Tag: night of the living dead

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead (1990)
★★ / ★★★★

Tom Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead” is a passable but far from a compelling remake of George A. Romero’s classic. Given that the director is a wizard in creating prosthetic makeup, combined with a more sizable budget, the look of the undead here is superior to the original. Some zombies look like they died mere hours ago while others appear as though they’ve been rotting in their graves for weeks. When the camera fixates on a gash or a severed limb, we can appreciate the insides glisten with blood. Even facial deformities are gross yet inviting. On the basis of visuals, the picture delivers. However, Romero, serving as screenwriter, is hit-or-miss when it comes to making what is essentially the same plot—a group of survivors seeking refuge in a farmhouse next to a cemetery—feel contemporary. Although I prefer this mentally strong and badass Barbara (Patricia Tallman) as opposed to the original Barbara who spends the majority of the story in a state of fragility, arguments between Ben (Tony Todd), a survivor who snaps our heroine into shape, and Harry (Tom Towles), a cowardly man who prefers to hide in the cellar with his wife (McKee Anderson) and ailing daughter (Heather Mazur), are reduced into screaming matches without convincing emotion behind them. We are shown that the noise due to hammering from inside the house (it is decided that windows must be boarded up) ends up attracting the undead, but I’m convinced it is due to the senseless and interminable yelling and screaming. The most pronounced deviation from the original is the third act. Racial and political statements are stripped away. Surely racism existed in the ‘90s and is very much alive today. So why not take the opportunity to discern racism between the late ‘60s and early ‘90s? Instead, it leans on general observations when it comes to the living’s monstrous nature toward things we do not fully understand or appreciate. It bears no teeth let alone bite.

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
★★★ / ★★★★

It is without question that George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” has shaped the landscape of the modern zombie movie. But unlike most of its seedlings, this independent horror classic offers minimal gore. Due to budget constraints, it is forced to rely on steady pacing, mounting tension, precise framing between predator and prey, and smart timing when it comes to detailing information about the undead. It works because of its simplicity. By leaving just enough for the imagination, it lures us into its world where the line between the living and the dead is so tenuous that a friend or family member one minute can become a flesh-eater the next.

A portentous visit to the cemetery becomes a death sentence when siblings Barbra and Johnny (Judith O’Dea, Russell Streiner) come across a lumbering man in a suit. This is a terrific opening sequence because it underscores the material’s ability to change from silliness to viciousness at a drop of a hat. Observe closely during the first contact between the living and the undead. The camera does not observe from a distance or mere few feet away. It is placed in the middle of the scuffle, as if to highlight the size and strength of the assailant.

The dead might walk slowly, but it is not harmless even when by itself. When it is within grabbing distance, it takes advantage and it becomes a challenge to escape. It can be punched, kicked, scratched—but it feels nothing. The grip just gets tighter. A horde of zombies is another matter entirely. You can run. But they will walk and walk until you can run no longer. The desperate Barbra, too, notices that they do not take their eyes off her. She tries to hide, but they seem to always know where she is. What is scarier than knowing deep down that you will die and it is only a matter of time? This film plays upon this impending sense of doom all the way to the finish line.

Introducing colorful personalities for the slaughter is a trait that many zombie films have adapted and made their own. Here, one becomes seven before the halfway point, but the interactions between Barbra and Ben (Duane Jones), a black man who stole a truck to escape from fifty to sixty zombies near a diner, remains fresh. No, it is not because they find a special connection, or attraction, or some other nonsense that doesn’t fit into the survival story. It is the exact opposite: Barbra and Ben do not get to know each other.

In fact, Barbra remains traumatized from her encounter in the cemetery. These two are simply shown co-existing in a farmhouse that is slowly becoming surrounded by the undead. Sure, they conflict once or twice. But it is never personal. Every waking moment is a struggle for survival. The same cannot be said between Ben and the remaining personalities—heated exchanges that touch upon power and race. Keep in mind that this film was released when America was undergoing social and political upheaval. It cannot be denied that the Romero (who co-writes with John. A Russo) is making—not just a statement—but a stand in regards to human rights, specifically black rights in the US, as to say, “What is more horrific than racism?”

While I recognize the picture’s importance and numerous positive qualities, there are a number of continuation errors that cannot be overlooked. They occur enough times that encountering them took me out of the experience. An example involves Barbra, having just entered the farmhouse, deciding to go upstairs. She stops in her tracks because right at the top of the stairs is a rotting skull staring at her. She freaks out and remains downstairs. Later on, however, when Ben chooses to move the body, the corpse’s head is not rotten at all. In fact, it looks like a beautiful woman who’s simply asleep.

Another example: when a character is being stabbed to death with a trowel, notice that no blood spatter is shown during the time of the killing. But, toward the end of the scene, we see blood on the wall… but its consistency and pattern do at all match the feverish violence—it were as if somebody faced the wall and squirted corn syrup from a bottle instead of using a brush of some sort to make the image look more convincing. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with budget. These can be solved with a careful eye, a higher level of perfectionism, a willingness to get it right rather than simply having something on screen.

