focuses on heightening the senses of the living and not raising the dead…and it’s not as much fun and not always successful as the film sometimes seems to bite off more then it can chew for it’s small budget. The FX this time are not limited to gore, but various creatures including the constantly evolving monstrosity that Pretorius has become, now that his twisted mind is taking physical form on the other side. The production tries to accomplish The Thing-like creatures with a fraction of the budget and the FX are mixed, with some being quite effective and others being rubbery or just plain unconvincing. Another thing is that the film is shot entirely on sound stages and it shows. The film never quite looks real. More like a filmed play than a movie.

A big plus though, is that the cast are all good. Combs plays more of a victim here, a man mentally wounded by what he has seen and experienced and he is fine, though, except for a few really bizarre and over the top moments, he seems a bit wasted somewhat as it’s becomes Crampton’s show. And Barbara Crampton does shine as she gets a far meatier part from Gordon and co-scripters Brian Yuzna and Dennis Paoli. She starts out as a young doctor resented for her accomplishments at her youthful age and then slowly turns mad scientist as the experiment’s allure pulls her in. Once again she is a trooper for Gordon as the pineal gland stimulation also controls sexual urges and Dr. McMichaels gets her dominatrix on in the film’s most notorious scene and gets her pretty flesh again ravaged by prosthetic horrors. Next we have the always delightful Ken Foree as the big teddy bear cop who has some of the best moments and lines. Not sure why Foree never became a bigger star. He can play a tough guy and has charm and charisma to spare and it’s on full display here. Rounding out is Ted Sorel who is dripping with malice and madness as Pretorius, but we see little of him not covered in pounds of latex monster make-up and not getting to know him well limits him to being a fairly generic villain, though well played.

But the biggest flaw with From Beyond is it’s weak script. The dialog is hokey, the science is obviously more science fiction…which is fine…and it really needed to flesh out the characters and situations a bit more, and at least Gordon is lucky his cast helped out on the character front, adding some dimension to their portrayals. We could have used a clearer idea of what lurked in this other dimension to establish a deeper threat and a more gradual portrayal of the effects it has on the house occupants. They transform way to fast and the film’s over too quickly before we really feel the story’s accomplished anything other then the time-honored ‘leave well enough alone’ moral. What really was the point other then to shower the screen with goo and gore and get the shapely Ms. Crampton into a leather corset…not that I mind. The film is almost a series of set-pieces more then a complete movie with a smooth narrative flow. Sure we were entertained somewhat,the film has it’s degree of fun, but we’re never swept off our feet like with Re-Animator and sadly, Gordon has never again hit his stride or equalled his accomplishment with that classic.

Overall, I do like From Beyond. It’s got a midnight movie feel, some unintentionally goofy goings on and definitely benefits from the 80s nostalgia now, too. But it is a bit of a disappointment after Re-Animator and once it’s over you just get the feeling there was potential there to achieve a lot more even with what they had to work with. An amusing diversion that is fun enough when viewed from a guilty pleasure perspective, but could have been something more, or at least had a little more fun with what it was.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 saucy psychologists.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EVIL DEAD and THE LORDS OF SALEM

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I’ve covered these two movies before but, as I recently named them as my top 2 favorite horrors of 2013, I decided to watch them together and found they made quite a chilling double feature so, if you are looking for an evening of frights and chills on the couch, why not give these two a try together…

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EVILD DEAD (2013)

