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Last updated:  2016-10-16

The Fog

The Fog reworked the classic return of the repressed set-up with a slick and stylish production and a host of nautical corpses strangely reminiscent of Zombies of Mora Tau.  In The Fog, Carpenter focuses on Californian settlement Antonio Bay, where preparations for the town’s hundredth anniversary reach  a grisly end as a thick fog sweeps in off the sea and various residents are killed in a series of nasty ways.  As local radio presenter Stevie, (Adrienne Barbeau), eventually realises, the fog is hiding an army of zombies who’ve risen from their watery graves to take revenge on the town on the anniversary of their deaths.  A hundred years previously, a ship of lepers was wrecked off the coast after the town’s founding fathers refused to let it dock so that they could steal its cargo of gold.  Now the lepers are back – armed with cutlasses, hooks and other nautical equipment – to kill everyone in sight and recover what was rightfully theirs.  Implicitly arguing that America is a land that was built upon great crimes, (Native American genocide, slavery, piracy), Carpenter extends the social message of Romero’s work in novel ways.

The Fog gears up for a Night of the Living Dead – style climax in which a band of survivors lock themselves inside a hilltop church for safety, only to discover that it hides the treasure that was stolen from the mariners a century before.  It’s at this point that Carpenter’s deft touch begins to falter and one can’t help feeling that amidst all the dry ice and electronic synthesizer music, these zombies are rather vague phantoms whose impact suffers from getting less screen time than they deserve.

As Carpenter falls back on yet another of his trademark siege set-ups – recalling the barricaded group dynamics of Rio Bravo, The Birds and Night of the Living Dead – The Fog squanders much of its originality indeed, all of Carpenter’s zombie movies follow much the same siege pattern, from the scientists trapped in a church by ghouls led by the rock artist Alice Cooper in Prince of Darkness, (1987), to space cops fending off zombie colonists on the surface of Mars in the sci-fi film Ghosts of Mars, (2001).

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080749/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fog

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1007617-fog

 

Last updated:  2016-10-10

Re-Animator

Re-Animator was a gory comic book homage to writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose six-part short story series “Herbert West – Re-Animator” was the film’s loose source.  Much like The Return of the Living Dead, it marked itself out by its irreverent, anything-goes mentality, presided over this time by director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna.

Piling on the gags without losing sight of the gore or scares, Re-Animator proved a brilliant blend of scares, Re-Animator proved a brilliant blend of humour and horror.  To the credit, Gordon kept his tongue firmly in his cheek working from a screenplay that turns zombie-cinema into the ultimate joke.  As fanatical science student Herbert West, (Jeffrey Combs), tries to invent a serum that can return the dead to life, Gordon unleashes all manner of chaos including reanimated cats, snake-like intestines writhing around and a variety of living dead morgue inhabitants running amok.

West’s chief antagonist is Dr. Hill, (David Gale), a faculty member at the Miskatonic University who discovers the wild-eyed student’s experiments and plans to steal the serum for himself.  In the ensuing chaos, Hill is knocked off and returns as a decapitated zombie.  While Hill’s cantankerous head plans world domination, his lack of a body proves to be a real stumbling block, (quite literally as the headless cadaver careens about the morgue knocking into doors and walls).

Shot in just eighteen days and on a tight budget Re-Animator is a punk rock horror movie.  The punk rock analogy is an inspired ay of understanding the appeal of The Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator and other similar splatter comedies.  These are stripped-down, rollicking movies whose only aim is to push against the conventional, the stuffy and the boring.  Convinced that enough comedy can let you get away with almost anything, these films push the boundaries of violence and gore with a nod, a wink and a ghoulish grin.  Scaling the heights of bad taste, ”slapstick” possesses a degree of outrageousness that few other horror movies can match.

