Dastardly Double Feature Episode 4 – The First Three Romero Zombie Films

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Mr. Dastardly and I mix it up with George A. Romero’s amazing Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead, a true trilogy of terror.

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Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman

shock-valueIf you’re keeping track, and I’m not sure why you would be at this point, I’m still muddling through Stephen King’s The Stand. And yet, I stray away from time to time to check out other books like Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value, which I stumbled across while looking for various horror films in my library’s database. With a subtitle like How A Few Eccentric Outsiders Gabe Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, And Invented Modern Horror, how could I not bite, especially around Halloween! Continue reading Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman

Halloween Scene: Old School Round-Up

bride-of-frankensteinAs I mentioned yesterday, I got to an early start when it came to watching horror movies this fall. So, I’ve got a lot to talk about! First, if you haven’t already, check out a pair of lists I wrote for CBR. One’s about movies and shows to follow Stranger Things up with while the other focused on the best classic horror movies to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: Old School Round-Up

Halloween Scene: Tales From The Darkside

tales-from-the-darkside-the-movieEarly this month I worked on a list for CBR that might eventually get published about the best classic horror movies to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime. That lead to me watching Tales From The Darkside: The Movie for the first time and I think it’s up there with Body Bags as one of my all-time favorite horror anthology films!

That got me thinking about the George A. Romero-produced TV series than ran for four seasons from 1984-1988. Basically, a new take on the Twilight Zone/EC Comics, these half hour episodes offer a variety modern horrors many of which (at least in the first two discs) revolve around then-new technology like word processors, answering machines and multiple phone lines. Continue reading Halloween Scene: Tales From The Darkside

Riding With The King: Film Edition!

maximum-overdriveAs I mentioned in my Stranger Things-inspired post, I’ve been watching a lot of horror films lately. And you can’t have a mention of that Netflix series without thinking of Mr. Stephen King, now can you? Well, I read and listened to a crazy number of his novels earlier this year (and am still sloooooowly working my way through The Stand) but I’ve also watched a few of the films he’s worked on.

While flipping through movie options on TWC On Demand I saw Maximum Overdrive as an option and immediately turned the film on. Usually, I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my choices, but this was nearly instantaneous. Continue reading Riding With The King: Film Edition!

Halloween Scene: My Halloween Watch List

Goodness gracious! I was looking through my unpublished drafts and found this post about the rest of the horror movies I watched during October. There’s some good stuff in here, so let’s jump back in time a few months and think scary thoughts!

dawn of the dead originalAfter a super busy September and October, I’m still catching up on all of the movies I watched for work and fun. After focusing on new films early on in the season, I decided to go through my movie collection and Netflix to make a list of films I wanted to watch leading up to Halloween. The list had a total of 26 films, though I wound up removing five. All told, I watched 13 plus the seven films making up the original Halloween franchise. I’m saving a few of them for another post, but I did want to throw out a few thoughts about what turned out to be a major rewatch experience.

As it turned out, zombies were a huge part of this year’s list. Dawn and Day Of The Dead easily made the list along with Dance Of The Dead, the Dawn remake and World War Z. I didn’t get to those last two, but I keep seeing more and more things in those two Romero movies that I love. I’ve been seeing a lot of people dump on the zombie genre lately. To them I say, watch those two movies. They are amazing films, not just horror flicks. Meanwhile, I still have a great time with Dance which is just super impressive when you take into account it’s a low budget film that doesn’t look it. This is easily one of my favorite zombie movies from the past few decades. Continue reading Halloween Scene: My Halloween Watch List

Halloween Scene: Night Of The Living Dead (1990)

night of the living dead 1990 poster Towards the end of last week I was looking through my Netflix Instant queue and realized that a whole bunch of movies I wanted to watch were going to leave the streaming service on July 1st. That day has come and gone and I got to watch three out of 20 films, which is just about what I expected to get done.

One of those movies was Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead. I realized as I was cueing the movie up that this was actually my first foray into the world of Romero’s films (even if tangentially) and very well might have been my first straight-ahead zombie film. I remember getting the movie from my beloved Family Video and taking it over to my buddy Andy’s house for an overnight movie marathon. I didn’t remember too much, but that scene where Johnnie gets tackled into the grave stone has stuck with me forever because it came out of nowhere and looked so damn real.

This time around I might have been able to see some of the movie magic involved in that particular scene, I was actually much more taken with the plot of this film. I’m not saying that the remake will ever take the place of the original in my heart, but there is a whole lot to like in this version which goes a few different places the original doesn’t. Those differences are important and, as far as I’m concerned, the only reason to do a remake. You’ve got to have something new to say or do, otherwise, what’s the point?

The set-up of this film is the same as the original in that Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her brother Johnnie (Bill Moseley) heading way out in the middle of nowhere to put flowers on their mom’s grave. While there they encounter their first zombie. Barbara escapes and runs to a farm house where she meets fellow survivor Ben (Tony Todd), basement dwellers Harry (Tom Towles), Helen (McKee Anderson) and Sarah Cooper (Heather Mazur) and young couple Tom (William Butler) and Judy Rose (Katie Finneran).The group must not only deal with the oncoming hordes of the undead, but their differing opinions on how to stay alive.

