Christine – Review

29 Aug christine-on-fire

I recently reviewed the first ever Stephen King adaptation, Brian DePalma’s film Carrie and its remake. I guess I just can’t stay away from his stories, since I’ve got another one for you today. In 1983, King released a novel called Christine which was adapted into a movie by John Carpenter that same year. As you might expect about a movie where a car is the primary source of fear, this isn’t a particularly scary story, but there is just enough flair and personality to make it another success for both King and Carpenter.

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Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon), who along with his friend Dennis (John Stockwell), are starting their senior year of high school with high hopes. The only difference between the two boys is that Dennis is popular, on the football team, and has girls fawning over him. Arnie has a different sort of appreciation that comes from the school bullies. While the two still remain good friends, Arnie finds a real companion in a 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine. He loves the car so much that it begins pushing him away from everyone he formerly cared about, including his new girlfriend, Leigh (Alexandra Cabot). As Arnie and Christine spend more and more time together, Christine begins getting jealous of the people around Arnie, and they soon begin to disappear one by one.

Now, while this movie is regarded among a lot of people as a small classic of the horror genre, there certainly is an elephant in the room and I just want to point it out. The premise to this movie is…like… really weird. A sentient car seduces a teenager, which pretty much turns him into a totally different person, and then the car goes on a rampage to prove just how much she (the car) cares for the guy. It’s not an easy task to take a story as ludicrous as this and make it into something that is easy to believe. That being said, it’s pretty necessary to suspend all disbelief for Christine. Once that is done, I feel like most people can have a pretty good time with this movie.

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What the story does very well is present characters and, certainly in Arnie’s case, the arc that the character goes through over the course of the movie. There’s also characters that get along that you don’t really expect to, and in that sense Christine is a pretty unconventional movie. Dennis and Arnie get along right from the get go, which gives these two main characters a past, and therefore make them feel a lot more real. The only character who doesn’t feel like there’s much of a past behind them is our title character, Christine. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Christine, especially when she begins her murderous rampage. Is it Christine or Arnie committing these crimes? This builds a lot of suspense, but there’s mystery around Christine that doesn’t really need to be there. Why is Christine sentient? Where did Christine really come from? I know in the book there’s more of an explanation, but it unfortunately didn’t really translate well to the screen.

This being a John Carpenter movie, there are a few things you can expect. The first is that this film is shot better than your average horror movie. Carpenter knows how to block shots using wide lenses to get the most into a shot as possible. There are also great scenes where Christine fixes herself, which was accomplished using plastic, vacuums, and reversing the footage. Really creative stuff. Now the idea of a car that’s actually alive isn’t particularly frightening (Pixar did it after all), but Carpenter knows how to use what material he has to the fullest. The black tinted windows add a nice layer of suspense, and this film probably has the best use of headlights you’ll ever see. It gives the film more menace than it probably would have had under a less talented hand.

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John Carpenter and Stephen King are two masters of their genre, so seeing them both work together is something to really enjoy. Would it have been a little cooler if it was a different, more scary story of King’s? Maybe, maybe not. I do know, however, that while Christine isn’t a particularly scary story, it’s one that is told with clever writing, a confident hand behind the camera, and a vision provided by both of these minds that comes together quite nicely. While this isn’t the best of either of these two titans, it is a very good movie that is accessible to more people that some of their other works.

The Blob (1958 & 1988) – Review

22 Aug

When I think about movies from the 1950s, I immediately think of alien invasion films. There are classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and then there are those that are classics for totally different reasons like Plan 9 from Outer Space. Arguably one of the most celebrated of these invasion films is the 1958 cult smash, The Blob. Like many sci-fi and horror films, it got a remake in 1988, but surprisingly enough, it stands up to and in many ways surpasses the original.

Let’s look at the original version first.

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Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut) are out on a date one night in rural Pennsylvania. The night seems ordinary enough, until Steve notices what looks like a meteor hurtling towards the woods. When the contents of the meteor, a small gelatinous blob, is inadvertently brought into town by an old hermit (Olin Howland) people begin disappearing. Steven finally notices the blob, which has grown a lot bigger, consuming the town’s doctor, but when he begins telling people, only Jane seems to believe him. As the night goes on and more and more people begin disappearing, the blob finally grabs the town’s attention when it attacks people in a movie theatre in its iconic climax.

What could have been a pretty standard B-grade alien invasion story is bolstered into becoming something of a genre masterpiece. But what is it that really puts The Blob a step above the rest? Like a lot of these genre films from this time, there’s an underlying theme of communism making its way into the American way of life, but it’s done with what I think is the most simple but affective way. The blob, which is red, literally consumes everybody and becomes bigger and bigger. This blob, by the way, is a real achievement of special effects. Sure it looks dated now, but there’s certain scenes that made me excited at the clever usage of practical effects.