The laugh or barf humour doesn’t always defuse the horror behind such envelope-pushing assaults on the sanctity of the flesh.  Re-Animator certainly courted its fair share of controversy and fell foul of the MPAA, who objected to the extent of its gore.  In keeping with its punk mentality, the film was eventually released un-rated to well-deserved acclaim.  It spawned two sequels, Bride of Re-Animator, (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator, (2003), neither film quite matched its predecessor, leaving the series currently hanging in limbo.    

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/reanimator/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089885/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-Animator

Last updated:  2016-10-09

The Army of Darkness

By the time of the third Evil Dead film, Army of Darkness, (1992), the balance had tipped so that the horror was virtually non-existent.  Here Ash is cast back into the Middle Ages to battle more demons with his chainsaw and “boom-stick”.  Despite the bigger budget and Campbell’s enthusiastic performance the splatter took a back seat.  Still, that didn’t stop the square-jawed actor becoming deified by zombie fans for his effortless ability to dispatch hordes of zombie demons with a shotgun blast and a cry of  “Groovy!  Hail to the king, baby”  It’s an enduring legacy that a remake was finally made of the original Evil Dead with a new cast and Campbell and Raimi acting as producers.

The blend of gory horror and gross humour the The Return of the Living Dead and the first two Evil Dead films precipitated harked back to the comic book splatter of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead without trying to match its socio-political commentary.  The aim was, as Raimi made clear, a kind of physical comedy that owed much to the work of classic comedians such as Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy – something which led to it being called “slapstick”.

Although “slapstick” had a keen awareness of the horror of the body, it invited audiences to laugh or barf.  In these movies, the human body becomes an object of ridicule rather than abjection, a faulty machine that doesn’t seem to realise quite how ludicrously gross its mass of internal fluids and red matter actually is.  As blood and pus replace soda siphons and custard pies, the audience laughs and screams simultaneously.  Naturally, almost every ”slapstick” movie featured zombies – what other monster could better express our revulsion towards the physical realm than walking corpses?

The scenes in Evil Dead II where Ash is forced to amputate his own hand, which then scampers away and literally gives him the finger are typical of the comic absurdity that dominates this world – view.  Like the recalcitrant objects that hampered slapstick characters decades earlier, body parts in “slapstick” horror are turned into alien, annoyingly independent entities that refuse to act as they should.

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army_of_Darkness

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106308/

Last updated:  2016-10-08

The Evil Dead

Although The Evil Dead was strictly not a zombie movie – its ghouls are dead bodies possessed by demons rather than walking corpses – Raimi’s movie follows Ash, a twenty-something who finds himself forced to confront demons from another dimension when a vacation in a log cabin goes horribly wrong.  After his friends unleash the evil power of the Necronomicon, Ash has to fend off a seemingly never-ending array of demons.  Since none of these evil creatures can be “killed,” he has to obliterate them, cutting up the dead bodies of his friends so that the evil can’t use them against him.

The Evil Dead was a ground breaking example of what a filmmaker can do on a small budget, a homemade steady-cam and some ingenuity in the special effects department, The Evil Dead was full of barf bag humour, all of which were a result of Raimi’s sheer unwillingness to compromise on its scares.  Exaggerating the gore of the conventional horror film to epic proportions, the film reached levels of over-the-top outrageousness that few people with an understanding of the genre could fail to take with anything other than a pinch of salt.

When it was released in the UK the censors failed to see the humour.  The film was The Evil Dead was chased through the British courts at the height of the video nasty hysteria, The Evil Dead became one of the most controversial films in cinema history.  Its infamy extended to it being included on the DPP’s list of video titles for prosecution under the obscene Publications Act.  Raimi, who’d set out to make an outrages scary movie rather than rip apart the social fabric of mid-1980s Great Britain, was understandably upset – particularly when the UK press and courts declared both the film and its American makers morally corrupt.

