[Movies/Horror] George A. Romero (1940-2017)

Today, one of the masters of horror left us alone. Indeed, horde of zombies and living dead are orphan tonight. George A. Romero left us today at the age of 77.

What can I tell about Romero? He is the father of the zombies as we know it. All the zombies (not the infected ones like 28 days later) have in my opinion to follow the Romero’s canon: originated from an infectious agent, resulting in their transformation into creature solely driven by their reptilian brain and nourishing from flesh-eating.

But beyond the living dead image, Romero was indeed a very talented filmmaker, because the zombies, the living dead, were indeed us, a mirror image reflecting on our society.
Romero’s genius resided in his ability to shock and awe the viewer, but only to ask them to think about the symbolism and the meaning. Through the tetrad of the “Living Dead” (Night/Dawn/Day and Land), Romero was behind his movies stinging us in the heart of the society.

“Night” was indirectly bringing on the table the case of Vietnam war veterans and the racism that was still alive and kicking 100 years after the Civil War and just a couple of years after the Civil Rights Movement. Romero shook the American audience by having Duane Jones, an African-American, as one main character. This was a very bold and progressive move from Romero, but also a very provocative one. Jones was the hero, he was the one that set a barricade, where the “white savior complex” got slashed through the entire movie. The white man is coward, hide from the danger and will kill any non-white on sight.¬†Duane Jones performance was fantastic and at the end of the movie *SPOILER ALERT* survived the whole living dead siege only to be shot from distance by a sheriff *SPOILER ALERT*.

“Dawn” was set about 10 years later than “Night” and at another period, another criticism of our society. That time, a virulent prosecution of the consumer society. It starts with the siege within a TV station in which the channel director fulminates on how the usual programming grid is interrupted in a middle of a major chaos. When we end with “Night”, we have this false sense that the situation is under control, that it was just some isolated incident. “Dawn” shows the gravity of the situation. Big cities are in total chaos, SWAT teams with National Guards and some enthusiastic drunken gun-totting civilians try to keep the situation in order. We see the society crumbling before our eyes, with law and order of the civil society sinking into abyss. The only refuge of all this chaos is…..a shopping mall. A f***ing shopping mall with living dead wandering around, as a reflection of their past lives. Again, another African-American takes the lead impersonated by Ken Foree. Where all people of the survival group lost themselves into their delusion, Ken stood still and focused and again one of the only one to survive, with an open-ending that keeps us with a question unanswered: with an helicopter running out of fuel and the two last survivors flying over in the horizon, did they make it safe or did they just die?
The contribution of Dario Argento resulted in two major directors cut, with my favorite is of course the Argento cut.

“Day” is again set 10 years later and again Romero’s use to fingerpointing at his best. The US is now invaded by living dead, only small pockets of resistance are maintaining their survival. This group ironically found refuge in a former ICBM silo. This one goes heavily on the US military, with the absurdity of the military in pursuing insane research, just look at Bubba experiment, such absurdity culminates at the end of the movie and only those that kept their ethics straight.

“Land” was certainly one that was the most misunderstood. It got half-bombed in the box office but was indeed one of the most visionary version 20 years early. A divided US, between those surviving in junk towns and the only happy few (a clear illustration of what we call “The 1%”) living literary in their ivory tower in a delusional world, dreaming of their “Make America Great Again” promised by the ruling class on the pleb, with pleb dreaming that one day they will also belong to that 1%.

George A Romero also had other movies that encountered much a mitigated success but George also acquired the highly distinguished title of “Master of Horror” with his collaboration on “Creepshow” with Stephen King.

Tonight, one Master of Horror gave us his latest salute. May your soul rest in peace and let your filmography haunt us with your spirit ūüė¶

[Movies/Horror] Lucio Fulci 90th Birthday (1927-1996)

 

Today marks the 90th anniversary of defunct Lucio Fulci’s birthday. If you are accustomed to the Italian horror movies from the late 70s/early 80s you may heard his name. If not, then you are missing big time on horror movies. I consider Fulci being a important piece in the “golden era” of the European horror movies, a period that spanned from the early 60s until the late 80s. Some even nicknamed him “The Godfather of Gore” and in my opinion rightly deserves this title.