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The 1958 version of The Blob is a lot of fun. So much fun that there’s even a festival named after it which is dedicated to celebrating the film and other movies like it. It’s also fun to see a young Steve McQueen, who would go on to be an action megastar, in probably his most timid role. Unfortunately, this movie really won’t appeal to everyone. You have to be a fan of the genre to really appreciate what this movie was trying to do and the ways it succeeded. Still, it remains a cult classic that will never be forgotten.

There was a sequel to this film in 1972 called Beware! The Blob, but I’ve never seen that one, and I really have no interest in seeing it. Instead, I’m gonna jump ahead to 1988 to look at the remake.

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a meteor crashes in Arborville, California (that’s new) and is soon brought to the city by and old homeless man (Billy Beck) who gets it stuck on his arm. The amorphous, acidic substance soon disintegrates and consumes the man and begins working its way through the small town, growing larger and larger as it consumes more people. Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) and Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) are two teens caught in the middle of all of the chaos which only gets worse when scientists and military personnel, led by Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca), get involved and reveal a large government conspiracy that could be the end of the world.

Just like the original fit in nicely with other 1950s alien invasion films, this version of The Blob fits in great with the sci-fi/horror film of the 1980s. Like a lot of those films what really stands out to me in this movie is the special effects. The blob is much larger and much more aggressive, so the death scenes in this movie are much more explicit. This means we get a lot more of those practical effects I was talking about, except a whole lot better. People are disintegrated, snapped like twigs, limbs are pulled off, and faces are melted all in the name of cheesy horror.

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Another thing this version has is a great sense of humor that borders on the line of self awareness. There are a lot of jokes in this movie that genuinely made me laugh, and it’s pretty safe to say that everything that happens in this movie is done in a sort of tongue in cheek kind of way. That being said, the humor makes for characters that are easy to like which causes a reaction when one of them dies. Let me just say also, that this movie has some guts in killing off the people it does and when. There are plenty of shocks, laughs, scares, and great special effects that makes The Blob from 1988 not just a good remake, but a great and, dare I say, superior remake.

For both of the films, you have to already like the genre or be open to the idea of liking the genre. With the silliness of the first one and the excessive gore of the second one, these movies aren’t for everyone, but both have garnered praise and celebration which is all well deserved.

Straight Outta Compton – Review

18 Aug Film Review-Straight Outta Compton

Between 1986 and 1991, N.W.A took what was considered decent in the music industry and practically turned it on its head, but not without good reason. Their raps reflected the truth of their everyday life, and that just didn’t resonate well with some people. Straight Outta Compton, the new film by F. Gary Gray, finally tells the story of the rise and fall of N.W.A, but also how Ice Cube and Dr. Dre became household names. While this film is a biopic, what makes it really exceptional is its indictments of the police, the music industry, and greed.

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After growing up and living in Compton, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.). Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), and DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) form the rap group N.W.A. Together they write and produce songs about Compton and the only lifestyle they’ve ever known, which is plagued by violence and police brutality and harassment. After being found by their manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and picked up by Priority Records, the group takes the world by storm and causes an uproar fighting censorship of their music. As greed and ego finds its way into the group, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre break off to form their own careers, but their past efforts as N.W.A can’t be so easily shaken off.

The Academy Awards seems so far away, but like… Straight Outta Compton has to be considered. I mean, it just has to. This movie isn’t just a great biopic, it’s also a great examination of race relations, the music industry, and personal friendships. What only makes it more powerful is that it’s a true story filled with characters who are still alive to tell the tale. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube actually worked as producers on this film, which is comforting since you know they gave some input on what actually happened. It’s a really incredible story but that’s just where things begin. There’s so much more to this movie that it was almost hard to wrap my head around everything.

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Stepping away from what the movie is about, I’d like to look at everything that aesthetically makes Straight Outta Compton so pleasing. Having worked on music videos before (some for both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre), F. Gary Gray brings a real visual flair to this film. There are scenes where the camera swoops, turns, and glides with effortless ease. Add the skills of cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who has worked with Darren Aronofsky on films like Pi and Requiem for a Dream, and you have a visually beautiful movie. The soundtrack to this movie is exactly what you’d expect it to be, and I loved every minute of it. They played songs by N.W.A that I heard before, but now I have some welcome additions that I didn’t know before this movie. Thank you, Straight Outta Compton.