Raimi’s response was to change his focus, practically remaking The Evil Dead two years later as the sequel Evil Dead II.  Mixing the splatter of The Evil Dead with Three Stooges-style slapstick, Raimi effectively pulled the rug out from under the censors’ feet.  If it was explicitly funny as well as violent, was it possible to brand it morally corrupt?  The answer was obvious as the sequel received a much easier ride from Britain and America.

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083907/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Evil_Dead

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the-evil-dead/

Last updated:  2016-10-08

The Return of the Living Dead

Released alongside Romero’s Day of the Dead, The Return of the Living Dead was frequently credited to the Pittsburgh director by critics and mainstream movie fans, even though Romero had nothing to do with the project.  In retrospect it’s difficult to imagine two more different movies: Day of the Dead is intelligent, sophisticated splatter that aspires to be more than just a gore movie.  Return of the Living Dead is a breathless horror cartoon that aspires simply to make jaws drop to the floor through its sheer exuberant excess.

There are few movies that acknowledge their influences as bare-facedly as Return of the Living Dead does.  Within the opening minutes Frank, (James Karen), and Freddy, (Thom Mathews) – employees at the Uneeda Medical Supplies Company, (“You need it, we’ve got it”), - are chatting about the movie Night of the Living Dead.  According to know-it-all Frank, the film was based on a real incident.  Apparently, the dead really did return to life in Pittsburgh in the mid-1960s after an industrial chemical designed by the military for spraying on marijuana crops turned out to have an unusual effect on dead bodies.  Hushed up by the government and the US Army, the incident became the inspiration for Romero’s horror masterpiece.

Decades later, sealed drums containing desiccated zombie corpses and a copious amount of the reanimating chemical in question are still at large and one particularly leaky barrel has ended up at this Louisville medical supplies warehouse after a bureaucratic cock-up.  Eager to impress his young protégé Frank shows him where the deadly reanimating fluid is stored and accidentally releases a brains-hungry corpse in the process.

Unfortunately, the 1968 movie wasn’t an accurate version of the truth:  Once unleashed, these ghouls can’t be killed with a shot to the head.  In fact, they’re almost completely unstoppable.  In no time at all Frank and Freddy have been virtually zombified, (aching muscles giving their first indication of rigor mortis), acid rain contaminated with the remaining agent has swept across the city, and a new batch of walking corpses have gate-crashed a graveyard party and turned the revellers into zombie chow.

Incredibly popular, The Return of the Living Dead’s madcap spirit was a million miles removed from the dark pessimism of Romero’s Day of the Dead.  No philosophical musing here, just buckets and buckets of gore and post-punk aesthetic in which anything goes, (from nude punks to split-in-half dogs).  The gags fly thick and fast, but they can’t keep up with the adrenaline charged ghouls themselves – who tear around the screen at a breakneck pace while chattering away “Send more paramedics” demands one zombie into a walkie-talkie after feasting on an unlucky ambulance crew.

At the heart of The Return of the Living Dead is a savage kind of comedy, a nihilistic punk mentality that treats nothing as sacred.  Featuring a band of grubby punks led by “Trash”, (Quigley), and “Suicide”, (Mark Venturini), the film is hardly coy about its attempt to appeal to the youthful alienated teen audiences of mid-1980s shopping mall culture – it even has a soundtrack that features The Damned, The Cramps and The Flesheaters.  In keeping with its attempt to be both hip, humorous and horrific, the end of the world is greeted with open arms by the film makers, who positively revel in the destruction of Kentucky.

Every attempt to deal with the crises, from firing up the local morgue’s incinerator to the military’s decision to drop a nuke on the city simply makes the whole sorry mess much worse.  It’s an entertaining ride featuring some truly stunning special effects – not least of which is the famous “Tarman” zombie, a dripping mass of putrid flesh.  By playing up the comedy as well as the gore, The Return of the Living Dead became a mainstream hit. 