Lucio was born on June 17, 1927 in Roma (Italy) and died on March 13, 1996 in Roma (Italy). Interestingly enough, Lucio early career was predestined him to follow a medical career path. He decided to drop from medical school to focus on a filming career by being a writer for several movies that never stemmed out much outside the Italian movie marketplace. His early years as movie writer, producer was not really making him standout from the heard (you know some comedy movies, some espionage and action movies…..) until his 1969 movie called “Beatrice Cenci” (aka The Conspiracy of Torture) that will mark his entrance into the thriller genre, in particular into the giallo sub-genre. It was also the movie that costed Lucio some serious frictions with the Catholic Church. Lucio was known for being an atheist, with a virulent anti-clerical opinion. A sizable plot of the movie is a diatribe directly aimed to the Vatican and that was enough for Lucio to have some trouble.
Following “Beatrice Cenci”, Lucio pursued a very prolific career with several giallos under his wing and a filmography good enough to get referenced by Quentin Tarantino in “Kill Bill: Volume 1”, with the soundtrack of “Sette Note in Nero” during the scene when Beatrix try to escape from Buck.

zombie_flesh_eatersThe entrance of Fulci into the horror movie genre is certainly through “Zombi 2” aka “Zombies flesh eaters” in 1979.
Initially built on the phenomenal success of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of The Dead” (aka “Zombi” in Europe) as a unofficial knock-off, “Zombi 2” indeed set the whole zombie sub-genre with “Lucio’s Zombies”. Unlike Romero’s one, these ones are putrid, rotten, full of maggots and with a dereliction for some of the gruesome fatalities.

What in my opinion made the Fulci movies so captivating was the winning formula between Fulci filming coupled with Fabio Frizzi’s soundtrack giving this surrealistic atmosphere in Zombi 2.¬†I will not spill the beans much but the plot sets place in Manhattan with a drifting boat coming into the Hudson bay. Harbor police board the ship only to get attacked by a zombi, such zombi get shot by a police officer, fell overboard to (apparently) become bait for fish. NYPD identifies the boat, leading the investigation to identify the owner, a physician-scientist located in a field study in some Caribbean island, and his daughter. One of the movies inclusive of underwater zombies with the memorable fight between a zombie and a shark (I will let you find out who won that fight).
Follows on a series of cult horror movies from him including:
* “City of Living Dead” (aka “Frayeurs” in French, the VHS cover haunt me years before I was able to see that movie), with the famous scene of the inside-out evisceration, the coffin scene (that will be another reference used by Tarantino in “Kill Bill: Volume 2”) and the drill murder. It is also showing by its very dark and unhappy ending Fulci’s idea of absence of afterlife.

* “The Black Cat” (aka “Gatto Nero”) inspired by Edgar Allan Poe novel, in which a black cat serves as a vehicle for a murderer (Patrick Magee, the victim of Malcom MacDowell’s droogs in “A Clockwork Orange”) to seek revenge (kitty! kitty! kitty!).

* “The Beyond” (aka “l’Aldila”) forming an unformal trilogy of “Gates of Hell”. Taking place in Louisiana, it follows the demise of a warlock named “Shriek” being chased, tortured and buried alive by an angry mob in a hotel believing that the killing of the warlock would solve their problem. Instead of resolving it, it just opened the door to the Gate of Hell.

* “The House by The Cemetery” is the conclusion of the “Gates of Hell” trilogy. This was one of his movie that does not follow a collaboration with Frizzi. Follows a family move from New York into a old victorian house investigating the work of Dr. Freudenstein.

The rest of his filmography rapidly declined as his health and proven to be unequal. Noteworthy the incursion of Fulci into the “Mad Max” fad that inspired a lot of Italian knockoff movies. Thats another favorite genre of me, in which you get boasted by people wearing leather jackets on motorbike, wandering in abandoned quarries with the sound of Bontempi tunes.

As a French, it was a blessing to have access to all of these movies produced by our Trans-Alpine neighbor, providing us with cheap but so much enjoying knock-off movies, looting from Hollywood movies such as Mad Max, Predator, The Terminator, Star Wars…..

But the best was the horror movies. Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento being my two favorites. If you have not checked them out, you are missing big time.