There couldn’t be a better group of actors portraying these larger than life people. O’Shea Jackson, Jr., the son of Ice Cube, plays his father in this and it’s sometimes eerie how similar they look. Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, respectively, also give exceptional performances, and Mitchell’s work is part of the reason this movie needs to be remembered during the awards season. When the actors all come together, their chemistry is fantastic and they work great with an already great screenplay. I just wish that DJ Yella and MC Ren had a bit more to do.

Straight Outta Compton is, unsurprisingly, a very powerful movie. While showing the rise and fall of one of rap, and arguably music’s, most influential groups, the film also treads over deeper themes that could have easily not been included. Fortunately, everything in this movie clicks together and works perfectly making the two and a half hour runtime not something to be intimidated by. Even if you don’t care for rap music, this is a powerful story that will now surely stand the test of time.

The Iceman – Review

15 Aug the-iceman

Between the 1960s and the early 1980s, Richard Kuklinski murdered over 100 people as a hitman working for various mob families. Since his arrest in 1986, there has been a biography written about him and also an HBO documentary that features and interview with the Iceman, himself, from 1992. With all of this information already out there, and the fact that it was a huge media sensation, it seems only right to have a movie made after the guy. We got this movie in 2013 with Ariel Vroman’s The Iceman. While this movie does have a lot going for it, like the title performance, there’s a lot to this movie that just falls short which makes it not achieve a place a small gangster classic.

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Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is a violent and unpredictable man, but he finds joy when he marries his girlfriend, Deborah (Winona Ryder). After losing his job dubbing bootleg porn for the mafia, he is hired by mob boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) to act as an enforcer and hit man. This job forces Kuklinski to channel the rage and violence that he has hidden away from his family in order to get the job done, and it turns out that he’s very good at what he does. As the years go by and the amount of bodies becomes ridiculous, Richard finds himself in a position where he could either lose the way to provide for his family or team up with another mafia hit man, Robert Pronge (Chris Evans). Whatever his choice may be, the consequences could be big enough to tear his entire world apart.

I have to be honest here. I never heard of Richard Kuklinski before this movie, but his story really is an interesting one. With a career that spanned over two decades that was filled with violence and malice, you’d think it would be enough to make a great gangster film. Well, yeah it is, but the screenplay to The Iceman keeps it from ever really achieving that greatness. Since there is so much to work with, you’d think that this would be a pretty long movie, but it’s actually under two hours. How is that possible? There is way too much to cover for it to be that short. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scenes that had the potential to be awesome and memorable, but is glazed over in a matter of seconds. The best part of this movie is a montage when it should have been stretched out to build character and create suspense. Oh well…

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Despite the screenplay being less than spectacular, there’s still something that makes The Iceman well worth seeing. That is Michael Shannon’s fantastic performance. I’ve yet to see Michael Shannon give a less than perfect performance, be it as General Zod in Man of Steel, Nelson Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire, or even his small role as Petie in Cecil B. Demented. While some of the stuff he’s in may be awful (I’m looking at you Pearl Harbor and Jonah Hex), Shannon is never the weak link. In the role of Richard Kuklinski, he is both demonic and loving, good and evil. He is a family man and also a cold blooded killer. This is the kind of stuff that makes his character, and many other characters in cinema, so interesting and he pulls it off with such menace, it’s hard not to be terrified of him.

It’s also easy to get lost in the production design. I recently reviewed Parkland, and I talked about how well the designers pulled off making everything look and sound like 1963. I have the same thing to say about The Iceman, except that it showcases design from the 1960s through the 1980s. It really puts you into the scene, but unfortunately there is plenty to take you out of the scenes. I’ve heard complaints that a lot of the dialogue is stereotypical gangster lines, but that wasn’t the issue with me. Going back to what I said before, the pacing of this movie is too sporadic and things just seem to happen too quickly. The choppiness of the film’s plot is enough to take you out of what’s happening onscreen and start thinking about what could have been done to make the movie better.

What makes me so disappointed is that The Iceman had a lot of potential to be a great gangster film, but it only is a pretty good gangster film. Michael Shannon’s performance as Kuklinski is enough to make this movie worth watch, but there’s too much that’s lacking. While I didn’t expect it to have the size or scope of a movie by Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola, it would have been nice to see a little bit more work done with the screenplay. The bottom line is that The Iceman is a good movie, but is sorely lacking.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Review

11 Aug mission-impossible-rogue-nation-motorcycle-chase-scene

It’s hard to believe that the Mission: Impossible film series has been going on since 1996. While the series has had its ups and downs, and by downs I mean Mission: Impossible II, it has remained pretty consistent in how entertaining it is. For quite a while now, my favorite film in the series was J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III, but something has happened in the past week that has changed that. If you haven’t guessed by now, that something was me seeing Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which I can say without a doubt is the best entry in the entire series.

