Archive for George a. Romero

30 – Day of the Dead (1985)

Posted in The 50 Apocalyptic films with tags , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by Duane Patrick

day_of_dead_poster_01

 That’s right, Bub! Say hello to your Aunt Alicia! Say, “Hello, Aunt Alicia!” “Hello!”

Hello!’ resourceful hard nut heroine Sarah calls down a deserted Florida street lined with drooping palm trees and abandoned cars. ‘Is there anybody there?’

Like its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead, George A Romero‘s Day of the Dead goes straight for the jugular, plunging us straight into a non-too distant future when the earth belongs to the zombies, and human beings are reduced to an embattled, threatened minority.In Day of the Dead, the zombies seem like a horde guided by some preternatural sense of duty, like a plague sent by a capricious God to wash away a mistaken creation. They move like sludge oozing through tunnels, spreading out into the underground compound where a group of survivors defend a tiny isle of (deeply flawed) society, a human inhumanity.

There is no glamor here in defending human civilization, and one of the shocking and disturbing insights of the film is that as much as we, in our progressive-utopian ideals, might want to dismantle society as it is currently constructed, we might find the resulting chaos brings about even more troubling forms of repressive fascism.

As the layers of civilization built up over the years are peeled back, we see a startling vision of misogyny, racism, and the barest desire for power and control. Intellectuals and the application of reason struggle for a voice, and the supreme authority of power witnesses the return of slavery, here in the form of zombies. As the mad scientist Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) theorizes, we humans can domesticate the zombie and use him/her/it as a slave. And so Dr. Logan experiments with this line of thinking on a zombie he names Bub (Sherman Howard), who through training begins to display almost-human traits (such as a fondness for listening to music on his walkman). Romero’s characteristic ambiguity is key here: are the zombies becoming more like us, or are we losing our capacity to distinguish ourselves from them?

Day.Of.The.Dead.1985.Bluray.1080p.DTS.x264 15

Hiding out in a World War Two bunker is an isolated community of survivors, a handful of scientists and soldiers surrounded by hundreds of thousands of baying zombies. But this isn’t just a battle between the living and the dead: it’s military force vs scientific hubris, army bullyboys vs the eggheads – and the complete lack of cooperation between the two sides is creating a simmering cocktail of fear, tyranny and discontent that’s just waiting to blow up. The soldiers are supposed to be helping the scientists discover a cure for the terrible undead plague. But whilst they lose men left right and centre, the boffins appear to be making little headway. And when the army discover that top scientist Dr ‘Frankenstein’ Logan (Richard Liberty) is feeding dead soldiers to the ‘specimen’ zombies he’s experimenting on, it’s all the excuse they need to start shooting.

In early scenes showing the politics of this small group of human beings, there is a brutality to the disputes, a dangerous proximity of violence that could turn into action at any moment. Most horrifying is the way the prejudices of our own society, particularly misogyny and racism, reassert themselves without having missed a beat. The heroine of Day Sarah (Lori Cardille) is thoroughly modern, but she finds herself in a regressive society where her fellow human beings may pose more of a threat than the zombies do.

0000220089

As Logan points out, our veneer of civilisation is all that separates us from the beasts in the wild, who, like the hapless zombies, operate by instinct alone, the atavistic urge to attack their motivating force. Yet in Day of the Dead, the brutality and inhumanity we see all comes courtesy of the human beings. Surprise surprise, we quickly discover that the trigger happy soldiers are no better than beasts. Rather more unexpected, though, is the ambiguous figure of Logan: in his blood-soaked butcher’s overalls and gory latex gloves, he’s part gentle father figure, part Cronenbergian/Reanimator surgeon, prepared to go to any lengths to further his hideous experiments. With both sides so thoroughly unpleasant, who are we supposed to root for? The zombie hordes?

Day-of-the-Dead-1985-2Actually, until the final, truly nightmarish scenes, we barely see them. Instead we have Bub, Logan’s pet zombie, a truly tragic figure, more like a brain-damaged adult than a monster. If you’re going to root for anyone, I suggest you root for him. Oh, and watch out for his final moment of triumph – it’s possibly one of the most brilliantly conceived horror scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

day of the dead 1985 movie pic1

Filmed when the Cold War was still looking fairly frosty, Day of the Dead has a lot to say about the fragile nature of human civilisation and the very thin line that divides us from our enemies. Dark, uncompromising and forthright, this is a thought provoking film that makes its point forcefully -with a thick coating of blood and guts, of course.

As in the previous two films, Romero’s last two survivors are a non-romantic couple consisting of a white woman and a black man (who, in Night, both die but who, in Dawn and Day, survive), and this is certainly no coincidence. In the first two films, this coupling seemed like an act of subversion and a hint at the hybridity and cooperation that Romero sees as essential for the continuing development of human civilization, but in Day, it is also something of a pointed critique. Take a look at who these two people are who are running away and then take a look at who they are running away from (not only the zombies but also other humans).

