TTT – Top Ten George A Romero Movies

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s been an age since I’ve done one of these, so I decided to fall back on what I know best – horror movies. You can’t talk about the history of Horror movies without talking about George A Romero. Few film-makers can truly be said to have changed the game, especially within the horror genre, but Romero was one of those few. Taking the zombie sub-genre out of its voodoo/mind control past and turning it into something completely different, making the living dead mindless pastiches of whatever was going on in society at the time and making their main desire to chomp upon living flesh. Romero created the modern zombie and almost all of its rules and tropes, and his original trilogy is still the high-bar against which everything else is measured.

Romero wasn’t just a zombie guy but his films were always about something once you smeared away the surface. He retained an indie ethos from day one until the end and embodies the true spirit of story-telling and film-making – to pick up a camera and tell a story while ignoring the pressures of money making and business. Typically always based in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Romero’s films didn’t shy away from showing the lives and struggles of real people – the blue-collar types he knew so well, nor was he afraid of revealing their dark side. He wasn’t one for sugar-coating or creating an ensemble of working class heroes – he was clued in enough to know that, given the right or wrong situation, the young, old, rich, poor, were equally capable of making heroic or monstrous decisions.

Watching any interview with Romero or with those who worked with him, it’s clear the guy had a love for stories, for life, and for making people squirm in the face of gore or uncomfortable truths. His passing marked the end of a generation and we may never see his like again.

10. Bruiser

A movie I came to quite late because most of Romero’s non-Dead movies can be a pain to find. This is a lot of fun, and a different type of movie you might expect – the humour more overt and darker than a gallon of gore. A sort-of attack on Corporations and the empty, faceless lives of the executive class, it’s the tale of a man reduced to a blank slate allowing him to live out his murderous fantasies.

9. Knightriders

There aren’t enough movies about jousting, especially ones which replaces the horses with motorcycles. That’s…. that’s pretty much all the recommendation you should need. It reunites some of the guys from Dawn Of The Dead, stars Ed Harris, and features a little seen Stephen King cameo.

8. Monkey Shines

This is another one of those movies which was/is quite difficult to get your hands on, at least over here. Twenty years into his career, this was Romero’s first major Studio film and if anything he can be guilty of over-reaching and trying to pack in as much ‘stuff’ as possible. While the rest of the horror world in the late 80s were ironically pulling Romero-esque gore fests and comedies, Romero instead opted for a thriller with a bizarre premise – that of a wheelchair bound former athlete who gets a helper monkey (pray…for… Mojo) which in turn becomes psychotically attached to the man. They don’t make them like that anymore. For such a silly idea, there are creepy moments and Jason Beghe heads up the little known cast with a convincing performance. Stanley Tucci appears in a minor role – you wonder if Romero had got some bigger names (though I can’t see many A-Listers jumping on board with a screenplay such as this) maybe the film would have been more successful and opened a few more doors.

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7. The Dark Half

Romero and King always seemed like two peas in a pod – socially and politically conscious blood and guts shovellers with a keen sense of dark and often zany humour. It makes sense then that they would conspire to work together, on multiple occasions. This time, Romero helms a straight adaptation of one of King’s more outlandish novels – the tale of a writer (of course) whose pen-name alter-ego seemingly comes to life with murderous intent, not happy being retired as the writer pursues a more literary career. It’s a great premise and King pulls it off in the novel while Romero gives it a decent stab for the big screen. He is ably helped by several against type performances – Timothy Hutton as both Thad Beaumont and George Stark and Michael Rooker as the heroic Alan Pangborn. Veterans such as Royal Dano and Julie Harris also show up. It’s a pleasingly dark and grimy film, though it rarely racks up any real scares or tension even as it produces some effective gore. My King mega friend from school and I used to pass this around in VHS form to each other and frequently scrawl ‘the sparrows are flying again’ on the classroom walls.

6. Land Of The Dead

In 2005 the impossible happened – Romero returned with another entry in the Dead series. Enough time had passed that the people who grew up with his movies now had a more influential voice – a voice loud enough to rightfully proclaim Romero as the legend he was. I remember the hype surrounding this when it approached release – heightened by a couple of factors; first, that zombies were suddenly cool again thanks to 28 Days Later and the Dawn Of The Dead remake, and secondly that Romero was actually making another movie. It had been five years since Bruiser – which no-one really saw, and that had come seven years after The Dark Half. He had only made two movies in fourteen years and now he was back to show the youngsters how the zombie genre should be done, this time with a big budget to play with. With all of that hype, Land Of The Dead was maybe a disappointment to some when it dropped – I saw it at release and loved it, though I admittedly knew it wasn’t as strong as the first three. Still, it was a lot of fun and had some great performances and cameos – Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, and the opportunity to see Romero’s work getting the love on the big screen was enough for me. There’s enough juicy satire to gnaw on – issues of class, wealth, and power are all touched upon, and of course there is a tonne of gore and action to enjoy.

5. Martin

I’d loved Romero films (namely those below) for a while before I really understood what a director was and how to find their body of work. Once I did, Martin was one of the first movies I tracked down thinking ‘first he did zombies, I wonder what he can do with vampires’. I was a little bewildered by Martin at first, though savvy enough to still enjoy it. Martin is a strange, powerful, and thought-provoking low budget film about a young man who believes he is the reincarnated spirit of a vampire. Or maybe not even reincarnated, that he has been a vampire for many many years, beyond what his body would lead you to believe. The film opens with a bleak and downbeat scene as Martin stalks and kills a woman on a train – he has no fangs and no apparent supernatural abilities and so resorts to drugging his victims and cutting them with a razor blade. At first it looks like he is a deluded psychopath, until we meet his grand-uncle whose fears seem to give validity to the claims. The old man is forced to look after Martin after Martin’s parents die, yet he clearly believes Martin to be a vampire as he hangs garlic and crucifixes around the house – to no avail.

