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Posts tagged “George A. Romero

Fright Fest: Diary of the Dead (2008)

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Where will you be when the world ends? When it comes to apocalyptic movies, the beginning has always been my favorite part. Sure, its fun to see the aftermath, what the world looks like when the dust settles, but what I find absolutely intriguing is what happens in those defining moments when normalcy if flipped on its head. This is a huge reason why I’ve always enjoyed George A. Romero’s films. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead (arguably) are about how the world ends in the moment. Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead are films about how people are doing after-the-fact. Good movies, but they’re missing that special punch. The defining factor which begs the question: What will you do when the world ends?  Continue Reading

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Fright Fest: Day of the Dead (1985)

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Day of the Dead is the third installment of the ‘Dead’ series from the late, great George A. Romero, and the final movie in what many consider the ‘original Dead trilogy’. It is, in every way, a masterpiece.

As the second sequel to Night of the Living Dead and part of a series, it is the perfect final third act. As a standalone horror movie, it is fantastic. As a zombie movie, it is divine. The special effects alone set this movie apart from most others, rivaled only by those in John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien (and okay, maybe also Tremors, directed by Ron Underwood).  Continue Reading


Fright Fest: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

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What? Were you expecting a Friday the 13th Jason Voorhees review? Keeping with tradition, with Part 3 playing in the background, I’ll do my best and not yarn too much over the movie I give credit as starting my entire fascination with not just horror, but zombies too. No, not Friday the 13th Part 3, come on people, stick with the program. I’m talking Night of the Living Dead. Imagine, if you will, that you’re a twelve year old boy and you have a big sister who by all accounts ought to be hanging out with her much more mature friends but instead decides to watch movies with you. That was me. And while not every Friday (because my sister did have a life), but on most Friday nights we would have a Friday Movie Night. I’m talking pizza, popcorn, soda, candy, and whatever other junk we decided to indulge ourselves with. We’d order Pizza Hut and drive down to the local video store (Blockbuster) and rent whatever we wanted. While I cannot recall every movie night, I certainly recall the night my sister rented Night of the Living DeadContinue Reading


Fright Fest: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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Though zombie is never said in Night of the Living Dead, this 1968 horror film set the standard for all following zombie films: radiation raises the ghouls (as they’re called in the film) to life (though, as of this film, radiation as a cause is only speculation), they move in a slow, plodding manner, they eat the flesh of the living, and the people they kill turn into zombies.

What makes George A. Romero’s Dead films so important, though, isn’t the thrills and chills they provide, as generous as that providing assuredly is. It’s the social and political commentary, hidden beneath the piles of corpses, that distinguishes him from his imitators. The following is my interpretation of that commentary, a theme of mindless, pitiless killing, and a killing not limited to what the zombies commit, by the way.  Continue Reading


Night of the Living Dead: celebrating 47 years

RELEASED this day in 1968, George A. Romero’s epic, groundbreaking classic, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD hits theaters, recounting the tale of a group of disparate individuals who take refuge in an abandoned house when corpses begin to walk in search of fresh human bodies to devour. The pragmatic Ben (Duane Jones) does his best to control the situation, but when the reanimated bodies surround the house, the other survivors begin to panic. As any semblance of order within the group begins to dissipate, the zombies start to find ways inside — and one by one, the living humans become the prey of the deceased ones.

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There are few movies out there that represent the feelings of the era in which the film was made as honestly and brutal as Night of the Living Dead. 1968 America was very chaotic, with the deaths of charismatic leaders such as MLK and JFK, post Tet, and the furious antiwar protesters took over in colleges across the nation, including Columbia University in New York. And of lest no forget, Tricky Dick’s infamous call for the GREAT SILENT MAJORITY to stand up and be recognized. Night of the ?Living Dead was very much an subversive answer to the late Presidents speech. And was interesting invoked one of the greatest Civil Rights speeches made, when Dave Dennis stood up in front of those mourning the loss of James Earl Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner from New York City, when he said, “I’m not here to do the traditional things most of us do at such a gathering…what I want to talk about right now is the living dead that we have right among our midst, not only in the state of Mississippi but throughout the nation. Those are the people who don’t care, those who do care but don’t have the guts enough to stand up for it, and those people who are busy up in Washington and in other places using my freedom and my life to play politics with…”

Not only does Night of the Living Dead hold historical clout, but also became the predecessor to an entire sub-genre in horror. Think about it. Before Romero, zombies were still in the realm of voodoo witch-doctors and crazed plantation owners, space alien mind control, or even atomic aged ghouls. Not saying those sub-genres aren’t good in their own right, cause anyone whose seen The Serpent and the Rainbow can attest that voodoo zombies are still scary. But Romero created something new, a new monster in the lineup of Frankenstein’s, Vampires, Werewolf’s, Mummy’s, fish people, and the like. Without Romero we wouldn’t have The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Resident Evil, Zombi3, The Beyond, and a laundry list of films that benefited from George’s take on walking flesh eating ghouls. 