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089907/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Return_of_the_Living_Dead

Last updated:  2016-07-04

Shaun of the Dead

If 28 Days Later was a British production that played Hollywood at it’s own game, Shaun of the Dead, (2004), was a very different kind of zombie film, an unabashedly low-key and overtly comic Brit flick.  Billed as “a romantic comedy, with zombies,” Shaun proved as parochial as 28 Days Later was ambitious, featuring a host livibg dead in-jokes, plenty of riffs on twenty-first century England and a neat awareness of the impact of the Resident Evil videogame on the zombie’s changing fortunes.

Straight from the twisted imaginations of the slacker geniuses responsible for late 1990s Channel 4 sitcom Spaced, Shaun of the Dead is a quintessentially British tribute to Romero.  Co-written by director Edgar Wright with star Simon Pegg, it’s the story of a hapless twenty-nine-year-old shop worker named Shaun, (Pegg), whose life is thrown into turmoil when his girlfriend Liz, (Kate Ashfield), dumps him.  Simultaneously, an American deep space probe unexpectedly crashes to Earth unleashing a wave of radioactivity that turns the population of North London into zombies.

Faced with an impending zombie apocalypse, Shaun and his stoner best friend Ed, (Nick Frost), battle the living dead, rescue Liz and save Shaun’s mum Barbara, (Penelope Wilton), prompting Ed to shout “we’re coming to get you Barbara” in a fanboy nod to Night of the living Dead.  Of course, this being merry ol’ England, shotguns and shopping malls are annoying short supply which means Shaun and Ed must fend off the zombies by throwing Dire Straits albums and pizza boxes at them, whacking them with spades and cricket bats and eventually taking refuge in their local pub.  

The offbeat premise of this “zom-rom-com” was familiar to fans of Spaced back in 1999, an early episode of the sitcom saw slacker hero, (Pegg), dreaming that he was stuck in a live action version of the Resident Evil videogame after a heavy night of drug taking and videogaming.  In Shaun of the Dead, the zombies are real rather than just a figment of the hero’s frazzled imagination.  Blending zombie mythology with British suburban life, Pegg and Wright carefully sketch a twenty-something male slacker lifestyle dominated by PlayStations, spliffs and pints of lager, then set the living dead loose in it.

The chief joke is that everyone’s so “spaced” by the dreary dullness of life in Britain that they don’t notice the zombies’ arrival.  Shaun’s job as a sales assistant in retailers Foree Electronics, (a reference to Dawn’s leading man), is so crushingly soul-destroying that he fails to spot the tell-tale signs of the coming apocalypse and mistakes the zombies for lethargic commuters.  In one of the film’s funniest sequences, he wanders down to the local newsagents on the morning of the dawn of the dead and is so crippled with a hangover from the previous night’s boozing that he is completely oblivious to the chaos around him.  “Sorry mate, haven’t got any spare change” he mutters to a zombie he mistakes is a beggar. 

Shaun of the Dead builds to a standoff between the survivors and the zombies in a local pub called The Winchester, which has a still-functioning Winchester rifle hanging over the bar.  In a nice little touch, shooting the zombies evokes Shaun’s and Ed’s videogaming sessions.  It doesn’t have the big budget gloss of Paul W.S. Anderson’ Resident Evil, Shaun has far more to say about the way in which the PlayStation demographic of twenty-something males has helped revive the zombie as an iconic pop culture figure.

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/shaun_of_the_dead/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaun_of_the_Dead

 

Last updated:  2016-07-04

The Plague of the Zombies

Britain in 1966 seemed like a rather unlikely rebirth of zombie cinema, however, it was from these shores that helped bring the moribund genre back from the grave.  It was no surprise that Hammer, one of the most significant British horror movie studios of the time would produce the most influential British zombie film of the decade.  Director John Gilling’s The Plague of the zombies may not be one of Hammer’s best-known films but it’s an accomplished piece of living dead cinema.  Breaking with the zombie’s American history it’s set in nineteenth century Cornwall where a country squire is zombifying the local villagers and using them as cheap labour in his tin mine, (a bit like employment agencies are responsible for in the twenty-first century).