I won’t get into all the differences between the films because, honestly, my memory isn’t solid enough to do that without watching the original right after the remake and I had Death Wish sequels to watch, so that’s not happening. Plus, since I saw this one first, the details stick in my head more than the original even though I’ve seen that one far more times. But, the main difference that makes me think this remake has its own value comes in the form of Barbara. While the original version of the character is a screaming mess throughout most of the film, this new version goes through a fantastic metamorphosis that starts where the original character began and changes her into an incredibly capable, bad ass character.

I noticed while watching this time that her evolution can be documented by the clothing changes she makes throughout the film. In the beginning she’s wearing a dress. Not long after she meets Ben, she’s putting on socks and boots. Later she pulls pants on under her dress and eventually she ditches that garment altogether and rolls with just a white tank top. With each wardrobe change, you get the feeling that she’s adapting more and more to this crazy new world she’s a part of. Some people might read this as a kind of “man-ification,” but I saw the changes are coming from a place of pure practicality, but then again, I hate gender-based labels.

So, if you’re a Romero fan who shies away from the many (MANY) remakes of his films or just someone who missed out on this 1990 offering, I’d say give it a shot. Maybe wait until the original isn’t so fresh in your mind, but try to go in with an open mind and look for the good changes within.  Plus, this being a Savini joint, it’s got some rad gore effects and actually looks really great all around. I wonder why he doesn’t direct more.

Halloween Scene: Day Of The Dead (1985)

day of the dead scream factory I don’t think I’ve ever really given George A. Romero’s Day Of The Dead a fair shot. I’m not quite sure why. Back in my VHS-renting days at my local Family Video, I remember watching both versions of Night, Dawn and Day. Eventually I got one of the cheapo copies of the original movie on DVD and became a huge fan of Dawn to the point where I got that four disc DVD set several years back. But what about Day? Why had I only ever watched that movie once?

One reason might go back to a snafu at a video store in college. I went to school at Ohio Wesleyan in the small town of Delaware. There’s a nice main street that has (had?) a guitar store, a record store, several restaurants and a lot of other little places to check out. While walking around my freshman year, I saw a privately owned video store that was going out of business and therefore selling off its stock. I walked through and picked up a quartet of movies: Mom, Leprechaun In Space, Hot Potato and Day Of The Dead. The first three were just curiosities, but I was excited to own this Romero film. When I got back to my dorm, though, I slid the tape out of the cover and realized it was actually Dawn. I wound up falling even harder in love with that movie, to the point where I would have it on while studying or working on a paper and even fell asleep to it several times.

It’s funny to think of how my favorite horror movie list might look these days had I had easier access to Day. And, thanks to my buddy Rob passing me the recently released Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Day Of The Dead, now I do. Romero’s third zombie film was originally going to be a giant, big-budget, explosion-filled action film, but instead he decided to split up his deal to also make Knightriders and Creepshow. In the excellent documentary included on the disc, Romero says he loves the finished version because he distilled the original script into a smaller, more claustrophobic script that focused on a group of scientists and soldiers in an underground research facility trying to figure out what’s going on with the risen dead.

One of the things I love so much about Dawn is that includes a little bit of everything, but not to the detriment of anything. Day, however, is a much more focused, angry film that focuses on the tensions rising not only from these people living in a world where one of the basic realities of life has been abolished, but also the ones that come from their shared task which includes wrangling zombies for research purposes. It’s not like these survivors are holed up and focused mainly on living like they were in Dawn, they’re constantly staring death in the face, which means they can’t ignore it no matter how many RVs you set up with tropical decorations. There’s a lot of emotion in the works here and it’s amazingly well conveyed by the assembled cast.

day of the dead VHS

And, man, Tom Savini and his crew absolutely murdered the effects in this film. The gore gags are fantastic — made all the more realistic thanks to the use of actual pigs’ blood and entrails — and the zombie make-up and appliances are just insanely good looking. As much as I love Dawn, I like how the zombies in Day look less neon-y. And, of course, the best of the bunch is Bub, the zombie we see learning (or remembering) how to use some common household items. This is a theme Romero wanted to include more of in this film that gets picked up on in Land Of The Dead and probably the next to films Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead, which I haven’t seen yet. It such a cool theme that I never really thought about before, but why wouldn’t zombies begin to evolve after a fashion the longer they’re around, especially as they become the dominant life form.

If you’re a fan of Day Of The Dead or haven’t ever seen it, I highly recommend checking out the Scream Factory offering. The movie looks fantastic and I had a good time going through a few of the special features. The documentary has just about everyone involved with the film talking about what it was like to make the movie. Since I came to horror so long after this movie came out, I didn’t realize how reviled it was when it debuted in theaters. I’m glad to hear that it’s gone on an upswing in fan popularity over the years because it really is a complex film that says a lot about society without being ham-fisted and still including some of the all time best special effects of all time. What are you waiting for? Go watch it already!

Halloween Scene: Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

night_of_the_living_dead Sometimes you think so highly of a film that you just assume you’ve blogged about it already. That was the case with Night Of The Living Dead, a movie I love, but apparently not enough to spend time writing about on UM.com. As you probably know George A. Romero’s classic film finds a group of survivors holing up in a country house as the dead start roaming the earth. The film itself never uses the Z word, but this style of creature soon became synonymous with a kind of monster that still dominates the genre to this day.

We start off with Barbra and her brother Johnny who have traveled several hours to this remote town in order to place flowers on their father’s grave. While there, they encounter a man who seems normal at first, but winds up attacking both siblings and killing Johnny. Barbra goes on the run and eventually finds the house. Soon enough she’s joined by Ben, a very proactive man looking to turn this place into a fortress. After fortifying the main floor, they come to realize that five people have been hiding out in the basement: a married couple with an injured daughter and a pair of teenaged kids who are dating. Conflicts instantly start brewing between the upstairs and downstairs factions, thanks to Harry, a head strong guy who wants them all to hole up in the basement where his zombie-bitten daughter happens to be slowly turning over to the side of flesh loving baddies.

The beauty of a Romero zombie movie is that he’s not just trying to scare people, he’s also trying to hold an undead mirror up to society to show off its uglier side. Some of these elements are overt while other sneak on by. I think the conveyed message can also change a bit as society changes and the film stays the same. For instance, there’s a lot of race elements being explored thanks to Ben being such a strong character who spends most of the film bossing white people around with most of them listening.

But you can also read into the presented ideas of womanhood. The movie gets some flack because Barbra spends so much of it in a catatonic state, which is understandable. However, I don’t think that’s a commentary on all women, but just the presentation of one particular character. Just look at the other two women presented in the movie. Harry’s wife Helen and even Judy the young lady from the basement are pretty strong and cool-headed.

I also think there’s something being said — or conveyed — about how city life makes people less prepared for these kinds of disastrous events. Barbra and Johnny make a big deal about how they had to drive out to the middle of nowhere which made me assume they lived in the city. I also assumed that Ben was from more of a small town scenario, but he later says he’s not from the small farm town, so my theory might actually be blown to hell.

Whatever the case may be, Romero created a film that not only had something to say, but presents itself in such a way that you can keep finding new aspects in the work that make you think. Speaking of emotions, seeing how the zombified kid takes out her mom — with a gardening shovel instead of her teeth — totally bummed me out as a parent. I used to think, “Once they turn, just blast them away!” But not only are they in a world that’s never seen a zombie like this, but it’s also you’re freaking kid. Also, the ending of this movie is so freaking depressing and I kind of love that.

Watching this movie lead into a re-watch of Dawn Of The Dead, which is still one of my favorite movies regardless of genre. Seeing the films together in such a short period made me notice a few things. First, these movies are like Nirvana songs going from loud to quiet to expertly. Second, while these films obviously both feature undead monsters, they’re more about human beings trying to intellectually deal with the fact that the world they once knew has been completely turned upside down. Can you imagine what it would really be like if people stopped dying in the traditional sense? I don’t think I can. And third, these movies all feature characters who can do things very well. That’s why we’re following Ben and the crew in the mall instead of some other randos, they’re survivors. They’re the ones that can survive in this environment…for a time. Eventually, they all screw up one way or anything and the mindless zombies win out against the smart humans. There’s a poetry there that I don’t think I can parse, but love experiencing. Now I really want to give Day Of The Dead and the 1990 Night remake another watch to see whether they continue those themes.

Casting Internets

Well, between traveling for Christmas to New Hampshire, getting a flat tire ten minutes from home and surviving the Snowpocalypse of last night (we got 18-24 inches), I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging. Anyway, I did read a few things here and there and wanted to pass the goodness along. Sure it’s a little late now, but Scott C posted a Showdown from Elf and I just had to link to it. That’s one of my all time favorite Christmas movies and possibly Will Ferrell’s best performance.

Tim Bruckner’s DC Dynamics Joker statue looks amazing, check out some of the shots over on Pop Sculpture.

I don’t think I knew that George Romero and Marvel were working on a project together. Thanks Comic Books Legends Revealed!

Hugh Hefner got engaged again? Wonder if Bridget or Holly are pissed. The missus and I were big fans of Girls Next Door.  (via Esquire)

I really enjoyed Jonathan Hickman’s early issues of Fantastic Four, but fell off the wagon along with a lot of other books a while back. I’ve heard good things about it still, but this whole “killing off a member of the FF and putting it in a polybag” reeks of 90s moneygrubbing. Reed’s already “died” once, right? Ah well, I’m sure I’ll catch up on the trade eventually. (via Robot 6)

Finally, Archie Comics released this mysterious teaser that lots of places, including Robot 6, think might be a way of announcing a new Mega Man comic. Depending on how they handle this book, it could be either a really good kids comic or an interesting look at a character with a deep, deep mythos just waiting to be explored by a great comic book writer. I’m available for either, even though I’m not technically a comic book writer. Just wanted to throw that out into the internet ether.