And besides all this, Night of the Living Dead is a damn fine horror movie. Low budget and gorilla in nature. The story was plausible and the characters felt real: we know these people; they’re us, we’re them. Romero’s take on zombies is fundamentally about the people who are trying to survive and how they react given certain situations. How we ultimately take sides and are not quick to listen to the ideas of others. Our fight or flight response forces us into making poor decisions, instead of working together as a group. And then in the end, much how Ben met his fate, we needlessly die. 

One of the best reviews I read on Night of the Living Dead wasn’t really a review, but rather a review on the audience during a screening in 1969. The unknown reviewer noted the following: 

“The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying. I don’t think the younger kids really knew what hit them. They were used to going to movies, sure, and they’d seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else. This was ghouls eating people up — and you could actually see what they were eating. This was little girls killing their mothers. This was being set on fire. Worst of all, even the hero got killed. It’s hard to remember what sort of effect this movie might have had on you when you were six or seven. But try to remember. At that age, kids take the events on the screen seriously, and they identify fiercely with the hero. When the hero is killed, that’s not an unhappy ending but a tragic one: Nobody got out alive. It’s just over, that’s all. I felt real terror in that neighborhood theater last Saturday afternoon. I saw kids who had no resources they could draw upon to protect themselves from the dread and fear they felt.”

 




WWZ: DVD first screening review

Where does one begin with such a convoluted movie? Especially when said reviewer swore he’d never watch it, or at least refused to watch it in theaters. Be that as it may, I knew i’d eventually screen the DVD once it was released to Red-box or some other rental avenue; I wasn’t going to purchase the thing, and thank Valhalla for that. As it seems, the criticisms I had before watching the movie (only seeing the previews) were replaced with other criticisms. But not everything regarding World War Z is horrible, while watching this popcorn flick, there were moments of real enjoyment. So, lets get to the nitty-gritty and find what made WWZ good, and what made WWZ not so good.

Ignoring the traditional chronological review format, lets tackle this beast one issue at a time. First, the overwhelming reason I swore up and down i’d never spend my hard earned dough on seeing this “zombie” movie in theaters: Zombie Ants and CGI. CGI, as we’ve discussed on this site before, has its place in cinema. Sci-fi movies are a good place to put good moments of CGI action; not horror movies. Horror, in my humble opinion, should remain traditional, but then again, is WWZ a horror movie? The PG-13 rating bothers me. Granted, some really good horror can be done on a PG-13 MPAA rating, consider: InsidiousDrag Me to Hell, 1408The Sixth Sense, and The Possession as just a few examples. But this is a zombie movie. Can you name one zombie movie with a PG-13 rating?

The fact that no one else has made a PG-13 zombie movie isn’t the point. The point is that we’re talking about a zombie movie, plain and simple, and zombie movies require a certain quantity of gore. There were plenty of moment where I found myself expecting for something bloody to happen, such as: the entire movie…and also anytime someone was bitten or how about when Gerry chops (more like swipes, though) off Segen’s hand. Did you notice how she didn’t even bleed!! I’m sorry, you hack someones appendage with a bayonet, there will be blood…lots and lots of blood. Prime-time television has more blood and guts then this movie did. Consider the Walking Dead; granted, The Walking Dead is rated (somehow) PG-14, but still. The point is, couldn’t producers muster up a little more gore without tripping into a R-rating? And the even more pressing point: Zombie movies shouldn’t even be done on a PG-13 rating. All you get is disappointment. Sure, there might be something wrong with us zombie horror fans, but we’ve been messed up for a long time, no need in changing the formula now.