Given this distinctly British setting, it’s ironic that the production’ original treatment owed a fair deal to The Magic Island.  First announced in 1963 as The Zombie, the story was supposed to open in nineteenth-century Haiti with a young English squire playing cards in a disreputable gambling den.  After being caught cheating, the squire is chased out into the jungle.  Escaping his pursers, he stumbles across a native voodoo ceremony and learns the secrets of zombification.

On returning to Cornwall, the squire discovers that he has inherited his late father’s estate and replaces the staff with Haitian servants from the Caribbean.  Not long after this, the village is blighted by a dreadful and unexplained plague that the locals believe – in a plot development ripe for the kind of racial subtext so many American zombie movies of the 1930s and 1940s possessed – is being spread by the Haitian servants.  In actual fact, the squire and his servants are killing off the villagers, using their knowledge of voodoo spells and potions to resurrect them as zombie slaves.

Beset by pre-production problems, The Zombie fell by the wayside as Hammer concentrated on other projects.  In 1965, the treatment was rediscovered, dusted off and given a thorough revision by screenwriter Peter Bryan.  It was then shot back-to-back with The Reptile, (1966) by director John Gilling.  During the course of this development, the racial focus of the original outline was exchanged for some very different concerns.  The filmed version of The Plague of the Zombies opens with a voodoo ceremony in which white-robed priests perform some unspecified, but clearly nefarious, ritual.  Strangely, the setting isn’t in the Caribbean but a dark English mineshaft.  The film then cuts to London where Sir James Forbes, (Andre Morrell), receives a letter from Dr. Peter Thompson, (Brook Williams), a general practitioner in a tiny Cornish Village.  Thompson’s letter is a muddled plea for help; his patients are dying from a mysterious illness and he needs his old teacher’s assistance in order to ascertain the cause and outline an effective course of treatment.

Arriving in Cornwall a few days later, Sir James and his daughter Sylvia, (Diane Clare), find the village in uproar.  The terrified locals believe that the new doctor is responsible for the “plague” that is killing their loved ones.  Meanwhile, the thuggish young friends of the village squire terrorise the neighbourhood.  Riding through the village streets on horseback during a foxhunt, they carelessly charge through the funeral procession of the plague’s latest victim.  Sir James and Sylvia look on in horror as the coffin is overturned and a grotesquely contorted corpse is tipped onto the road.

After meeting Thompson and his wife Alice, (Jacqueline Pearce), Sir James begins to investigate the plague’s origins.  Ironically, the next victim is Alice, who falls ill with a fever and then wanders out onto the moors where Sylvia sees her attacked by a strange-looking man.  Alerting the local police Sir James and Thompson head off to the moors; there they find Alice’s body and a drunken mourner from the funeral who takes the blame for her murder.  Suspecting far fouler play, Sir James orders the grave of the plague’s most recent victim exhumed – an discovers an empty coffin.  After Alice’s burial, Sir James and Thompson keep watch over the cemetery and see Alice return to life as a zombie.  Horrified, Sir James decapitates her with a spade.

Guessing that Squire Hamilton, (John Carson) is dabbling in voodoo, Sir James confronts him and realises that the squire has been killing the villagers and resurrecting them as zombie slaves to work in his tin mine.  After putting a spell on Sylvia, the squire tries to sacrifice her in a voodoo ceremony but Sir James and Thompson storm the mine to save her.  In the fracas, the mine is set on fire, the zombies attack the squire and his henchmen, and the heroes escape as the shaft collapses.

