Archive for May, 2011

History of the Zombie Genre (Part 6: The Video Dead)

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2011 by splatterpictures

Holy shit, if there is one thing I love, it’s doing these horror showcases. If there is one thing I hate, it’s getting a horrible virus because of them. It seems that while searching for images for the latest (and final) entry into the History of the Zombie Genre, I came across the fucking apocalypse of viruses and my old computer is down for the count. Fear not loyal readers, I have returned with the help some friends and am ready to re-write our final stop of this magical journey!

I’d like to take a minute and talk about the 80’s. What a weird and wonderful time. Business was booming and, as such, a lot more risks were being taken. Not to mention the fact that studios like New Line Cinema and things of that ilk basically built their companies off the backs of horror movies. The 80’s in horror saw the slasher boom and everybody was trying to create a mascot akin to Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees. Some where pretty good… most were pretty bad. A very rare few are so bad it becomes good.

Horror movies of this era saw a lot of distribution through minor labels of much larger film studios that existed to provide low risk, low cost, and decent reward to the studios. Universal, MGM and the suddenly-relevant New Line Cinema were all pretty big on this practice and released all kinds of stuff direct to VHS. Yeah, that’s right, VHS! Some rare studios managed to remain independent for the most part, but a lot of them were swallowed up in the 80’s by big business. On the other hand, there are select studios that flourished because of this new fangled direct to video market.

The 80’s saw a lot of great stuff for the Zombie Genre too. My original plan was to review the 1980’s classic Return of the Living Dead seeing as there are few films that encompass the decade in the genre so perfectly. It has everything; the music, the comedy, the origin of the Zombie battle cry “Braaaains”. It really is great example. That being said, I feel like we can do better. I think that it’s time to dig deep, and I mean –really- deep and talk about something that isn’t so “classic”. I’m talking about a film that, to this date, has never been released officially on DVD. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about The Video Dead.

The Video Dead was released in 1987 and distributed through Embassy Home Entertainment, which was the direct to video portion of Embassy Pictures. Don’t worry if you never heard of it. Basically, it was an independent studio that was eaten alive by larger studios in the late 80’s. If memory serves me (and even if it doesn’t we live in the information age), it was taken over by MGM, or New Line Entertainment. Embassy Pictures had a decent run, but eventually went the way of a lot of studios from the old days of movie making.

It was written, directed, and produced by Robert Scott. You know this sort of hat trick happens a lot in films, especially from new directors. When a director really goes all in, they have nothing really to fall back on when things go bad. Without a doubt, and despite –anything- Robert Scott could ever say, the Video Dead was his baby. I’m sure once that baby came out of the delivery room, Scott was tugging at his shirt collar wondering just what the fuck happened.

So what’s it about? Well let’s see here. Basically, the film starts out with this writer who mysteriously gets delivered a television. He’s cranky and wants to be left alone, but he reluctantly takes the TV and goes back to his writing. Things get weird when the TV magically turns on by itself and it only seems to play one thing: A zombie movie called “Zombie Blood Nightmare”. Unknown to him, the zombies actually are aware that they are in a TV and know the way out. He goes to bed and is none the wiser that a dazzling array of 80’s blue lighting effects enable the Zombies to escape and march upstairs.

The next day the deliverymen return and discover the writer’s body. Here’s the weird part: He’s sitting in a chair when the door opens with his throat slit and wearing a party hat. I remember seeing that and saying “okay weird. Why did the zombies dress him up festively?” They didn’t eat him clearly, but they slit his throat? I was pretty confused. Here’s the deal: The zombies aren’t really the zombies people are familiar with. In keeping with the spirit of the 80’s they basically say “Fuck you” to all the typical rules.

