mag·nif·i·cent/magˈnifəsənt/ (adj.)

1. Impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking.
2. Very good; excellent.

Synonyms: splendid - gorgeous - grand - superb - glorious

WARNING: Some spoilers may be bound but I try to keep them light.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Paranorman (2012)


     "If you were bigger and more stupid, you'd probably be a bully too."

Paranorman (2012) is a  stop-motion animated film from Laika studios, this is their follow-up to their premier feature Coraline (2009).

Norman is an outsider with no friends and a special ability, he can see ghosts. He lives in Blithe Hollow (based on modern day Salem, Massachusetts) where thanks to his special ability he is the only one who can prevent an ancient witch's curse to prevent the undead from coming back to life.

The voice acting in this film is a good mix of B-stars and amateur children (that don't suck) which evens out to an all-around good voice cast. Actually my biggest complaint is probably that because these aren't big name stars most of the cast will sound really familiar and probably bug you the entire film as you're trying to put a face to the voice.

The comedy in this film is really pretty funny. There's lots of really funny lines that just crack me up. There's actually so much humor that it almost seems inconsistent, like I feel they could have actually cut some of the jokes to make the funnier ones stand out better. And it's worth mentioning that there's a wide range of humor here too from puns to gross-out to slapstick and situational. This seems to do it all.

I really like almost all the characters in this film, I especially like our circumstantial group of protagonist that are only working together because of happenstance. They're all pretty solid characters, especially Norman who seems very well planned out and based on someone's own personal experiences being an outsider growing up.

I like how simple and good this story is. It's also a good mystery, that revolves itself in a pleasant and satisfying way. I also like how this film incorporates horror movie themes and tropes in a new and original way that we haven't seen before.

Also the film seems a bit long winded for how simple the story is. I don't know if the stakes are just never high enough or what (it's truthfully a little hard to put my finger on) but it "feels" longer than it should. Also because the story is so simple it might be able to figure out the mystery before the end of the film, which can take some of the interest out of it, but at the very least the messages of the end will be worthwhile and not super predictable (more on that in a second).

I really love the cinematography in this film, which is not something I say for animated films too often. The filmmakers really don't seem restricted by the miniature stop-motion medium. There's lots of beautiful shot choices combined with brilliant camera moves like long tracking shots and other complicated camera moves that must have taken so much planning considering the medium. I love this shot right at the beginning that starts with tracking with Norman as he walks down the street then the camera pans around him and once it passes his face we again follow him down the street but this time through his perspective with all the ghosts and dead people he sees on a daily basis.

The animation in this film is top-notch. (We're talking Pixar good, though possibly better since it's stop-motion rather than computer generated.) I think my favorite thing about the animation in this film is everyone's different walks really say something about their personalities and I think the animators had some extra fun animating the zombie walks. A testament to how good the animation in this movie is, is that a lot of people thought it was computer generated rather than stop-motion! On a related note, probably the thing that really makes Laika stand out as a studio than all the other animation studios is their incredible attention to detail on such minor things like lamps that sit in the background for only one scene. This attention to detail and care really comes through in the film (even if it's just a subconscious feeling that immerses you deeper in the world) and it gives you plenty to gaze upon and stare at on subsequent viewings.

And lastly I have to mention how excellent this film is at addressing its themes. I think this is the best film or anything that I've ever seen that addresses bullying. I love how this film's message isn't to try and stop bullying (like we've heard time and time again) but instead the film takes the higher road and says that we may never be able to stop bullying instead you just have to deal with it. Our characters learn to deal with their problems through the bad experiences, and not through adult interference or anything else. This is a very strong message for a weird little kids film.

Paranorman (2012) is a great film for kids that incorporates lots of macabre and horror movie elements in a way that we really haven't seen yet.

4.5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

That is all for this year's 31 Nights of Macabre Movies, I hope you enjoyed my selections and maybe even found something new to check out! Until Next year, Spooky watching!!

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)


     "Young people making the most of life... while it lasts."

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (also known as Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein) is a loose sequel to the Universal horror films. Toward the end of the run of monster movies the studio was willing to try anything to revive interest in the classic monsters and this film proved to be an instant hit.

Chick and Wilbur work as freight handling baggage clerks where they get a strange delivery that they have to personally deliver to a 'house of horrors', wax museum. Unfortunately for them, the horrors in these crates are very real.

