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The Return of the Living Dead Series – Review: Part 1

14 Jul

Zombie films, at this point, seem to have been done to death. There was a time however, where messing with the formula was providing audiences with some new and exciting content, and one of the most popular blends of genres just so happens to be the horror/comedy. Enter Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a cult classic from 1985 called The Return of the Living Dead, which despite what the title will have you believe, is not related to George Romero’s series of films. It didn’t end there however, with four sequels being spawned to create a series that has lasted over a couple decades, with varying results of course. In this review, I’m going to be looking at the first three and will finish up with the last two in the second part.

Let’s kick this off with O’Bannon’s cult smash.

Freddy (Thom Matthews) is a bumbling punk kid who just got a job at a medical supply warehouse and is being trained by the equally bumbling foreman, Frank (James Karen). While trying to impress the new hire, Frank shows Freddy a container in the basement which contains a corpse and a toxic gas, which was part of an experiment that reanimated the dead and inspired George Romero to make Night of the Living Dead. After fiddling with the container, it springs a leak which released the toxic gas into the warehouse and reanimates the corpse within it. After calling their boss, Burt (Clu Gulager), to help destroy the corpse with the mortician next door, Ernie (Don Calfa), the groups actions poison the rain outside that is falling over a cemetery which causes all of the dead resting there to come back to life. Of course, a group of Freddy’s friends happen to be loitering there at the time and make a quick escape to the mortuary. From this location, the group must get innovative with their surroundings if they are to survive, but chances begin to get slimmer and slimmer as members of their party start falling victim to the zombies.

The Return of the Living Dead is a special kind of movie. It’s just the right blend of horror and comedy that is so hard to come across. Everything from the poster to the characters and even the way the zombies are design and behave just scream of a punk rock attitude, and that’s exactly what writer/director Dan O’Bannon was going for. It’s so funny to think that the mastermind behind the original Alien would go on to write and direct a movie like this. I’m not saying this is a bad movie at all, it’s just such a departure from what I’ve already seen of his work. So anyway, what this movie is is a comedy with horror elements, and boy can it be funny. What really helps the humor is that this movie takes place in a world where George Romero’s zombie films are around and just as popular. This fills the character’s heads with useless knowledge about zombies that don’t apply to these zombies in the least. In fact, the zombies from Return of the Living Dead are responsible for all the impressions of the undead that involved someone yelling “BRAAAAINS!” Even if you haven’t seen this movie, it’s reach still extends to you through the powers of cult film references that abound.

While The Return of the Living Dead holds up well as a comedy, it also has to hold up as a horror. In that respect, it also succeeds. This isn’t really a creepy movie, but more of what you’d expect from a zombie film. That’s lots of gore and some really great special effects, like on the Tarman zombie that hides in the basement of the warehouse. The other zombies also look great, with some really great make up and practical effects used to complete the illusion. I do have a couple minor complaints with the film as a whole however. For one thing, the set goes on for way too long and it really takes a while for the movie to really get going. Once it does, it’s off the walls, but I was surprised that so much time was used up in just laying the ground work of the story. A story that isn’t really that hard to understand, I might add. The ending also isn’t that spectacular. It is admittedly funny and does work with the nihilistic punk sensibilities, but it all happens way too fast and then the credits just begin to roll. Kind of an odd way to end the film, but it does leave me wanting more.

The Return of the Living Dead shouldn’t have to be compared with something like Dawn of the Dead, but it is possible. This isn’t a perfect zombie film, but it does reinvent the formula in such a way that makes it stand out from the massive amount of other works in this subgenre of horror. This is also a really funny film with a cast of faces you will probably recognize from some other cult favorites. The make up and effects are on point and the gore will leave any horror fan satisfied. If some of the pacing and storytelling issues were cleaned up, you’d have something close to being a perfect horror comedy. Even with those flaws, The Return of the Living Dead has rightfully succeeded in standing the test of time.

Final Grade: B

When The Return of the Living Dead proved to be a critical and box office success, it’s pretty easy to look back now and see that a sequel was inevitable, only this time without Dan O’Bannon. Instead, Lorimar Pictures took a script by Ken Wiederhorn and said they would fund it if he turned the story into a sequel of Return of the Living Dead. He did just that, despite wanting to get out of the horror genre, and it’s certainly weaker than the first film but it isn’t without its charms.