My own personal opinion is Day, is the weakest of the three films, however again with Romero’s other films it plays a massively important part in the journey of the apocalyptic and zombie genre, and certainly deserves its place on this list.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g9XorBCikM

Advertisements

31- Dawn of the Dead(1978)

Posted in The 50 Apocalyptic films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by Duane Patrick

dawn-of-the-dead-1978.jpg  “What are they doing? Why do they come here”

“Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”

George A. Romero’s seminal horror film Dawn of the Dead, a classic of the genre since its release in 1978, has been imitated countless times in the past three decades – from The Evil Dead and Re-Animator to Return of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later…. As Adam Rockoff writes for the DVD, “Immediately after Dawn‘s 1978 release, its bastard offspring began to claw their way through the fresh earth and onto screens all around the world.” However, most of these films ignored the subtext of racism, media cynicism, societal decay, and perhaps most importantly, the scathing attack on consumerism that were so integral to Romero’s vision.

It can be argued this is the best of the zombie classics, and for my this is the ultimate of the zombie apocalyptic genre, And yes a modern viewer may well look at this movie and see flaws, the zombie make up for one, but what we see here is a progression in the genre, here we see the survival instincts of a few, and every child at one point has fanatsised about being locked in a store over night and being allowed to run riot.

Dawn of the Dead begins where Romero’s Night of the Living Dead ended ten years earlier (albeit allowing for the advancements in technology, filmmaking techniques and societal progression in the ensuing decade). Romero is not content with rehashing the first films plot, like so many modern-day sequels, he expands on the concept and establishes a universe for not only his franchise, but for the many films that would come afterward. Zombies have continued to multiply and feed on the living, and while they may have not completely taken over, the stage is set for a final showdown between the living and the undead.

Again with this movie, like Night of the Living Dead, I have the problem that so much has been written on this movie how do I bring anything new. What we can do is celebrate the film and realise its place in the genre, if this film had not been made would we have the apocalyptic films, zombie films, or tv series like The Walking Dead today? Absolutely not. Dawn of the Dead is one of the key films in this whole genre, and should be celebrated.

dawnofthedead1978

In the movie we follow two SWAT cops who team up with a fleeing news helicopter pilot and his pregnant girlfriend, together the four of them occupy a shopping mall which the proceed to make their home. Romero takes a far more tongue in cheek approach here than in Night of the Living Dead but it only adds to the social commentary and enjoyment factors. The action is upscaled here too, and on-screen we have a great duo in Ken Foree and Scott H.Reiniger , their fearless and enthusiastic attitude towards zombie killing infects the film with an irrepressible sense of fun. Again without this on-screen attitude to zombie killing would we have Zombieland with its kill of the week?

25015534

The jackpot “dream” of being holed up in a shopping mall from the hungry zombie hordes is short-lived for Dawn‘s four protagonists. Peter and Stephen “hold up” the Shopping Mall’s bank of its money, now rendered meaningless. Later, a hapless ghoul is found sat in a wish fountain, struggling to make sense of the coins spilling from his cupped hands. The quartet start the film dressed and ready for action in combat gear but by the end, they’re smothered in opulent fur coats and chewing on expensive (pilfered) cigars… Roger, who gets chomped early on, is left a soppy faced half-breed zombie grinning at videogames and slurring “…I’m goooonna tryyyy … not to come baaaack” and sadly doesn’t. Most significantly, in the artificial trappings of a romantic meal between young lovers Stephen and Fran, Romero slams the door on any notion of reality within the walls of the mall when Stephen’s half-hearted proposal of marriage is rebutted…

2690011_orig

 Romero’s consumerism metaphor in this movie, the mindless zombies wandering in a shopping mall, is probably even more relevant today than it was in 1978, a fact captured by that the mall it was filmed in was one of the worlds largest at the time, but looking at it now, it is no bigger than your average mall. . Consider that our current times are characterized by terrorism, wars, financial scandals, and economic and political turmoil. Romero’s apocalyptic vision looks more like prophecy than fiction.

Look past the zombie make up, and the strangely orange blood of this movie, and you will see one of the most important films of the apocalyptic genre, and a seminal film on this list, this was definitely the Dawn of the Dead.