 

 

 

[Movies] Gunnar Hansen (1947-2015)

Today is a sad day for the horror community. Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen left us today. For me he is the iconic “Leatherface” villain, the guy with the chainsaw that made “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” unique and disturbing,
You have to watch the first introductory sequence in which he bludgeoned his first victim, bring the convulsive body inside the backroom and slammed shut the door. Craziness at its best, no other actors brought the credibility and the disturbance of “Leatherface” as good as him.
RIP “Leatherface” ūüė¶

[Movies] Halloween Month – Le Lac Des Morts Vivants/Zombie Lake (FRA/SPA – 1981 – 90 mins)

WARNING: The trailer is the original French Trailer, in other means NSFW!
Today we will continue on some zombie movies, this time it is an UFO, a pearl as I call it. So bad it is so good. Today we will discuss about “Le Lac Des Morts Vivants” aka “Zombie Lake”, probably the best movie from Jean Rollin. Filmed with a ridiculous budget, with pathetic actors, with a scenario that some attributed to drunken med school students. But it has this charm, this audacity that any Hollywood yes-men would never ever bet a buck on it.
The story plot is about a lake somewhere in France in which some German Nazis were put down to rest during the Liberation of France. However, the dormancy is ended when a young woman decides to skinny dip into the lake (that is for the underwater scene clearly a swimming pool!). Surely the presence of fresh meat may have raised the appetite of some these German Nazis that are surprisingly still fit and fresh for cadavers that may have been there for 5-10 years (you will know why I give this timeline later). They decide to have a snack on her and pull her down in the bottom of the lake.
The disappearance and the subsequent recovery of the body raises some waves in the nearby village, in particular to the mayor played by an aging Howard Vernon. It seems the mayor understood the meaning of this murder and recall the ambush done by some villagers to these German Nazis during the Liberation battle of France, in which they got rid of their bodies in the nearby lake.
As if it was not enough, we discover that indeed one of the Nazi soldier had a love relationship with one French woman of that same village (that was a common story in the WW2 France and later led to a massive lynch mob against these women), resulting in the birth of a little girl. Of course, her mom died during labor.
The problems just started and only got worse when a whole group of girls, labelled as a nearby basketball club, stop by the lake and decide to play basketball like walruses. To only end up naked and skinny-dipping in the nearby swimming pool, eh-lake and raising the appetite of the zombies. Only one girl will make it through, topless of course, to the village pub to alert the population.
Now that the zombies are completely awake, they decide to emerge from the lake (some rumors the camera was filming too fast, so the actors have to walk slower to make it through). Now in the village, they attack surprisingly to villager girls and raise the ire of the mens, holding their forks and hunting shotguns (remember we are in France). Add on it now that one of the zombie Nazi recognize his biological daughter and takes under his protection.
That is something about these movies, especially about Jean Rollin ones that summarizes the French touch: a Rabelaisian view of life in which a good wine, good meal and pleasure of flesh is part of the good life, something that in France you would not be surprised to see  women topless on the beach or even naked for advertising shampoos (things you would never see in the US, Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction is a grim reminder). It was a time where VHS was a powerful vector to spread movies through video-clubs and also providing an affordable distribution model for filmmakers with micro-budgets. If you want to explore French horror movies, you should definitively get into it with Jean Rollin. The movie plots are weird, the acting are just disastrous but you get free boobs and a good amount of laughs.

[Movies] Halloween Month – The City of The Living Dead (ITA- 1980 – 93 mins)

One week before Halloween and still a lot of movies I did not talked about it. I will therefore speedup and propose a daily post to cover up the most essential movies collection. Tonight we are getting back to Fulci with the first movie¬†of his unofficial trilogy “Gates of Hell”, that will also include “The Beyond” and “The House by The Cemetery”. In this one, we have again the presence of living dead but this one is way more gore than the previous movie. “City of the Living Dead” aka “Frayeurs” in French, a movie that haunted me during my childhood just by evokating VHS cover of it.
The plot is a bit weird but damn efficient and insane for the dose of gore. The movie starts with a¬†priest hanging himself in a cemetery in the town of Dunwich (anyone see the reference to HP Lovecraft here?), we don’t know much why but this scene is the trigger of all the events in this movie. It starts with the opening sequence with the music of Fabio Frizzi that will give this heavy and oppressive music all along the movie.¬†It is followed by a session of mediums, as if they experienced the event or forecasted it, with one of them, Mary, fall on the floor, apparently dead. The mediums warn the police officers that came to investigate the death that the evil is in town. A passing by journalist, Peter, is intrigued by these claims and this death and investigate. The day after, Mary is freshly buried when suddenly she wakes up from her torpor, yelling for her life. Peter hearing the sound, come and try to break the coffin using a pickaxe. This scene is surely what has inspired Quentin Tarantino in “Kill Bill”, in the chapter “The Grave of Paula Schultz”.
Things become even weirder when Bob, a young greaser, adventures into an abandoned house to see an inflatable doll suddenly inflates. First surprised he rapidly get disturbed when this doll starts to bleed out maggots from her orifice. Later on, Bob and Emily witness the first apparition of the deceased father, that literarily results in Emily’s eyes bleeding followed by a complete internal liquefaction of her body. Bob, considered as the murderer of Emily, is savagely taken apart by a mob, with his head drilled by Emily’s father himself! Evisceration, internal organs liquefactions, brain squeezing are some of the hallmark of the movie. It also has a very disturbing ending, as Mary and Peter manage to destroy the dead priest, escape from a graveyard to just hear Mary screaming. We never know what Mary saw and what happened. Are Mary and Peter became living dead? Are the rest of Dunwich became living dead?
These are the hallmarks of Fulci movies, a very dark ending, in which the main protagonists are trapped in the same nightmare than they just managed to escape. Some people suggest that this is a direct reflection of Fulci atheism, translating that death is only the final, with no happy ending as religion tells us (Paradise). This is a great movie if you want to see some genuine horror movies from the 80s. Something you will not see anymore nowadays.