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After the events of Ghost Protocol, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team have dedicated themselves to finding and bringing down a mysterious shadow terrorist group called the Syndicate. Unfortunately for them, CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) has been working to shut down the Impossible Missions Force and move all of its tech and people over to the CIA. When he succeeds, Ethan goes on the run, determined to still find and bring down the Syndicate. When he is saved by a supposed Syndicate agent, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Hunt begins to realize that others are also trying to bring down the organization and believes Faust to be a member of MI6. With the help of his old team, including Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther Stickall (Ving Rhames), and still on the run from the CIA, the team engages in what they do best, facing the impossible to bring down evil.

I’m just gonna start out by saying that Tom Cruise is the man. He always has been, and we’re all thinking it, but some people are just too afraid to admit the love they have for this guy and his dedication to a project. Remember how blown away we all were in Ghost Protocol when it was revealed that Cruise actually did climb the side of Dubai Tower? Now he outdoes himself once again by getting strapped onto the side of the plane and riding it up thousands of feet in the air. Again, the dedication this man has is unbelievable. I know he isn’t the most iconic action star out there like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, but honestly, Cruise does things no one else will and that puts him at the head of the pack.

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Another thing Rogue Nation has going for it is the return of Ethan’s IMF team that were introduced briefly in the third film and really given character in the fourth. All of the actors have great chemistry and work very well with one another, and you can actually see the character growth that happened between them in between the movies. Rebecca Ferguson is a more than welcome addition, and Sean Harris as the villainous head of the Syndicate is one of the best villains the Mission: Impossible series has to offer. One of the reasons I liked the third film so much was because Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the villain. I love a good villain and Sean Harris really brings his best. His character is just downright cold.

What’s a Mission: Impossible movie without good suspense? Remember when Hunt is dangling from the ceiling in a pressure and heat sensitive room to hack into a computer before the employee comes back? That was just the start of it. There were parts in Rogue Nation where things got so intense that you could hear audible reactions of people in the theater. That’s always a sign of a great movie, when it can get a response like that. One memorable scene in particular has Ethan Hunt holding his breath for three minutes to shut down an underwater security mainframe. If that scene doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to have an accident, I don’t know what will.

The writer and director of this film, Christopher McQuarrie, has shown that he has serious skills in the action genre already with films like Edge of Tomorrow (as the writer) and Jack Reacher, but remember he’s also the guy that wrote The Usual Suspects. Now his streak of great films continues with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Of course it was a team effort, and it’s clear that the entire cast and crew were determined to make this movie as great as it could be. The are countless good parts of the movie, a lot of great parts, but there are a few truly exceptional scenes that makes this film more than just your average summer action film. Much more.

Parkland – Review

10 Aug 963482463001_2656625940001_video-still-for-video-2656629215001

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald. Since then, the story has been told in many different films and documentaries that look at the actual even, but also the load of conspiracies that come along with it. The most notable film being Oliver Stone’s JFK. Today, however, I’m going to be looking at a lesser known film about the assassination, Parkland. While this certainly isn’t what you would call an exciting movie, I was pleased to find out that it was very accurate to the real events and is something of a hidden and under appreciated gem.

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Parkland doesn’t so much tell the story of JFK’s assassination, but more so the events that happen in the 24 hours that follow. Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) and the nurses of Parkland Hospital are forced into the extreme position of being the staff to operate on Kennedy mere minutes after being shot. Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who recorded the famous footage, along with Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) rush to get the film developed to see if there could be any clues that were captured. FBI Agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston) has to deal with the fact that Oswald visited his office just days before the assassination. Finally, Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) has to come to terms with the fact that his life will never be the same and his family may never recover from the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong).

It really sucks when I watch a movie based on an actual historic event, and then I come to realize that it was all pretty much fictionalized. What would be the point of even watching it if you aren’t going to get at least a semi accurate experience. That’s the main reason why I was so into The Baader Meinhof Complex. It told about an event in history with great detail and accuracy. This is the first film since then that I felt showed a genuine representation of history. So yes, that means that it isn’t pulse pounding suspense or high octane action. It is, however, an intriguing look at how something like that can have such huge effects on the people surrounding it.

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Being a movie that takes place in 1963, it’s very important that it looks, sounds, and feels like 1963. Luckily, the production design of this movie is fantastic and bolsters everything with an almost eerie sense of reality. The clothing is all what you would picture people to be wearing, but there’s smaller things that really build the atmosphere more than anything else. Throughout Parkland, you both hear and see actual radio and television news broadcasts that pretty much started the notion of 24 hour news. This is like the cherry on top of the sundae, and really made me feel like I was in the middle of the chaos.

Finally, it is absolutely necessary to talk about the actors and writer/director Peter Landesman. The screenplay sprinkles moments of unflinchingly real humanity throughout the film, even if they’re just small acts of kindness or hostility. It’s moments like these that real bring the film to life, and make it one of the more memorable pieces of historic film making. Landesman doesn’t try to make anything feel bigger or smaller than it actually is, and the cast back him on that. The performances, especially by Paul Giamatti (as usual), Zac Efron, and James Badge Dale, all stand out as exemplary.

Parkland is a film that doesn’t get nearly the credit that it deserves. I’ve seen a lot of critics call it unorganized, slow, and say that the narrative doesn’t flow. Well, did all of the events flow in real life after JFK’s assassination? Or was it all just a mess of chaos and confusion. Not only is this film great to look at and full of memorable performances, it’s also historically accurate, and that’s why I give Parkland a heavy recommendation.

Zombie – Review

6 Aug

Italian horror offers some of the most popular and beloved films of the genre. With names like Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci, there’s plenty of content to choose from, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that whatever movie you find will be violent and equally gory. But, hey, that’s what people come to expect in horror movies, right? For this review, we’re going to be looking at arguably the most famous film by the Maestro of Gore, himself, Lucio Fulci. Zombie may just be an unofficial  sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and an attempt to cash in on the zombie craze, but this film actually stands alone as one of the greatest zombie films ever to be made.

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When Dr. Bowles (Ugo Bologna) goes missing and his boat carrying a rather large zombie shows up in New York Harbor, his daughter Anne (Tisa Farrow) is brought in for questioning. While investigating the boat herself, she meets Peter West (Ian McCulloch), a journalist with the same questions she has. Their inquiries lead them to the Virgin Islands, where they hope the find the mysterious island of Matool. Along the way, they enlist the help of Brian Hull (Al Cliver) and his wife Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay), a seafaring couple who are more than willing to give them a ride on their boat. When the group gets to Matool, they find the island ravaged by zombies, whose numbers are increasing more and more each day. Their only chance for survival may lie with Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), a scientist working to solve the mystery of these zombies who was also a close friend to Anne’s father.

First, I’d like to give you a little history on this movie since it’s a bit out of the ordinary. It all starts in 1978 when George Romero released Dawn of the Dead, which was the sequel to his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. Internationally, this film was known as Zombi. Now, in order to cash in on the massive success Romero’s film, the Italians decided to make an unofficial sequel, this being Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, now known as Zombie in the United States. This film has absolutely no connection to any of Romero’s movies, other than the fact that there are lots of zombies in it. Strangely enough, from this film, even more sequels were released. That gets a bit too confusing so I’m just going to stick with Fulci’s cult classic.

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Now let’s look at the movie itself. This is without a doubt one of the greatest zombie movies ever made. In a time when zombies have become a subject of parody, even within its own genre, it’s so satisfying to see a movie that takes its subject matter seriously. Let’s just say that when this movie was first released, it was banned in the UK for being too obscene, and as a fun gimmick, the theaters handed out barf bags. Sure, the whole barf bag thing is all in good fun, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some really sick scenes in this movie. Some are so gross that they have become iconic. The most famous scene has to do with someone slowly getting their eye pierced by a sharp piece of wood. This isn’t done offscreen either. Oh no. We see it in all its gory detail. Think Un Chien Andalou, but with zombies.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Zombie is more than just a festival of gore. In fact, it’s still a pretty cool movie in its own right. Think of it as if The Serpent and the Rainbow and Cannibal Holocaust had a baby. There’s a lot of cool voodoo type stuff going on and the gore just kind of adds to how cool everything else is. The pacing moves very slowly, especially the scene with the boat pulling into the harbor. It adds a great sense of suspense and dread that overtakes the entire movie. To top it all off, that late 70s Italian synth soundtrack just makes the movie all the better. It definitely feels like a movie from the 1970s, but it feels like a great one.

No matter how you look at it, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie is a classic of the horror genre. It’s fill of suspense, gore, violence, and fantastic makeup and effects. Zombie movies have become something of a cliche recently, and that’s a shame because they used to reign as some of the greatest horror stories in film. This film may not be for the squeamish of feint of heart, nor is it a movie for people who treasure their eyeballs, but it is an important part of film history as one of the landmarks of horror, and also as a film that has earned its title of a cult classic.

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