Night Of The Living Dead

*Originally written in 2004

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The beginning of the modern horror film, and along with Psycho, the most influential horror movie ever. Drawing on many of the early monster movies of the 1930s, with a seemingly unstoppable beast tracking down prey, it enhanced the atmosphere of those films for the new wave audience. Aside from that, NNOTLD is a breed apart from anything else released at the time. Tonnes of gore, shocks the cinema goer had never experienced, unexpected twists and turns, downbeat, scary, with unusual protagonists and new ways of story telling, the world didn’t know what had hit it.

It was the late sixties. The Vietnam War was proving that North America was not all-powerful, and asking questions about who were the good guys, about motivation, about the human race as a whole. Anti-war protesters were being beaten and gassed for what they believed, while America was attempting to destroy another place…for what they believed. Hippies were spreading a message of love, new ideas were flourishing in all areas, from making peace to making war, and technology was becoming more important and influential. The result was that the good guys were often over-looked, good deeds were mostly forgotten, and many lives were thrown away aimlessly and without purpose. Those who survived wondered why, and had no clue why they were still here. It seemed like outside, bigger forces were at play, and that unseen beings were controlling the public. NOTLD was released.

A brother and sister are travelling to their parents’ graves in the countryside, a trip that has become an annoyance rather than a mark of respect. Johnny taunts his sister Barbara like he used to as a kid, scaring her, saying the infamous line ‘they’re coming to get you, Barbara’. A man walks towards them and attacks without warning. Johnny is killed and Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse,entering a near comatose state. Another man arrives, Ben, and begins to board up the doors and windows, telling Barbara that he too was attacked by a number of people, and witnessed a town coming under siege. The attackers seem to have no regard for their own safety, and feel no pain. Soon people who had been hiding in the basement appear, and together the group try to figure out what to do. The TV says the attackers can be killed by a heavy blow to the head, and seem to be scared of fire. It seems that, inexplicably, the dead are coming back to life and eating the flesh of the living, who in turn become zombies. The group argue over the best solution, tensions arise, and all the while, the number of zombies outside grows, waiting.

The film has great depth and terrific acting from amateurs. No-one is safe from harm here, and it seems that the group’s downfall is because they are human and cannot work as a group – personal interest and opinion always interferes. The zombies do not argue, they will happily wait for their chance and strike with stunning force, as a unit. If you take down one, there are 10 more closing in. The group could have escaped earlier, by running past the few zombies, but it seems the house will become their coffin. If they had not fought among themselves they may have had a chance but even then, where would they have gone?

Ben as the main character is seen as revolutionary because he was an African American, but this was not in the script -he just happened to be best for the part. Romero has since become a champion of the disenfranchised – women, children, other races. Duane Jones’s performance is strong. Judith o’ Dea as Barbara does not have much to do, but is good, and the other stand out is Karl Hardman as Cooper. Cooper has a wife and injured daughter and feels Ben is endangering them with his schemes. Tom and Judy are a local farm couple, innocents who try to think clearly and are punished for it. Indeed it seems that when a good plan comes around, it is stopped in its tracks with devastating results. Though human error is the major mistake in a darkly ironic twist.

Although it was filmed in BW, the gore is there. People are eaten and burned, flesh is chewed on the full screen, bullets are driven through chests. The shocks are genuinely shocking, and the film’s atmosphere is claustrophobic and we sense the dwindling of hope. The overall tone of the film is stark, and it seems the future only holds violence – the news reel footage echoing what American housewives and kids were starting to be exposed to on the news. The film struggled to find distributors, and was shown in matinées to unsuspecting youngsters – we can only imagine their reactions. Truly a horror classic, and one of the most nightmarish films ever made, with a view of the world as a terrible place filled with pain and stupidity. We cannot overcome creatures which cannot think. Death is shown as a creeping inevitability, and the good guys almost always lose.

Hmm, for one of my old half-assed reviews, that was actually pretty good, and reminds me again how prescient the film is in today’s world. Almost fifty years since its release and we still haven’t learned. Let us know in the comments what you think of Night Of The Living Dead!

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Nowhere To Run

*Originally written in 2003

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Van Damme was on a roll in the late eighties and early nineties, making some of the most fun, simple action movies of the era. His ability to get a laugh while being renowned for his nice-guy qualities have ensured his continued success, even if most of his movies now are straight-to-DVD capers.

In Nowhere to Run, a mid echelon movie in terms of his output, he stars with an established cast as another misunderstood nice guy – an escaped convict who decides to help a young widow and her family who are struggling against a local developer who is forcing them out of their home. There is plenty of action, some strong performances, and some very funny moments. Van Damme plays Sam, a mysterious convict who has escaped from prison. He sleeps in a tent outside a small town where two local young kids find and befriend him. Eventually their mother Clydie, played by Rosanna Arquette, finds out and invites him into their home cautiously. Of course they fall for each other, much to the distaste of local Sheriff and love interest Lonnie, who decides to look into Sam’s background. Franklin Hale, played with typical malevolent relish by Joss Ackland, is the main bad guy, but his side-arm Levine is the main threat. Sam helps the family, foiling Hale at every turn, but all the while his own unspoken past is catching up to him…

Arquette, Culkin, Levine, and Taubman as the daughter are particularly good, and the story tries to be light-hearted yet moral. It’s another attempt to achieve a wider audience for Van Damme, and it is definitely one of his most accessible thanks to the good cast and humour. The various discussions on Van Damme’s naked body are always humorous. Overall another good Van Damme film which will please fans, and may interest a few others.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Nowhere To Run! 

Lionheart/AWOL

*Originally written in 2001

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Another of Van Damme’s best before he hit the big time, AWOL features a story written by the man himself. Again we have a revenge plot, but this time there is more depth as Van Damme’s character Lyon is trying to help his brother, and his brother’s wife and daughter from eviction. When he hears of his brother’s problems he flees the Foreign Legion, a rather large crime, and goes to America to help. Of course, the Legion sends some tough guys after him who he must constantly evade. In order to earn money for his new family he becomes an underground fighter, managed by a likable bum called Joshua. Lyon and Joshua become close friends and Lyon gains recognition as a talented fighter, rising through the underground ranks. The money is never enough though, and he keeps his way of income a secret. Before long, a rich promoter called Cynthia has noticed his talents and decides to take arrange fights for him, meaning his money increases. Cynthia is ,of course, evil and only in the game for her herself. She pits Lyon against Atilla, the most fierce fighter there is, but she fixes the fight so that all bets will go to her. Lyon must defeat Atilla, but he may lose all his money in doing so.

The fights here are good, well staged and filmed, and there are some good performances. Van Damme is his usual self, but Harrison Page and Deborah Rennard add some skill to the proceedings, raising it above the average 80s martial arts movie. Lisa Pelikan gets our sympathy as the young wife, and Ashley Johnson is okay as the daughter. There are enough simple twists to keep us involved and the plot has its cheesy charm. There is also some good dialogue which will get a few laughs. Another must for Van Damme fans, this one will appeal to a wider action movie audience, but it’s never going to win any awards.

Enjoying my older reviews? Me neither! Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lionheart/AWOL!

Perdita Durango

*Originally written in 2003

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Based on Barry Gifford’s novel, Perdita Durango follows the exploits of the mysterious, dark, sexual creature of the same name- a woman with a violent and criminal past (who incidentally pops up for a few scenes in Wild At Heart, played by Isabella Rossillini). Full of unlikable characters, violence, voodoo, and sex, Perdita Durango is an intriguing film which attempts to say something about the state of the modern, vapid, white American whose lives are defined by the shows they watch, and the kids who have no real opinions of their own. Unfortunately, we must sympathize with this group as they have been kidnapped by the malevolent Perdita and her lover Romeo – even more despicable, yet charismatic people. The kids here are very annoying and it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for them, and just when we think we are disgusted by Perdita and Romeo, we find ourselves rooting for them. It is a strange film, messing with our conceptions of good and evil, and by the end we have the feeling that there is no good or evil, only stupid and lucky.

Perdita, played by Rosie Perez, meets the mysterious and deadly Romeo (Javier Bardem) who is planning to hijack a truck load of fetuses and bring them over the boarder from Mexico to N. America. They team up and have a fiery partnership which eventually leads to lots of dark sex and some semblance of love. Before they can do the job, Romeo needs human victims to sacrifice to his Gods so they will give him favourable odds. They kidnap two typical naive American teens, Duanne and Estelle, and begin their journey. As they travel, they pseudo-bond, but each time you think they will become friendly and the kids might be saved, the two Mexicans soon show their dark sides again. On their tails are some DEA agents, (including James Gandolfini), the girl’s obsessive but stupid father, and a couple of groups from Romeo’s past who want him dead. Things are looking bleak for all concerned, and perhaps not even Romeo’s Gods can intervene.