Most films had used the basic idea that if you destroy the brain you kill the zombie. I don’t know if it was because everyone in the 80’s had a desire to move forward, that this became a trend in film. For the most part if you ask someone how to kill a zombie they’ll say “Shoot em in the head!” Well that won’t really work with these, and here’s why. Some loose narrative in the story tells us that these zombies want to be alive and hate to be reminded that they are dead. A big symptom of this is a fear of mirrors. So if you want them to leave you alone, show them a reflection of themselves. Also, forget head shots. That won’t work unless you can somehow convince them that –they- are dead which you do by inflicting enough damage to their bodies. Perhaps the most ridiculous method is if you trap them in a place where they can’t possible get out, they’ll eat themselves. Lastly I’ll mention that if you show even the slightest fear, they’ll attack you. In other words, if you are nice to them and treat them as if they are alive, they’ll like you.

There you have it, the weirdest rules I’ve ever heard. Not only are they weird, they also don’t work. After the writer is killed, a brother and sister move in and start preparing the house for their parents who are away on business. They find out too late that the television that was left behind is haunted and there are still zombies out there. An old Texan comes along who knows all about the TV and the zombies. He tells them these rules and then takes the boy to go hunting for them. Well… I just don’t even know what to say. None of the rules even work and it makes me wonder what the point was in bringing them up at all.

Oh, and I normally don’t give spoilers about the ending but (SPOILER ALERT) do you want to know how to trap them from a place where no escape is possible? Just take a minute and think about a place like that. Bottom of the ocean? Stuck in a cave with a huge boulder at the entrance? How about shoving them in a bank vault? All pretty good ways, right? Well you don’t need that, just lock em in the basement for five minutes. That’s right, the basement. Nothing special about it; just a wooden door with a lock and it works.

One scene that I found pretty funny was when these two random people get killed, this old lady goes to check on her laundry and one of the undead somehow got into her washing machine. Next thing you know the old woman’s legs are just sticking out of the washer while it does a spin cycle. Good stuff.

The acting in this movie is hilarious and the writing is pretty bad. The special effects are decent enough but I can’t help and wonder just what all of the actors were thinking. Actually forget the actors. What was the director/writer/producer thinking?

This movie is a straight up horror comedy but the parts that made me laugh weren’t any of the gags but more so the silly plot and ridiculously bad acting. I recommend it to anybody who has a sense of humour about horror films in general. Like I said before, it’s never been released on DVD but for some reason Netflix has it. Check it out.

Well that finally does it for our little look back through the history of the Zombie sub-genre of horror. Also, I know you’re thinking “But what about the 90’s or the 2,000’s? Well you have a valid point, there were a lot of them in that 20 year span. Those two decades saw the birth of the “Fast Zombie” as well as a boom in the zombie culture in general. Especially the last ten years, thanks in no small part to some great authors. Not only that but it saw a few remakes of Romero’s work as well. Right now the word Zombie has a lot of marketability again which is both good and bad for fans. It’s good because it means a lot more content coming from different sources. It’s bad because a lot of that content is god awful.

I’ve decided to cut it off at the 80’s to allow myself some breathing room because, frankly, a lot has happened in those years and I’m a little zombied-out. Don’t worry too much; this topic will be resurrected again very shortly. Until next time, happy hunting!

History of the Zombie Genre (Part 5: Zombie)

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2011 by splatterpictures

It goes without saying that people watch movies to be entertained… escapism and all of that business. When it comes to horror films, people have many individual reasons to like them. A lot of people like to be scared when they watch a movie, others just find them to be easy to digest in terms of cinema. As an adult, I don’t find a lot of horror movies scary anymore. When I was a kid, though, I was disturbed more times than I wanted to admit. These days I still can get freaked out by some pretty unassuming movies, but that is probably because of my over-active imagination.

There is always something I want to recapture as an adult when I watch these films, but it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is. Well, loyal readers, we can thank our trip through the history of the Zombie genre on a little self discovery. Today while we’re visiting the 1970’s, I’d like to stop by and say hello to Zombie.

I remember so vividly the first time I ever saw this film. I had been invited over to a friend’s house, who had in turn invited others over (one of those situations where every seat on the couch is full with a few people sitting on the floor). One of my chums owned a video store and always had something with her. To this day, I have no idea if it was planned to watch that movie the entire time or not, but they suggested we watch this movie called “Zombie”. I was down; I’m always down. I had no idea that that this movie would end up being my favourite zombie movie by a wide margin and is still one of my favourite films of all time.

