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Return of the Living Dead Series – Review: Part II

2 Aug

The first three films in the Return of the Living Dead series work at varying degrees of success. The first film is a riot that boasted some excellent special effects, the second film overuses slapstick, but provides enough entertainment to have some fun. The third film was kind of a departure and worked with a more serious approach, which felt kind of funky at times, but I still loved the zombie action and special effects. Now we enter the world of direct-to-DVD where no one is safe and you really never know what you’re going to get. That being said, lower your expectations to the most basic settings and let’s see what these movie have to offer.

Both films were shot back to back and released in 2005, with the first being Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis.

Julian (John Keefe) knows his Uncle Charles (Peter Coyote) is into some shady business at his job in the multibillion corporation known as Hybra Tech, but he isn’t quite sure how deep down the rabbit hole he is. One day, Julian’s friend, Zeke (Elvin Dandel), injures himself in a motocross accident and is taken to the hospital but declared dead before he even arrives. Julian and his group of friends soon find out that isn’t the case and he has in fact been taken to Hybra Tech for testing and experimentation. The gang decides the best idea is to break into the company’s headquarters and rescue Zeke. While there, they find evidence that Charles and Hybra Tech has been experimenting with the deadly Trioxin gas to create zombies to use as ultra powerful bio-weapons. One thing leads to another and the experimental zombies are on the loose in Hybra Tech which forces everyone stuck inside to fight for their lives or join the undead horde.

I really don’t know where to begin here. This is one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and I do say it was a pleasure because I laughed out loud at the unabashed idiocy this narrative had to offer multiple times. First of all, the fact that a group of teenagers think it’s a good idea to use their extreme sport skills to break into a highly secured building is something that I can’t suspend my disbelief towards. They come up with this idea so fast and unanimously without any hesitation. They’re also really skilled with all types of firearms, which is really convenient since they’ll need all the help they can get when the zombies finally break out. Oh, right. The zombies. Yeah, it takes forever for more than two zombies at a time to be shown on screen. This is a low budget movie that went straight to DVD then to the SyFy channel, but my god, this movie drags on and on with the stupidest characters I’ve seen in a while.

There’s just so little logic used in this movie that it numbs the mind to such an excessive degree. One of these teenagers WORKS SECURITY AT HYBRA TECH. What did they think was going to happen with employees like a teenager and three other inexperienced hacks being the only line of defense for the Trioxin gas and a horde of zombies? Were the writers thinking about anything at all? When the zombies do start showing up and the action gets going, there are a few moments of fun, but how many fist fights with zombies are there gonna be? Why can the be so easily killed while the zombies in the first three films proved to be so difficult? I just have so many questions for the writers that I seriously don’t know where to begin.

I could go on and on about Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, but I just start running myself in circles with unanswered questions about direction, acting, editing, and how this could’ve been green lit in the first place. This is one of the most hilariously sloppy films I’ve ever seen and it completely besmirches the anarchic attitude of the first three films. This is so mind numbing and senseless that I can’t recommend it to anyone. It’s good for a laugh considering how terrible it is, but do you really want to waste an hour and a half of your life that bad?

Final Grade: D-

Here we are at the last film of the series. I just want to take a moment to look back to 1985 when the first movie was released, and the impact it had on audiences looking for something to have fun with. We’ve gone from cult classic to this, and this here is the bottom of the barrel. You can just tell by the title: Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave.

A year after the events of Necropolis, Charles has the remaining Trioxin and plans to sell it to Russian Interpol agents whose job it is to destroy. Unfortunately, the Trioxin is released once again and the threat of a zombie apocalypse looms its undead head. Julian and Jenny (Jenny Mollen) find more Trioxin in Charles’ house and bring it to Cody (Cory Hardict) in the university science lab. It’s found that the Trioxin has similar elements as some hallucinogens, where Jenny’s raving DJ brother Jeremy (Cain Mihnea Manoliu) has the bright idea to try a bit of the Trioxin and sell it as a new street drug called “Z.” Much to Julian’s protests, the Trioxin is synthesized and sold to the students before the rave, and it doesn’t take long for the real effects of the gas to show. Now it’s up to Julian, his friends, a duo of bumbling Interpol agents to save the world from certain zombie doom.