After a barrel of Trioxin falls off of a military transport truck and lands in the river a small town, it’s pretty clear that something very bad is going to happen. After being bullied by a group of neighborhood kids, Jesse (Michael Kenworthy), and his tormentors find the barrel and accidentally open it. Jesse was long gone at that point, but the other two kids weren’t so lucky. Meanwhile, two inept grave robbers, Joey (Thom Mathews) and Ed (James Karen), witness firsthand the dead begin to rise from their graves after a rainstorm sends the gaseous Trioxin underground. Joey and Ed soon meet up with Jesse, his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), and their cable man Tom (Dana Ashbrook), who have also been slowly learning the truth about the undead crisis. With the military surrounding and barricading the town, this unlikely group of heroes have to fight for their lives against the zombies at any moment while also looking for anyway to stop this disaster before it gets any further.

The first thing I noticed about this movie is that it’s shameless about ripping off major plot points of its predecessor. If you go into this movie expecting a sequel that builds off of the events of the first film, then you’ll be let down by this movie on a major level. Return of the Living Dead Part II is a watered down retelling of the first film on a bigger scale. While the first film just took place in a very contained area, this one takes place in an entire town. This change doesn’t necessarily make for a better movie and it just makes the zombies seem stretched thinner. The first movie was tight and made it a lot harder to avoid the undead, where in this one there’s plenty of places to hide. The humor in this one is also watered down big time, which was done in order to attract a wider audience. This backfired miserably since it only made $9.2 million while the original grossed $14.2 million. The zombies in this movie are utter buffoons. This choice sacrifices the wit and anarchic attitude of the first film for zombies that fall all over each other and just meet whacky demises. I really did miss the clever dialogue and original humor that the original offered, but there were still some laughs to be had in this sequel.

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t an entertaining movie. It definitely had its moments, and they can’t be forgotten just for the sake of railing on the film. The kid that played Jesse was actually very good and it was fun to see Thom Mathews and James Karen practically revive their roles, even though other actors probably could have been chosen. James Karen is absolutely hilarious though, and its a better movie with him in it. There’s also some really good special effects that stand up well with the effects of the original film. Return of the Living Dead Part II is a very light hearted film that relies way more on the comedy than the horror, instead of finding a balance between the two. This is a pretty bad movie, but it’s a bad movie that’s easy to like just for its absurdity and self awareness. Just don’t go into this movie expecting quality.

Final Grade: C-

Return of the Living Dead Part II was the last of the series to be released in the 1980s, and also the last to have a wide release in theaters. In 1993, Return of the Living Dead 3 was released in select theaters and admittedly has the worst box office results of the first three films. Other than financially, how well does it hold up with the others that came before it.

After stealing his father’s high class military key card, Curtis (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend, Julie (Melinda Clarke) sneak onto an army base and witness a group of scientists and officers reanimate a corpse with the Trioxin gas. Col. John Reynolds (Kent McCord), Curtis’ father, is part of the project and when it ultimately fails he is reassigned to another state, much to the devastation of Curtis. Curtis decides he isn’t going to leave and runs off with Julie, but the two get into a motorcycle accident that kills Julie. Curtis soon realizes that he still has the key card and uses it to get back onto the base to reanimate his girlfriend. As the two lovers start realizing that this new life (or afterlife in Julie’s case) isn’t going to be easy, Julie’s need for human flesh and brains causes an out of control situation of undead flesh eaters that could cause the next apocalypse if not contained quickly.

The mood of Return of the Living Dead 3 is way different from the mood of the first and second. The first film is a witty dark comedy/horror film while the sequel is mostly an exercise in slapstick. This entry totally does away with the comedy, while still retaining the sense of punk rock, even more so than the second film. I’ll get into the positives of that later, but I do want to focus on some of the not so great elements of this movie. For one thing, it’s kinda boring. Compared to the craziness of the first two, this entry is really tame. I could easily count the number of zombies in this movie and there’s never really a moment where they seemed to be overpowering anyone. Zombies work best as a horde, not a clump. We’re also meant to really buy the romance between Curtis and Julie, but Curtis is such a selfish idiot, it’s really hard to root for him in any circumstance. I ended up feeling bad for Julie having to be stuck with him and his awful ideas.