There’s enough there to make for an interesting, grimy horror flick in itself but Romero adds further layers – Martin is obviously sexually frustrated and lonely, finding solace through calls to a local DJ, and Martin becomes a cult favourite to the audience of this radio show. We get to see romanticized flashbacks or dreams of Martin’s past exploits as a vampire, and it is never clear what the truth is. All we know is that he is clearly dangerous, and probably deranged. The longer cut of the movie gives even more detail about Martin and his relationships. It’s a shame the film is so low-budget – John Amplas is about as recognisable a name as you’ll get here, though he’s only recognisable from his small role in Day Of The Dead. It’s a film which is now heralded as one of the most unique vampire movies and is one which deserves a wider audience.

4. Creepshow

There’s something comforting about Creepshow for horror fans. It could be that you grew up with the movie and it has a certain nostalgia, or it could be that you grew up with the EC Comics and the film is a love-letter to those. It could simply be that the film is a lot of fun and was made by two of the greatest contributors, fans, and masters of the genre that there has ever been and that their adoration for horror shines through. King and Romero teamed up to craft an anthology – maybe the strongest anthology there is – inspired by the creepy and gruesome comics and stories they grew up with. They tell the stories through the eyes of a child, fascinated with the macabre and gory, and shunned by those who don’t understand. It’s probably a position all horror fans have been in at some point – being shamed for loving what we love, being kept away from it against our will, and being punished for being different. It’s a clever ploy which helps to make Creepshow an ideal gateway movie for kids just getting into the genre.

None of that would matter if the stories themselves weren’t great. None of the stories are weak – some are clearly better than others, some are more reliant on laughs (although all have some element of humour, dark as it may be), but all have something memorable. It gets off to a strong start with a story written by King specifically for the film – Father’s Day – in which the zombie of a miserly old man comes back to take bloody revenge on the daughter who killed him and the various descendants who want his money. It features a terrific zombie crawling out of the grave scene and some nifty effects and make-up courtesy of Tom Savini (who else?). It’s the same sort of revenge story who tend to see a lot in horror anthologies, but it’s a lot of fun.

The next segment is my least favourite, as King himself stars as a backwater hick who slowly becomes infected by some alien plant organism. King’s antics are both funny and cringe-worthy and the story is an amusing filler, even if it does feature a shotgun-based suicide. Something To Tide You Over is my second favourite and maybe the one which stood out most to me when I first saw it as a kid, thanks to the twist and cynical tone. I couldn’t remember the name of the movie, but I always remembered this and the next story. It’s about a man, played by Leslie Nielsen of all people, who subjects his wife and her lover to a terrifying demise; after finding out about their infidelity, he buries them up to their necks on the beach outside his home, then watches and gloats as the tide gets every closer. This being Creepshow, the dead soon return with their own plan for revenge. Ted Danson and Dawn Of The Dead’s Gaylen Ross star as the couple – great stuff from Savini again.

The Crate is the best segment here, genuinely creepy and – again – a lot of fun. It’s about a professor who finds a long-lost crate from an Arctic expedition. Naturally, the crate houses some sort of creature which begins killing and eating anyone who comes near. Another professor sees this as the ideal solution to the problem of his drunk, abusive wife – the great Adrienne Barbeau. Finally, They’re Creeping Up On You isn’t the best story but it has a strange atmosphere and something sickly which has always freaked me out a little. I don’t care about bugs or cleanliness or any of the other paranoia which goes on in the story, but still there’s something about the story which gets to me. E.G Marshall hams it up as businessman who lives in a hermetically sealed apartment – he only contact with the outside world to shout orders to his staff and receive calls from disgruntled people saying how much he is hated. Then the cockroaches come. It’s the atmosphere – maybe it’s the fact that we don’t really know if the time is future, present, past – it could be some apocalyptic time and place, or it could be modern day. Mad Max is the only film to play a similar trick on me.

3. Day Of The Dead

For a long time this was seen as the black sheep of Romero’s Dead trilogy. In truth, it isn’t as culturally important or revolutionary as the first two, but show me a trilogy where each individual film changes the game. I’d say the original trilogy comes closest. While Day Of The Dead may not be as important, it’s still better than almost any other zombie movie and it ranks as having some of the best gore effects you’ll ever see. There’s no excuse for this to have not won an Oscar. Moreover, the claustrophobic setting and cast of characters are just as interesting as the previous two movies and if anything both are taken to extremes. As it’s Romero, there are themes upon themes, the most front and centre being the the war between military and science, war and understanding, thought and action, science and superstition. Taking that to its extreme, it’s a film about the dangers of two opposing sides unwilling to consider the position of the other, the fallout, and those caught in the middle. There just happens to be millions of zombies lurking around to pile on the pressure. Two underground factions struggling for control while the mindless masses just want the whole thing to end? No, that’s not politically or culturally relevant at all.