Before I get too anecdotal, I’ll try to lay down some of those facts people are usually looking for. Zombie was released in 1979 in Italy under the title Zombi 2. Yes it’s a sequel. To what movie you ask? Well it’s a sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was just a sequel of Night of the Living Dead. Yeah, you heard me right; it’s a sequel to a sequel. A sequel that I might add has nothing to do with Romero’s “Dead” series. When Romero’s Dawn of the Dead hit Europe in 1978, it was edited and had the title changed to Zombie (don’t ask me why, I have no idea). So in 1979 an Italian made sequel called Zombi 2 was made. (Let’s not forget that fact that in the U.K. it’s called Zombie Flesh Eaters!)

The film was directed by Lucio Fulci who had a somewhat lackluster career up until this point, but that all changed when Zombi 2 hit the market and blew up. The film was well-received by audiences and made a ton of money, so it eventually was released in 1980 over in the west (with the new title of just Zombie).

Well what’s it about? Basically some harbour Patrol in New York City finds a drifting yacht with big fat zombie in it. After the zombie is killed, an investigation follows and it turns out the boat belongs to the father of a woman called Anne Bowel (Tisa Farrow). He left behind a note that says he was at the island of Matool that is cursed with a strange disease. Following this lead, the Bowels and a news reporter head to the island to investigate. They meet more characters along the way to fill out the cast and presto! You have zombies on a tropical island.

Now, everyone who knows this film knows that there are certain scenes that are nothing short of iconic. This is where everything ties together with watching Zombie with my with friends all those years ago. First, there is a zombie fighting a shark. No I’m not kidding, and it’s a real tiger shark. A man named Ramon Bravo was a shark trainer and Lucio had him dress up like a zombie and battle the creature under the water while they filmed. The zombie bites the shark the shark rips off the zombies arm. It’s truly an epic battle of legendary proportion. I will say this the first time my mind was officially blown. I had –never- seen anything close to that in a zombie movie. I remember one of my friends yelling “zombie shark” and the prospect of a shark being undead blew my mind further!

Another iconic scene is pretty nasty. A character named Paola (Olga Karlatos) experiences a slow and gruesome death where her eye is slowly run through with a broken sliver of wood. Honestly, her eyeball gets closer and closer and when the wood finally punctures it, I remember every one of my friends cringed and yelled “Oh man!”Such a great reaction.

The last thing I’ll mention, just as an aside, is the music.
There is something about the theme of this movie that I just love. The creepy synthesizer that builds and builds while the zombies start to march, whenever there was more zombies the music matches the intensity and when the music is at it’s height you’re fucked; they’re everywhere. I remember walking home from watching this and trying to desperately remember the theme because I thought it was so cool.

This movie is seriously all about being cool. It has a lot of great moments that were enhanced when I watched it with a large group of people. It really reminded me why we watch scary movies. It’s all about that moment that everyone can share together. When I first saw the zombie fight the shark, or the woman get her eye poked in, I had no idea I was witnessing some of the most iconic moments in a horror film; I just knew they were great. A lot of times I’ve heard people wonder “Oh god who’s idea was it to do that?” Or “Oh that’s sick, why would they do it?”

Maybe if I first saw this film by myself I wouldn’t have remembered it as much…or maybe wouldn’t have even liked it as much. In short, loyal readers, horror movies are best shared. Writers and directors of horror films (the good ones) try to recreate these moments that everyone can collectively say “Oh my god, I’ve never seen that before.” Those of us who get it, will get it, those of us who don’t, are excited for Transformers 3.

There’s one more stop on our look back at the history of the Zombie sub-genre. Stay tuned!

History of the Zombie Genre (Part 4: Night of the Living Dead)

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates on May 10, 2011 by splatterpictures

It’s about time we hit the 1960’s and talk about when the Zombie genre took the form that most people recognize today. Funny enough, this happened by accident. The 1960s saw its fair share of Zombie films, but for the most part they followed the same formula as all others that would come before it. Then in 1968, an independent group of film-makers went ahead and created Night of the Living Dead.