As a whole, though, this is a pretty solid movie. It isn’t anything grand, but it has some strong redeeming qualities. For one thing, and this is probably the most obvious thing to praise, Julie’s design for when she gets progressively deeper into “zombie mode,” if you will, is awesome. This make up and costume design is an under appreciated gem of the horror genre, and it’s something that needs to be revisited. This film also feels like it can stand on its own. The second film relied on the first one so much that it felt like a crutch. Return of the Living Dead 3 has its own style, mood, and storyline that is, for the most part, completely its own and unique. I also have to once again give props to the special effects department for once again showing that practical effects is the only way to successfully craft a zombie film.

As I already said, Return of the Living Dead 3 is a solid movie that does have some major flaws which will surely annoy viewer. It’s a tad boring and feels much smaller and less suspenseful than a zombie movie should. It does, however, have a cool concept to work with and it does try to make its two leads something more than just generic horror characters. This isn’t a movie that will ever be seen as a classic, but it does have some neat effects and costume design. For fans of the genre, I’d say give it a try.

Final Grade: C

So there’s the first three films in the Return of the Living Dead series and the only ones to be released in theaters. When I return with this series review, we’ll be heading back to the wonderful, yet often startlingly absurd world of direct to DVD.

Phantasm Series – Review: Part 1

25 Jan

Horror movies have a fair share of memorable boogeymen. In the 1970s and 1980s there was Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees to name a few, but there are also some that have gained more of a cult reputation. One of these boogeymen is the Tall Man from the Phantasm series. I didn’t know much about these movies, but he was a character who always piqued my interest, and I also find it odd that I haven’t given these movies a chance yet, especially considering their cult status and following. I’m always ready to see some new horror movies, so I’m going to watch all 5 in the series and have a two part review on all of them. Let’s see how they are.

In 1979, writer and director Don Coscarelli released the first film in the series.

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Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Michael Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) are two brothers whose parents died a few years prior in a car accident. Michael is practically attached to Jody’s hip at times, which isn’t always convenient when Jody has things he needs to do. After the death of one of Jody’s friends, Michael becomes suspicious of the town’s mortician (Angus Scrimm) and the activities he’s engaging in in the mortuary. Michael begins his investigation and stumbles across very strange things in the mortuary like hooded dwarves that attack him and a flying silver sphere that will attach to your head and drill through your skull. Soon Jody and his friend, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), join in on the investigation and are quickly sucked into a web of undead minions, hidden planets, and the wrath of the mortician known as the Tall Man.

Say what you will about Phantasm, because either way this is one hell of an original movie. This film came out in 1979, which was an era of slasher films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween were both released and a year later in 1980 we’d be introduced to Friday the 13th. What Phantasm did was focus more on the supernatural and not so much a high body count. The whole thing feels like it could be a tale told around a campfire with the Tall Man being the boogeyman that would keep everyone up that night. Angus Scrimm plays the Tall Man to perfection, and there’s no reason not to see how he became a cult icon in the horror world. There’s also plenty of imagination in terms of the story and the design. This film was made on a super low budget, so the fact that writer/director Don Coscarelli pulled it off is amazing. One scene in particular where the silver sphere is attacking Michael in the mortuary is especially memorable and very well made.

So while Phantasm is a horror film that’s held up very well over the years in terms of its ambition and originality, there is a lot holding this movie back. My first complaint is something you’ll see in a lot of low budget horror movies, and that’s the acting. Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm both do great work, but A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury kind of do that weird overemphasizing thing you see in movies like this. It’s awkward to watch and must have been awkward to perform. Another big issue is the way the film is paced and structured. For a good portion of the movie, it seems like nothing is happening. There is admittedly some good suspense in this build up, but it just takes way too long, and this is a pretty short movie so there really isn’t any time to spare. Finally, there are scenes that are simply uninteresting even though it seems like Coscarelli was definitely trying to make something of them. The one I can think of is a small car chase on a deserted road. It’s a car chase that was boring and I couldn’t get into. That’s a rare thing for me.

