Archive for horror

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 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.

History of the Zombie Genre (Part 2: King of the Zombies)

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2011 by splatterpictures

I’m back like a bad sequel and, speaking of which, I was showcasing White Zombie during our last discussion. Well, the 1930’s rolled on and soon another film in the Zombie genre called Revolt of the Zombies came about. It was a sequel, but it didn’t really live up to White Zombie which, in my opinion, wasn’t that great to begin with. Strangely enough, it wasn’t allowed to be promoted as a sequel at all due to legal issues. So really on top of being a less then stellar film, it was also not really allowed to be promoted. It’s no wonder that it fell into the cracks of obscurity. Feel free to check it out on your own if you’re curious, though, because the film is public domain and can be found just about anywhere.

This time, though, I want to jump past the 1930’s and tackle the 1940’s. The genre didn’t change much really; zombie movies were still subject of mysticism and or black magic. For one reason or another, the concept was always an isolated island of natives with “civilized” white people being thrust into a world of backwater superstition.
I think it might have something to do with audiences at the time as they tried to accept that far and away from the modern world, there were still places and cultures that were vastly different from theirs. Anyway, without further adieu, I bring you King of the Zombies.

Released in 1941, King of the Zombies was a horror comedy that really is a great example of where society was at the time. Paramount had a big hit called The Ghost Breakers which was a Bob Hope vehicle that came out the previous year. It made all kinds of money and was also a horror comedy, so Monogram Pictures (which was a low budget production company at the time) wanted in on the action. They tried to get Béla Lugosi for the role of Dr. Sangre but he wasn’t available, so they grabbed Henry Victor, a well-known character actor.

So what’s it about? Well basically a trio of men, (Mac, Bill and Mac’s servant Jeff) are flying on a mission over the Caribbean during World War II. They run low on fuel and become lost during a storm. They crash down on some uncharted Island that is emitting a feint radio signal and they are soon greeted by Dr. Sangre who invites them to stay at his mansion until they can be rescued. It isn’t long before Jeff realizes that there are Zombies on the island and that Dr Sangre is not who he appears to be. The entire movie is basically Jeff telling them he’s seeing Zombies and nobody really believing him. Part way through the movie I couldn’t believe the main characters were -still- not listening.

An interesting thing about this film is that it was shot just before the Americans entered WWII. Dr. Sangre’s cover story is that he is an Austrian refugee and he and his wife are hiding on this Island. The movie also suggests that there is a mysterious “European Government” behind the whole thing. There are plenty of other nods here and there that essentially make this a spy movie in a lot of ways, but I can’t really give them away without spoiling the entire movie.

So, what about the comedy? Well, this is where it gets dicey. As a modern audience it’s difficult to watch this and ignore the fact that all of the comedy is based upon the fact that Jeff (Mantan Moreland) is black. In fact, a lot of the characters in this movie are. Every cliché that you could imagine is present. The low intelligence, bug-eyed stares, a string of double negatives that honestly made my brain hurt. That being said, it is funny, and understanding where a film like this sits in film history is important. I don’t really have it in me to justify or condemn any decision that was made by people in the 1940’s about racism.

This film is an interesting addition to the Zombie genre as a whole. It was one of the first Zombie/Comedy films ever made (something that wouldn’t be duplicated well until the 1980’s) and, interestingly enough, conveyed the concepts of Voodoo to a modern audience. They reference that the belief of raising the dead was prevalent in all cultures at one point or another by pointing out the customs of ancient Druids to one of the Irish characters. All that, and it even got nominated for an Academy Award for best music. You don’t see that too often for a horror/comedy.

The story is pretty flimsy and, honestly, I found the portrayal of hypnosis, Voodoo, and black people to be hilariously outdated. That being said, when it comes to Zombie flicks from the 1940’s, it doesn’t get any better. Stay tuned, next up we’ll be heading to the 1950’s.


Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2011 by splatterpictures

Well no sense in straying too far from the mark; we’re going to tackle another Tokyo Shock production. This time we’re looking at the very first Shock picture I ever saw, and boy was I spoiled. I used to check out this site, Veoh, and one day I happened upon a little Thumbnail that said “Versus,” and I had no idea what was in store for me.

A lot of both action and horror movies come out of Japan, and Versus is really one of those special combinations that shouldn’t be passed up.

The film was released in 2000 and was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. Originally Kitamura intended to do a sequel to his film, Down to Hell, but somewhere down the line there was a disagreement regarding whether or not a Japanese action film could compare with an American one. The result was that Kitamura found a lot of inspiration from classic 80’s genre films such as Mad Max and Evil Dead. He felt traditional special effects were missing from modern action/horror and felt that traditional effects could bring impact and power to the screen without being overly expensive to produce. He also felt that filming with one or two cameras would make things a lot cheaper and allow more continuous shots with less cuts (in the style of older Asian cinema).

One thing that I found strange was that he claimed not to like a lot of Japanese animation or things of the sort. I find this odd because when I first saw it, I honestly felt like I was watching a live action anime or videogame.

Kitamura also has a reputation for disliking the film industry. He chose his cast based on their looks or if he had worked with them before rather than their skill. He works with story boards but never follows them completely and, furthermore, he’ll completely change an actor’s role in the film if he likes them and they are doing a good job.

He said he wanted to make a movie that was really simple, which might be why none of the characters really have names. There is not a lot of character detail or full explanations about why certain characters are even there. He felt that action and horror films from the 80’s had it right, that they were there to entertain and not try to be something they aren’t.

Okay, so the idea behind that film is that there is a forest known as the forest of resurrection. It’s essentially a gateway from this world and the “other world,” so I would assume they mean the afterlife. It starts off with two prisoners escaping into the woods to meet up with a bunch of gangsters. Things get tense quickly and people start dying, and then coming back to life. It seems that because they are in the forest of resurrection at this specific time, the dead will rise. The gangsters also have a girl in their possession for no reason other than their “boss” desired it. Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi) takes off with the girl after his partner is killed and they head into the woods… time to let the no-holds-barred action begin!

They fight off seemingly endless zombies with amazing gunplay and martial arts. All the gangsters are pretty badass because you think that the zombies would pose a challenge, but they just destroy them. My personal favourite is the Yakuza Leader (Kenji Matsuda) because he is just completely insane. His movements are wild and crazy but somehow get the job done.

The way he delivers his lines are great, too. Matsuda said that he wasn’t much of an action star, so he relied more on his acting to make it good. Two other great characters are the cops chasing them. They really have no roles other than comic relief and it’s great. The one cop with the Barrett just randomly spouts off lines about how he’s the best at everything such as being the ultimate martial artist (which leads to a hilarious scene). The other cop has his hand cut off at the start of the film and just walks around like he doesn’t even care!

The film takes an even more bizarre turn when the boss finally shows up. Everything starts to fall into place and we soon realize that it’s a film that is really about reincarnation. Also, just when you thought zombies were bad, they now have “Hyper-Zombies”. What are hyper-zombies? Well hyper zombies are like regular zombies but they know kung-fu. Honestly, you have to see this to believe it. This movie also has a great twist ending that I won’t spoil.

The special effects really shine in this one. These guys really seem to rip the undead apart with flashy sword and gun play and, I know I’ve said this before, but everyone could learn from this film. Traditional special effects are always going to just look great if done right and you don’t always need to do everything on a computer.

The actors and crew on this film had a lot of passion for their work and it shows in the film. They even all got together four years after the film was completed to film new scenes and expand upon others that they couldn’t because of cost or time.

Tak Sakaguchi did all of his own stunts and he ended up breaking three ribs and losing a tooth in the process. Another amusing note is that a lot of the actors pulled double or even triple duty cooking meals or doing behind the scenes work. It really goes to show that, although unconventional, Kitamura has some method to his madness. I highly recommend you all check this one out.