Banned and cut to shreds in many countries for its violence, nudity and use of other shows and films, you may find it a challenge to find a copy of this. It is dark, there is quite a lot of violence and sex and drug-use, but there is a wry sense of humour throughout, and everything is so fantastical and bizarre that it is difficult to take any of it seriously. The performances of Perez and Bardem are both extremely good, full-bodied,  so we are drawn to them more than any other character, they seem so frantic and their faith is so strong that we cannot help to enjoy a few scenes they have. Gandolfini and Alex Cox are also good in smaller, comic roles, the two kids do everything they can, but are just there to annoy the viewer. There are many bizarre and funny moments – Estelle’s father’s final scene is one of the best moments. Definitely a film for those willing to see something out of the ordinary, it is rewarding and has some strong performances, good action, dark humour and an insane plot.

Have you seen Perdita Durango? Let us know in the comments!

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

*Originally written in 2004

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After 10 years, Wes Craven returned to the series and characters which brought him his greatest success, in an attempt to inject some life into the franchise and again try to re-define the horror genre. A New Nightmare is a success on both counts, even if it was mainly an experiment and stepping stone between projects. A New Nightmare brings attention to themes such as art imitating life and vice-versa, adoration of horror movies, the life of a cult figure, how we perceive violence, censorship, and of course the relationship between parent and child.

Wes Craven has been having nightmares and is using them to write a seventh installment in the Elm Street series. He contacts the star of Parts 1 and 3, Heather Langenkamp, and asks if she would be interested in returning to the role one last time. She turns down the role as she is a happily married mother who has tried to put the films and Freddy behind her. However, the fans are ravenous for more. Recently, Heather has been getting strange phone calls, probably from a stalker or obsessive fan who claims to be Freddy, calls which upset her and her son Dylan. She has also been having nightmares of her own, some involving her old nemesis, but puts it down to stress. Her husband Chase is out of town working on a film, and on his return home he falls asleep at the wheel, crashes and dies. Heather insists on checking the body, and finds claw marks over his chest. She now believes that Freddy, or someone pretending to be him is stalking her family. Freddy is not happy that he has been forgotten and wants out into the real world. He attacks Heather in her dreams, and she is drawn into a final battle to save her son and self from the demon who now seems to be scarier, stronger and more violent.

The film returns to the scares, imagery, themes, and gore which made the original so popular. Bringing back several members of the original cast, Craven manages to create a perfect, dreamlike blend between the real world and the dream world. Heather is an actress but must remember that it was the spirited youth of her character which saved Nancy’s life. However, the fact she has grown up, and that it was just a real world job means that it is difficult to believe such things – she is in danger of becoming like her character’s mother. Freddy is now presented as pure evil, albeit with a few catchphrases, a creature completely intent on becoming real.

Langenkamp takes the difficult role in her stride and is just as good as she was in the original, now a protective mother rather than a paranoid, survivalist teen. Englund revels once more in his role and seems to enjoy himself more here than in some of the previous films. Saxon and Craven are good in small roles, Miko Hughes is annoying at times as Hughes but still good, and the rest of the cast are adequate. The gore is back to basics, not overblown like in the last few films, and certain scenes are shocking – the ‘skin the cat’ scene is probably the most memorable. Craven again knows how our minds and fears work – the fact that Dylan thinks his toy dinosaur can protect him is a good example of this, that we create a blanket or defender for ourselves when there is no-one else to help us. This is overall a good idea well executed, a precursor to the Scream series, and a respectable ending (so far) to the Elm Street franchise.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of A New Nightmare and how it fares alongside the others in the series!

Macbeth

*Originally written in 2004 – I actually included this version of Macbeth in some of my University work on Shakespeare on film, along with Throne Of Blood… that work was probably better than this post

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Famous for going through several cuts, budget and time problems, and for being slammed by critics at the time for its strange imagery and dark and foreboding tone, Welles’s Macbeth has now been recognised as a good, if not great adaptation made even more admirable by the constraints which constantly surrounded it.