The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite fright flicks so, I was very apprehensive about a remake. With Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert and even Bruce Campbell on board as producers, I hoped the material would at least be treated with respect. Now having seen this new vision of one of the all time horror classics, I can say not only was the material treated with respect but, it is one of the best horror remakes and one hell of a nasty, scary, bloody blast. The best thing is that co-writer and first time director Fede Alvarez smartly takes the basic premise and does his own thing with it. This version has heroine addict, Mia (Suburgatory’s Jane Levy) being taken by big brother, David (Skateland’s Shiloh Fernandez) and 3 friends to an old family cabin to try to get Mia to quit her habit cold turkey. But, someone has been in the cabin since they were last there and something gruesome has definitely gone on inside with blood stains and dozens of dead animals hanging in the cellar. Of course there is also a mysterious book and within it ominous warnings that certain words not be read aloud… so, of course, someone does… and at the same time Mia is alone in the woods… uh, oh… I don’t need to tell you that soon Mia is possessed by some horrible demonic entity and the gruesome blood soaked nightmare begins as the ancient evil wants to claim them all. Alvarez really crafts a strong, gruesome and scary horror of the likes we haven’t seen in a while. It’s vicious and nasty with top notch gore and make-up that is done the old fashioned way without any CGI. When limbs fly… and they do, it is good old fashioned prosthetics and I loved the lack of CGI when it came to the ghouls and gore. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues (Diablo Cody was supposedly hired to work on the script but, if she was credited, I missed it.) basically give us enough elements of the original to make it recognizable as an Evil Dead flick and thus fits in with the series but, makes the flick it’s own animal. And that’s the way to do a remake like this. And Alvarez is the real deal who knows how to make a good old fashioned horror movie complete with suspense, tension and intensity, not to mention, plentiful scares. He also gives the film a strong atmosphere and I really liked his visual style. He gets good work from his cast too, especially leading lady Levy whose character has a few stages to go through from heroine addict to a demon possessed creature to… well, you’ll have to see the flick to find out. Shiloh Fernandez is also very good, after a lifeless performance in Red Riding Hood, he shows us the actor we saw in Skateland was no fluke. The rest, Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric, Jessica Lucas as Olivia and Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie, do fine making their characters more then demon fodder and they are all likable enough to make us afraid for them when all hell breaks loose.  The flick is not perfect but, any flaws are minor and can be overlooked due to all that is done right. Evil Dead 2013 may not be as groundbreaking as the original and only time will tell if it will be highly regard like it’s predecessor but, it is a strong, visceral horror that gives equal parts suspense and scares with all the goo and gore. Maybe not quite a classic but, a film worthy of the title Evil Dead. Well done!… and stay to watch after the credits!

Check out our look back at the original classic that started it all!… HERE!

A very solid 3 and 1/2 demon possessed sitcom stars

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THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

If Stanley Kubrick, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci got drunk and decided to make a horror movie together, Lords Of Salem would probably be close to what you’d get. Even back in the White Zombie days, rocker/director Rob Zombie has always shown a heavy influence from movies, especially horror so, it’s no surprise to see such influences in his films. And this time, Zombie sheds the 70s grind-house style that his earlier films have had and goes for something that evokes the work of the previously mentioned filmmakers and also some of the 70s occult themed flicks like the infamous Mark Of The Devil. To a degree, it is Zombie’s most solid effort as director but, also his most experimental as Lords gets downright head trippy and surreal at times, especially in it’s last act. If you liked his dream sequences in Halloween 2, there’s lots more where that came from. Today’s impatient audiences weaned on cookie cutter horrors and endless sequels may not appreciate what Zombie has done here but, to me it was a disturbing breath of fresh air. In a time of CGI phantoms and overused jump scares, I really like that Zombie had the courage to make something that aims to simply unsettle and disturb you with it’s atmosphere and imagery and doesn’t rely on cheap scares and elaborate post production hocus-pocus. Lords tells the creepy story of late night Salem DJ Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) who receives a wooden box with a record in it from someone referring to themselves simply as “The Lords”. When she plays the vinyl album she suddenly starts to have increasingly disturbing hallucinations and her life starts to spiral out of control. When author Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) begins to investigate, he finds that an ancient evil in the form of a devil worshiping witch coven, once burned at the stake, may be returning to Salem and Heidi might be key to their vengeance. Director/writer Zombie tells his disturbing tale with a deliberately slow burn yet, never at any moment does he ease up on the atmosphere that something sinister and very wrong is going on here. Whether it’s the haunting visuals that he fills the film with or the excellent use of Griffin Boice and John 5’s score… which evoked Fabio Frizzi and Goblin at times… the film oozes atmosphere and keeps us involved even if the film’s narrative flow doesn’t always follow a tradition path. And as for the visuals, they range from haunting to shocking and as disturbing as they can be, they are also beautiful. This is certainly, at the very least, a visually striking film. And despite all the shocking imagery, I actually feel Zombie showed some restraint at times which made the horror elements all the more horrifying when they arrive. And Rob is not the only Zombie to watch here, Sheri, who proved she had some acting chops as Deborah Myers, is again very effective here as Heidi, a woman with emotional troubles and past bad habits who is being drawn into a living nightmare that she is not equipped to fight. Jeff Daniel Phillips is also good playing one of the two Hermans who DJ with her, a man with feelings for Heidi who tries to help her without knowing the true cause of her emotional down-turn. And Zombie also peppers his film with genre vets like Ken Foree (the other Herman), Meg Foster, Sid Haig and the effectively spooky trio of Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn and Judy Geeson as Heidi’s neighbors, who are more then they appear. Overall Zombie has created his most interesting work yet and one that won’t appeal to everyone. It evokes a type of horror in the vein of Argento’s early films or Fulci’s The Beyond, that they don’t make anymore. But, that’s why I liked it so much. Zombie remembers a time before the MTV generation when horror films took their time to draw you in and had loads of atmosphere. He also knows, like those films, that there is a time to shock you too, and he does that well. And finally, he knows that sometimes the best way to make sure you leave the theater spooked is to not wrap everything up in a neat little bow and thus leave you looking over your shoulder when you are home at night. I would recommend this film highly for those who don’t mind a slow burn and a splash of avant garde with their horror. Not perfect but, a really spooky flick for those that can appreciate it.