One of the things I really like about this film is it has a very simple good story. Dracula wants to put Wilbur's brain into the Frankenstein monster to make him completely obedient and Laurence Talbert knows Dracula is up to something but can't turn him in and has to quietly follow him because of his own dark monster side. All the while Wilbur is one of the few humans to catch on that something is up, but Chick and the others just think he's a babbling idiot so they don't listen. It really is a great idea of how to blend an Abbott & Costello story and a Universal monster movie.

This film has some really great situational humor. Director Charles Barton was the main director of Abbot & Costello sketches through out their careers and this film is a fine example at how good they were with those. I love the way they incorporate the "horror movie-ism"s into some more classic Abbott & Costello style sketches like the revolving door with the trick candle and the part where they're trying to run away from Frankenstein's monster and Dracula at the same time and they end up and down the castle stairs and into and out of rooms and even barricading a door in a room only to have Frankenstein's monster just open it in the opposite direction. Also the fact that they have Bud Abbot dressed in just a black dress shirt and grey slacks with his costume that just consists of a wolf mask, and Lon Chaney is wearing the same thing before he transforms into the wolf man makes for some really smart and well planned out mistaken identity. It's brilliant and hilarious stuff.

As an audience today we're really not used to comedies like this anymore and some of the skits (like the ones mentioned above) can seem a bit long-winded when viewed today. I think the problem is we're so used to quick faster paced movies that when you watch a film like this where they spend ten minutes on a revolving door gag or even five minutes with Lou messing around with luggage our brains just kind of belittle the comedy in-front of us.

Probably my favorite thing about this film is its dialogue and verbal jokes. This film has some hilarious comedy via puns and jokes that crack me up every time. This is of course amplified by Abbott & Costello's mastery of comic timing and facial expressions. I love the running gags with Wilbur's inability to speak when he's frightened so he has to pantomime the Dracula and Monster walks.

And I gotta mention the performances of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. This film is a must see for classic monster fans because of these two, they really just give it their all and really don't hold back even though this is just a silly comedy. Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his magnificent role as the troubled and tortured Wolf Man (1941) like it was yesterday for him and even though it had been far longer since Lon Chaney donned his cape and fangs you can still really see here why his performance is still considered one of the greatest adaptations of Dracula (1931). Both of these actors just loved the characters and there is no greater proof than their performances in this film.

While Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) may have just been a studio's grab at helping a dying franchise, it's proof to me that horror and monsters can be used in more ways than just to scare people. This is ever so proven in present day where we still get "monster mania" at least once a year.

4.5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

Tomorrow is the final night of this year's 31 Nights of Macabre Movies! I'm gonna send it off right with a great animated zombie film from last year!

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dawn of the Dead (2004)


     "It's nice to see that you've all bonded through this disaster."

Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a remake of Dawn of the Dead (1978), written by James Gunn and the feature directorial debut of Zack Snyder.

Dawn of the Dead has the same premise and title of the original, but the similarities end after that. A group of survivors hole up in a shopping mall and discover no where is really safe.

[This review refers to the unrated director's cut]

One thing this film does well is its suspense. There's plenty of sequences where characters have to avoid or dodge this film's highly a acrobatic undead. I'll admit that this adds tension, but it's almost too easy isn't it? You had to work in older zombie films to get your characters in a tight spot with enough zombies so that it was actually hard for them. But admittedly, adding the mall security guy at the beginning and making the zombies the main antagonistic threat of the film cures the slow and drawn out problems that the original had.

I like the camerawork in this film. Lots of times I don't feel there was enough meaning or thought as to why they moved the camera that way. But creative shots and playful camerawork at least adds up into something interesting to watch.

And like Romero's Dead films, this film has some really interesting characters. brought to life by really good actors. Unfortunately the film doesn't really take advantage of these good characters. I really liked Ving Rhames portrayal of the police officer who unfortunately doesn't really do anything in this film. And I enjoy our leads played by Sarah Polley and Jake Weber who for some reason fall in love by the end of the film (because they're both white maybe?). And I like the addition of scenes with the gun shop owner, Andy to this story.