The story of Macbeth is simple and well-known: Macbeth, proud soldier and follower of his King Duncan, stumbles upon a Witches’ Haven one night with his partner Banquo. The Witches give their prophecy that Macbeth will eventually become King, and that the sons of Banquo will also reign. This worries both men, but they decide to discuss it later. On hearing the prophecy, the ambitious Lady Macbeth inspires Macbeth to murder Duncan and usurp the throne, which he does. Soon guilt sinks in along with deep paranoia and Macbeth believes that everyone is out to get him.

Welles keeps fairly close to Shakespeare’s dark work in dialogue and plot, and certainly gives his film the same feel which the play itself gives. The setting is dark, rocky, full of shadows and isolated, and the choice of Black and White filming adds greatly to the tone. Welles shows he is a master of lighting, shadow, and contrast, and uses this ability to its fullest. As Macbeth’s paranoia grows, the imagery becomes more surreal and ominous – hangman’s trees stooping in the background; long takes to emphasize the growing worries in his mind. Overall, Welles captures the play’s atmosphere perfectly. His portrayal of Macbeth as a man not in control of his own fate is good, and of course his acting is fine. The rest of the cast is also strong, including big names like Mcdowall, Herhily, and Napier. Much has been said about the heavy accents but it’s something I personally overlooked. The final scenes, full of religious imagery, are very good although Macbeth’s death has been done better and it seemed that the Holy Father character was only included so that Macbeth could end on…well, I won’t spoil it. Not as good as Kurosawa’s, take but a very different film with a very different style.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of this version of The Scottish Play!

Halloween II and III

*Originally written like 2001 or roundabouts when I had no clue what I was doing. Spoiler Alert – I still don’t. These are crappy reviews so I’ve stuck them both together for a double dose of pain.

Halloween II

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After the smash of Halloween it seemed inevitable that there would be a sequel. Carpenter’s films have a habit of ending with a cliffhanger, and fans wanted to see whether Michael would return. He does, just as Laurie is taken to a nearby hospital. Loomis is still on the prowl, and Michael follows Laurie to hospital intent on finishing his work, killing any unfortunate doctors, nurses or patients who get in his way. Once again Laurie and Michael are alone to chase and fight to the death.

Unfortunately this for the most part feels like a cash-in, and is a much inferior sequel complete with weaker performances and more elaborate deaths. There are good points though, Curtis and Pleasance are still great, while the setting is quite atmospheric. Many of the original cast come back for a short while, helping to keep us interested with the plot, and there are plenty of kills. However, much of the film lacks the tension which Carpenter can easily create, and we do not care about any of the new characters. Michael now seems to be entirely unstoppable which further distances us from the reality of the first film. This is okay, and definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of the first.

Halloween III

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Firstly, yes this has little or nothing to do with the other Halloween films, and it is the worst so far. To gave it credit though it must be said that Carpenter wanted to take the series in this direction, telling a different story in a different film each Halloween. This was an ambitious and exciting idea which had potential, even if that potential was limited. Unfortunately this film is a mess, and flopped, ending Carpenter’s idea. Viewers were expecting more Myers mayhem and were disappointed by the complete change of direction here.

An evil toy maker decides to kill millions of children via his Halloween masks. He is the owner of the company Silver Shamrock, and infuses all the masks with black magic which will burn any child who wears it on Halloween night when a special jingle is played. After a successful advertisement campaign it seems that his mask is a massive hit, and his plan will be complete. Only Doctor Challis and Ellie can stop the evil, but will they?

This was the first Halloween movie I saw, when I was very young, and a few moments have stayed with me since then-  Cochran’s goons on patrol, killing anyone who gets in their way, and the jingle which is admittedly creepy, though a familiar tune. The idea is good, but it falls on its face through a combination of bad acting and poor storytelling, and in the end little makes sense. The shock ending is still good though, but its potential impact is decreased by the fact that we don’t care for the characters, that we don’t really meet any kids, and that we have become bored by the end. Little is explained, most of the deaths are bizarre, while sufficiently bloody. Plus the whole thing looks cheap and doesn’t have enough scares. If there had been a better cast, more thought with the story, and better direction it could have been a lot better. It even could have become an effective satire on Commercialism, especially during the holidays. For fans of the series, watch it once, but don’t expect much.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of the first Halloween sequels and their place in the series!