Is there in death no beauty?

The other day, in a fit of geek pique, I made some tart comments on my Facebook page about the state of zombie entertainment in 2011. Having scanned certain remarks posted online about the AMC series THE WALKING DEAD, it depressed me that so many of the show’s viewers seemed disinterested in and distanced from the plight of the human characters, that they were drawn in by the prospect of gnarly zombie kills and by the role playing vicariousness of cutting off heads and blowing out brains. One commentator posted that her survival strategy would be to cut up THE WALKING DEAD‘s 10 year-old boy protagonist Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) and throw his parts to the zombie horde, guaranteeing her an escape. “Yes, I am heartless,” she allowed in a follow-up. “Yes, I would survive.” My first thought was “Survive for what?” [...MORE]

October is coming! October is coming!

Every October 1st I turn into a big weirdo. Well… more so.  [...MORE]

Zombies vs. Ghouls

Recently, my good friend Maryann and I were discussing the differences between ghouls and zombies in the movies. She is also a film historian who teaches cinema studies, and our conversations are frequently about movie-related issues. I am sure that most girlfriends talk about clothes, shoes, cooking, kids, etc., but ruminating over just how the zombie of yore evolved into the ghoul of today is typical for us.  Maryann suggested that it would make a good blog topic, so I thought I would investigate.

As we both suspected, Night of the Living Dead proved to be the turning point. Director George Romero’s version of an apocalyptic infestation of flesh-eating, cannibalistic ghouls who relentlessly pursue humans into confined spaces provided the conventions of the modern-day zombie film, the guidelines for undead behavior, and the subsequent thematic changes in this subgenre.   Fellow Morlock RH Smith made this point about NOTLD in a previous post on a 1936 film called The Walking Dead, an unusual twist on the zombie subgenre directed by Michael Curtiz. (You can read his witty and informative post here.) Prior to Romero’s film, the zombie was not a flesh-eating ghoul but a sympathetic victim of circumstances that were beyond his/her control.

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More from the Mouths of Critics

Recently, I have been thinking about the nature and function of film criticism and movie reviewing, which was prompted by the last episode of Moguls and Movie Stars. Episode 7, “Fade Out, Fade In” noted the influence of a new generation of critics during the 1960s and 1970s. Many college-age movie-goers were excited by the film s of the era and enthusiastically read the reviews of such critics as Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and Stanley Kaufmann. Their reviews featured thoughtful comparisons to the other arts and a general regard for film style and aesthetics—something missing from the writing of the old guard of movie reviewers.  [See last week’s post.]

Then, while searching online for a specific review by Roger Ebert for another project, I came across several blogs and forums that vehemently attacked the country’s best-known critic.  Basically, these bloggers/commentators were irked because Ebert had panned several of their favorite movies.  From the nature and writing level of their comments, I deduced that these detractors were teenagers and/or college-age kids. I couldn’t help compare their negative attitudes and immature perspectives on film criticism with those of young movie-goers during the Film School Generation.

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It’s what you don’t see

Looking through my old film books from the 70s, it never fails to amaze me how many of those gnarly, mysterioso Spanish horror films I’ve seen in the intervening years.  I can’t believe I actually have in my possession flawless DVD transfers of such you’ve-never-seen titles as Eloy de la Iglesia’s LA SEMANA DEL ASESINO (aka CANNIBAL MAN, aka THE APARTMENT ON THE 13TH FLOOR, 1972), Vicente Aranda’s LA NOVIA ENSANGRENTADA (aka THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, 1972), Carlos Aured’s LOS OJOS AZULES DE LA MUÑECA ROTA (aka BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL, aka HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, 1973) and EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA (aka HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, 1973),  José Larraz’s VAMPYRES (1974), Jorge Grau’s NO PROFANAR EL SUEÑO DE LOS MUERTOS (aka THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, aka BREAKFAST AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, aka LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE, aka DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW, 1974) and Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s ¿QUIÉN PUEDE MATAR A UN NIÑO? (aka ISLAND OF THE DAMNED, aka WHO CAN KILL A CHILD, 1976), as well as many of the titles in Paul Naschy’s Spanish Wolfman series (e.g. WEREWOLF’S SHADOW, aka WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN and THE NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF, aka THE CRAVING) and all of Amando de Osorio’s “Blind Dead” films (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD, HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES and NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS).  A classic title from these years is León Klimovsky’s nasty-ass 1976 horror/sci-fi hybrid ÚLTIMO DESEO (“Ultimate desire”), which is known alternatively as PLANETA CIEGA (“Blind Planet”) and was released in this country, recut and retitled THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK.  I’ll bet you haven’t seen it. [...MORE]

100 Years of Horrors!

1910.  One hundred years ago yesterday, the Edison Kinetograph Company released the first-known adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1817 novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.  Shot over the course of three days in January of that year, FRANKENSTEIN is a somewhat stagebound 12 minute retelling of the story with some special effects that surely looked impressive a century ago… and still do, to my old school eyes.  Charles Ogle isn’t my idea of the ideal Frankenstein monster but I owe him a debt of thanks anyway for kick starting what would turn out to be a full century of shock and awe.  [...MORE]

The horror? The horror?

Drag MeI sometimes wonder why I’m a horror fan.  Can I be the only MonsterKid, the only TerrorGeek, the only FrightFreak who thinks 95% of every title included in the genre is crap?  That’s how it seems on some days, invariably after I’ve watched something new.  My wife and I were very excited to get Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL (2008) from Netflix last weekend and we saved it for Saturday night, after the kids were in bed – the closest thing we’ve got to a date night these days.  If you aren’t familiar with the movie, it marks Sam Raimi’s return to the slam-dunk horror game since his EVIL DEAD triptych (1981-1991) and deals in many of the same themes – ancient curses, long-withheld secrets, and an unwitting modern day victim who is forced to rise above his or her fear to become either a desperate wretch or a mythic hero (depending on how you look at it).  So, we were psyched… yet within five minutes we knew we were in trouble.  The overreliance on CGI (to depict the fires of Hell), rather obvious wire work and a screenplay as generic as an airport lavatory sign came together to put our shared guard up.  We looked at one another, we arched our eyebrows and furrowed our brows, and one of us might have harumphed. We sat through the thing and, while not hating it, while not being enraged by its shortcomings, we both felt that DRAG ME TO HELL was  about on par with an episode of THE GHOST WHISPERER, with a slightly more downbeat ending.  [...MORE]

Movies on Hulu: An Investigation

White Lightning

The fabulously popular streaming video site Hulu is useful for keeping abreast of contemporary pop-culture effluvia, sure, but if one peeks into their dusty old movies section, there’s an eclectic collection of auteur rarities, 50′s horror, Poverty Row Westerns, and public domain slapstick comedies to be unearthed. With only 3.77% of the titles listed on TCMDB available on home video, dutiful cinephiles need to devour repertory screenings, lobby intractable studios, and pluck the desirable titles out of what is available, and so Hulu is another prime portal to chip away at our film-historical ignorance. I had used it primarily to catch up with TV series I had fallen behind on (like the ubiquitous 30 Rock), but in researching my piece on Bruce Surtees last week, I discovered that Don Siegel’s The Beguiled was streaming for free on the site. Delving into their archives produced a fascinating hodgepodge of titles, some of which are quite hard to see otherwise. Below the fold is a list of titles ready to view on Hulu that I’m eager get to know, and others with which I’m already in committed relationships (with selected commentary, and each title links to its page on Hulu).

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A Father’s Day tribute: four films that make me think of my ol’ man.

Jaws

It’s Father’s Day today – so I’d like to thank my dad for all he did to contribute to my warped cinematic sensibilities. He didn’t know it at the time, but some of the films he took me to as a kid had a profound experience on me. Four immediately come to mind. [...MORE]

“Wake me up when it’s time to die.”

chuka0001

My mention the other day in a post about siege movies of the forgotten 1967 western CHUKA prompted some interesting inquiries from readers who had never heard of the movie but were intrigued by my comparison of it to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) – and this prompted me to go back and have a fresh look at the Gordon Douglas production after about thirty years.  I’ll warn you right now, spoilers galore follow for both films and my concluding remarks are going to be anything but conclusive… but if you love NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and are interested in CHUKA as a possible influence on it, then I promise at the very least to leave you with a little something to chew on. [...MORE]

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