As for CGI, my opinion on the matter has changed somewhat. It would seem near impossible, budget wise, to have scenes showing the zombie apocalypse on a global scale without the use of some CGI clips. Notice the two highlighted words there? Some and clips are key components on keeping CGI from going King Kong. Not that i’m a huge fan of the whole zombie ants thing, but those moments could have been better if only they had cut the screen times short a little. And since we’re on the subject of zombie ants: what genius marketed this movie based solely on those moments from the movie? Igits! Had they shown some of the other scenes without the mindless rage monsters piling on top of each other and knocking over buses, then maybe (big maybe) I would have seen the movie in theaters. There is an actual chance I might see the sequel (whenever that comes out!) because WWZ wasn’t all that bad. Here are some of the parts that I found to be good:

  • When the movie cuts to the main protagonist, Gerry, there is a delay before his kids run into the bedroom. In my opinion, this was a nod to the Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake.
  • The doomed apartment rooftop escape reminded me of the Left 4 Dead level, Mercy.
  • The beginning of the film highlighted the essential element in zombie story telling: panicking people doing bad things.
  • Theme of ignorance until its too late. Pay attention to the conversation between Gerry and Jurgen Warmbrunn, the Director of Mossad. Warmbrunn mentions the Nazi Holocaust and how a majority of European Jewry refused to believe that concentration camps were possible, that there was no way Hitler would do such a thing; until by 1940 the SS began to round folks up on transports. I’m currently taking a Holocaust class and found this tidbit regarding human denial interesting.
  • And then there’s this guy, who so happens to be a doctor working for W.H.O. See what I did there? Was this some bizarre easter egg or just happenstance? WWZthedoctor

Bottom Line: The movie wasn’t as horrible as I originally thought. But, for a movie claiming to be a zombie flick, there was still a lot of let down. It’d be hard to pull off a good zombie movie on a PG-13 rating, though its not impossible. I’m not sure how the MPAA works, but i’m curious if they can up the ante by pushing for a PG-14 rating like The Walking Dead? Just saying, the whole severed hand and zero blood is still bugging me. And then again, the big issue with WWZ is that we cannot approach it with a Romero lens. WWZ is more akin to 28 Days Later and if looked at in that respect, it was a decent “zombie” plague movie, especially from a global perspective. If you missed WWZ in theaters, like me, go out and rent it; I still wouldn’t recommend buying it.


There is Something About Bub

“Hello! Is anyone there?” There are no better words for an opening scene in a zombie movie!!! This particular verse comes from George A. Romero’s third “dead” installment, Day of the Dead (1985). In the scene, as Dr. Sarah Bowman and Pvt. Salazar call out from their nearby helicopter, searching for other survivors, the camera pans out, revealing a ravaged and empty tomb of a city slowly echoing with the hungry cries of the undead. This scene is one of the first images shown in Day of the Dead; with it we’re given a very chilling and unforgettable moment in horror, the feeling of desperation.

How desperate have things become? Following Night of the Living Dead, where folks were simply trying to survive the night, and following Dawn of the Dead as folks were escaping the cities, abandoning attempted containment zones and searching for safe havens, Day of the Dead shows us a group of survivors after the flood, the last ditch effect of a collapsing government desperately looking for a cure, while also searching for other survivors near the area of their underground complex. How desperate have things become? In the words of Nick Furry, “very desperate,” and they might not like the outcome their kind of “situation” tends to bring out in people.

Day of the Dead is a highly regarded zombie movie, though, typically, fans of the series will rate Dawn of the Dead as the better “dead” flick within Romero’s trilogy, if only marginally. To be honest, this holds true for me as well; Dawn was simply a better movie. The things Dawn said about society and people resonated with me better than with Day; however, this doesn’t mean Day didn’t have something valuable to teach us regarding said society. If anything, Day of the Dead told the tale of desperation and how people react when cornered better than the other two movies combined.

There was also something about Bub that wasn’t told in the other movies…not until Land of the Dead at least. Bub was a very unique character; a zombie interacting with peoples both positively and negatively. With Doctor Logan, aka Dr. Frankenstein (who by the way reminded me of an aged Herbert West), Bub was rather nonviolent and friendly, but with Captain Rhodes, while Bub started out friendly, he turned violent in response to Rhodes aggressive attitude. Though Rhodes was a total jerk and was constantly boarding a nervous breakdown, it was hard not agreeing with him. How were they supposed to “train” millions of undead? While Logan was looking towards domestication, Rhodes was hoping for some kind of WMD. Logan was obviously mad, but we can’t ignore Bub as proof that some form of domestication was possible…or maybe Bub was just the next evolutionary stage for the zombie within the Romero universe.