I knew it was impossible to discuss the Zombie genre of films without discussing this movie. I felt that the whole point of Splatterpictures was to talk about movies that might have gotten shuffled under the rug, but I can’t honestly say this one falls under that category. That being said, a lot of people owe a lot of thanks to this film and, while I don’t think I could reveal anything about it that hasn’t already been said a million times, I will offer a few thoughts about it and maybe some fun facts that the average person doesn’t know.

The movie was directed by George A. Romero who, at the time, was directing commercials and things of that nature with his friends from school. They decided to try and film their own horror movie like the ones they had watched when they were young. With 6,000 bucks and a lot of gusto, they started Image Ten productions. Eventually the film would demand a higher and higher budget that ultimately fell just over a hundred grand.

The ironic thing that Romero will often say in interviews is that he had no intention of making them “Zombies”. In his mind, Zombies were the monsters that people were familiar with at the time. Corpses brought back to life via magic to do the bidding of some dark master. He said he wanted to do a film that was along the same lines as the book I am Legend which came out in 1954. I am Legend would go on to be made into a direct adaptation with Vincent Price’s fantastic Last Man of Earth (I will probably get to that one eventually). Anyway, in I Am Legend the ghouls in question are actually vampires. Romero thought that he would do something similar and have ghouls comes to life through some vague explanation (in this case it was space radiation from a comet). To add to the horror, he said that when the dead come back to life, they eat the living. Little did he know that he would set the groundwork for every Zombie movie to come later.

All of the rules that people associate with the undead are present in this film. They eat flesh and, to take them down permanently, you have to destroy the brain. A few things that you don’t see carried over too much in other films for some reason is that the Zombies in this film are able to use tools. A ghoul will grab a rock to assist him in breaking a car window, use a spade to kill someone or smash a car light. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing. They are afraid of fire and bright lights. Those things seem a bit out of place, but remember Romero didn’t consider them Zombies at all so it makes sense looking back. In fact it wouldn’t be until the 2005 Land of the Dead, that the word “Zombie” was ever used.

A lot of people also comment on social commentary that the film makes, and I’ve never really gotten it myself. Yes, the main character is a black man (the late Duane Jones). Yes, he orders around a bunch of white people and yes, the ending could be interpreted as discrimination. Put all that together and consider the fact that it was 1968, it’s so easy to see why people dissect it so much. In my opinion, the shortest way past speculation is to ask the creator. So what does Romero have to say about it? Well, basically he says that there wasn’t any intention for people to derive social commentary from the film. All of the actors who were cast were cast because they would work for cheap (for most of them, it was their first film), or that they just happened to be in the area. The role never specified that the character of Ben had to be black or white. It always boggles my mind that people need to constantly make something out of nothing. If anything, I find it pretty amusing how the movie portrays the female characters. Barbara (Judith O’Dea) has a very promising start, but becomes pretty useless by the end. Most of the women have subservient rolls and just sit around looking worried while waiting for the men to decide everything. Except for Marilyn Eastman who plays Helen Cooper, she’s fucking awesome. I love how she just spends the movie angrily smoking and taking shots at her husband. Don’t feel bad; her husband Harry (Karl Hardman) would serve to be the standard archetype for every Zombie movie; the dick. Every Zombie movie needs a good rotten bastard who would sell out anybody to survive. Interestingly enough, Karl Hardman had his own daughter play his daughter in the movie (Eastman was his business partner in real life too).

I can’t think of anything else to say about this film other than it’s fantastic. At the time, the graphic depictions of zombies eating the living had never been shown so graphically before, much to the outrage of critics and parents. In those days the film rating system wasn’t in place so children of all ages could go and watch it. People getting eaten and the grim ending made for a pretty traumatic experience for audiences. By today’s standards it’s pretty tame and I remember when I first watched it I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. I liked it, sure, but I didn’t find it all that gory. Plus the nihilistic ending was what I pretty much expected (every zombie movie I’d seen up till that point had the same basic ending, like maybe they all got their ending from somewhere… but where?).

