If you are one of the millions of devoted viewers of AMCs’ The Walking Dead or any of its spin-offs/imitators, you can say a little thanks to George A Romero for creating the genre to which they belong.
I say “genre” and not “SUB-genre” because that is what the modern zombie narrative has become. Zombies are no longer confined to direct-to-vid horror flicks. The shambling, vacant, flesh-eating resurrected corpse which has come to define the word zombie now appears in comedies, cartoons, fantasies, action adventure films, music videos and even soap operas (looking at you, The Walking Dead) and that’s just film and television. Countless videogames, comics, and fiction works feature the same species of “walker” that first appeared in Romero’s Night of The Living Dead, way back in 1968.
When horror magazine Fangoria began bringing horror filmmakers to the fore in the 80s and turning them into recognizable superstars, the name George A Romero rose to the top of the heap based almost entirely on his original trilogy of zombie films known as the Dead series. These were all low budget affairs, crafted with love and passion by a man who found the perfect stand-in for the most basic, perhaps the worst, aspects of his fellow man.
In trying to reach the warm food bags holed up in that Pennsylvania farmhouse, the first wave of Dead clambered over each other, unconcerned with the unbreathing brethren trampled en route to achieving their singular selfish goal.
As their Dawn rose, they moved outward from their various necropoli, Romero’s legions finding their way to the shopping malls, where thoughtlessly they roamed, only occasionally finding the gristly goodies they sought behind store windows.
As living folk began to haltingly re-organize, in vast military bunkers for instance, and further, began trying to corral and control the Dead, they demonstrated that sheer numbers and mindless appetite will always win the Day; even over any concepts of hierarchy or supposed intellect.
George A Romero milked the zombie genre, perhaps not for all it was worth, but certainly, for its most meaningful elements. He did so almost entirely without the help of the Big Bully studio system, even while lampooning it in many ways.
Many images from his work stand stark in my brain forever. That first stumbling cadaver, zeroing in on Barbara, while her cruel brother mocks her in a Karloff voice.
The nightmare of a hundred hungry hands punching through a wall to claim Lori Cardille.
The agonizing wait for David Emgee to “turn.”
That effing nerve-shattering Thing In The Crate, with its bottomless stomach, swimming up even now from some less-bottomless gulch.
Milquetoast Jason Flemyng, waking to find himself beautifully faceless.
Psychotically jealous Capuchin Elle, screeching somewhere in the dark, wielding a straight razor.
He was by all accounts, good to his family, his friends, and his fans. He was never less than generous, not only in sharing his talents, but in sharing his time.
Cliche’d as it is, one truly wonders if there can ever be another horror auteur like him. Another cliche’: there simply isn’t enough of his work for us.
But when I watch The Walking Dead, or play Resident Evil, whatever the given origin story, I will always realize I’m in the universe he made.
The latest from PCG’s Quirky Queue
Donnie Yen, the most prolific Asian action star working, is doing what they all do, which is to transition from pure martial arts films to grittier action dramas. This one delivers the goods in almost every department (though it could use a bit of a trim IMO) and as a student of both realistic combat techniques and great action choreography, I was pleased to see how Yen’s always spectacular choreography has continued to not only improve, but work nicely with the story. For example, it’s not unusual to see MMA style techniques in action movies these days, but Yen really knows how to set these up within the framework of a given fight’s psychology.
This low budget sci-fi actioner holds up pretty well against its more expensive brethren thanks to good performances from a likable cast. Loved the score for this one, reminiscent of The Terminator though it was.
COME BACK TO ME
A good concept, dark enough to be shocking at times, but more often rather pedestrian thanks to what seems like rushed directing. Like I know anything. But anyway, the cast, looking like soap opera stalwarts, rises to the occasion throughout, making it a decent watch.
The end times prophesied by St. John in the book of Revelation are here! And while the tribulation of those left behind, or whatever, is indeed horrendous, it’s also a rich mine of comedy gold. Those little scorpion/locust things are a major annoyance (as well as a hilarious homage to The Outer Limits’ Zanti Misfits) but they pale in comparison to cursing crows, fiery comets and The Beast himself, as portrayed by Craig Robinson.
‘Member this one, from 1985? Based on the popular board game (when was the last time that happened?) this one drops some 80s B-listers into an old dark mansion with a scoundrel who is blackmailing them, and of course the bodies hit the floor. The multiple endings have all been clumsily edited into the digital version for Clue completists (?)
SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE’S SHERLOCK HOLMES
The Asylum, progenitors of “mockbusters” like SNAKES ON A TRAIN and TRANSMORPHERS, offers up its take on Sir Doyle’s famous detective, hoping you’ll accidentally rent it instead of the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. smash. You could do worse though, as there is plenty of eye candy and decent enough acting.