The worst thing about this film is its logic! First and foremost: running zombies. There's no reason for zombies to run when you think about it, and convienetly the film doesn't give you a reason either. And these zombies don't just run, they full-on sprint, there is multiple cases in this film where zombies run far faster then they ever could have when they were alive! They also seem like they're very smart and show problem solving ability (again for no reason), there's even one point where one climbs on pipes overhead in a parking garage and jumps onto someone to attack. What the heck? Okay zombies ran in Return of the Living Dead (1985) but it was hilarious in that film, done for comedy (I loved watching a cop car pull up to the abandoned graveyard only to be suddenly mobbed by a huge bunch of zombies). In this film running zombies is done for tension and suspense and without any explanation for it, it just makes me confused. This the biggest logic problem of the film but not the only one. There's countless things in this movie that when you think about them, it really doesn't make sense. Like mall security has a holding cell, really? How did the first bunch of zombies (namely the janitor) get into the mall if it was completely locked up at the beginning of the movie? And on top of this there's lots of times where people make stupid horror movie mistakes like going to save a dog that the zombies weren't going after... or even worse going after the girl that was dumb enough to do that. Yay, mankind! This all adds up to the film pretty much being an enjoyable baseline action movie but if you actually think about anything that is happening the movie starts to fall apart. This is one film where the zombies really do want you brains... to be turned off!

The other thing this film does poorly is mess things up the previous film did well. The empathy for zombies that the original did so well is completely gone here. And the whole point of staying in the  mall in the original wasn't just provide a place where our characters could survive, it was to make some political commentary on our lives. Here the mall just becomes a place devoid of meaning. This pretty much tells me someone watched the original and didn't understand what was good about it at all.

The one thing I really love about this film is the title sequence. The clips of real life massacres and news footage of riots combined with quick zombie shots all with Johnny Cash's "When the Man Comes Around" playing over it, works so well. It's a really amazing idea and not as horribly 'on the nose' as playing Disturbed's "Get Down with the Sickness."

Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a fine action movie if you don't think about anything in it too hard or the fact that it's a remake of a classic zombie film. Ugh.

3/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

The 31 Nights of Macabre Movies are winding down now, we're done with the zombie flicks for now and gonna move on to the horror/comedy classic Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Land of the Dead (2005)


     "In a world where the dead are returning to life, the word 'trouble' loses much of its meaning."

Land of the Dead (2005) is George A. Romero's sequel to the Dead trilogy, made 20 years after the last of those films.

Land of the Dead is unique because it was one of the first film to start years after a zombie outbreak. There's a lot going on in this film but our main hero is on a mission to return an expensive zombie combat vehicle that was stolen from a fat cat living on top of a "zombie proof" society.

This film features smart zombies that are some of the protagonists in this film which is not only an interesting and unique idea, it seems like the natural next step after Day of the Dead (1985). Unfortunately this doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you haven't seen the rest of his films.

Like the rest of Romero's Dead films this one has lots of really good and unique characters. Unfortunately for this film the dialogue and uninteresting story really doesn't help these characters shine for all they're worth.

This film has plenty of unique and interesting things to bring to the world of zombie movies. This was the first one to take place really far (years) after the initial zombie outbreak and introduces new things to his Dead films too, like the discovery that zombies are fascinated with fireworks. This is a really great idea, but unfortunately the film sets this up and then when it comes up in the final act the zombies just decide to ignore it for no reason at all. Way to follow your own rules, movie. And I got to say this is the first of Romero's Dead films to feature CG and I love how minimally and reserved he is about using it. This film feels a lot bigger than a 15 million dollar film.

And this film is arguably the first of Romero's Dead films to really incorporate a whole lot of humor in it. I'm pretty hit or miss on the actual humor here but at least it shows Romero doesn't take this film as seriously as you might expect.

This film is riddled with bad exposition speeches. There was plenty of exposition in the other films but this film is the worst at incorporating it and making it feel natural by far. Overall I'd actually have to say that the entire dialogue is definitely the worst of all the Dead films so far, it's all pretty much laughably bad and unfortunately it's unintentional too.

The worst thing about this film is the story just isn't that interesting. There's about three different narratives we're following and all of them are pretty predictable and uninteresting.

The thing this film does well is its commentary on society and class and how even after something like a zombie apocalype we'd still find ourselves under the power and control of someone who knew how to take advantage of the system. Supossebly this film is George A. Romero's commentary on the George W. Bush administration but luckily for him it's actually pretty vague and not so on the nose like that. I say this is lucky because if our main antagonist here was just a walking Bush cartoon I feel like that would have dated the film incredibly.

Land of the Dead (2005) is a decent addition to the Dead films, not as good as the others but it still has plenty of interesting and unique things to add.

3.5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

Tomorrow on the 31 Nights of Macabre Movies I'm going to review Zack Snyder's directorial debut, Dawn of the Dead (2004), the remake.

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film through these links:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Day of the Dead (1985)


     "They are us."

Day of the Dead (1985) is the second sequel to Night of the Living Dead (1968), following Dawn of the Dead (1978) it was the final film in the "Dead trilogy", until Land of the Dead (2005) was made years later. Like those films this one is also written and directed by George A. Romero.

Day of the Dead starts months after the zombie outbreak. The story follows a group of survivors who are having trouble living with each other inside an underground military-medical compound that is otherwise pretty safe.

I like the soundtrack in this one, it's a bit too repetitive for my tastes personally, but it still probably has the best soundtrack of any of Romero's Dead films.

Like the previous films in Romero's Dead trilogy, this film offers up a theory to why all of this has happened to them. Unfortunately it's very similar in this film to Dawn of the Dead's theory, but they do take it a little bit further and say that it's possible God was getting angry with us because we're getting too close to him. Which is actually quite fitting for the scientific nature of this film.

[Spoilers!] I like how even though this ending is essentially the same as Dawn of the Dead (our characters escaping at the end of the film via helicopter), Romero finds a more interesting and unique way to do it with the jump to them in their paradise. It's a cool way to do it, and doesn't feel repetitive even though it's really the same ending as before.

[Spoilers!] I don't love the final act of this film where everything kind of devolves and falls apart. It is fitting for the story they set up and the theme of the film though, and even though it kind of just becomes a senseless bloody gore-fest even I must admit it is quite satisfying to see Captain Rhodes and his troops get what has been coming to them the entire film. I also never really felt like the tension was high enough for the main characters as they're escaping in the madness. At no point to I feel like they're ever not going to make it out.

I love the premise and the core roots of this film. When you boil it down, this is a story about struggle, and how peoples lack of communication and inability to overcome each others differences leads to destroy a good thing they had going. Romeo once again uses the zombie fiction as a way to hold up a magnifying glass to the human race" Saying even if we were all safe together somewhere we would be the reason for our own demise. And I love how none of the characters are actually incorrect, they just are all so stuck in their ways that they can't listen to the other people at all and realize if they worked together they could be doing a lot better. "That's the trouble with the world, Sarah darlin'. People got different ideas concernin' what they want out of life."

I really love how this film starts. A novice director would never start a film dropping you in the middle of the story like this, but it works so well! The film starts with the tail-end of a failed helicopter mission, only to find the previous commander has died, and the new guy is kind of a dick. Having the characters learning to deal with the way things are going to be now is a great way to introduce the audience to the world, characters and story.

This film has great acting all around, possibly only trumped by the great characters that this film has. I love how Romero basically makes up for his failure in the previous films at writing a female character by making our central lead her one of the strongest and most badass female characters in film history. She can literally hold her own against a whole crew of asshole military guys, and yet she's not one dimensional at all either. There's plenty of times in this movie that we see how dealing with these people and living like this takes a toll on her.

Day of the Dead also does a really great thing by advancing the zombie findings and lore in a way that makes perfect sense for the way they've acted in the previous movies. I think this was completely necessary for this film series and brings so much more to rewatches of the older films too! And despite there being a bit of a jump in the advancement of what the zombies can do, nothing seems out of place here thanks to the really solid story. And one of my favorite things is the theory of amputation after a zombie bite working if it's quick enough, it's such a bittersweet thing how we never actually get to see if it actually works or not!

And lastly the zombie makeup and special effects is leaps and bounds better here than it was in the previous films. It looks really spectacular. Also the way it works out, the makeup actually seems like they've been decaying over time thanks to the way the makeup technology is advancing and the story keeps taking place further and further away from the original disaster in each film.

Day of the Dead (1985) is my favorite of Romero's Dead films, there's so much accomplished in this small little film and gives you so much to chew (mentally) that I don't think there's been a zombie film as smart as this one since its release.

5/5 Stars.

 Happy watching!

Come back tomorrow as we're going to jump a couple decades, to this film's sequel Land of the Dead (2005) on the 31 Nights of Macabre Movies.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dawn of the Dead (1978)


     "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

Dawn of the Dead (1978) (also known as Zombi) is the sequel to Night of the Living Dead (1968), this one is also written and directed by George A. Romero. This film also spawned it's own set of unofficial sequels with the "Zombi" films.

Unlike Night of the Living Dead which takes place during and immediately after the mysterious zombie outbreak, Dawn starts a couple days later. This film involves a group of survivors who decide to hold up in a large shopping mall and all the troubles that come with that.

[This review is based on the 127 minute "Directors Cut"]

Unlike Night, which had pretty hit or miss acting, the acting here is all around pretty solid. I like all of our leads here but the big stand out is Ken Foree there's a reason his career has taken off more than the rest, he's got the best performance in this film and you feel for his character more than the rest.

Despite this film being riddled with gore and violence, you could actually argue that this film is pretty clever about its use of gore. There's plenty of very creative zombie deaths and the use of amputees and similar tricks really is quite smart. Most of this credit goes to Mr. Tom Savini, whose career as a makeup/special effects guru fortunately really took off after this film.

The biggest issue with this film is there's not technically any villains. There's the zombies yes, but even they are barely vilified and are more of just a constant caution for our characters. And the biker marauders only come in in the final act. So much of this film doesn't have a over-arching threat. And while this makes for an interesting mood for much of the film it makes a lot of the movie kind of boring. Even the structure is kind of weak when you compare it to Night of the Living Dead, in Night the characters believed (and the film told you) it would be over by the morning and that they just had to survive in the farm house through the night. This film the characters don't question if anyone is coming to help them, or if there's some kind of cure they just assume it's the end of the world and they need to hide out somewhere and make the best of it. This does however tie into this film's "theory" of why the dead have come back to life, interestingly enough [see quote above]. Like I said, this creates a unique and interesting mood, but doesn't make the most interesting film to watch.

There's a huge part of this movie that seems very dated when watched today. Don't get me wrong, when I watched this when I was younger I thought this was the SMARTEST movie I had ever seen. But today I can see that time hasn't been the kindest to this film. Just all the scenes of shopping or "the latest inventions" the mall provides, and definitely the biker gang marauders kind of date the film, that and the soundtrack doesn't help either. 

I'm not a fan of the soundtrack for Dawn of the Dead. I like the Goblin tracks cause they're kind of eerie in a very 70s' way. But all of the rest of the in-between mall music is pretty atrocious. It's some kind of weird horrible cross between polka and elevator music. Fortunately for the film, when viewed today (much like the marauders) it does add some extra humor. You just may walk away from the film with one of the really annoying melodies stuck in your head.

One great thing this film does that most other zombie films can't seem to do is show the zombies in an empathetic light. The end of the first sequence with the swat guys having to kill the zombies kept in the basement of the building does this masterfully. You can tell from the looks on the characters' faces that it's not something they're happy about doing, they know that these used to be humans like themselves but they also know that they need to put them down. Even when clearing the mall, there's a huge difference between the way our heroes do it and the biker gang's killings.

Once again the direction is pretty masterful in this film. In ten years, Romero's intuitive ability at directing has become more refined and well thought out. There's lots of scenes with really suspenseful moments including Stephen getting lost in the darkness of the pipes and trying to fire at a lone zombie that followed him there, the attempt to barricade the doors of the mall amongst a mass of zombies and even the characters hiding out and using the mall as their fortress to battle the invading marauders.

One of my favorite things about this film is the really strong characters. You as the viewer mostly care about all of them and even though they don't get along perfectly the film has a great way of showing that what happens to one character really affects all of the others. I love how even though this film doesn't have a huge villain it still finds away to give all of the main characters a really strong and unique character arc.

And lastly of course I couldn't finish without mentioning this film's social commentary. Apparently unlike Night, Romero started planning this film initially with the germ of its themes. This film (obviously) is a big attack on American consumerism and materialism, which in the world today sadly has only gotten worse since the release of this film. But when you consider that when this was released the shopping mall wasn't as standardized an common place as it is today, you realize that Romero was really thinking ahead with this one. "This was an important place in their lives."

Dawn of the Dead (1978) is a bigger and much deeper film than it's predecessor but it's also longer and more drawn out. One of these days I may do the Argento cut of the film to see how it stacks up.

3.5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

Tomorrow on the 31 Nights of Macabre Movies we're going to finish Romero's original trilogy with Day of the Dead (1985).

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film through these links:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Return of the Living Dead (1985)


     " Send... more... paramedics!"

Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a loose sequel to George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), written and directed by Dan O'Bannon of Alien (1979) fame. This film is very loosely based on the novel of the same name by John A. Russo (one of the two original writers of Night of the Living Dead). Unlike Night, this film is a horror comedy and sets its own zombie rules. This film also spawned it's own set of sequels.

Freddy gets a job at a medical supply warehouse, where the foreman Frank tells him that the events of the movie Night of the Living Dead all really happened, but the government covered it up. Frank says he knows this because thanks to some distribution mix-up, a couple tanks of the corpses ended up at his warehouse. While showing Freddy though, they accidentally rupture one of the tanks, unleashing a deadly gas and bringing the dead all around them back to life.

I like how the movie starts off very serious in the first act and it's not until some of the dialogue kind of tips you off that this is actually a comedy. Yet the horror in the first half is very well directed its a shame that Dan O'Bannon didn't continue to pursue directing horror too long after this.

I love the practical effects in this film, the split dog, the tar zombie, the skulls coming out of the graves. It all works, thanks the director's skill they never focus on most of the zombies too long which helps the makeup and effects really just be accepted by the viewer and then you're not looking at the seams or focusing on how unreal things look.

This film is super 80s. Very high energy, pseudo-rebellion, I do what I want, punk rock. The fashions, music and style all scream super 80s, which all in all isn't a horrible thing it just actually adds to the comedic element when watched today. I'm sure these were very much "cartoony" characters when it came out but now it's even funnier thanks to our perceptions and memories of the 80s.

The biggest problems with this film (made obviously clear, after watching it back to back with Night of the Living Dead) is the antagonists are impossible to kill. This makes it very hopeless for our heroes far earlier than it should be. Not to mention they're very smart: calling for more cops, running and tricking people. It's all done for humor but story-wise, this makes it less interesting than Romero's zombies, where our human zombies actually stand a chance (kinda). And when we hardly cared about our protagonists to begin with, and they don't stand a chance of getting out, there's not much for us to root for in the film. It actually would have been more interesting if there was a reversal where after the canister is opened and the zombies come to life they became our protagonists and we could even sympathize with them about how they didn't want to be brought back to life (since they can talk already).

The reason I keep coming back to this film is the comedy. This film has a lot of really great situational humor like grown men screaming like babies after a headless cadaver gets up and starts running around the room. This film is such a quotable film too. There's a ton of really hilarious lines from everyone, humans and zombies! And lots of scenes hit you with the double whammy of situational humor with great lines on top; "Obviously, I didn't mean you were really dead. Dead people don't move around and talk."

And lastly I gotta mention how much I love the soundtrack! The soundtrack to this film has a great mix of punk rock and death rock artists of the day including The Cramps, 45 Grave, T.S.O.L. and The Damned which all work together perfectly for this movie.

Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a hilarious zombie romp, that despite being very 80s still is quite influential. Think about how many times people associate zombies with wanting brains? That all started with this film. Check it out and laugh your brains out.

4/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

On a more serious note, tomorrow on the 31 Nights of Macabre Movies we're going to go back and continue Romero's original trilogy with Dawn of the Dead (1978).

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film through these links:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Night of the Living Dead (1968)


     "They're coming to get you Barbara."

Night of the Living Dead (1968) is an independent horror film that was directed by George A. Romero and written by Romero and John A. Russo. This is the first "modern" zombie film and has since influenced countless other films and media.

An outbreak of flesh-eating, re-animated ghouls bring a bunch of strangers together to an abandoned farm house where they must survive through the evening without killing each other or getting killed by the monsters outside.

This film has really good characters. A lot of movies can't do characters as good as this film does. They're all super simple, yet they all have original personalities and feel unique (like real people). And with not much backstory or super explaining necessary either! This film would be a good study of how simply you can introduce a character that is completely unique and original with very little effort, most of them require just a couple of lines and then let the characters' dialogue and actors' interaction do most of the work.

The acting is pretty hit or miss in this film, the result of casting friends on an independent production. I really love Duane Jones as our lead Ben, and his counter Karl Hardman make's a very convincing mid-life, white-collar (somewhat) racist with a napoleon complex as Mr. Harry Cooper. However most of the female leads are horrible: I feel like the Barbara character could have been a bit more worthwhile with a better actor playing her and the Judy character is just plain laughably bad. Even Johnny (played by Russell Streiner), Barbara's brother is particularly good. It's rather unfortunate that he gets so little screen time compared to Barbara.

I like how this film actually does explain the disaster. I feel like the film just would be missing something if they didn't attempt to explain this strange phenomenon at all. The flip side of this is that when viewed today this explanation actually dates the film quite a bit. An attempted government coverup involving radiation? Yeah that puts this film right in 1968. Fortunately for Romero though, he builds off of this, in that he takes this trend and runs with it in his following Dead films (or at least the first three) and in each film offers up a separate "theory" for why the dead would be coming back to life. Pretty smart.

The reason this film stood out back in the day and I believe really still stands out is its social commentary. This film attacks a lot of the different politics of the day and uses this strange horror story phenomenon as a magnifying glass to look at American society as a whole in the 60s, just like what all great science fiction stories do. This film has a (then unheard of) black protagonist who struggles against a white man for power, there's social commentary on marriage with Cooper and his wife: "We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything," and of course the ill-equipped government mentioned above.

For all of the good that this film does at tackling politics of the day, it misses one major one: Women's rights. This film can be viewed as incredibly sexist when watched today, I'm sure this wasn't on purpose and was probably just a product of its time but it definitely doesn't help all that other stuff it was trying to tackle, mentioned above. Most of this revolves around the character Barbara, who after starting out as our entry character we're following in this world, she ends up just losing her shit and becoming a babbling invalid for the rest of the film. Some of this (to me) is understandable because she can't deal with the situation at hand and also loses (or at the very least abandons) her brother early on in the story. I personally, know plenty of people today that I feel like would act this way upon the collapse of society and our conventional way of life, male and female. So to me this would almost be acceptable if it weren't for the way that Mrs. Cooper and also Tom's girlfriend Judy are treated during the film.

There's also plenty of out of focus or poorly lit shots throughout. Some of this is due to novice filmmaking but it'd hard to say that any of it really takes away from the film.

One of the most magnificent things about this film is the legacy that followed. This film was never intended to be more than a one shot thing. But the quality of this film and it's originality and ingenuity have made it stand out in history and inspire a whole new sub-genre of horror films. That being said it's worth noting that this wasn't the first zombie film to ever be made, that title would go to the much older film: Bela Lugosi's White Zombie (1932). There was also plenty of zombie films that followed that one, all based on the "Haitian" voodoo zombie lore that is far different than our contemporary flesh-eating zombies. But strangely, very much like White Zombie both of these films involve a political look at the social class system of the day. More than a coincidence I would think...?

The direction in Night of the Living Dead is really solid. You watch this film and there's no question to how this film really jump-started George A. Romero's long career. I love so many scenes in this film, but I've got to mention the Graveyard scene with Barbara early on, this is so great on its own and as an introduction to this problem and as a first act of the film. The integration of the TV and radio broadcasts through out the movie is masterful. And I love the "daughter slaying" scene at the end of the film, it's such a direct hat tip/homage to Hichcock's Psycho (1960) that I can't help but love it.

(Spoilers to follow) The film actually ends on such a bittersweet and almost pessimistic note. Which is interesting because of how optimistic of a tone the film keeps for most of the story (something which seems very unusual for how the tone of most zombie films are today!) And yet it works very, very well. Really have no idea how a film where the whole point is a bunch of characters trying to survive, kills off all of it's characters and doesn't feel dissatisfying at all!

And lastly I need to mention how perfect of an idea this film was just from an independent filmmaking perspective. Almost the entire film was set in one location at the farmhouse and it has simple, yet compelling characters trying to survive through one night together. I wish I could come up with such a simply perfect idea like this!

Night of the Living Dead (1968) is such a highly influential independent horror film: literally every zombie film, game, comic etc. that is part of the zombie craze of recent years can be traced back to this film. And it still holds up surprisingly well for being made over 40 years ago!

5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

Check back tomorrow for a sequel to this film (that may not be the obvious follow-up), only on the 31 Nights of Macabre Movies.

This film is in the public domain now, so there's really no reason for you to have not seen it. You can watch it or download it here, free of charge thanks to the Internet Archive.