The strangest bit with Bub was when he discovered Logan’s dead body. Okay, so you can train Bub by showing him things he “remembers” from when he was alive. I can buy that, its not a huge leap of faith to see a zombie interacting with something it remembers from its past life. This was the theory in Dawn of the Dead for why the undead were coming to the mall. But when Bub finds Logan in the freezer, he reacts with emotion, Bub is sad and then becomes enraged. You can see on his face a desire for resolution. Bub is strange because he forces us to question the existence of the zombie. Are they not mindless beings? Do they feel? Do they cry? Obviously, in the movie world, these undead beings are a huge threat and very dangerous, but with Bub we have to question everything. However, in Day of the Dead, Bub is an anomaly, he’s the only zombie we see behaving with cognition, the rest simply follows the food. The lasting imagine with Bub is how Logan falsely thought he had domesticated him. Did bub stop seeing people as food? Sure, but that doesn’t mean he stopped seeing them as the enemy. In the case of Rhodes, Bub guns him down, pushing him into a horde of zombies to be pulled apart. The final scene with Bub shows him giving the disemboweled Capt Rhodes a mocking salute.

The great flaw Romero highlights in his stories are how incredibly messed up people are, the ones who react poorly in face of some earth shattering event. His movies show us the ugly truth: when folks are scared and desperate they make selfish decisions. But Romero doesn’t take away hope, he also shows us the smaller band that pulls together and survives. This smaller group of heroes goes back to the original play-on-words that spawned his zombie vision, Romero’s response to Richard Nixon’s call for the non-violent silent majority to stand up and be counted (1968), still lives on in Day of the Dead. However, now the silent majorities are no longer mindless zombies, but evolving, and perhaps not in the way Nixon had originally intended.

On September 17, 2013, the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack for Day of the Dead releases nationwide. The cover art, conceived from the morbid mind of Nathan Thomas Milliner, is amazing and just how mama used to say, “First impressions are everything.” Some of the special features include, but are not limited to:

• New High-Definition Master

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George A. Romero, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and Actress Lori Cardille

• Behind the Scenes: 31 Minutes of Production Footage from Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini

• Audio Interview with Actor Richard Liberty

• Wampum Mine Promotional Video

• Photo Galleries

• Theatrical Trailers

• TV Spots

• And More…

You can pre-order your copy here with Amazon. Which, in my opinion, is worth the $20.96 cost, especially as this edition comes with both the blu-ray and DVD. And the Bottom Line? Good story, awesome traditional effects, what more could you ask for in a zombie movie? Was Day as good as Dawn? Not for me, but that doesn’t mean Day of the Dead wasn’t worth watching, it is; Day of the Dead is an amazing movie full of characters you’ll love and hate.


CGI Verses Traditional Special Effects

After talking with a co-worker regarding The Conjuring’s recent box office success, it left me pondering. How in the world did The Conjuring beat out the other contenders? The giant robot monster killers, the ghost cops (R.I.P.D.), zombie ants (yes-yes, they don’t run as fast in the actual movie), the has been comedians posing as suburban families, grumpy old men assassins, and the triple threat family friendly cartoons? Well, truthfully some of these above mentioned movies have been out for some time. Others, such as R.I.P.D., surprisingly fell face first opening weekend. While Pacific Rim, despite awesome reviews, has slowly eked out a decent profit of $68m (thus far), though one might expect more from such a monstrous film (forgive the pun). World War Z is still squeezing out green bills from latecomers with a grand total (again, thus far) of $186m domestically. I’m not even going to touch Grown Ups 2 or Red 2, it would take too much time and it would be too sad.

These above mentioned films must be measured against the budget in which they were made. Consider World War Z, again, and its $186m local. Sounds pretty nice, right? Well, it took about $190m to produce the film. Not really much profit there. And then The Conjuring comes in and blows every one of them out of the water with a $41m opening; working off a single million production budget! Booya baby! And just how did this micro-budget movie succeed? Well, for starters, in horror movies, traditional special effects trumps CGI any day of the week. As it should! And you know what? The Conjuring proves how old school  can put a whopping on any of those would be summer blockbusters.

Consider zombies. When it comes to zombie movies, you should never use CGI, and if you think you have to, use sparingly. George A. Romero, in his original “dead” trilogy, you’ll find the best examples for how to make a good zombie film. Low budget, high quality, simply by relying on excellent story telling and special effects artists, such as Tom Savini. Now, i’m going to mention some of Romero’s more recent additions…even though I really don’t want to. I want to remember the Romero of the 70’s and 80’s. However, in the best example why you should use traditional, we find the best example why not to. Land of the Dead (2005) was, in all intents and purposes, an awesome movie and should be considered as part of the Romero lexicon. However, with the good comes the bad: in Land of the Dead, George decided to go with more CGI than traditional effects for all those memorable zombie kills we’ve grown to love.