While it would have been exiting to see what Hammer might have made of The Zombie’s Haitian settings, Gilling’s film is refreshingly original.  Abandoning the traditional racial elements of American zombie films and relocating the action to the mannered social hierarchies of nineteenth-century England, the director built on Britain’s Gothic heritage, the film borrows literally from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels, in particular The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060841/

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/plague_of_the_zombies/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Plague_of_the_Zombies

 

Last updated:  2016-07-04

28 Days Later

28 Day Later was the first British zombie film in years and was a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic. It was hailed as the first visceral and intelligent zombie movie in recent history.  Shot cheaply and quickly on digital video, 28 Days Later was really a guerrilla film masquerading as a studio movie.  It was a compromise that not only highlighted the zombie’s new found position as both mainstream and marginal, but also helped Boyle convince Twentieth Century Fox to push ahead with the film despite its lack of known actors.  The fact that the film needed only an eight million dollar budget made it a pretty safe gamble for Fox.

Eager not to associate his monsters with the mixed fortunes of the zombie genre, Boyle instead makes his ghouls reminiscent of the infected civilians of Romero’s The Crazies or Rollin’s The Grapes of Death.  His raging sub-humans aren’t zombies per se, but unfortunate victims of a plague that starts after an over-zealous group of animal rights activists accidentally release a man-made virus from a research laboratory in the pre-credits sequence.  Tapping into millennial fears about biological warfare, chemical attacks and viral outbreaks, 28 Days Later proved the perfect index of the world’s post-9/11 anxieties.  The fact that the film’s release coincided with the SARS panic seemed less like serendipity than proof of how well it had plugged into zeitgeist.

After the virus is unleashed bike courier Jim, (Cillian Murphy), wakes from a coma in an empty London hospital.  Wandering outside he discovers that London has become a ghost city.  Walking through the streets, past overturned buses, looted shops and deserted tourist sites, Jim eventually runs into a handful of survivors who are doing their best to avoid the “infected” – raging, fast moving, highly contagious maniacs who have been transformed by the virus into a cross between rabid epileptics and psychotic Ebola carriers.  Banding together with fellow survivors Selena, (Naomie Harris), cab driver, (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah, (Megan Burns), Jim makes his way north along the empty M1 motorway in search of military protection from the roaming bands of viral victims.

Even when the survivors think they’ve found safety with a military unit led by Major West, (Christopher Eccleston), they quickly find themselves in more danger than before.  The pent up frustration of the all-male group soon explodes into violent rage as the soldiers decide to let off some steam by turning the women into unwilling concubines.  Not even Jim is above such base human emotions.  His own regression into savagery in the film’s fraught climax suggests that the virus is in some way already a part of all of us.

With its murky digital cinematography mimicking the grainy verity of the inner-city CCTV camera.  28 days Later questions where we are heading with brutal honesty.  Turning the contemporary urban landscape into a vision of hell that owes much to George A Romero, the film presents us with a stark vision of social breakdown in which the infected are implacable automatons, consumed from within by the destructiveness of their own rage.

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/28_Days_Later

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0289043/

 

Last updated:  2016-07-04

Zombie Flesh Eaters

Lucio Fulci’s Zombie 2, released in 1979, (an unofficial sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), which had been distributed throughout Europe under the title Zombi, and in the UK as Zombie flesh eaters, took people completely by surprise, a magnificent piece of film making that was so successful as it out-grossed Dawn of the Dead.

Most of Zombie 2’s success belonged to make artist Giannetto De Rossi, who brought Fulci’s gory vision to the screen with graphic nerve.  His portfolio of torn jugulars, skewered eyeballs and clay-faced zombies ushered in a new kind of realism to horror.  Giannetto De Rossi went onto work on Cannibal Apocalypse, The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery.  With Zombi 2, Fulci set out to give horror fans a roller coaster ride of graphic violence in which each new gore shot topped the last in terms of gut-wrenching impact. 

Zombi 2’s opens on the fictional Caribbean Island of Matul, a doctor stands watch over a corpse wrapped in a sheet and tied up with rope .  As the body involuntarily starts to twitch, he shoots it in the head, splattering the sheet with blood.  Zombi 2 then cuts to New York’s harbour district where a seemingly abandoned yacht sails towards the docks.  A police launch intercepts it, but as the officers board it a zombie bursts out of one of the cabins and goes on a bloody rampage.  In the ensuing fight, one of the officers gets his jugular ripped open sending spurts of blood flying in all directions.  The other officer opens fire, shooting the zombie in its stomach repeatedly until it falls overboard into the water.

Zombi 2 then returns to the fictional island of Matu where the film’s heroine Anne, (played by Tisa Farrow, Mia’s sister) and a reporter Peter, (Ian McCulloch), go in search of Anne’s missing father.  However, instead of western holidaymakers they find a legion of indigenous zombies lurking in the shadows.  Fulci gives his characters little time to breath as they repel wave upon wave of flesh eating ghouls in graphic detail, as eyeballs are skewed and brains are battered.  The film also boasts possibly the most bizarre wrestling match in film history between a zombie and a Bull Shark.

The financial success of Zombi 2 convinced Italian producers to churn out a host of similar living dead movies, bringing about an explosion of zombie films throughout the 1980s.

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080057/

 

 

Last updated:  2016-07-04

Dawn of the Dead

Night of the Living Dead was a watershed movie.  In fact it was so successful it played for years after its initial release, screened in drive-ins, film clubs and grindhouses.  Night of the Living Dead established the ‘midnight movie’ trend and late night film screenings establishing it has a cult movie.

Romero’s bleak focus on the destruction of the present order spoke volumes about the cataclysmic shifts in American consciousness that were occurring during the turbulent times of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war.  Night of the Living Dead’s bleak focus on the destruction of the present order spoke volumes about the cataclysmic shifts in American consciousness that had occurred throughout the past decade.  However, at the end of the film authorities had seemed to had taken control as search and destroy squads worked their way across the countryside.

At the beginning of Dawn of the Dead it seems that the balance of power has shifted and it was now the zombies that were running amok.  Dawn of the Dead made an irrevocable impact by reviving the genre with comic panache.  The origins of Dawn of the Dead comes from the mid-1970s when George A Romero was given a tour of a sprawling out-of-town shopping mall in Monroeville, Pennsylvania by a business associate who had offices inside the complex. 

The vast cathedral to consumerism overwhelmed Romero, he began to wonder what it would be like if a group of survivors of an apocalyptical scenario found themselves taking shelter inside.  Romero initially pictured a man and a pregnant woman living inside the crawl space with the man acting as the hunter/gatherer, leaving the safety of their cave and going down to the mall for supplies.  Romero believed this idea was too dark and ugly so he decided to return to the devastation of the original Night of the Living Dead.  Focusing instead on the collapse of social order that had been hinted at indirectly in Night of the Living Dead. 

Dawn of the Dead starts with the character ‘Fran’ jolting out of a bad dream into the waking nightmare that is Dawn of the Dead.  The walking dead have won the upper hand and the fabric of society is crumbling, not least of all in the Pittsburgh television station where she works as ratings hungry producers air a list of closed down rescue stations in the desperate attempt to win ratings.  Outside the television station, martial law prevails and in a near-by ghetto National Guardsmen and SWAT are preparing to storm a building where the occupants of the building are attempting to hide the corpses of their dead relatives.  In the ensuing gun battle one officer loses his mind indiscriminately blowing off heads of the remaining living residents.  One woman rushes out into the arms of her recently deceased husband, only for him to take a bite out of her shoulder.  Two SWAT officers make their way down into the cellar where the dead are being kept.  A gruesome sequence ensues as the two officers shoot scores of zombies as they writhe about on the floor.

