Posts Tagged ‘night of the living dead’

Why I love zombies…

4 November, 2009

night_of_the_living_dead

George A. Romero was the first man to put flesh eating hordes of the undead onto celluloid in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. Since then the pasty looking ones have taken on a life of their own (sic), with an endless army of the great exhumed hitting the big screen for our enjoyment and delectation.

Romero set the trend for the super low budget style of the zombie films we know and love today, creating the film on a budget of $114,000 and using a simple narrative, snappy writing, smart camera tricks and clever design and make-up to work with the constraints of his budget rather than against it. The end result was a film that took in a total of $30million worldwide.

Obviously, this seemed like the perfect amateur money making formula. But what the thousands of copy-cats failed to notice was that it was the immaculately constructed script and mythology that went into making Night of the Living Dead such an iconic, subversive piece of cinema, not just gratuitous brain-munching.

And so a new genre was born, the ultra-low budget, mainly god awful and predominantly straight-to-video zombie film. Here lies one of the greatest creations in cinema history, a place where you can enjoy a good 80 minutes of attention grabbing, nonsensical, cinematic bliss – with the most sublimely absurd titles known to man.

For the uninformed, here are some of my favourites:

  • Space Zombie Bingo!!! (Three explanation marks, three!)
  • Zombie Holocaust (simple, concise, effective)
  • Zombie Strippers (for raising the bar of absurdity)
  • Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! (a personal favourite and proof repetition gets you noticed)
  • Zombie Honeymoon (never a good way to start married life)
  • The Zombie Diaries (criminally undermined in the Bridget Jones series)
  • Stubbs the Zombie in ‘Rebel Without a Pulse’ (no more explanation needed)
  • Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui AKA Kung-Fu Zombie (because we all dreamed that, one day, someone would)
  • Gay Zombie (because zombies swing both ways)
  • Z: A Zombie Musical (who says the undead can’t sing and dance?)
  • Zombie Vegetarians (representing team veggie)
  • Get Along Little Zombie (a heartwarming tale of flesh eating youngsters)
  • No. My Other Possessed-Zombie Girlfriend. (if there’s a better title out there, I sure as hell don’t know it)

And finally… A few more top zombie facts, zombie-fact-fans:

Although Romero was first to put flesh eating zombies to screen, the first big screen appearance of the zombie was in the 1932 film White Zombie, starring man-god Bela Lugosi as the wonderfully named voodoo master, Murder Legendre.

In writing Night of the Living Dead, Romero openly’ admits to ripping off Richard Matheson’s superb 1954 book, I Am Legend, which everyone should have read.

Despite having no end of trouble finding a distributor for the film (many of whom wanted a re-shot ‘Happy’ ending), Romero refused to change the original print or make cuts to get his film into cinemas and insisted it should be shown in its entirety.

The cause of the zombie outbreak is never explained throughout the film’s duration. This might be obvious to some but it’s a subtlety that lots of people miss – another reason why it is so great. The closest we get to an explanation is offered by a scientist citing radiation from a space probe – another nod to militant cold war tactics in the film.

The film was made using chocolate sauce for blood and cooked ham as a substitute for human flesh, with mortician’s wax as make up for the zombies.

There are nine characters named ‘Zombie-with-gun’ in sequel, Day of the Dead.

It has been remade twice, made 3d and treated in 2004 to produce a colour version of the original. All of these are rubbish.

Everyone can do a good zombie impression, with sound effects. But mine is best.

When Halloween loses its spook…

30 October, 2009

Modern horror films are rubbish. There I’ve said it, it’s a fact.

The problem is, as with so much of Hollywood these days, a lack of imagination. Horror films in their giddy, slash-filled glory days were gloriously damaging; long, controlled lessons in  building tension and fear to such a point that you would willing stave your own face in on the chair in front just to save yourself from the thundering, inevitable crescendo.

Horror films fell out of favour in the 80s and 90s but have always been much of a hit and miss genre. But when they are done well there’s few other films that can affect you as much as a horror good enough to leave you checking the door three times and leaving the lights on ‘just to be sure’.

The point is that the time for peering at a film through iron clasped fingers has been and gone, so much so that it is now a cliche used in awful adverts for awful horror films which show the ‘terrified audience’ throwing their popcorn into the air whilst watching scenes far too startling to show on your whimpering, cowardly television.

Don’t get me wrong, I love horror films. But the reason I love them is the way they can get into your head like no other type of film. Modern horror has increasingly drifted away from this idea and opted to run away with shocking an audience rather than scaring them. Films like the never-ending Saw saga and the two Hostel films are uncomfortable to watch, but not because they make your mind play tricks on you and terrify you into imagining what could be there. These films are all about the sharp sudden shock of watching the face jolt up behind the window, or watching some squawking damsel lose an arm with a fountain of haemoglobin.

Now this is all well and good, but I can get a sudden shock by slamming my foot in a door. And I get tired of that quickly too.

So this Halloween, rather than going to watch Saw VI or Rob Zombie’s horrendous looking Halloween II, why not hunt down one of these classic horror films.

The classic as good as everyone says it is:

Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock’s old school horror can still throw it’s weight around today. Rather than going for outright scares and violence, Hitchcock eeks out the suspense and keeps you guessing at what the hell is actually happening right up until the finalé. It’s easy to snub a film like this by today’s break-neck standards, but I dare you to go back to this monochrome gem and dive in without preconceptions or an adequate source of lighting. Steer clear of Gus Van Saints’ god awful 1998 remake mind, for christ’s sake…

The one that crossed the genres best:

Alien

Ridley Scott’s space horror brought a new lease of life to both horror films and sci-fi. It basically reinvented a dying genre by turning it into a new style of horror, where a fear of the vast unknown and utter, utter isolation could be utilised to scare the living crap out of you. The first film of the franchise, Alien took a slow, meticulously controlled pace from start to finish and re-set the benchmark for horror.

The one you might not have heard of:

À l’intérieur  (Inside)

This magnificently monstrous French horror from 2007 centres on a heavily pregnant mother-to-be who is involved a horrific car crash which kills her husband, leaving only her and her unborn child alive. The film picks up four months later at when, alone in her home at christmas,  the woman receives a knock at the door from an utter, utter, nutcase of a woman who attempts to steal her unborn child and kills anyone and everyone that might be able to offer help to our rotund protagonist. Relatively unknown, this is a magnificent piece of horror film-making and, at best, brutally unforgiving.

The one to make you lose your appetite:

Night of the living dead

George A Romero’s first film of his ongoing saga and the zombie film that fathered all zombie films. Romero’s iconic film is another masterclass in misdirection and suspense, distracting you from the real message of the film which only hammers home in the final sequence. Buckets of offal and chocolate sauce were used to create the eerily realistic effects on Romero’s super-tight budget, and it still makes for uneasy viewing today.

The British Benchmark:

The Wicker Man

Worth watching alone for Christopher Lee’s mightiest of performances, this post-Hammer horror Brit production is still one of the greatest and most unsettling horror films ever made. Robin Hardy’s trick here is the way he effortlessly eases the audience in to Edward Woodward’s shoes as Sgt Howie, gradually unveiling the unsettling reality of Howie’s predicament into the iconic final sequence.

Edit: Alternatively you could watch this, indefinitely.