I really could go on and on, but I think it’s best to say if you haven’t seen it, you really have to. It’s been parodied, copied, remade, animated and referenced in pop culture since its release. Forty years later and it’s still regarded as one of the most successful horror movies ever made and one of the most profitable independent films of all time. Too bad you lost the rights to it Romero! Don’t worry though you still have six fucking sequels and counting.

If I really felt like it, the rest of our look back at Zombie horror could just be Romero’s “Dead” series. I think I can do a little better then that. Next up we hit the 1970’s and head back off to Italy!

History of the Zombie Genre (Part 3: Zombies of Mora Tau)

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2011 by splatterpictures

Well we’re chugging along in our look back at the Zombie sub-genre, and we’ve come to the golden age of cheese: The 1950’s. What can I say about this decade? It was a time of prosperity after the hard years of depression and WWII. The baby boom was in full swing and audiences were looking to let the good times role. It was all about the American dream and fast, cheap entertainment. The 1950’s also experienced a big boom in the Sci-fi genre, seeing as we had just entered the atomic age. Films heavy in dialogue and atmosphere were out, lasers and aliens were in. The Universal style horror movie, however, was still alive and kicking with huge hits like The Creature From the Black Lagoon. For the most part though, people were watching genre films that had titles like “Attack of” or “Invasion of” and maybe the word “Giant” tossed in there.

A standard formula for lot of these movies is as follows: Generic scientist or generic alien creatures do something that makes humans sad. I would note that the zombie genre was around in this decade, but it wasn’t anything like the other monsters of horror (although a few of them were forced to meet Abbot and Costello).

While inspecting some of my options for the 1950’s, I noticed a problem: I really hate all of them. Although there wasn’t exactly a lot to choose from, for the most part they are all pretty terrible. Barely qualifying as Zombie flicks themselves, most fall into the realm of Sci-fi that just so happens to have Zombie-like creatures in it. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958) is easily the biggest example of this, but I’m not really interested in discussing an Ed Wood movie. I will at least mention that his film Night of the Ghouls came out in 1959. Check them out if you dare, they are definitely in the so-bad-it’s-good category. Well, Night of the Ghouls is just bad. Anyway, I am running low on further movie options, so I won’t drag this out any more. Today we tackle Zombies of Mora Tau.

The film was released in 1957, directed by Edward L. Cahn, and produced by Columbia pictures. The 1950’s saw a lot of Cahn, for that matter. He was the one
responsible for: It the Terror From Beyond Space, Invisible Invaders and the absolutely coma-inducing Voodoo Woman. Essentially, he was a director who was charged with making movies as cheaply and as quickly as possible.

So here’s the deal with Zombies of Mora Tau: Mora Tau is a far off coast in Africa that is infested with zombies (sort of). I like how they are always hard selling the “Dark Continent” with voodoo and mysticism. This time instead of a spell brought on by some evil mastermind, the dead are basically cursed. It’s a lot like Pirates of the Caribbean, really. A group of sailors mutiny and kill their captain and his loyal men in order to steal a diamond treasure for themselves. Their murder triggers a curse where the Captain and his men rise from the dead and kill the traitors then sink the ship and the treasure. Now every time someone comes to find it; the Zombies rise to stop them. Of course, a crew looking for the diamonds hears this story from a gnarled old woman and don’t listen. Needless to say it’s a mistake they have to deal with through the entire film.

It’s easy to see that the classic image of an undead pirate walking along the seafloor could possibly have come from this movie. Not to mention the funny little fight scene with the guy in the divers suit. I don’t know why but it was pretty amusing watching the slow mo, and camera tricks they used to get the effect.

An interesting thing I found about this movie is that the zombies’ one weakness seems to be fire. It’s pretty much a way to get them away from you, while bullets seem to have no effect (a lot like in King of the Zombies).

All in all, this is a pretty standard film and I can see where it might serve to inspire other filmmakers as time progresses. I will say for any who are interested that this film is hard to come by (I had to use my internet powers to find it). I don’t really recommend it, but I felt compelled to include at least one movie from the 1950’s. Next up we hit the 1960’s where a little independent film changed everything.