As the group escape Pittsburgh in a stolen helicopter, George A Romero paints a picture this world as headless, with law and order has vanished and all television and radio channels have been turned off, society, as we know it has finally fallen.  Landing on an abandoned shopping mall, they secure the complex by blocking all main exits with trucks and once the complex is cleared of any remaining ghoul the group settle into a life of luxury that quickly gives way to boredom, although this is finally broken by the arrival of a gang of bikers who brake into the shopping mall allowing the living dead to re-enter the mall.

Whilst fighting off bikers one of the characters ridiculously attempts to save the array of useless consumer goods the group has managed to hoard and in doing so becomes a victim to a group of zombies.  If he had simply hidden from both bikers and zombies he would have survived.  In the end, it’s not the hordes of zombies that cause the groups demise but their own greed.

The message of Dawn of the Dead is simple ‘Shoot ‘em in the head’; it’s mantra that seems terrifyingly perverse.  A headshot may be the only way to kill a zombie but it also symbolises everything that is wrong with the authorities’ response to the crisis.  It is only the scientific community have seemed to have kept their heads, but their cold rationality is too much for the populace to bear.  ‘We must not be lulled by the concept that these are our family members or our friends’ explains one scientist, ‘THEY ARE NOT!’  His demand that they should be exterminated on sight only provokes anger with the surviving population, whilst his suggestion that the survivors should feed the zombies is met with disgust.  While Night of the Living Dead reflects the turmoil that was going on at the time Dawn of the Dead encapsulates the fickle and empty consumerism of the time.

Day of the Dead, Romero’s third zombie movie, begins where Dawn of the Dead left off, with the living dead have taken over the entire planet.  As the film opens, a civilian – military left over from the old world order land their helicopter in deserted Florida street in the hope of finding any survivors, however, they are not greeted by the living but instead the living dead spill out of shops and apartment complexes hungry for human flesh. 

Back at the team’s base, (an abandoned missile silo), the divisions among the group of survivors quickly become apparent.  The handful of scientists still can’t fathom out why the dead are returning to life and more importantly can’t find a cure for the problem.  The military led by Captain Rhodes are fed up of waiting for results, prompting the Captain to become increasingly tyrannical in running the facility.  The only thing that keeps Rhodes and his men from deserting the complex and scientists is the fact that none of them can fly the helicopter.

The groups pilot is a civilian pilot along with their communication operator, who both are civilians and have no interest in either side.  Having established the group’s dynamic, Day of the Dead proceeds to pull them apart as they bicker their way to oblivion.  The film ends as the compound is overrun by zombies who have been let in by one of the military personal who has been driven insane after being bitten on the arm by a zombie.  As with Dawn of the Dead it is the stupidity of the living that is the greatest threat, with the zombies capitalising on the petty quarrelling of the group.

Day of the Dead proves that the real horror in this world isn’t the hordes of the living dead, but the inhumanity of the living and the innate rottenness of modern society.  While one of the scientists spirals out of control changing into some variation of a mad scientist chopping up numerous zombies in order to find the answer while attempting to socialise one zombie, (called Bub), into good behaviour.  Rhodes and his soldiers regress in barbarism.

The only character that understands this is John, (the civilian helicopter pilot), who along with the character McDermott, (the civilian communication operator), who have both decided to live outside of the safety of the main complex but deep within one of the many tunnels in a converted Winnebago nicknamed ‘The Ritz’. 

If Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead exposed the rotten underbelly of twentieth century America Day of the Dead fantasises on a possibility of an alternative, on that is born out of the destruction of the old.  Unlike the previous films Day of the Dead ends on an upbeat scene that shows the three surviving members living on a zombie free Caribbean Island.

Appendix

Book of the Dead – The complete history of zombie cinema             FAB Press 2006.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_A._Romero

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Living_Dead

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063350/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_of_the_Dead

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077402/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_the_Dead_(1985_film)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088993/

Beautifully written!



I enjoyed George A Romero's movies up until Diary of the Dead, but unfortunately his latest films haven't been that good.  Although Dawn of the Dead is probably one of the most original and bizarre horror movies ever made.



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