The sad thing is, the end product, which everyone involved in should be immensely proud of, was not Romero’s original vision. His original was meant to be an epic – the zombie film to end them all. Various earlier scripts tell a vastly different story and his original script has yet to be found. What we do have is perhaps cluttered by too many characters, but the surviving ambition and various themes and elements of the original idea are present – the Zombies potentially learning, remembering, or getting smarter, and the idea of a police/military State. Lori Cardille is great as the lead, the intro is incredibly unnerving, and Joseph Pilato is fantastic as Capt. Rhodes. As much as the story and the warring factions are interesting, it’s the setting and the effects which are the star here – sloppy innards dropping off tables, legs being choked on, and my personal favourite – the quickfire dispatch of Rickles and Torrez – screaming, laughing faces being ripped apart and heads removed. I don’t think The Walking Dead has topped that one yet.

2. Night Of The Living Dead

It’s generally agreed that modern horror cinema started with 1960’s Psycho. Night Of The Living Dead took it to the next level, returning horror to it’s fantastical roots but blending it with the realism and suburban fears which Hitchcock’s masterpiece first portrayed. No longer could was it safe to trust the person next door, your friends, or even your family – and the less said about strangers, the government, and the military the better. Taking the traditionally mystical lore of zombies out of the textbooks and into the US heartland, these creatures were no longer slaves to some ritualistic high priest – instead they were mindless feeding machines, bent on a single course; to kill and eat the living. Our indecision, our inability to focus as a whole, or to follow a leader would be our downfall. Romero instills the blackest, and bleakest of humour in reminding us, or forewarning us, that this story absolutely will not have a happy ending – this is not a story where the hero wins.

If you haven’t seen the movie, then I’m not sure how you have stumbled upon this post. In any event, the film opens with a dreary, ominous uphill drive towards a ceremony as a modern-may-as-well-be-you brother and sister bicker and pay their respects. Within moments we have ‘they’re coming to get you, Barbara’, and the sudden ghoulish attack by a well dressed man. Barbara flees to an empty house, pursued by her attacker, where she meets Ben. Ben tells us that he too was attacked and we soon learn, thanks to docu-style news footage that the dead have come back to life and appear to be attacking the living. In other words – we’re fucked.

With an all amateur cast and crew, Romero deftly crafts one of the most claustrophobic and clever horror movies of all time, allowing the cast of recognizable characters and archetypes to show us their flaws in all their tragic glory, and in doing so single-handedly creates a sub-genre which still rules world-wide media today.

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  1. Dawn Of The Dead

After Night comes Dawn. The success of Night allowed George to go make a variety of other movies in different genres and styles, but none had the same critical or commercial joy. Dawn was always supposed to be bigger – showing the wider devastation of the dead coming back. Romero wisely begins the movie by showing just how far the country has fallen since the events of Night. Even though we don’t know exactly how much time has passed, we get the impression that it isn’t very long – I think a few weeks is mentioned. Politicians, scientists, talking heads, ordinary people, the military, journalists – everyone has been focused on this one issue but still an agreed consensus cannot be reached. Mirroring the frustration and ineptitude at that global level is the unrest at a civil level. We meet a SWAT team tasked with investigating a social housing building where residents have refused to give up their dead. Of course, chaos and insanity is the order of the day, with gung-ho types, zombies, those who cannot deal with the fact that their loved ones are now monsters, and others who simply cannot deal with this new world. It’s claustrophobic, heated, exhausting, confusing, and brilliant. Two such soldiers team up – Roger and Peter and decide that it would be best to get out of the city while they still can. Luckily, Roger knows Stephen, a journalist and pilot who plans to steal a helicopter and get out with his girlfriend Francine. The four flee together.

The bulk of the movie takes place in a shopping mall, where the four survivors clear the place of the dead and enjoy the fruits of their labour – safety, food, and more shops and stuff than you could ever want. The satire on consumerism is well-documented, but the weird thing is that it still kind of makes you want to hide out in a mall if the world does go to shit. At least you’d be safe and entertained and fed for a while.The increased budget allows for a more talented cast and crew, more ideas, bigger scope – it’s an epic in every sense. Beyond the terrific, now dated, gore and make-up effects, the film still packs a punch with its scares – up front and subtle. It’s almost perfect in every way and even at well over 2 hours long it’s a film which I never want to end. I enjoy every second with these characters, I want to spend as long as possible with them, and it’s always depressing when the end comes. Romero doesn’t give us the all out bleak ending he originally devised, at least allowing for a chance that our survivors may live to fight another day. It’s one of the most influential and powerful horror movies ever made, it’s the best zombie movie of all time, and it’s one of a small number of films which has truly had a profound and lasting impact on me.

Let us know in the comments what your favourite George A Romero movies are!

2017 – In Memoriam

We’re here, at the end of another year. 2016 was reportedly ‘one of the worst years ever’ – by December’s end, everyone was depressed by all the Trump, by all the Brexit, by all the everything. It was a year where people from many generations felt their childhoods slip away for ever, felt pieces of themselves die as successful heroes passed out of life and into whatever comes next. 2017 has been no joke either, with more Trump, more Brexit, and more everything seemingly tightening the noose. The Grim Reaper’s scythe has once again swung with abandon, claiming many of the lives who have had a wide spreadh impact on various aspects of culture. Make no mistake – War, Disease, Famine have all claimed the usual millions of souls as they are wont to do, and those are battles we should be working together to overcome, but that is not the purpose of this post.

I haven’t been paying much attention to my Shrine posts recently, so I decided to do a yearly wrap up instead of the deaths which affected me in some way, on a personal level. Naturally that means that we’ll mostly be covering famous people here. I don’t mean this to sound as if I’m putting the famous on a pedestal, as if their lives mean more than some random mother or son who may have died this year – I firmly believe that every life is as valuable as the next. Yet here I am. In the end it comes down to who I ‘know’ or recognise.