DEATH ON DEMAND
How do you take a cast of attractive, frequently nude actors and make their sex scenes utterly repugnant? How do you turn the tongue-in-cheek subtleties of a self-conscious slasher script into a humorless embarrassment? How do you make gory, harrowing death scenes boring beyond belief? Apparently, you hire a reality show director, and let him ply his cynical trade, unhindered. To be avoided.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a retired mercenary drawn back into the game when the American daughter of an MMA contender is kidnapped by sex traffickers. Not as much martial arts as that synopsis might imply, but still plenty of satisfying action, and JCVD’s grown kids are certainly coming into their own as performers.
Though it’s a little found footagey, this bizarre effort transcends that gimmick in short order, becoming a trippy meditation on the power of art versus the comfort of mundane existence. Not for everyone but those who “get it” will love it.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN
Drive-ins of the 60s and 70s seem to have been the targets of the films created by Charles B Pierce, who helmed this 1976 proto-slasher that is probably too deliberately paced for young whippersnappers. I know it was for me; though there are a handful of moments that stand with the best of the early slashers. A good sense of time and place (Texarkana, post-war 1940s) is the film’s greatest asset, making it well worth a watch.
Stay tuned for the next Quirky Queue! Coming soon!
LATITUDE ZERO: Japanese sci-fi producers Toho augmented their cast staples Akira Takarada and Akihiko Hirata with some familiar Hollywood faces (Joseph Cotten, Richard Jaeckel and 60s era Joker Cesar Romero) for a Jules Verne’esque foray into battling subs, hidden utopian societies, and mutant monsters. I liked it.
THE LAST KUNG FU MONK: Star Li Ping Zhang is a former Shaolin monk turned actor and filmmaker who put together this case of missed opportunities, about a monk who comes to take care of his nephew when the boy’s parents die. Very little running time is spent on this storyline, with the narrative instead focusing on cliche’d disputes with local thugs. Acting is at about the level of a faith-based film, but Zhang’s kung fu is strong and impressive.
OUT OF THE BLUE: This 2002 documentary about the UFO phenomenon presents the topic in an even handed and entertaining manner, but adds little to the discourse, if you’ve been following it for a while.
BLOODSPORT 4: THE DARK KUMITE apparently has nothing to do with the last two Bloodsport sequels, which had nothing to do with the first. Daniel Bernhardt is stuck in a film which is so poorly made it can’t be incompetence–thus leaving utter contempt for the audience on the part of its makers. Re-watch the original instead.
FRANKENSTIEN’S ARMY: The found footage sub genre has reached a saturation point, and with any luck, is on its way out. However, this entry transcends the genre on so many levels it stands with more the traditional narrative structure. For one thing, it’s not shot on video, but rather, being set during the end of WW2, on film. Gory, weird, and genuinely scary.
EVENT HORIZON: One of my faves from the 90s found its way back onto my screen one night when I was feeling nostalgic. I can’t say it held up exceptionally well, but I’m willing to bet a first time viewer would be satisfied.
TACTICAL FORCE: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin leads a cast that includes Michael Jai White and former MMA contender Keith Jardine in a fairly standard action yarn in which Austin’s police special ops team locks horns with Russian and Italian mobsters looking for a super secrety special briefcase. No big surprises but I can’t say it wasn’t entertaining.
NOMADS: Bond-to-be Pierce Brosnan lent his talent to this thriller, about an anthropologist studying a malevolent force that takes the form of stereotypical Hollywood eighties punkers, before his star rose. Stylish but dated. Listen for guitar strains from a pre-insane Ted Nugent.
IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT: Hong Kong producers continue to churn out highly embellished Ip Man bio-pics. If you didn’t know, Master Ip was the kung fu instructor of Bruce Lee. This one, about the master’s later years, is not as strong as the earlier, Donnie Yen starring entries, but still worth a look.
BRANDED: Posits that advertisers have discovered an insidious method of creating invisible parasites that make us addicted to their products, but our hapless hero, formerly an ad man himself, can now see these entities. Sounds better than it actually is, but still worth a look.
SECRETS OF THE VIKING SWORD: Relics of a type of sword called “Ulfbehrt” once used by Norse conquerors have been discovered that are of a mysteriously higher quality than other weapons of the era. Modern swordsmiths attempt to recreate the sword using then-available technology in this fascinating doc.
WISHMASTER(S): I committed myself to binge watching the entire series (four films) in this late comer to the horror villain franchise sub genre and was entertained well enough. Two different actors portray the titular djinn and with wildly different acting techniques, but it would be reasonable to argue they were different beings of the same race. At any rate, the films are not without their charms, especially when the djinn spends several minutes of convoluted conversation with his victims, tricking them into wishing for their own demise, which is usually some sort of gory visual pun.
CROCZILLA: Chinese filmmakers take on the nature run amuck/giant reptile subgenre found so often on SyFy but manage to do it with a sense of humor and heart that is missing from those cookie cutter Lake Placid spin offs and sequels and imitators and reboots, or whatever. Great takes on familiar characters and a relatively multi-dimensional main monster elevate this one into the “recommended” pile.
MONSTER: Not to be confused with Gareth Edwards’ superior “Monsters”, this is an Asylum produced “mockbuster” that hopes to get a piece of that “Cloverfield” money but without the creativity or production quality. Found footage format of course, and one of the lesser attempts in even that low-ball sub-category.
MANIAC: Elijah Wood takes over the role once filled by Joe Spinnell in this disturbing, beautifully shot remake of the eighties splatter clas-sick. Pretty faithful to the original, including a moody eighties style synth score.
THE WOMAN: Adapted from the novel of the same name, this interpretation likely skips a lot of exposition, as many many questions go un-answered. Still packs a powerful punch though, with a good mix of gore and suspense that serves well the story of an uncompromising indictment of human nature.
THE ASSAILANT: Brazilian made action drama highlighting the acrobatic martial art of capoeira, which really hasn’t had its day in the sun yet, as a cinematic martial art. The locations are beautiful, as is the central love story, or what there is of it. Mostly a typical but well-handled oppressed hero tale, with satisfying action presented in an almost hallucinogenic style.
A presentation of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures, Godzilla will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, except in Japan, where it will be distributed by Toho Co., Ltd. Legendary Pictures is a division of Legendary Entertainment.Slated to open on May 16, 2014, the film is expected to be presented in 3D.
TOURIST TRAP: Right before the slasher craze of the eighties, a double fistful of more surreal entries found their way to cinemas, including this gem. Chuck Connors of all people, shows up to make your skin crawl, in a story that does a good job of capturing that elusive “dream logic” feel that can make a film seem like a nightmare.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION: The action spectacle I’d read raves about found its way to my DVD player, and delivered as promised. Simple enough siege story with Iko Uwais from MERANTAU kicking asses from one and of a criminal-infested apartment building to the other. The intricate fight scenes will fill the bill for action junkies.
CREATURE OF DARKNESS: Few films have actually ever filled me with rage because of nothing more than the incompetence and utter lack of care that went into making them. This POS is on that short list. I will award kudos to the designers of the titular creature–but other than that, I hereby forbid anyone in my family or circle of friends from ever again mentioning this egregious mess.
DRAGON (WU-XIA): It’s a shame this recent Chinese release has such a generic title; it’s sure to get lost in the shuffle of martial arts films–and it deserves much better. The always excellent Donnie Yen in another dynamic role (also working as fight choreographer, though there are only a handful of fights) opposite Takeshi Kaneshiro in a what can only be described as a historical action mystery akin to a Chinese period version of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Excellent on all levels.
A FORCE OF ONE: One of Chuck Norris’ earlier vehicles. So hopelessly dated there’s no way to recommend it, especially if you’re a martial arts fan. The fight scenes here are Norris’ worst without exception (yes, that includes “Yellow Faced Tiger”) but that’s mostly owing to utterly clueless and careless camerawork. Interestingly, the “helicopter kick” that Jean Claude Van Damme claimed to have invented is performed here by Eric Laneuville, years before JCVD’s advent.
2 DAYS: Paul Rudd plays an actor who drafts a film crew to document the twenty four hours leading up to his planned suicide. Less depressing and edgy than it sounds, this low budget comedy, lensed on 16mm, is worth a look.
THE ABC’s OF DEATH: An anthology film with each entry based on a letter from the alphabet is a mediocre idea at best. After about C or D, the law of diminishing returns kicked in, with each entry becoming worse. Part of the problem is that most of the stories are more comedy than horror, and not very funny at that. A shame, because there are some true talents credited here. Full disclosure: I stopped watching after about H or I, when a torture scenario that involved child rape, among other things, suddenly drained away the last scrap of enjoyment. I get being edgy, but don’t go cheap, boys and girls.
UNDERTAKER: THE STREAK. I’ve long since given up on professional wrestling, but it’s nice to relive some of the highlights of my old favorites. Mark Callas, a.k.a. The Undertaker, is one of the most imposing and talented performers in the business, and his morbid gimmick strikes a chord with a horror fanatic like me. Really only of interest to like-minded folks.
SPLICED: After a long string of disappointing horror viewings, I somehow managed upon this enjoyable 2002 ode to teen slashers. Drew Lachey, who I believe was in a boy band or perhaps an MTV “program,” leads a cast of good-looking high schoolers in the tale of a horror movie icon seemingly come to life. It’s like a tribute to Wes Craven with elements of both SCREAM and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET coming into play, and handled fairly well at that. (Editor’s Note: Drew Lachey is brother to Nick Lachey, who was indeed in a boy band.)
11-11-11: Dripping with creepy atmosphere and a sense of dread, as well as some fine performances and nice direction by SAW vet Darren Lynn Bousman. So why did it seem to lie so flat to me? Maybe it’s the now-cliched twist ending.
Stay tuned for future installments from PCG’s Quirky Queue!