George A. Romero is still, in my humble opinion, an awesome director and remains forever as the godfather of modern zombies. His “dead” flicks were legendary because of what boils down to two things: 1. the story (sure, zombie movies have zombies, but the story is about the people) and 2. traditional special effects. George placed guys like Savini up on pedestals, as they so rightly deserved. Horror movies are about the story, mainly; while special effects help emphasize said story and nothing more, though they can be just as unforgettable. After Land of the Dead and then later, the even sadder, Survival of the Dead released and even more CGI was added, many long time fans became depressed and dejected. I love Romero films, it was honestly sad to see the guy who made Dawn of the Dead make something as terrible as Survival of the Dead. Thankfully, old George bounced back with the direct to DVD amazingness, Diary of the Dead.

CGI has its place. Both science fiction and fantasy benefit from the advancement of special effects. But keep your stinking programs away from my horror! Insidious, Evil Dead, Innkeepers, Saw, Mama, The Conjuring, and so many others are proving how audiences feel regarding how much better traditional special effects are in horror movies. And consider, as my last will and testament regarding this issue of CGI verses old school: John Carpenters, The Thing (1982). One of the reasons why The Thing is still one of my all time favorite horror movies is because of how Carpenter used old school special effects. The movie was terrifying because of its story and concept. The effects simply added to the fear, instead of dominating the entire film. If you’ve seen the film you’ll know how gruesome some of the scenes are, but the real joy is watching these guys go crazy with paranoia. The prequel that released a few years back, telling the story of the lost Norwegian crew couldn’t muster the hipe of Carpenters now 31 year old classic. Why? Well, for me at least, the story was solid, the acting was good…but the damn CGI threw it all off. If they had gone old school, the prequel The Thing would have been…almost…closer to being as good as Carpenters, marginally.

Then again, this could all be simply the rant of someone completely transfixed on nostalgic memories from the 70’s and 80’s of horror. Many of you may have strong counter-opinions. And you know what? I want to hear them. Comment below if you’ve got something to say regarding the battle between CGI and traditional effects. Lets hear you’re voice!


The Darkest Day in Horror

On this day in Horror, July 3rd, 1985, Day of the Dead was born to a select number of theaters nation wide. The third and final chapter in George A. Romero’s epic living dead trilogy, Day of the Dead was proceeded by Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead and as any Romero purist will understand, the stories weren’t so much about the undead (sure, zombies are a big part in a zombie movie, but a movie with only zombies would be rather boring, like staring at gold fish bumping into each other in a bowl); the stories were about the people who survive, or I should say, attempt to survive. In Night of the Living Dead (1968) the story surrounded the “silent majority,” a  joke at  Tricky Dick regarding the Vietnam War and the 1960’s counterculture movement.  Dawn of the Dead (1978) was, more or less, about the folly of consumerism and the importance of community. Day of the Dead was, in Romero’s own words, “[a] tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society.” Day of Dead also alluded to the state of uniformity, that is, we all, in some way, wear uniforms. In the film, the different “uniforms,” be that of the scientist, solider, or weed smoking helicopter pilot, are all searching for our own way to live whilst maintaining a sense of community, but when communication breaks down, said community tumbles and folks begin to find it hard pressed avoiding being eaten alive. Fundamentally, all the films depicted scared people reacting in all the wrong ways in the face of the undead horde.

Critics of the film thought it was slow and depressing, unlike the first two living dead movies. Even though I’d consider myself a Romero purist, I would have to agree. The film was a bit slow and rather droll, but being that this was the “final chapter,” it would have to be depressing, considering how horrible folks try to survive in horror movies. Which of course, says something about ourselves, why horror movies are even popular in the first place, because we know we react to chaos stupidly. We yell at the girl on screen for going out into the woods, alone, to investigate a strange noise, but even though we’re yelling at her now, don’t you think, at least one of us, would do the very same thing? 

With that being said, Day of the Dead, for me at least, was a positive 9/10 stars. The beat of the story was steadily ominous (perfect for a Romero zombie flick) and Tom Savini (make-up effects) was at the top of his game. Happy Birthday Day of the Dead, aka, “The Darkest Day in Horror,” and thank you for disturbing my sleep for many a year with images of torsos being torn apart and creepy hands coming out of the walls!

If you dare, check out the trailer below.