Don’t be annoyed or disheartened if some celebrity who meant a lot to you and who died this year isn’t on the list – as I said, these are the people who meant something to me. By all means, add those who meant something to you in the comments. In the end, this is merely a place for you to give a few words, thoughts, thanks, or memories for those who have fallen.

William Peter Blatty – 7th January 1928 – 13th January 2017

Thanks for giving me, and countless others, many nights of unsettled sleep with The Exorcist.

Miguel Ferrer – February 7, 1955 – January 19, 2017

Thank you for being a perminent fixture in some of my most watched and loved entertainment of all time. You may be the only actor who has starred in both one of my favourite movies ever (Robocop), one of my favourite mini-series ever (The Stand), and one of my favourite TV shows ever (Twin Peaks). 

John Hurt – 22 January 1940 – 25 January 2017

Thank you for your willingness to ignore and balk at traditional acting conventions by appearing in cult works, low budget films, and Television, along with the more accepted critical fodder – for Alien, for Spaceballs, for The Elephant Man, for Hellboy, and many more.

Richard Hatch – May 21, 1945 – February 7, 2017

Thanks for being the original Apollo in Battlestar Gallactica – I’m not as familiar with your other work, but for that I’ll always remember you.

Bill Paxton – May 17, 1955 – February 25, 2017

Thanks for being a true movie legend and for appearing in many of my personal favourite films – The Terminator, Aliens, Near Dark, Commando, Tombstone, True Lies, Frailty, and bringing a truly unique energy and life to them.

Chuck Berry – October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017

One of the forefathers or modern blues, rock, and by extension, metal, thanks for bringing many decades of wonderful music to the world.

Clifton James – May 29, 1920 – April 15, 2017

Thanks for bringing me many laughs in my younger days, especially in the Bond movies, and also for sterling work in a few of my other favourites.

Jonathan Demme – February 22, 1944 – April 26, 2017

One of the few filmmakers to make a critically respected and award winning horror movie in The Silence Of The Lambs, thanks for breaking those boundaries.

Michael Parks – April 24, 1940 – May 9, 2017

Even though he had been acting regularly since the late 50s, Parks became better known in later decades thanks to his work with Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino – thanks for many terrific performances in many terrific films.

Powers Boothe – June 1, 1948 – May 14, 2017

A character actor with great action pedigree, thanks for appearing in some of my favourites such as Tombstone, Extreme Prejudice, Sin City.

Chris Cornell – July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017

Although Soundgarden were my fourth favourite out of Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Cornell was nevertheless a driving force in rock and grunge with unmistakable vocals which have been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.

Nicky Hayden – July 30, 1981 – May 22, 2017

My dad rides motorbikes. My brother rides a motorbike. Many of my uncles and cousins are bikers. I have dabbled. I live on the same street as the family of my countries most famous motorcyclists and our kids are friends. We all watch motorcycling – none of that F1 shite. Any time any biker dies it’s a tragedy, and Nicky was a particularly heavy loss.

Sir Roger George Moore, KBE (14 October 1927 – 23 May 2017)

I was a Bond fan before I really understood what films were, and Moore was my era. It is typically the Moore films I return to most for their lighter approach and tendency towards action and humour. Moore will always be Bond for me, and while he didn’t have the most varied career outside of that role, he still popped up in many other films and shows and was renowned for being a decent human being.

Adam West (September 19, 1928 – June 9, 2017)

The original Batman… well I’ve heard varying reports on what he was like in real life, but I’m mainly here to focus on their work and what it meant to me – I was never a huge fan of the original campy series, but I still watched it every now and then when I was young. Thanks for being a mainstay on TV and for your great voice work on many shows.

John G Avildson – (December 21, 1935 – June 16, 2017)

Thanks for making some of my favourite films in the Rocky and Karate Kid series as well as a few other notable movies.

Martin Landau – (June 20, 1928 – July 15, 2017)

Thanks for appearing in some of my favourite movies and shows ever, from North By Northwest and The Twilight Zone to Ed Wood and The X Files, and of course for bringing your daughter Juliet into the world.

George A Romero – February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017

There have been fewer bigger influences on my love of horror, and on the wider horror world than George A Romero, the man who essentially invented the modern zombie genre – thanks for that, thanks for your movies, and thanks for never compromising for The Man.

Sean Hughes – 10 November 1965 – 16 October 2017

Sean, aside from Coronation Street I don’t think I ever saw any of your non- Buzzcocks work. I’m not a huge stand-up comedy fan, but you always made me laugh on Buzzcocks. 

Feel free to leave your thoughts and memories of any people we lost in 2017 in the comments below.

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!

Bruiser – Movie Review

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Mr. Romero, the man whose zombies movies changed the face of the horror genre forever, has made quite a few lesser known movies over the years, from classics like Martin, to cult treats like Knightriders. Bruiser is a rather unique film for the director, in that it doesn’t feature many supernatural elements, and is low on the red sauce. It is a delightful satire, with bundles of black comedy and some respectable horror elements.

Let’s get it out of the way ASAP – this is not a Romero gore-fest. In fact, it’s barely a horror film. I’d be more inclined to class this as a black comedy, or at most a thriller. Nevertheless Romero fans should find a lot to enjoy here, just don’t expect decapitations or intestine-eating. The film follows an all American loser – good job, rich friends, beautiful wife, but it’s all emptiness and lies. His friends mock him and steal from him, his wife is cheating on him, and he isn’t respected at work. After everything collapses he wakes up to find himself wearing a plain white mask – naturally he decides that this new identity will allow him to seek revenge, and he works his way through the list of people who have wronged him. Be sure to expect plenty of Romero style satire on plastic, two-faced, selfish people, and some surprising cameos.