All in all, Phantasm should be required viewing for anyone interested in horror films, but it’s not something that is necessary for everyone. There’s plenty of originality and I admire Don Coscarelli and his crew for making the movie they wanted no matter what the cost. There’s some great scenes that will stick with me for quite a long time and Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is one of the great cinematic boogeymen. There’s just some serious pacing issues that drag this movie down from being one of the titans of the genre. It’s still a really cool movie, but can’t be compared to something like the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

Final Grade: B-

Almost a decade later, in 1988, Coscarelli followed up his original movie with the higher budgeted Phantasm II.

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After spending years in a psychiatric hospital, Mike (James LeGros) begins having visions of this girl named Liz (Paula Irvine) who is being tormented by the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm reprises his role). He talks his way out of the hospital and meets up with his old friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister also returns), who at first doesn’t believe his story of the Tall Man, but quickly comes to realize Mike isn’t so crazy. The two get geared up and hit the road, following a trail of desolate towns wiped out by the Tall Man. Soon, the two meet up with Liz and it becomes clear that the Tall Man needs Mike and Liz together because of their strong telepathic bond that becomes apparent in their dreams. Now the trio must once again face the Tall Man, his army of dwarf minions, and his arsenal of deadly flying spheres.

I didn’t have too high of expectations going into Phantasm II since I just felt like the first film was pretty good. Still, I went in with a fresh mind and wanted to see that maybe a bigger budget would give Coscarelli some more room to go bigger and build on the lore. This just goes to show that a bigger budget does not make a better movie. For a horror sequel, this isn’t a bad film, but it still falls into the same pits that the first film does. The beginning of the movie starts out really strong by picking up right where the first film ended, but as time goes on everything starts to lose its luster. The characters all, once again, fail to really grab me or make me care. The only two that succeed in being interesting characters are the Tall Man, of course, and Reggie. Mike and Liz are both bland and altogether uninteresting, which makes some of the more intense scenes feel like they’re missing something. There’s also some weird pacing issues, yet again, where the movie slows down to a grinding halt at times and we are left with characters engaging in dialogue that often feels hollow.

I’m still having a little bit of a dilemma. I have a hard time not hyping this movie up because there is still a lot of really cool stuff. The special effects in this movie are a huge step up, and some of the scenes involving them are genuinely shocking. There are a couple of new spheres that offer some of the most memorable scenes in the movie and one particular puppet that was really creepy. There’s also a new sense of action in this movie that reminds me a little bit of Evil Dead II. This film has those moments of characters gearing up and customizing their weapons, which serve really well to get the audience hyped up. There are also some attempts at funny tough talk which usually just fails completely. Still, I will say the bigger budget does allow for some great show downs with the Tall Man that was sort of missing from the first film.

Phantasm II is a mixed bag for me. It’s missing the wonder, mystery, and suspense of the first film, but it does amp up the action, intensity, and special effects. For me, a horror movie is more about the mystery and suspense while the special effects and intensity come second. This is still a really imaginative movie that builds on the lore of the original, but it doesn’t have enough characterization going for it to bolster the content still. Phantasm II isn’t bad, but I can’t help but feel it’s missing something.

Final Grade: C+

In 1994, something unfortunate happened to this series. Universal stated that if Don Coscarelli and his crew were attached to the next Phantasm film, they wouldn’t distribute it. Coscarelli said that was fine and went on to make Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, which was released direct to video.

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Picking up right where Phantasm II left off, The Tall Man and his minions are in pursuit of Reggie and Mike (once again played by A. Michael Baldwin). After being seriously injured, Mike is left in a coma and taken by the Tall Man soon after he awakes. Now, Reggie is forced to go head to head with the Tall Man, yet again, but this time he has more help than he’s ever had. His first new partner is a young boy named Tim (Kevin Connors), who has survived in a town desolated by the Tall Man. Reggie and Tim also meet Rocky (Gloria Lynn Henry), a tough as nails biker who lost her best friend to the Tall Man. Finally, Mike’s brother Jody has returned as one of the Tall Man’s spheres that has the ability to take human form for a short period of time. This newly formed gang of heroes each have their reasons to stop the Tall Man once and for all, but will they be strong enough defeat him and his ever growing army of undead minions?

With this being the first direct to video entry in this series, I had very little hope that it was going to do anything for me. Surprisingly, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is the one that has entertained me the most so far. Some of the pitfalls that the other two movies fall in are avoided in this third entry. For one thing, Mike isn’t in the movie too much, which is a good thing because I wasn’t a fan of A. Michael Baldwin’s acting in the first film, and it’s pretty much the same in this movie. Another huge plus is that the characters of Tim and Rocky both work great with Reggie and provide a lot of cool scenes and comedic relief that works a lot better than it did in Phantasm II. Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister also do good work here, as they have continued to do throughout the series leading up to this point.

Much like Phantasm II, this movie is heavy on action. Reggies quad-barreled shotgun makes a return while Tim and Rocky bring a lot of over the top action as well. For a movie that was made for direct to video releasing, this is a pretty good looking movie with some impressive stunts and action sequences. Not only do we get cool action, but there’s also a good amount of world building in that we learn more of who the Tall Man is and what he’s doing with the bodies he steals and the towns he destroys. To point out one negative, I will say that the last third of the movie falls into an area that can only be described as redundant. It’s the big showdown inside a mortuary with a twist at the very end. This is Phantasm 101 and it wouldn’t hurt to deviate a little from what’s been done in every movie so far.

In the end, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead doesn’t shake up the formula too much but it does offer a lot of good entertainment and fun additions to the cast of these movies. The characters are memorable and the action is fun. It just would be nice to see these movies go in a different direction in some ways.

Final Grade: B

The first three movies in the Phantasm series can be described as fine. The first and the third have stand out moments that make them memorable, but the second movie just dragged on a bit too much for me. There’s still two more movies to go so keep an eye out for part 2.

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.

Romero’s “Dead” Series – Survival of the Dead

16 Aug

What was so refreshing about Diary of the Dead was the intriguing new style that George Romero took his “Dead” series. With the series heading in this direction, I was actually excited to see what he had up his sleeves for Survival of the Dead. Half way through the movie I realized that there was nothing in this movie was going to shock, wow, impress, or thrill me. Five out of six ain’t bad though, right?

 

While Diary of the Dead take place during the events of Night of the Living Dead, this film takes place around the time that Dawn of the Dead takes place. Plum Island, a small island off the coast of Delaware, is the home of the warring O’Flynn and Muldoon families. After being banished from the island, Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), returns with a group of national guardsmen led by Sgt. Crockett (Alan van Sprang). Crockett and his men have a hard time figuring out who the real enemy is once on the island, the Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) or the undead.

Perhaps I should start with what I liked about the movie because I can cover this rather quickly. I like how the story line of this movie follows that of a character who appeared in Diary of the Dead briefly. Sgt. Crockett and his team robs the film making group from the previous film, and it was really cool to make this almost a direct sequel to that movie. I think this idea is especially cool because Sgt. Crockett was such a minor character in Diary of the Dead.

 

Now what I didn’t like about it. Well, pretty much everything else. The thing that bothered me the most was that there was nothing new or interesting brought to the table. I like to think that the movies in this series are very discernible from each other. When I think Dawn of the Dead, I think of a mall and satire on consumerism. When I think Land of the Dead, I think of a wasteland with jabs at capitalism. There is nothing here that makes it stand out from the rest. The satire is almost non existent, and what is there is the same. Pretty much that humans are as, if not more, dangerous than the zombies. Big surprise.

The acting and the characters are pretty laughable. I understand having a movie with unlikable characters as long as they are properly developed and three dimensional. The characters here are just obnoxious and cold hearted for no reason that I can find that seems concrete enough. There are two characters in the movie that I felt were developed and used properly. Not a very good amount at all.

 

Finally, the setting. Everything looks nice and it’s a very pretty environment, but I never felt danger. Everything was wide open with lots of room to maneuver and escape. What made Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead so good was the tight spaces that forced the characters to really have to dodge the undead in order to survive. Also, there are scenes that say they take place in Philadelphia, as do most movies in this series. As a person who lives in Philadelphia, I really think they could have done a better job at scouting locations, because the Canadian area they used looks absolutely nothing like Philadelphia.

I really wish I could say that every movie in this series was good, but Survival of the Dead had to ruin Romero’s winning streak. It seems to be about time for the master of the undead to find something else to work on. Still five out of six movies isn’t bad, just don’t be concerned if you miss Survival of the Dead.

I really enjoyed taking a look at these movies again so I could review them. This is one of my favorite film series to be released, especially as someone who is in love with the horror genre. They were groundbreaking, satirical, and smart. Hats off to you, Mr. Romero.

Romero’s “Dead” Series – Diary of the Dead

15 Aug

This is kind of a bizarre entry in the “Dead” series because it takes place during the same time as Night of the Living Dead, just in a modern setting. That being said, it appears George Romero threw out all realistic concepts of his timeline for Diary of the Dead. This entry is also unique for the in-movie camera style that is similar to films like Cloverfield and [REC.].

 

As I said before, this film takes place during the events of Night of the Living Dead. A group of film students are making a low budget horror movie in the woods when they hear about the undead rising and consuming human flesh. Determined to document the events, Jason Creed (Joshua Close) continues to film the horrors that the group encounter while on the road to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I honestly wasn’t expecting much from this movie because of the weird timeline changes and the synopsis. Well, I really learned my lesson because Diary of the Dead is a refreshing entry into the “Dead ” series. I’m not sure how many times a film maker can pump out movies in a series that follow the same basic premise and keep it interesting without changing it up a bit. Also, I have a soft spot in my movie loving heart for this kind of hand held, in-movie camera style.

 

This movie has some of the best suspense and shocking violent moments in the entire series. From an Amish man throwing dynamite into a group of zombies to acid burning through a zombies skull, Romero delivers awesome scenes one after another. Compared to Land of the Dead, however, Diary of the Dead might seem a little tame. I use the word “tame” just to say it isn’t quite as gory or violent as the previous entry, but there isn’t really a “tame” Romero movie, especially in this series.

Like the first three entries in this series, this film didn’t have that large of a budget and the actors were mainly unknown. Romero once again proves that you don’t need an astronomical budget and Brad Pitt to make a good movie. This is a movie that has characters that I found strangely relatable, especially since I am a film student living in Pennsylvania, and the continuing satire that has become a trademark in this series.

 

This time the satire deals with mainstream media and the negative effects that it has on people when it comes to information. Instead, Romero favors the more independent thinkers who are crusading for the truth, like the characters in this movie. This is a timeless notion that I think is very important presently with all of the violence in the Middle East and even on our own soil that is covered up or warped by the media for ratings or to maintain a certain agenda. There isn’t a zombie apocalypse happening now, but what if there was? If the media handles it anyway like they did in this movie, what hope would we have?

As a small side note, Diary of the Dead has the most hard hitting, thought provoking, and depressing ending in this entire series. If you aren’t shaken or left wondering at the final image, then there might be something seriously wrong with you.

Diary of the Dead was a pleasant surprise. The style and characters made this movie interesting, but the zombie horror and awesome suspense brought it to the level of “awesome.” There is probably a lot of people who don’t like this movie because it strays away from the others in form, but I found it to be an excellent addition to the series. Definitely worth a viewing.

I’ll be finishing up this series with my next review of Romero’s final zombie film to date, Survival of the Dead.

 

Romero’s “Dead” Series – Land of the Dead

14 Aug

I’ve seen many reviews and discussions on Romero’s “Dead” series that refer to it as a trilogy. This is most certainly not the case as we can see with Romero’s Land of the Dead and the two movies that follow it. I’m going to be honest in saying for awhile I thought it was only a trilogy, but in 2005, Romero released Land of the Dead after over a decade of zombie less films.

Years after the events of the first film, humanity has been almost completely over run by the undead, and even worse, they’re evolving. A large outpost of survivors has been set up in Pittsburgh with the city’s ruler Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) set up a high class refuge called “Fiddler’s Green” where the upper class get to live and the lower class has to rot on the streets. All classes dissolve and become zombie bait when thousands of evolved undead storm the gates of the city with a small group of supply gatherers to help defend the city.

At first, I was very unimpressed by this movie. It just didn’t feel like a Romero zombie movie. It was how it was filmed and the famous actors like Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo instead of B actors and unknowns were kind of distracting. As the movie went on, however, I started getting more and more into the classic Romero satire, awesome gore effects, and the constant barrage of the undead made me smile ear to eat, and next thing I knew,  I was having a blast.

 

This is the best acted of the entire “Dead” series, and for good reason. There is major talent at work here. The legendary Dennis Hopper steals the show as a slimy capitalist businessman who is all about the upper class. John Leguizamo also is good and is definitely the most interesting character of the entire movie, and arguably the entire series. Simon Baker is a good leading man, although there is nothing impressive to speak of. Robert Joy also gives a fine performance as the deformed dim wit with great aim, Charlie.

Romero really just pushes everything to the next level with this movie, without  losing any of the satire. When this film was released, it was the most expensive “Dead” movie in the series. You can expect to see lots of explosions, bigger guns, and lots of gore. This works well, but at the same time I kind of liked the simple look of the other films with the spurts of blood and gore. There’s carnage at every turn in this movie.

 

The satire in this movie is timeless and is on par with the consumerism jabbing in Dawn of the Dead. This time, Land of the Dead focuses on the separation of the upper and lower class and the devastating effects. The rich are the villains in this film and the poor are the victims of their power. While the upper class gets to live in the comfort of Fiddler’s Green, the poor are left to die on the streets. This isn’t at all an exaggeration. The poor are dying on the streets while the rich sit idly by.

Land of the Dead is certainly a step up from Day of the Dead. It is gorier, has better characters, and is more sure of itself in terms of its satire. I was pretty nervous when it first started, but after the first 20 minutes it really picked up and became a pleasant surprise. While it doesn’t quite stand up to Dawn of the Dead, it certainly is a step up from the relatively weak chris installment. Check out Land of the Dead.

We’re not done yet, folks. Stay tuned for my next blog for Romero’s “Dead” series, Diary of the Dead.

Romero’s “Dead” Series – Day of the Dead

12 Aug

Romero’s Dawn of the Dead wasn’t as big of a box office hit as Night of the Living Dead, but both of them have achieved statuses as cult classics. The same can be said of the third film in this series from 1985, Day of the Dead, although it isn’t quite as popular as the other two for clear reasons. Even with some faults, this is still a quality zombie movie that offers the same Romero satirical horror.

 

Months after Dawn of the Dead, the future of the human race has gotten so hopeless that the remaining people are either nowhere to be found or living in underground bunkers. In one particular bunker, Sarah (Lori Cardille) is a scientist working with a group of people to figure out how people can realistically rid the world of zombies. Progress is hardly being made, except in Dr. Logan’s (Richard Liberty) attempts to domesticate a zombie named Bub (Sherman Howard). This lack of progress angers the soldiers who are protecting them, especially Capt. Rhodes (Joseph Pilato). Anger and tension flares as the base erupts into violence pitting the humans not just against zombies, but more against each other.

While Night of the Living Dead is memorable for its gritty horror and Dawn of the Dead is memorable for its brutal satire and violence, Day of the Dead is memorable for its interesting plot turns that change the way these zombies are looked at. This movie is very scientific, and I use this word loosely, in trying to determine what exactly the zombies are and what is driving them. This is very interesting and made me as a viewer try to understand the undead as they were.

 

For all the gore hounds, like myself, out there, this movie does a fantastic job at showing off some great gore effects. In Dawn of the Dead, a lot of the blood and gore were pretty cheesy, even though there were times that it was appropriately disgusting. The realism and “yuck factor” are greatly enhanced for this one, providing some of the most disgusting scenes this series has seen thus far. The problem is, we have to wait really long to see the cool stuff. There are some great gore shots in the beginning, but then there’s a huge gap before we see any really gross stuff.

Be prepared to have to sit through A LOT of talking. There are a few scenes of dialogue, and one painfully long monologue that made me roll my eyes more than once. I’m not saying that Romero shouldn’t have written in a monologue, but it just went on for way too long, to the point where I wasn’t even listening anymore. Same for the scenes where the scientists and soldiers are meeting to discuss their current situation. They talk for so long that they actually start saying the same exact things, just in slightly different ways.

 

Day of the Dead, despite it’s flaws in writing and pacing, is a great zombie film that brings new light to the way we understand the Romero zombies. Where the first film gave us rules on how to kill them, this film gives the audience ways to understand them, which may sound kind of silly but it’s really creative and interesting. Don’t start this movie expecting something that’s just as good as Dawn of the Dead. Instead, sit back and enjoy it for what it is: a cool zombie movie with good characters, a great villain, awesome gore, and lots of zombies.