Regardless, “Night of the Living Dead” is a strong picture because it possesses real ideas and it is not afraid to offer specificity—traits that copycats sorely lack so it is to no one’s surprise that the majority of them end up becoming substandard. The best moments in the film are when characters simply listen intently to the radio and watch television as officials offer insights about the bizarre phenomenon and advice regarding what to do to stay alive. Less really is more.

The Return of the Living Dead

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Let me ask you a question, kid. Did you see that movie ‘Night of the Living Dead?’ …Did you know that movie was based on a true case?”

You know a horror-comedy is not going to hold back its punches when right from the opening title card there is already a joke. It dares to claim that the events and people found therein are based on truth. Its self-awareness is sharp, fresh, and pointed; writer-director Dan O’Bannon is clearly a lover of not only undead pictures but of movie-making that incites overt reaction from the audience. “The Return of the Living Dead” can be enjoyed when alone on the couch. But it is preferred that it be experienced as a group as the collective fever of laughter fills the room.

This is not just a movie that offers terrific special and makeup effects. Given that the premise involves a chemical leakage from a U.S. Army tank which houses a zombie from the “actual” case that inspired George A. Romero’s 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead,” the work makes a statement about how we treat our environment, specifically the waste we put out there for the air to spread and for the soil to absorb. Everything comes from the ground—yes, even the air we breathe. (A prime example is the water cycle—which, to my surprise, is incorporated in the film in a most humorous fashion.) And so wastes we put out there make us sick and eventually kill us. Hence, zombies rising from the Earth, taking over, and eating our brains.

The picture uses every trick in the horror manual—except for CGI—to create grotesque, gross, curious, horrifying, and morbid imagery, from mannequins and old school puppets to animatronics and people sporting masks or heavy cosmetics. Not one technique used comes across as perfect, but there is an infectious joyousness in how they are utilized and framed. I enjoyed that it is almost always not enough to show a disgusting or unusual image and pass that off as entertainment. These images are often accompanied by an auditory gag, shocking acrobatics, or reference to other zombie movies. It feels like a love letter to undead films that came before, but at the same time it has two goals: to turn expectations inside-out and to push the sub-genre in new directions. Either way, it strives to make us laugh throughout.

I enjoyed all the characters here, from the medical supply warehouse foreman named Frank (James Karen) giving a tour to new recruit Freddy (Thom Matthews), who is a bit dim, to the punk rockers (one of them Freddy’s girlfriend played by Beverly Randolph) hanging out at the cemetery—which is right next to the warehouse with the zombie tanks sitting in the basement, which is so not a coincidence. The picture jumps back and forth between the two locations. Energy builds on top of one another until the two groups are required to meet at some point. Every person has a personality… even the undead.

These zombie are no slackers that lumber about waiting for food to walk by. They run. One is already a threat. Facing a horde is terrifying. But a noteworthy trait: These reanimated corpses can speak. “Brains!” “Send in more cops.” “More paramedics.” And another: They have the ability to plan an attack. Because the zombies possess intelligence, we believe that the living running away from them truly are in danger. And if that isn’t enough: Killing them is much, much harder in this film. A harsh blow to the head or a gunshot to the brain isn’t enough. Nor is beheading the zombies. It changes the rules. Not just because it can.

Because its purpose is for us to consider: What is the undead’s relationship to the overall message of the story? More specifically, environmental issues are solved not by one, or two, or five solutions. It is not enough to recycle. Or plant trees. Or manage output of industrial plants. It requires putting politics aside and doing all that we can on every front we can come up with—in an efficient, consistent, and reliable fashion. “The Return of the Living Dead” is progressively pro environment, demanding that we take responsibility for our the betterment of our home through action. It is also riotously funny, stylish, and deeply entertaining.