A very spooky and disturbing  3 and 1/2 haunted heroines

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II

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With the Holidays here what better way to show some cheer then by featuring a couple of Rob Zombie movies…and holiday themed Rob Zombie movies at that…OK, the holiday is Halloween, but since it’s Halloween all year round at MonsterZero NJ’s, these flicks are appropriate…in my twisted little mind anyway! I know Zombie’s Halloween features have caused a lot of controversy and evoked some strong feelings both pro and con, but that’s far better in my mind than indifference. So, what did I think of them? Read on…
Both reviews are of the director’s cuts…

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN (2007)

(Click on the highlighted links to go to corresponding previous features here at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse!)

There are things I like about Rob Zombie’s remake and things I don’t. As far as the things I didn’t like, Zombie’s biggest mistake is de-mystifying Michael Myers. Carpenter’s original had an average little boy from an average family, savagely murdering his older sister for no apparent reason on Halloween night. Zombie makes him the product of a broken white trash home with a stripper mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) who has a taste for loser boyfriends (William Forsythe). Giving Myers a reason for his violent behavior takes away the mystique the character had. Zombie’s Myers is a damaged young boy (Daeg Faerch) who tortures small animals and graduates to killing people and is sent to an asylum where he silently grows into a homicidal man (Tyler Mane). Carpenter’s Myers was pure evil, the young boy stopped existing and grew into a vessel for an unexplained evil force and it was random and thus spookier. The original Myers became a supernatural being, where Zombie’s Myers is all too human. Another mistake is spending almost an hour examining Myers youth and incarceration at the mental hospital before he is set loose to return home to find his little sister, now a teenager with the adopted name of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). Carpenter got things rolling within a few minutes in the original and his flick focuses on the stalking of Laurie and gets the scares started early. And Laurie Strode is a random victim in Carpenter’s flick, the convention that she was related to Michael wasn’t added till the original’s sequel Halloween II. Finally, the casting of genre legend Malcolm McDowell, as Dr. Loomis, doesn’t work for me. I love McDowell, but his portrayal is a bit off. He didn’t quite seem to fit the role. He also botches a couple of the classic lines and these lines are important to the mythos. Patrick Stewart would have made a far better Loomis, not that he would have done such a film.

On the plus side, Zombie does have a nice visual style and things do get intense once he finally let’s Myers loose on the peaceful town of Haddonfield. Zombie’s Myers has a savageness that the original Myers lost after being dragged through numerous sequels, and the havoc he raises is some of the best action the character has seen since the original. Tyler Mane does make an imposing Myers and his Myers is filled with rage whereas Carpenter’s Myers was more methodical. Aside from my feelings on the casting of McDowell, the rest of the cast are fine. Sheri Moon Zombie shows some nice depth as a mother helplessly watching her son become a monster. She generates some real pain in her eyes and it makes her very sympathetic. Scout-Compton is a spunky and cute heroine and plays Laurie as a typical modern teenager,  but also gives her part the needed intensity when HE comes home and she’s forced to save her babysitting charges and fight for her life. Zombie also peppers the film with familiar faces. We get Halloween sequel veteran Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5) returning to the series now fully grown to play Annie Brackett and she plays a typical feisty teen girl with boys on the brain and genre vet Brad Dourif is cast as her father, Sheriff Brackett who is conflicted as to whether to believe Loomis’ warnings or not. We get cameos by the likes of Dee Wallace as Laurie’s mother, Ken Foree as Joe Grizzly, a trucker who unfortunately provides Myers with his trademark coveralls, Sid Haig as a cemetary caretaker, Danny Trejo as a hospital orderly who takes pity on Michael and Richard Lynch as Michael’s school principal. There is also a nice re-imagining of Carpenter’s score by Tyler Bates which adds some spooky atmosphere especially in the second half when Myers is finally unleashed and Phil Parmet’s cinematography captures Zombie’s visuals very well.

The scenes in Haddonfield are really what worked for me as they should have. Zombie shows he can produce some suspense and scares and he cranks it up here. Too bad he chose to focus a good deal of the running time on Michael’s youth and incarceration which is less interesting as we know where it all leads, as this is a remake after all. As for the climax, without giving away any details, Zombie chooses to end his remake with a blunt shock ending where John Carpenter crafted an opening ending that left us with a feeling of dread even after the film was long over. It’s not a bad ending and does have resonance, but doesn’t have the bone chilling effect of the original.

I stand by my opinion that Zombie has a great horror film in him but, he needs to concentrate on using his distinct visuals more often and moving past his fascination with the 70’s grind house style filmmaking and the white trash characters that inhabited a lot of those films. There is nothing wrong with paying homage to your influences, but Zombie has covered that ground in his first three films now and I think he is capable of his own style.

The lowdown: better than pretty much all of the sequels after Halloween III (which, as you may know, I like a lot!), but a far cry from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. I at least give Zombie the credit for trying to do his own thing instead of a stale shot for shot remake.

3 Zombie Myers!

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN II (2009)

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Zombie’s Halloween remake, there are some points of discussion in the sequel review which may contain spoilers for the first film…
This is the film of the two Zombie Halloweens that get’s the most flak, but to be all honest, I’ve come to like this one because it’s more of a Rob Zombie film featuring Carpenter’s characters. He’s free from the confines of a remake and doing his own thing. The results can be mixed, but it is still better than any of the post Halloween III sequels. This film takes place immediately after the last with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) in the hospital being frantically worked on and Myers being hauled off to the morgue. But when an accident wrecks the morgue transport, the resilient Michael Myers rises from his slab and walks off after murdering the surviving van occupant. He disappears and the story picks up two years later with a traumatized Laurie living with Annie and her father (Brad Dourif) while Laurie is trying to deal with the approach of Halloween and the fact that Myers’ body was never found. Of course it’s no secret to the audience that Michael is on his way back to Haddonfield to finish what he started and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

The fact that this sequel never really feels like a “Halloween” film works both for and against it. It’s more of a Rob Zombie film and here he is not afraid to take Myers’ mask off or get inside his head for some beautifully visualized hallucination sequences of Michael’s dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie). Tyler Bates also forgoes the traditional Halloween music for the most part and his score is quite good despite not imbuing the Halloween sound and flavor like all the other movies. Zombie gives his sequel a more methodical pace and while the film never really gets scary, there are some real brutal and intense moments such as Myers’ reuniting with Annie. There are some savagely violent scenes here that are very effective, but by the end of the film, you do feel a bit bludgeoned with all the brutality. McDowell returns as Loomis who is now a pompous bestselling author writing books about Myers and profiting from the horrible experience that left many dead. I didn’t like Dr. Loomis being portrayed as an egotistical asshole. Just didn’t work. The character was always representative of the good fighting the evil and now he is a douche who is willing to sell everyone out to make a buck and himself famous. It also makes his last minute change of heart near the climax hard to swallow. Ironically since McDowell is freed of the confines of the tradition portrayal of the Loomis character, I accepted him better in this incarnation of the role despite not liking the direction the character is taken.

There is a lot of other things to like here, too, though, unless you are a Halloween traditionalist and just can’t forgive Zombie for taking his own direction with things. There are some really twisted and bizarre dream sequences that have beautiful and surreal visuals that really impressed me and cinematographer Brandon Trost captures them well as with the look of the rest of the film. Much like the final act of Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, it is when Zombie takes his camera into these surreal sequences that his films really come to life and sadly he doesn’t do it often enough, thought I really liked what he did here and how these sequences got into both Myers’ and Laurie’s heads. I liked the sequences of Myers hallucinating that he sees his dead mother and his younger self (Chase Wright Vanek here as Faerch had outgrown the part), egging him on to kill. And the same for Laurie Strode’s nightmares. Great stuff. And I really liked the WTF ending. He really went outside the comfort zone of this series and in terms of traditional Halloween lore and it was daring. The Kubrick-esque final shot gives the appropriate chills the remake’s end lacked.

He gets some really good performances out of his cast again. Compton is good, but I do prefer her as the sweeter Laurie then the foul mouth tattooed traumatized girl here…though the progression is understandable and she does come across as a very messed up teen, mixing psychological damage with teen angst. Danielle Harris shows that she has grown into a really good actress as Annie, who was far more seriously hurt by Michael and yet is handling it a lot better then Laurie. She’s both friend and mother to Strode while soldiering on with her own life. A strong young woman and it makes her confrontation with Myers all the more powerful. And last, but not least, genre favorite Brad Dourif gives what might be the performance of his long career. Yes, he is that good and thankfully Zombie gives him a lot of good material and scenes to show it in. I loved him in this. Again, we also get some cameos by genre vets and Zombie favorites like Margot Kidder as Laurie’s psychiatrist, Howard Hessman as Laurie’s record store/cafe owner boss and Daniel Roebuck as a delightfully sleazy strip club owner.

While it’s not a great movie, I do like it for what it is and the risks Zombie took here with characters that are quite endeared to horror fans. Ironically, Zombie has been criticized and chastised for taking these risks, while equally so for not taking enough risks in the previous film. Sometimes you just can’t please fans when it comes to poking around an established classic. I hope someday Rob Zombie makes an original film that finally lives up to the potential he constantly shows. This film showed a progression from Halloween and I think we are seeing him move away from grind house and more toward Zombie. While many horror fans would disagree, I like this flick and recommend it as long as you have an open mind as to how classic characters are utilized and aren’t offended because someone took an established franchise and thought outside the box with it.

3 Zombie Myers!

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For a look at Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devils’ Rejects click here!

And for a look at his The Lords Of Salem click here!

For a profile of Screen Queen extraordinaire Danielle Harris click here!

For our look at the original Halloween click here and it’s first two sequels here!

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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!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS

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HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003)

After directing his own horror influenced music videos, rocker Rob Zombie finally directed his first feature film, House Of 1000 Corpses in 2003. Zombie’s first film is, no surprise, a horror film that is a throwback to the grind-house/drive-in style horror flicks of the 70s like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the 1980 Mother’s Day. It tells the gruesome tale of four friends, Denise (Erin Daniels), Jerry (Chris Hardwick), Bill (Rainn Wilson) and Mary (Jennifer Jostyn) who happen upon a roadside freak show run by redneck clown Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig)…who we already have witnessed slaughter a couple of would be robbers. They go on his ‘murder ride’ which features a local serial killer named Dr. Satan. Soon the inquisitive teens are off investigating this local urban legend which, through some circumstances that are far from happenstance, leads them to the Firefly house. Inside they become prisoners of the disturbed and twisted Mother (Karen Black), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley), R.J. (Robert Mukes), Grandpa (Dennis Fimple) and Tiny (Matthew McGrory) who treat them to a nightmare of murder and torment, all on Halloween night.

House is a faithful homage to the gritty, gory low budget horrors of the 70s and Zombie shows some real potential, but the film, while deviously entertaining to a degree, is never really scary, suspenseful or shocking enough to truly emulate the films it’s inspired by. The film also has a somewhat uneven tone as it plays it straight for the most part, but then can be borderline goofy at times. The humor doesn’t come across as disturbing as it should, as say in the dinner scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Zombie gives us some interesting characters amongst the Firefly family, though the four teens are fairly generic and only heroine Daniels shows some spunk, and there are some shocking and brutal moments along with some quotable dialogue. It only starts to get really interesting when a hard nosed cop (Tom Towles) shows up looking for the kids and then shows us some twisted originality during the surreal final act when it turns into a sort of dark, nightmarish Alice in Wonderland. The ghoulish visuals here are Zombie’s strong point and while the whole film is visually interesting, it’s here that things get truly bizarre and grabs our attention, when the film takes the traumatized Erin into the underground lair of ‘guess who’. Then it’s over with a shock ending that’s not all that much of a shock. Still Corpses is a fun tribute to a type of exploitation horror they don’t make anymore, nothing groundbreaking though and I don’t think it was meant to be. What it does most is show Zombie’s potential and that he has a passion for this type of horror flick and the film really shines when Zombie forgets his influences and does his own thing.

The cast are fine with veterans like Black, Haig, Fimple and Towles standing out. Moseley is fine too as Otis, but gets some of the movie’s more stilted dialogue and Zombie’s wife does a nice job in her first feature as the sweet and twisted Baby. Erin Daniels is the only one of the four protagonists, sadly, that really shows a bit of spark in her performance.

Despite it’s flaws I like House as I like the type of films it pays homage to and while it could have been much better, it’s black heart is in the right place and it shows that Zombie might yet gives us something to really spill our popcorn over.

A solid 3 homicidal clowns!

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THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)

Rob Zombie’s sophomore film is technically a sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, but the further the film moves along, the less it has to do with that film, except for the three main characters, it’s opening sequence and a few references.

The story picks up with vengeful Sheriff John Quincey Wydell (Willaim Forsythe) laying siege to the Firefly house to avenge the murder of his brother Lt. George Wydell (Tom Towles), who the vicious clan killed in House Of 1000 Corpses. Mother (played here by Leslie Easterbrook) is captured, while Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Spaulding (Sid Haig) make their escape. The film then takes us along for the gruesome ride as the three fugitives flee to a motel where they torment and murder some of the guests and occupants while the revenge crazed Wydell continues his manhunt to track them down.

Again a homage to exploitation flicks of the 70s, this time Zombie creates a savage crime thriller about three deranged murderers on the run from an equally deranged lawman and the group of innocents caught in the middle. This an unflinchingly violent tale that is straight out of a 70’s grind-house revenge flick, or sleazy biker movie. It can be very brutal, gruesome and quite disturbing at times. Gone is House’s goofy humor and uneven tone, Zombie maintains an intensity from the opening shoot-out to the climactic showdown and crafts a lean and mean movie of the kind they don’t make anymore. His expert use of classic 70’s music throughout, ads to the overall effect and atmosphere of the film. You may never listen to Freebird the same way again. One of the things I liked about the film is that it’s three main characters are horrible people who do horrible things, but when Wydell catches up to them, he has let revenge turn him into a far more horrible person and you begin to root for our homicidal trio. Zombie takes a few moments here and there to show what little humanity the three have left, at least in relation to their bond with each other, so when their paths finally collide with the deranged sheriff’s, we clearly see that Wydell has lost all his humanity in his quest to make them pay for his brother’s death, and it makes him the villain. Sure the film has flaws. Did we really need to sit through the torture and torment of the hotel guests for so long and the re-emergence of a Corpses character later on, is a bit jarring as we left that film behind in the first act. Zombie sometimes revels in the trashy nature of the characters a bit too much, but the director/musician also shows growth as a filmmaker and the film does gives us a rousing last act with a really cool shoot-out finale.

Again, not perfect, but Zombie continues to show he does know his source material and does have his own ideas about what to do with his influences. He is a director to watch whether you like his type of films or not. Also stars a who’s who of low budget film icons such as Ken Foree, Danny Trejo, P.J. Soles and Michael Berryman to name a few.

3 homicidal clowns!

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Also click here to check out our review of his latest flick, The Lords Of Salem.

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