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A large part of why I enjoyed this so much when I first watched it is down to how little I knew about the film before watching, and how little I was expecting from it meaning I was pleasantly surprised. The rest of my enjoyment comes from my appreciation of what Romero does with a low budget, crafting a surreal and beautiful film, and bringing in a cast of ‘I know that guy from somewhere’ types who are all superb. Special praise must go to Flemyng for a brilliant portrayal of loser to anti-hero, expressive even under a featureless mask. As the movie progresses it becomes more over-the-top, the whole thing having a Twin Peaks merged with Twilight Zone vibe. A few people have criticized the writing, but I quite enjoyed the dialogue – some great one-liners, and plenty of wit. If you can get your hands on this through a streaming service (like I did) then give it a try as it may be pricey to pick up the DVD if you’re not sure if you’ll enjoy it. It’s not as god as Romero’s original zombie trilogy, but it’s definitely one of his better movies, and one of the best black comedies of the decade.

Have you caught this little known gem by Romero? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!

The 31 Days Of Halloween (Part 1)

Not Turnips

Aah, Halloween- the most wonderful time of the year. When even those who wouldn’t usually subject themselves to all manner of terrors decide to watch the odd scary movie or 2. Unfortunately for me, this part of the Spac Hole which I currently inhabit does not indulge in the season as seriously and joyfully as other places, so I have always felt a little deprived. Sure, we had some parties, sure we threw fireworks at Gerry’s house, and yes we would watch whatever limited choice of movies were on over the few days but compared to other places (particularly you festive folks in the US) it just didn’t seem as much damn fun. In my mind, the whole month of October should be a vessel for Halloween activities, from dressing up to trick or treating, to watching scary movies and hiding under the beds of people you don’t know with a chainsaw.

To that end I have helpfully made a few lists of classic horror movies which sould chill you to the bone, and add to the singular atmosphere of this most evil time of the year. This list of 31 movies was created so that you can split the fun over the entire month (alternatively you could wait until closer to the day and have a few marathon sessions) and let yourself tremble ever so slightly in the supposed safety of your own home. Just be sure to lock your doors and windows, close the curtains, and tuck up the kids tightly in bed (checking underneath and in closets for me) before turning off the lights. Maybe check those locks once more, you can never be too sure or too safe. Oh, what’s that? That noise from outside? I wouldn’t worry, probably just the wind. By all means go out and check, but that would mean going into the basement to find batteries for your torch. Really, just relax and watch the film, your paranoia can’t hurt you. The thing outside, yeah- it could hurt you. But you locked the doors, right?

These don’t have to be watched in any particular order, but some would suit the big day (or night) better than others. This is not meant to be a list of the best or even my favourite horror movies (though I love them all) but rather I feel these offer something of the atmosphere of Halloween. Enjoy.

An American Werewolf in London: This one has it all- gore, jump scares, atmosphere, action, humour, and a great plot with likeable characters. WereWolves, like Vampires have taken a rather glossy beating recently. This proves that you can wrap up a love story with horror without being teeny, without being sparkly, without being demeaning to viewers with brains. Classic Halloween scene: The Nazi section.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Wes Craven, Johnny Depp, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund- lovely ingredients for a tasty Halloween Pie. This is the original and best, before the horrific character of Freddy (Here just Fred) became a snuggleable, bantering chum. What could be better for Halloween than scaring yourself so badly that you can’t sleep- knowing that something terrible may be waiting for you in your dreams. A story with more depth than it gets credit for, dealing with the Craven standard of ill-advised parenting and how the children have to cope with the mistakes of the elders, this is full of genius set pieces and bloody action. Classic Halloween Scene: Nancy gets a bloody post coital surprise- but not what you’d expect. And did they say she was 14??

Alien: Often described as Halloween in space, or a Haunted House in Space, Alien deals with our fears of isolation, of being trapped, of being in s situation way beyond our control and way above our heads. Remove the alien, remove the setting, and this could be any slasher movie from the time. However, that would be taking away the fun, the fear, the atmosphere, and the ingenuity. This is dark, claustrophobic stuff, and the perfect film for Halloween to make you look out the windows into pitch darkness and wonder if something is staring back. Classic Halloween Scene: Dallas goes hunting, but realizes too late that he is the prey.

The Blair Witch Project: Similar to Alien this deals with our fears of isolation and the un-experienced unknown, but spices things up with issues of abandonment, paranoia, and things that go bump in the woods. A classic survival tale for city folk poking their ill-prepared noses where they don’t belong, Blair Witch succeeded because of it’s innovative filming and marketing techniques. It still succeeds today amongst a rubbish tip of similar films because the plot is solid, the acting is real, the rising tension and fear played out between the characters feels exactly like how we would react, the growing dread is almost unrivalled, and the climax is absolutely chilling. Classic Halloween Scene: The search for Josh in the freakshow house at the end will get you tingling and gripping the seat every time.

Creepshow: Halloween isn’t just about traumatizing each other, it’s also about good old fashioned camp-fire tales to warm the heart and soul. This is cheesy at times, but never boring or irritating, it feels nostalgic both for children of the 80s and of the 50-60s. The tales are brief, well written and acted, the effects are still top-notch with an earthy feel, and the scares are tense and fun. Classic Halloween Scene: Trying to convince your abusive wife to enter a box where a monster lives has never looked so enjoyable.

Creepshow

Candyman: Both Cliver Barker and Tony Todd are vital ingredients in any scare-fest- put them together and you’d better have a few spare pairs of pants lying around. An intellegent, sexy, city based horror which merges old world supernatural fears with the modern world of big business, CSI policework, snooping journalists, and end of the century hairdos. Barker at his height was a fountain of invention, bringing a freshness to the genre which made everyone else’s ideas look like old creaky mummy movies. Candyman merges urban myths with ancient folklore, mysticism with science, gore and shocks with beauty and lyricism. Todd’s presence is as powerful as any of the classic monsters, while Madsen gives a refreshing twist on the final girl character. Classic Halloween Scene: Hook through the chest.

Carrie: One for the teens this, though it may have aged some due to being so authentically 70s, the scares and the themes of abuse, loneliness, bullying, and separation are no less relevant or universal today. The story is simple but pumped up by ideas of religion, extremism, and psychotic mummies (not those ones). The acting by the main players is superb, there is something bleak about the whole sordid business, and we manage both to sympathize with and be scared by Carrie. And wish we had her gift. De Palma twists the tension knobs until they break off, though some of the intrusive camera guff is laughable now. Classic Halloween Scene: Everything between the bucket dropping and the school burning.

Child’s Play: The evil doll is a well worn sub genre of horror, but one which has very few, if any, classics. Child’s Play is amongst the best, and the series is certainly the most notorious. Like many 80s horrors, the series was unfairly derided for it’s supposed impact on our youth with some people going so far as blaming it for some grisly murders. As with most of these series, the quality decreased as the sequels increased, but the original remains surprisingly effective given the silly subject matter. If you don’t know the story- multi murdering maniac transfers his soul into a popular doll moments before his death, doll is picked up by young boy, doll begins murderous rampage again until it realises that it needs to sacrifice the boy to become human again. There are sure to be some laughs, some screams of just kick him in the balls and throw hm out the window!’, but maybe a few jumps too. Classic Halloween Scene: Chucky terrorizes the baby-sitter and we all jump when the phone rings.

Dawn Of The Dead: There is something quite special which you may not know about Dawn. If you watch it at Dawn- depending on where you live etc, try to time it where the film will just be ending as the sunrises. Then go for a walk immediately. It’s likely there won’t be many people around. The ones you will see will probably be shambling. The bleak nature of the film rarely hits harder than in these moments and you will surely look around yourself and feel a stark aura fill your being. There are few things more terrifying than waking up to an otherwise beautiful day and not wanting to be any part of it. Classic Halloween Scene: So many to choose from, from funny, to scary, to bleak, but I’ll go for the truck parking section as we realize that paradise can quickly become hell, and a haven can suddenly become a tomb.

Day Of The Dead: Surely the most grim of all the DEAD films, this is perfect Halloween viewing, not only because of the exquisite gore and effects. Claustrophobia and paranoia again play a large part, and you can’t help wondering why all these psychopaths keep getting in the way of your enjoyable apocalypse. Most people would be happily looting and whiling away their days watching DVDs, playing games, reading books, getting drunk, but there always has to be a crazy doctor or maniacal military group to spoil your good times. Halloween is all about good times, stick this on to reap the benefits. Classic Scene: When the Zombies step on the lift and it begins moving downwards- you just know all hell is about to break loose.

Day Of The Dead

Dracula (30s): A classic to chill the bones of all comers, this still has the ability to… worry those who haven’t seen it before. A film that’s almost a hundred years old- how could that possibly be scary? Well, there’s a reason why this is still considered the best version. Classic Halloween Scene: When Harker first meets The Count.

The Exorcist: Now we get into the truly demanding territory. A rarity in the genre, The Exorcist was a massive financial and critical hit upon release, pampered with awards and then…uh, banned. It may not be as hard-hitting these days, but it’s still rough, creepy stuff. Plus it is played extremely coldly, and without a hint of humour. This is as bleak as horror gets, and even the supposed happy ending leaves us with a bitter, fearful taste. Excellent performances, bewildering jump scares, and freaky moments all conspire to chill the soul and ensure you cuddle up to your beloved in bed. Classic Halloween Scene: Spider walk.

The Evil Dead: This was mostly played for scares over the played for laughs sequel, and while there is humour here, the main focus is on sudden frights and wonderful, innovative camera techniques. You’ll have fun watching this one as each character gets picked off, comes back, and gets picked off again. Classic Halloween Scene: Cheryl at the window, not in the cupboard.

Friday The 13th: One of the original slashers and one of the most successful, this one has plenty of ideas and violence, and staples of the sub genre which have now become clichés. It has dated, it is silly and quite tame, but it was made with love and ambition and freshness. The ending is shocking, the performances are ok, and there isn’t a hockey mask in sight. Classic Halloween Scene: Arrow through the neck- don’t have sex kids.

Final Destination: Another rarity- an inspired modern horror film with great ideas which blends humour and genuine frights. We have a series of characters who rather than getting picked off one by one in an uncaring fashion, are shown to be real kids with real lives, fears, and concerns- and then they are picked off one by one in increasingly exciting, tense, and innovative ways. A film which deals with our fear of death, of inevitability succeeds on every level. Classic Halloween Scene: During a heated discussion in his car, one reckless character refuses to accept that his life is pre-destined or that death is stalking his every move. To prove the point he parks his car on train tracks with his friends as the train hurtles towards them. He soon realizes he was wrong.

The Fog: One of the great campfire spook stories, The Fog is still sadly underrated. Carpenter creates a wonderful atmosphere here which suits the season perfectly- even better if you’re near the sea or if there is fog around. Classic Halloween Scene: The introduction with the wizened old sailor sets the tone for the rest of the show, and should set the tone for your night.

The Fog

Hellraiser: Another British one now, offering something different from our American cousins. We have sex, violence, lots of gore, and some S&M themed fun. This is gritty in an Eastenders sort of way- you don’t really want to look or have anything to do with these characters. Classic Halloween Scene: When Kirsty first meets the Cenobites- what is the finger in the mouth about?

Halloween: What more can I say? This is the movie which should be watched every Halloween- not only is it a genuine classic of the genre and a kick-ass movie no matter which way you look at it, it drips with and evokes that special Seasonal feeling that few things do. Make this the highlight of your night. After you’ve cut some throats. Classic Halloween Scene: Young Laurie runs screaming down her street being chased by a murderous maniac. She clambers to the front door of a neighbour, knocks and begs for help. A light is turned on. Then switched off. Did they think it was just kids messing around? Were they too afraid to help? Welcome To America folks.

Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (70s): Some us like to dress up at Halloween as ghosts, vampires, or our favourite horror movie characters. Some people go further and pretend to be the person that the costume depicts. This definitive version of Bodysnatchers takes the idea of hiding behind a costume to dramatic and terrifying extremes- what if person next to you on the bus, your neighbour, your friend, your wife, or child was no longer the person they once were? In fact, what if some alien creature had taken their body as host and was walking around as an imperfect mockery of that person’s life? What if this alien race had designs on all your friends and everyone you’ve ever known, and what if you were next? This chilling view of a world snatched away from under our noses is all about loss of identity and mistrust, and makes for unsettling Halloween viewing. Classic Halloween Scene: The final moments. I’ll say no more.

Night Of The Living Dead: A staple of midnight viewing, the surrounding darkness makes the black and white all the more stark and cold; There are no easy answers or happy endings here. If you are watching this with a group of people, ask yourself which ones you would trust in a life/death situation. If your cosy home was surrounded suddenly by thousands of undead, who amongst you would come out as leader? Would you sit back, would you make decisions, would you think only of yourself or would you think of the safety of the group? Either way, you’re bound to get a chewing. Classic Halloween Scene: They’re coming to get you, Barbara.

Night Of The Living Dead

The Omen: So far we don’t trust our neighbours and friends, but what if you thought your son was the Antichrist? The Omen is an apocalyptic film in more than one way and is filled with strong performances, gripping and bloody deaths, and a memorable, frightening score. Music is often pivotal in horror movies, and as you clamber the stairs to bed after this, with infernal monks chanting obscenities in your head, that corner of darkness you can’t quite see clearly may fill with unspeakable evil more readily. Classic Halloween Scene: Damian decides to ride his bike.

Prince Of Darkness:  I find this to be Carpenter’s most underrated film mostly because it is awesome and should be mentioned in the same breath as Halloween and The Thing. Sure the plot is messed up with it’s evil green satanic liquid taking over zombies and bums mixed with time-travelling dream messages and psych jargon, but seriously it is awesome. It has more effective jump scares than any of his other shows and there is a creeping sense of dread and atmosphere throughout. In many ways it is classic Carpenter- a group of different thrown together in a building who have to team together or fall apart and stand against an overpowering threatening external force. It is a siege movie, it is clever for the genre though at times it doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. I think that was part of the fun though- like Big Trouble In Little China it is more than just it’s labels instead transcending notions of what it should or shouldn’t be, and is well ahead of it’s time. Classic Halloween Scene: The final survivors holding up behind some furniture while one of the crazies admires himself in a mirror with a large blade.

Ring: Please please please watch the Japanese version, not the abomination that is the remake. Sure the remake has plenty of jump moments, but it also has a deer on a boat, Brian Cox in a bath, and a director who decides it would be clever to cut away from the movie’s most important scene for the sake of a car chase. The original has Nanako Matsushima and Hiroyuki Sanada and if that isn’t enough of a recommendation then please remove thine eyes from mine page post haste. Watch this deep into the night, possibly as the last film, then play the lovely game of phone your friend once they have left to terrify them. Unfortunately the ideas first seen here have been so over-used that these games have become diluted, but the film still has an unflinching power. Not a drop of blood is shed, there are no knives, guns, or people bursting in from behind doors with a loud noise- this is the best horror film of the nineties and goes against everything that decade threw at us. And it’s a damn good story with excellent performances. Classic Halloween Scene: Sadako. TV. Sleep tight.

Scream: The second best horror movie of the nineties is the stuff of parties. By know everyone should have seen it, but many of you will have forgotten it and how good it still is. Plenty of shocks, laughs, scares, and action as well as a script the quality of which horror movies rarely get. And my beloved Neve Campbell is in it. Few horror films provide this much entertainment whilst still being scary, funny, and clever. The nods to horror movies will keep the nerds amongst your bunch happy and you can shout out when you spot a reference. Classic Halloween Scene: The final house chase scene as Neve doesn’t know where to run or who to trust.

The Shining: It’s rare for most people to get snow at Halloween, even more rare to be completely snowed in and surrounded. Try replacing the notion of snow with rain or darkness- would you want to go wandering outside if it was completely dark or hammering down? Anyway, this is another film which plays on isolation, claustrophobia, and paranoia. It’s probably best not to watch this one as a cosy night in flick with your little family- you’ll start wondering what the hell is going through each other’s minds. This is a giant of the genre with heaps of atmosphere and plenty of unsettling moments which deserves to be menti0ned at any Horror Movie Marathon. Classic Halloween Scene: Danny was warned not to go in that room. Prepare to be scared when Daddy goes looking too.