Delicatessen (1991)
★★★ / ★★★★

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where food was very scarce and selflessness was rare, a former clown named Louison (Dominique Pinon) moved into an apartment complex where the residents depended on a butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) to give them food given that the circumstances were right. That is, every once in a while, an unsuspecting person, like Louison, would move into an empty apartment and later be murdered, chopped up, and served to the residents. Things turned complicated when Louison fell for the butcher’s daughter (Marie-Laure Dougnac) and vice-versa. The daughter knowing the happenings in the apartment complex tried to seek help from people who lived underground that did not eat other humans. I loved the look of this film. In every frame, there was a beautiful yellow tinge that highlighted the desolate existence of the characters. I also noticed the picture’s great attention to sound, not just in terms of soundtrack in the foreground and background but the characters actually creating music to serve as a distraction from their increasingly desperate living conditions. I thought it was creative because it able to take very different sounds and arrange it in such a way that they all complemented each other. As for the story, it was consistently fascinating but it could have been trimmed. While the involvement of the sewer dwellers was necessary, there were far too many scenes that painted them as too goofy, almost infantile. The slapstick did not work because I got the impression that they were supposed to be the moral center (people who did not eat human flesh), thus the savior of Louison and the butcher’s daughter. It would not have hurt the script if the underground people were actually intelligent and strong. Just because they lived underground for, as the film suggested, quite some time, they need not have been cavemen-like. In this case, playing against the obvious would have been far more interesting. Despite its shortcomings, the film was strong. I highly enjoyed its quirks, wit, and irony because the images on screen had double meanings so it kept me on my toes. For example, when the residents tried to break into Louison’s apartment, I thought about George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” with a modern twist: The good guys were inside struggling for survival, while the bad guys (who were not undead) were outside craving for flesh. They, too, were struggling for survival. Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, “Delicatessen” was a treat in which the jokes were served in just the right amount of proportions. It always had new jokes peeking at each corner so specific types of comedies did not overstay their welcome. Film lovers who have a penchant for the macabre, satire, cannibalism, and post-apocalypse worlds will most likely find this movie as a delectable gem.

Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead (2009)
★ / ★★★★

George A. Romero’s tired “Survival of the Dead” started off with two groups of people on an island with a vastly different approach in terms of dealing with the zombies. Group A, led by Kenneth Welsh, wanted to kill the zombies immediately while Group B, led by Richard Fitzpatrick, wanted to train the zombies to eat things other than humans. The first scene depicted Group A being exiled from the island. Cut to the soldiers (Alan Van Sprang, Athena Karkanis, Stefano DiMatteo) meeting a kid (Devon Bostick) as they attempted to decide their next destination. Some wanted to go North while the other said South but it didn’t really matter because we all knew they would end up on the island. I will always thank Romero for making a big impact in the horror genre for the classic “Night of the Living Dead” but what he needs to do now is to stop making these limp and cliché-ridden sequels. The questions that were posed about the way the living dealt with the dead and fellow living people were painfully pretentious and heavy-handed. The two old men with polarizing opinions about what to do with the zombies felt contrived. At one point, one of them stated that they’ve been rivals ever since the school yard. I thought they were immature, selfish and weren’t as strong or macho as they wanted others to believe. With the amount of arguing they had throughout the picture, I was surprised they weren’t killed off in the very beginning. I found nothing inspiring from “Survival of the Dead” because it simply featured a group people making one stupid decision after another. There was nothing scary about the zombies because they were slow-moving and the make-up was so obvious that it borderlined camp. Furthermore, it did not have a firm grasp on delivering tension that lingers. Too often did it rely on the score to tell us what was scary or amusing and I did not appreciate being spoon-fed what to feel and think. I wanted scenes where we were forced to follow a character in a dark, tight spaces, and all we could hear were silence and the character’s footsteps. It should have given us more scenes we could relate to whether there was a danger of a zombie attack or not. There was not one character in this film that I could root for because it spent too much time tackling trite moral questions instead what it meant for these specific characters to survive in world where hope seemed like a thing of the past. Even more disappointing was the fact that it didn’t even have that much blood. If one is looking for some scares, intelligence and creativity, I suggest to stay away from this generic supposed gorefest.


Undead (2003)
★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, this Australian zombie horror-comedy plays more like a science fiction movie more than anything. Rene (Felicity Mason) goes into a farmhouse to escape the zombies that were chasing her after a meteor shower. In the farmhouse, she meets a few others (Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall) and they must figure out what is happening in the town while trying not to get eaten by the zombies. I didn’t enjoy this movie at all due to a number of things. The characters kept asking, “What were THOSE things? Why are they trying to eat us? Are they dead?” as if they’ve never seen a zombie movie before. Moreover, the characters are very one-dimensional. It would have been so much better if the cops were the cowards and the regular folks would have been the leaders. Taking some of those obvious elements and putting them upside down would have given the illusion that the directors were trying to make a better movie. For a horror picture, this is very light on the scary factor. The zombies are slow enough but did the characters have to be slow as well (mentally and physically)? None of them had actual survival skills and I wouldn’t buy for a second that they would survive if there were real zombies running around. If I see a zombie trying to get to me to eat my brains, I would run so fast, I wouldn’t even think about silly things like leaving something behind. The stupid characters were good at three things: screaming, yelling at each other, and asking redundant questions. Lastly, I’m very frustrated with the fact that there were actual aliens in this movie. It was so random and everything was spelled out for us in the end: why there were zombies and why the aliens decided to visit our planet. What made other zombie flicks so successful (1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” and “28 Days Later”) was the fact that there were questions left unanswered. Even if they were answered, those films left a possibility that the truth lies beyond the given explanation. Overall, “Undead” was a random mess of a movie. It is far from creative and it didn’t have enough enthusiasm to keep my attention. I thought “Zombieland” was far scarier and that was a comedy. That should give you an idea with how lackluster this movie truly is.