[Movies] Halloween Month – Zombi 2 (ITA – 1979 – 91 mins)

10 days before Halloween and such many movies to talk about. But today we will about the other zombie movie that came from Italy, straight from Lucio Fulci’s mind. Trying to surf on the trail blaze of Romero’s “Dawn of The Dead”, also named “Zombie” for the EU market, Fulci will bring his version of zombie that are probably the most iconic ones: the rotting, putrid flesh zombie. Fulci will open the door of Italian horror movies, in my own and humble opinion one of the best production from Italy.
The plot starts in New York, as a ghost sailboat enters New York’s City waters. A¬†NYPD boat arrives to inspect the boat with two police officers, one of them got bitten by a man showing sign of decomposition and killing him. The second officer shoots him, making the rabid man fall into the Hudson River. The daughter of the boat owner is questioned, as no trace of him is found but the last time he was reporting, he was stationed somewhere in the Caribbean, in some remote island to conduct his research. This lead the main character, Anne Bowles (played by Tia Farrow) to investigate what happened to her father. This leads her to go to the Caribbean, accompanied by a journalist and a couple of adventurers. In the meantime, in the island, dead people are suddenly re-animated by a voodoo curse and their numbers keep growing.
What makes it unique aside of his decomposing zombies? Well many things. First the soundtrack, signed by Fabio Frizzi that will compose with Fulci in several movies. It is the kind of winning duet that we have with Georges Lucas/Steven Spielberg and John Williams and that we will experience within the next decade with Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. No classical music here, more synthetic sound but also very deep and heavy composition making the atmosphere insane.
Second is the famous enuclation scene of Olga Scarlatos by a zombie with a wooden chard, that worth some fistful of gore scene.
Third is the famous underwater zombie. In one scene, the actress Aureate Gay decide to go skinny-scubadiving near the island, to better be confronted by a white shark. As she tries to hide from the shark behind a reef, she gets assaulted by an underwater zombie. Using coral to blind him, she managed to escape, only to see the zombie swim towards the shark and literally attack the shark. Some rumors have been discussing that the shark was highly drugged to shoot this scene, making it even more unreal.
Fourth is the particular set that Fulci will establish his signature about living-deads: rotting, flash-eating zombies. No fast-runners zombies here, but very determined and dangerous zombies that will mark his following movies “The Beyond” and “City of the Living Dead”. What Fulci fail to achieve in terms of budget, he compensate with the gore effects that are as impressive as Tom Savini’s one.

[Movies] Dawn of the Dead/Zombie (USA/ITA – 1978 – 127 mins)