Silence Of The Lambs: The critic’s choice. Don’t invite any critics to your party as they will moan, groan, bore your girlfriends, and likely drink all your wine. There should be wine. This is nasty stuff from start to end as poor Jodie Foster tries to solve a murder whilst hiding her own fears from the unlikely Terminator Anthony Hopkins. This is better suited to smaller group viewing as it isn’t exactly cheery, blood n guts fun but it does the job when you’re on your own. Classic Halloween Scene: Anything with Bill really.

The Thing: In many ways the ultimate John Carpenter film, the ultimate macho man fest, and the number 1 examination of the paranoia which creeps into people during periods of isolation. The effects here still blow me away and they are only part of a long list of quality to describe this film- look at the cast, the performances, the music, the scares, the cinematography, and the way Carpenter drags the tension out of every shot until we don’t know who has been infected and who hasn’t. Great action adds to the great scares, but the special effects and story are kings here. Classic Halloween Scene: When the survivors are tied to chairs and Mac goes through each one by one to test if any are not human. Genius.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: This one still hurts today- it’s just so damn grim, dirty, and repulsive as to make the horror timeless. Sure they scares may be cliché now and the gore is almost non-existent, but the low down atmosphere, the miniscule budget, and the amateur (but good) performances all conspire to make this uncomfortable watching. I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who still think that there could be a family like this in their town, just as much as I’m sure that there probably are still families or people like this in the world- maybe not in your town, but possibly the next one over. And chainsaws are awfully easy to come by these days. Classic Halloween Scene: The entire dinner scene. Truly horrific, the use of sound and various camera techniques make this one of the most intense few minutes in any horror movie.

28 Days Later: A modern classic, and one of the few great British horror movies of the last few decades. Taking riffs from Romero and King this is a post apocalyptic survivalist’s wet nightmare. Empty streets, shops to loot, cars to steal- all great if it wasn’t for the hundreds of thousands of psychopaths charging towards you in search of your blood. This is the 21st century folks, and zombies ain’t got time to amble and stumble about- these are confident, successful, modern big business, stepping up to the plate, corporate bull-shitting zombies, and they won’t take closing a door in their face for an answer. If you can’t run fast, you’re screwed. And just to make things Mega Man 9 difficult- these fiends don’t even have to bite you to kill/convert you- one drop of their blood/saliva entering your body, through a gash, a scratch, a kiss, or a tear is enough it recruit you. And sheesh! They don’t even give you time to grieve for your fallen comrade- within seconds of getting exposed, your best friend will be diving for your jugular too. My advice- kill everyone you see and hide under a pile of coats till it all goes away. Classic Halloween Scene: An abandoned car sitting in the middle of an abandoned London- nothing to fear but technology.

The Wicker Man: Nothing to fear but religion. Look closely enough and all religions begin to look like cults; they all have a figurehead, the followers worship the figurehead unquestionably and offer prayers, thanks, songs, and sacrifices, there are certain rituals usually borne of centuries long since dusted, those involved are usually inviting to outsiders in person, but have a secret hatred, anger, or issue against them once backs are turned. So we have The Wicker Man, possibly the best British Horror Film of the whole sorry lot. Aah, the confusion of two worlds colliding as we watch a upstanding lawman and guardian of his own archaic faith fall victim ever so slowly to a cult even more decrepit than his own. He knows something terrible is amiss, but it isn’t until his toes turn to cinders that he realizes his fate was sealed the second his feet touched the land. Classic Halloween Scene: When we first see Mr Straw and realize our hero’s fate.

Paranormal Activity: Proof not only that horror movies still have the power to scare, entertain, and bring in the mega bucks, proof not only that a good story well executed can be more than a match for buckets of blood, but also proves that in this day and age of $200 million dollar movies that a small group with talent, an idea, and a few months worth of average salary can make a great movie. Romero did it in the 60s, Carpenter did it in the seventies, Raimi in the 80s, Myrick and Sanchez in the 90s, and now Oren Peli has continued the tradition. Using every trick in the book he has made a classic pastiche of the genre and a thrill ride akin to running naked through a field of land mines. The setting of the movie is perfect for Halloween viewing- primarily it is set in the home and most of the scares happen at night- the film invades you with a sense that you aren’t safe in your own house and makes you take a second or third glance at that cup that you swore you set on the table which now sits on the ground. Likely to lose its impact with subsequent viewings this is best served to people who haven’t seen it. The scares (while you sense them coming) are unexpected and rewarding and while the characters are painfully annoying, you’ll still soil your drawers. Classic Halloween Scene: NEVER leave your foot hanging out of bed.

Trick R Treat: Anthology movies have had their heyday- we had a succession of British hits in the 70s, then a slew of bloodier efforts in the 80s. Then for 20 years anthology fans didn’t have a lot to be excited about aside from a few cheap efforts (although Asia did produce some great ones at the turn of the century). Trick R Treat is good enough to kick start a revolution in the genre, or at least it would have been had it been released in any cinemas. Straight to DVD (yet with a decent budget and big name cast) Trick R Treat features four shorts linked by an over-arcing plot and is to Halloween what presents are to Christmas. This one is destined to be shown and loved every Halloween for years to come, possibly as a double header with Carpenter’s classic. Classic Halloween Scene: The creepy opener sets the tone for the movie and features everything we love about the season, dripping with atmosphere, and settling us in for a bumpy ride.

Trick R Treat

Please leave your comments and suggestions for films you think are best viewed at Halloween, and let us know which films terrified you when you were growing up at this time of year.