Halloween Scene: Dawn Of The Dead (1978) & House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Dawn Of The Dead is one of my absolute favorite movies, not even just horror. There’s something about it that used to draw me to it constantly in college. I bought a VHS of it on accident, thinking it was Day Of The Dead on a trip to a going out of business video store in my college town and watched it over and over. Eventually, I found the four disc set with the theatrical, extended and European versions of the movie as well as a whole disc of extra features. I used to even put the movie on when I was sleepy because there’s all that rad action in the beginning and then it cools down for a little while in the middle. That mix of action, horror, comedy and honest human reactions to extraordinary events make this, in my mind, one of the best all around movies, specifically because it hits all those bases. I love Usual Suspects for a lot of the same reasons, but it doesn’t have heads getting chopped off, now does it?

The movie, of course, is not perfect though. Director George Romero claims he wanted a comic book feel to the movie, which explains the bright red blood and pastel-to-neon complexioned zombies. None of that bothers me. What DOES bother me, though, is the sound effects. When one of our heroes punches someone, it sounds like something out of a Streets of Rage game for Sega Genesis.

Aside from that though, I think I’m firmly in love with this movie. We could talk about different aspects that someone might not like (it’s long, it goes back to that whole “humans are the real bad guys” motif that Romero and other zombie movie makers seems obsessed with), but I don’t think anyone could sway my opinion and, if I’m being honest, I’d probably think a little less of you for not liking the movie.

Speaking of those two potentially negative aspects of the film. This is one of the few slow burn type movies I really like. All those scenes of them playing in the arcade and going through the bank could be cut as far as the action goes, but all those little moments help to tell the emotional story. These are people living in a world that’s completely flipped the script on them. The dead don’t stay dead anymore. Can you imagine how that would change the way you think? Roger tries to ignore it, letting his bravado get in the way of his safety and he pays for it. Francine lets it overwhelm her at times, but she’s also a planner who’s smart enough to learn how to defend herself and more importantly fly the helicopter out there. All of them finding a refuge inside a mall isolates them for the shit going on in the rest of the world and gives them a place they could theoretically stay until things get better, they die or someone comes to save them. Once save inside their cocoon, they try to live the lives they’ve always wanted to live with every material thing they could ever want just a short walk away. But they’re not really happy. Without getting into it too heavy handedly, Romero deals with isolation and–corny as it sounds–the idea that money and objects don’t really make you happy. There’s a lot more going on here than simply “man is the real evil!”

I could talk about this movie all day and considering I still need to write up the next movie, I should probably move on. Oh, one last thing, I think Roger might be one of the most tragic characters in horror. He’s got a Madam Bovary vibe to him, though he romanticizes heroics instead of, well, romance.

I believe that House On Haunted Hill was not only the first Vincent Price movie I ever watched, but also one of the first old horror movies. We weren’t exactly early adopters in my house growing up, so it took a little while for us to get a DVD player, but once we did, I hopped on eBay and spent some of that glorious teenaged disposable income on DVDs. I got a four pack that included two double sided discs. This one has Hill and Satan’s School For Girls, which isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds. I don’t remember what’s on the other disc because, for whatever reason, I left it at home when I consolidated my DVD collection into a binder before moving out to New York. I know there was some Christmas-themed movie with a bunch of people in a house being hunted by a deranged man on the holiday. I think he used to live there and escaped from an asylum.

Anyway, I really loved this movie the first time I saw it and still do. Price’s character is just so wonderfully manic and kind of an asshole. He’s in most of the scenes, which is exactly how I like my Vincent Price movies. The story behind the movie is basically the exact plot of every ghost investigations show: a bunch of people get locked inside a supposedly haunted house and get scared by things. In this case, however, the people have a chance to win some big money if they last the night. Oh, also, there’s a murder plot a foot.

The movie has lots of twists and turns and not a few still-good scares. The old woman popping up out of nowhere looking like Nosferatu’s uglier, older sister gets me every time. The skeleton rising up at the very end really stayed with me too, for some reason from my first viewing, though I guess that’s because I didn’t already know the story.

SPOILER TIME. The house isn’t really haunted, though it is pretty damn creepy. Most of the things we’ve seen that give us the willies are either staged acts (the hanged woman) or just strange occurrences (the creepy old lady, she’s just creepy, not a monster). I’m still not 100% on the plot because I was doing some work while watching today, but the murder plot as a double and then, I believe, triple cross in there with Price walking away on top in the end. I like this movie even in spite of it having two traits I don’t really like: the haunted house and the “everything you knew is wrong” themes. As it turns out the house isn’t haunted, but even if it was, they’re still trapped in a big old house and go through this stuff in a short period of time, so they’re not staying in a place they could easily leave for months on end (which is what I hate about modern haunted house movies). The “what you thought is wrong” aspect is done in more of a Usual Suspects way than a High Tension way, which means you didn’t just waste your time watching something that doesn’t matter, but that you were being tricked along with the people in the movie, which I actually think is pretty rad. I should give this one another view in the near future to see how it plays with the twists fresh in my head.

These two movies aren’t really related other than the fact that they’ve both been remade. I’ve definitely seen the Dawn remake and don’t really remember it much, but would definitely see it again (love zombies movies AND Zack Snyder). I don’t think I’ve seen the Hill remake, though I always get it confused with The Haunting which I believe is a remake of the very similar sounding The Haunting Of Hill House. The real reason I paired them together is that they’re favorite horror films of mine, though very different that I wanted to give another look at and write down some thoughts. Hope you guys enjoyed it and let me know what you think in the comments section.

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