This movie is the purest of garbage. It’s such an insult to what this series once was and the craft of film making in general. Let’s talk about the most glaring problem Rave to the Grave has, and there are plenty of them. I’ve never seen a movie with such a huge problem maintaining continuity. Ok, that’s not quite true. The Pink Panther movies are all over the place, but at least those films are enjoyable. This one has the audacity to name the characters the same names but completely wipe their memories of what they saw in Necropolis. Why are they surprised and completely unprepared when it comes to zombies? Why is Cody being such a jerk and fooling with Trioxin gas like he has no idea what it is? Why is Julian still living with his Uncle Charles? Is there any attempt to maintain continuity at all? I was so confused at first, not knowing if this was a sequel or what. I still don’t know, but why should I even care?

The creators of this film also try really hard to bring comedy more to the foreground with this movie and it’s an absolute failure. The comedic relief comes with the Interpol agents, but the extent of their humor comes from misunderstanding each other and shooting someone by accident while yelling “SORRY!” It’s the basest kind of comedy there is and a far cry away from the biting humor of the original film. We also just have characters that make the worst decisions of all time. Like, “We found this chemical in my uncle’s attic, so let’s synthesize it and sell it as a drug, or, “Let’s just fire our weapons in a crowd full of innocent people.” These have to be the dumbest people I’ve ever seen in a movie. I wish I could say their acting at least saved their characters a little bit, but I can’t. The acting is awful. That’s enough about that.

Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some real stinkers in my time. There’s nothing funny about it, there’s nothing even remotely scary, and much like the last film it’s just plain boring. What started out as such a fun series has devolved into this, and there’s really no redeeming it at this point. This film deserves the lowest grade I can possibly give, and that’s exactly what it’s gonna get.

Final Grade: F

These last two films are a huge disappointment in an otherwise solid series. The first three films are certainly worth the time of any fan of the horror genre. These last two, however, shouldn’t even deserve to exist. There’s barely anything worthwhile in Necropolis and nothing in Rave to the Grave. Skip these two entirely.

V/H/S Series – Review: Part 1

16 Apr

Found footage horror movies were a huge deal up until recently, and there was a good deal of bad mixed in with a handful of good. I firmly believe that if found footage is done correctly, it can be very effective, but the film makers who attempt this walk a fine line to make it seem realistic without making it look cheap. Perhaps one of the most recognizable series that implements the found footage style are the V/H/S films. These were mostly seen on the festival circuit before being released On Demand and then put on home media. I’ve never seen these movies, but I’ve heard plenty about them, so let’s dive right in.

Let’s start with the original 2012 film, V/H/S.

A gang of criminals is hired by a mysterious source to break into an elderly man’s house to retrieve a single VHS tape. What’s on the VHS tape is not explained and is deemed unimportant, so the thieves take the job. They easily break into the house but are shocked to find the old man dead and his house covered in an assortment of VHS tapes. In order to root out the correct tape, they start to watch what this man has in his collection, but are horrified at what they find. What is on these tapes are documented cases of horror that include a mysterious murderous entity, a siren that forces herself on men to feed her bloodlust, webcam footage that shows an unspeakable lie, a stalker hunting a couple on vacation, and a house that holds a deadly secret. While the thieves watch these tapes, they become aware of strange things happening around them that may have some connection with the dead man and what he has on these tapes.

So, I definitely have some things to say about V/H/S. Some of it’s good and some of it isn’t so much. Let’s get the negatives out of the way. First off, this is a found footage movie, and I believe that if found footage movies are done right, they can be a real success. This one takes that gimmick and goes a bit too far with it. The frame story of the thieves breaking into the old man’s house to find the VHS tape is fine, but it’s almost destroyed by these glitches in the tapes they’re using. This happens for the first few minutes, which didn’t really bother me, but they just kept happening. It drove me crazy. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, this is a horror anthology filled with short films. That being said, some of these shorts really didn’t do anything for me. The one that sticks out for being the most bland is the one titled Second Honeymoon. These shorts run close to 20 minutes long, so when one is really boring, it feels way longer than it actually is. This one leads absolutely nowhere, and it’s followed up by another short that also falls pretty short. This makes for a middle section of this movie that seems to drag on forever, but that’s the risk you take with anthology movies like this.

WhenV/H/S decides to get good, however, it gets real good. The general consensus from the critics I’ve heard from is that the first short and the last are the strongest, and I’m certainly inclined to agree. The first short called Amateur Night is a terrifying trip that has an excellent build up and an even better payoff. The final short called 10/31/98 isn’t the scariest of the bunch, but it does feature some pretty cool special effects that is the perfect climax to the style and mood that this movie has been building. There’s something startling about some of the imagery that’s used in this movie, and that’s probably what I’m going to remember the most about it. Since it is a found footage film, there are select elements that can’t be seen, which works since whatever you concoct in your imagination can be way scarier than the reality, but what is shown is brutal and has a style all its own.

V/H/S didn’t set a new standard of horror films when it came out, but the ripple that it made was well deserved. Comparing it to something like The Witch or It Follows isn’t really fair, but for what it is, it’s a pretty impressive low budget scare fest. There are certain segments that don’t hold up nearly as well as some of the other ones, and the acting can be a bit off at times. What does hold the movie up are some genuine scares and cringes that the scarier portions of the film provide.

Final Grade: B-

A year later, the sequel, simply titled V/H/S/2, was released. If this isn’t one of the most badass sequels I’ve seen in a while, I don’t know what is.

When two private eyes are hired to find a missing college student, their investigation leads them to a house that seems abandoned, except for a set up of televisions, a laptop, and a series of VHS tapes. The investigators begin to watch the tapes which seem to show unspeakable horrors. A man sees the vengeful undead through a new high tech prosthetic eye, a man on a bicycling trail is bitten and turned into a zombie, journalists witness a violent cult hit the climax of their worship, and aliens wreak havoc on kids having a slumber party. While the tapes don’t appear to be linked, it becomes clear to the investigators that something is very wrong with the house they’re in, and terror soon strikes them as they become part of their very own VHS tape to add to the collection.

Take everything you liked about V/H/S and turn it up to 11, and that’s how you get V/H/S/2. This really is one of the strongest sequels I’ve seen in a while, and certainly one of the strongest sequels in the horror genre. There are so many memorable moments in this film that it’s hard to wrap my head around all of them. If you want to talk about real horror, I’d be in trouble if I forgot to single out Timo Tjahtjhanto and Gareth Huw Evans’ segment titled Safe Haven. I have yet to watch the next film in this series, but I can say that this segment is going to be the strongest in the whole series. Take the real world horror of a Jonestown situation and add the supernatural, plus make it found footage so you’re smack dab in the middle, and you got some excellent moments of terror. I also want to single out Eduardo Sánchez’s and Gregg Hale’s A Ride in the Park, where we see through a zombie’s point of view via a Go Pro on his helmet. This is works as a zombie horror movie, but also a sort of wacky dark comedy.

I do have a few complaints about this movie, and they really just have to do with the strength of a couple of the tapes. The frame narrative with the investigators really doesn’t seem like much, but the end pay off makes it all worth it, so that one gets a pass as a positive. The first short titled Phase I Clinical Trials has a good idea if it were an episode of The Twilight Zone. For a movie that has shorts like Safe Haven in it, I expected a little bit more. It has some scares, but it’s over before it begins and there’s really nothing to it. The last short called Slumber Party Alien Abduction also doesn’t hold up as well as the two that come before it. There’s some interesting sound work and the aliens have cool reveals, but it feels underwhelming after the gems that have already been shown.

V/H/S/2, despite some of the segments being weaker than others, is a really good horror anthology film that is even better than its predecessor. It takes the scares, the gore, and the ideas and turns them way up to create a horror film that I may never forget. All the film makers that worked on this movie each had a specific task, and some of the made gold while the others follow up with silver. Never was I bored during this movie and it’s one that I’d love to watch again.

Final Grade: B+

So there’s the first two entries of the V/H/S series. Both were solid movies, but I have to give the edge to the sequel. Stay tuned for my next review where I’ll talk about V/H/S: Viral and the spin off movie, SiREN.

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.