Tonight we have a special guest in our Halloween Month retrospective of horror movies that marked my mind forever. Tonight I will talk about THE ZOMBIE MOVIE OF ALL TIMES. That’s right, tonight I will talk about “Dawn of The Dead” aka “Zombie” in Europe. This is the cult movie of all zombie flesh eaters fans outside. Never equalled by any remake, even the Walking Dead failed to impress (is it to tell you). Why this movie is so awesome? Well read.
First of all, I wanted to mention that there are two major director’s cut available whether you are in the US or in Europe. Back then Georges Romero allied with Dario Argento (the Itialian maestro of giallos and horror movies from Italy) to distribute the movie worldwide. You have therefore two cuts: The Romero’s director’s cut and the Argento’s one. Because I watched as the French version, I found the Argento’s one amplifying Romero’s genius by adding a more intense course (through cutting actionless scenes) and adding the music of the Goblin on top that gives a nice progressive rock/synth from the 70s to it. It makes it simply impressive.
The film starts on Fran, a TV reporter napping among a nightmare, only to be waken up by a colleague to take her shift and also have some rest to revitalize. We only see the disaster of what these people: a massive outbreak of zombies, way far from what we experienced in “Night of The Living Dead”. We can see people panicking and keeping the signal on air with two speakers discussing about the zombie outbreak: one rationalist and skeptical that brings this nihilist but yet most pragmatic approach (burn the bodies of those that just died) and the second one, antipode of the first speaker claiming it is insane and completely no-sense, inhumane. It clearly puts us to think what we should do in that situation. In case your dearest person is becoming contaminated by the zombie plague, will you just shoot him as you would shoot in a shooting range or will you be lost by your feelings and putting your own life at risk?
The insanity is just starting, as the local TV director enter the stage and yell about how come all programming are stopped. He yells he wants to have the normal shows and programs running on air, because tele spectators will rate down the station if not so. The insanity of consumerism of the previous decades ad nauseam, started to be served by Romero itself. Fran escape with Stephan, her recent boyfriend, as he has a safe plan.
The following sequence takes place over a building in a thing that looks like a siege from SWAT. We get introduced to Roger, the maverick hero that is also the most reckless of all four main characters. We can see an ultimatum posed and Roger advising some tips to a rookie, when aside one veteran utterly makes racist comments, claiming these thugs are welfare queens enjoying state welfare when himself is struggling and working. Here comes the another nuggets as we can see that the siege is indeed held by inhabitants refusing to give their dead relatives to law enforcement. It is a reminder of the same climate of violence and racism that were taking place in LA riots in 1963. This is our first time we can see zombie, being literally their head exploded by shotgun shots (a remarkable work from Tom Savini in terms of special effects). Roger after his adrenaline rush is just realizing the gravity of the situation and arrive face to face with another SWAT, a SWAT that have shot the racist veteran earlier on. Here we get introduced to Peter, the black main character that indeed will show all the quality of the hero from all four. Again, Romero makes the exception by putting a person of color as the savior of all four, shredding into pieces the myth of the white man savior. Among their first encounter and ice-breaking moment, appears a one-legged priest from a smoke, telling the two SWATs that all the corpses are located in the laundry room and they are free to do anything they want as they receive the final graces. However he warns them that they will soon rule over them.
We arriving back on Stephan and Fran that have indeed used the TV station helicopter to meet Peter and Roger. In the Romero’s cut, we can see Stephan and Fran facing another pair of cops taking a boat to escape the hell, followed by the arrival of Peter and Roger. This scene is deleted from the Argento’s cut and make us meet straight the four.
As they escape they fly over the countryside, we can see National Guards and locals, enjoying the shooting range, it could almost come out from the National Rifle Association as people shoot zombies, with one can of beer in one hand and a cigarette. It surely tells the absurdity of some gun enthusiasts are patented gun nutters, ready to shoot if approved. As the helicopter lands down to refuel in a municipal airport, we can see even more zombies, in particularly zombie children that Peter will not take any seconds to shoot on range with his M4. Thats some brutal to see children being shot in a movie!
Then come the big chunk of the movie as the hero find an empty shopping mall and decide to use it as a shelter. First they consider it as a safe stop, then realize that they can use it as a castle. Here Romeros is hitting straight in the American heart: the shopping mall. The temple of consumerism of the 70’s put to the mid 2000s when the e-commerce decided to pull the plug on many malls. It reminds me a novel from Ray Bradbury’s, one of those I read when I was in 3rd grade in which some people lives in a shopping mall and realizing their dream. Come on, who else would be not happy to be locked inside a mall and enjoy the ownership of all the materials and produces, without worrying about to afford them? It directly hits hard on the American psyche, as the whole social life for anything is driven by one thing: credit history (that you only gain through having credit cards).¬†Even more when we see zombies flocking through the mall, in which Stephen tells Fran “this place had an important meaning to them in their prior life”. ¬†That makes it so unique and exciting, you will never find in any other movies.