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

ddf-logo

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.

Listen here, if you dare!

If you like the show, rate it on iTunes or leave a comment here on the site.

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: 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.

Some Thoughts on Horror Fandom

I’ve been a horror fan for a pretty long time now. Well, relatively speaking. For a brief history of my horror past click here. For reference this was in the mid 90s. So, while there weren’t a great deal of good, new horror movies coming out in theaters (many of which I couldn’t have gotten into anyway) I tried to catch up on the hits (and misses) of decades past.

There was a sense of exploration and newness to this whole new genre of movies that I had very little experience with. I scoured the internet for Best Of lists, bought Creature Features (my still-used guide book for all horror movies pre-1999) and rented just about every horror movie I came across (they weren’t organized by genre, just pure alphabetical).

Not having any fellow horror movie fans as friends and not being too keen on message boards (still not), my journey through the world of horror flicks was a mostly solitary one, with little to guide me but Creature Features (I still read the write-up on any movie I rent and put a dot next to the movies I’ve seen). I did have friends who had seen a lot of these flicks when they were younger and I was able to convince them and my less horror inclinde friends from high school into holding Friday the 13th horror movie marathons to varying degrees of success, but no one else was really on my same learning curve. Plus, when you try and get everyone you know to watch Sleepaway Camp, non horror fans start looking at your movie choices with hesitation.

By the time I went to college I felt like I had a pretty good knowledge of horror movies, more than most people I talked to and I did meet some fellow horror-philes in college, but it wasn’t until I met Rickey Purdin during my Wizard internship that it felt like I met someone who I was on equal footing with.

He and I have watched countless horror movies together and argued about even more (for instance he liked the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and I did not), but, in the end of the day, we’re both pretty much on the same wavelength when it comes to likes and dislikes.

I guess the point I’m getting to in a roundabout sort of way is that my experience with other horror fans was limited and that I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into as far as fandom goes back when I was 14. When I started reading comics, I saw the kinds of people who read comics at the comic shop and read about my “brethren” in Wizard, distorted as either of those lenses may have been. But it’s not like I had to go to the horror shop to get tapes, it was my local video (yes video) store. Horror fans are truly in a league of their own. Sure they’ve got conventions just like most of the other “nerd” subdivisions and websites devoted to their very existence, but there’s one big distinction I’ve seen that only takes place with horror fans.

We’re kind of jerks.

The funny thing about horror movie fans is that you don’t really get any credit for watching the classics. It’s the equivalent of knowing how to read when it comes to comics. It really just puts you on the ground floor. You might think you’re big dog in the horror park because you’ve seen Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jaws and Night of the Living Dead, but guess what? That just gets you in the door. Your mettle really gets tested in the longer franchises and the more obscure flicks. Sure, you’ve watched Halloween, but no one cares. That’s basic. Have you watched all the Halloween movies around Halloween? No? Well, have you sat through Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers? No again? Then sit down kiddo, the grownups are talking.

Okay, that’s a little mean, but it sounds about right, right? In the comic book world, you’re in pretty good standing if you’ve read Watchmen and Dark Night Returns. Sure, those are the basics, but you’re not really in the game until you’ve checked them out. From there you can move on to pedigree books like Sandman, Starman, Preacher, Authority, etc. Your fellow fans won’t give you crap because you haven’t read Extreme Justice or Guy Gardner: Warrior (though you should because it’s awesome, Ben agrees).

I guess you find some similarities when you get into music fandom. But it’s more along the lines of “Oh, you like Led Zeppelin IV? Awesome, check this out.” Sure you get your weirdos who are total snobs and only interested in talking to you if you’ve listened to Jimmy Page’s work with Paul Rogers in The Firm. But it seems like that kind of mentality is more the rule than the exception when it comes to horror. And I kind of like it. What other group of fans honors the good, the bad and the ugly with the same regard?

I’d like to think that if a young horror movie fan came up to me and told me they really liked Night of the Living Dead, I’d be able to nicely suggest they check out 28 Days Later or Return of the Living Dead without being too judgmental.

But, hey, who am I kidding? These damn kids should just go to their video store, or more likely scan the internet and Netflix, and check out all the horror movies they can stomach. Hey, that’s what I did when I was coming up.