43 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Posted in The 50 Apocalyptic films with tags , , , , , , , on March 20, 2012 by Duane Patrick

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara! “

“If you have a gun, shoot ’em in the head. That’s a sure way to kill ’em. If you don’t, get yourself a club or a torch. Beat ’em or burn ’em. They go up pretty easy. “

Night of the Living Dead was the birth of the modern-day zombie film, and probably the birth of modern horror, George A. Romero, writer, director, editor and cinematographer of this independent film, however does not give himself any credit dismissing a lot of the factors that fans and critics see as acts of genius as pure acts of fate. My opinion is that he is being very modest and generous to others round him, this is a truly inspirational film, and did go onto inspire so so so many works and still continues to do so and will keep on doing so, even at the time of writing the US tv series The Walking Dead is due for a climatic finale to its second season with the characters holed up in a farm surrounded by…………the things, ghouls, walkers…….(never call them zombies)

Picking Night of the living Dead for this list was easy, watching it was a pleasure, however trying to write something about it that has never been written before is the hard part. Over the years I have read so much on this film, and watched so many documentaries on it and on film in general, it is really hard to come at it and try to add something new to the discussion.

A grainy black and white horror movie, shot for almost no money by a man who had previously only made a commercial. Of course it’s an instant classic. I wonder if this would pass David Cameron’s test for only making profitable films, would he know this film made for only $114,000 would go on to mak $30 million worldwide?


Night was turning point in the use of special effects and make up. Where previously horror films had been about rubber monsters lumbering around in the dark, this one was about flesh eaters. And that meant showing flesh eaters. Not once in the sixty years prior had any horror film (or any film for that matter) actually shown murders and gory sequences. Everything always happened off camera, or as shadows on the wall. In Night, a woman playing a zombie ate a live cockroach, a decaying disembodied head was shown in full close-up, and the living dead could be seen gnawing on the limbs and entrails of their human victims. This was absolutely unheard of in motion pictures. Not showing the graphic or disturbing scenes was a rule of thumb in cinema, breaking that barrier didn’t even occur to filmmakers.

Night of the Living Dead begins with Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Steiner) driving to visit a grave site. Johnny is complaining about having to go and is teasing Barbara about being afraid of cemeteries. Once there though, her fear is justified when they are attacked by a ……ghoul, walker…..those things (never a zombie….remember).

Barbara makes her way to a farm-house where she meets up with Ben (Duane Jones) who ends ups being the hero more out of necessity than anything else. The character of Ben was originally supposed to be a crude but resourceful truck driver, with no specification to race. After Duane Jones, in real-life a self-serious, erudite academic, auditioned for the part, director and co-writer George A. Romero re-wrote the part to fit his performance.

Night has been analyzed to the point of dissection by film critics, resulting in the ‘discovery’ of the most ridiculous and far-fetched subtexts. People have read meaning into the film’s use of black and white, the grainy look of the film stock (an accident because the lab had to switch to cheaper stock), the use of effects and the anonymous masses of the zombies. Romero states there is only one explanation for all of these aspects: money.
But the most oft-discussed point was without a doubt the casting of Duane Jones in the lead role of the hero Ben. Romero states that the only reason Duane Jones was cast was he was the best man for the job and cheap. however you can’t escape the significance of casting a black man in the lead role with all the racial unrest going on in the US during the late sixties, seeing the Ben character as being a comment on society is inescapable. Especially the final scene, which I wont give away, but this can’t be just dismissed by Romero, especially when he would go on to direct other Dead films which also gave a social commentary on society.

The film being shot in black and white meant that chocolate sauce could be used for all the blood in the scenes, this is fun when you are watching it with someone for the first time, there is a very gory scene in the middle of the film when a group of …….ghouls, walkers, those things….. are eating the remains of an unfortunate couple, you might see your companion grimace at this scene, to get a double grimace, tell them that the actors are actually eating bacon covered in chocolate sauce for that double dunt grimace, great fun.

In my research for the film I came across a sad fact, that S.Willaim Hinzman, who plays the cemetery zombie in the opening scene, passed away last month on the 5th February, he is the first zombie we see on-screen, and he based his walk on a Bela Lugosi character from a 1930s film, his performance in this scene is extraordinary, and is instantly recognisable in the closing scene when you see him again, all actors have based their zombie performance on S.William Hinzman, who was also a financier of NOTLD, giving THE HUGE amount of $300 to let the film be made, he went on to be not only an actor in many more films, also a writer, director, editor, cinematographer and producer, for me he will always be the father of modern zombies, patient x, the first, and was sad to read of his passing.

If you have never seen Night of the Living Dead, do yourself a favour and watch it. It will change the way you watch movies, not just horror. One word of warning though; Stay away from any version that has “30th Anniversary” or “colorized” on it. Night Of The Living Dead has aged. There’s no denying this. Modern day audiences will probably find it dull and cliché-ridden, perhaps they will even find it laughable. But the films they base those opinions on, the zombie movies they know, the ones made in the eighties, are the movies that owe their existence to George Romero’s great film. Today Night Of The Living Dead needs to be seen in context. Even if it has lost much of its entertainment value, its historic and artistic value will last forever.

%d bloggers like this: