Friday, December 10, 2010

THE TALKING LIVING: The Dead are not given their due in AMC’s zombie series The Walking Dead.

I’ve been an avid horror film fan for over 20 years, with my fascination extending liberally to the cannibal/zombie genres. I can name you close to every single distinguished zombie film made since George A. Romero’s seminal “little” film “Night of the Living Dead” debuted in 1968. I can verify each film by establishing them to a particular era of cinema while simultaneously indulging in what country (or collaboration of countries) produced it. I can even do one of the best zombie impersonations you’ve ever laid eyes on. What I cannot do is give “The Walking Dead”, AMC’s new zombie series, the worship and tribute it requires from a zombie enthusiast such as me…and here is why!

Truth be told, “The Walking Dead” was a show produced and targeted at “un-dead heads” (no pun intended): an audience who do not hold the zombie genre (or zombies for that matter) in a lovingly high stature. As I came into this series, I anticipated at least a shell of a typical zombie farce with a huge homage to el maestro, George A. Romero. What I received was an almost blatant disregard to the actual zombie, and more centralization on the struggle of humanity and its polarized views of the aftermath. 
 But wait…humanity’s struggle, picking up the pieces of the aftermath… sounds like a zombie film to me! Granted that the show is a television effort with a network notable for its drama-fueled shows and textured plots, zombie-themed films/shows are not revered for their dramatizations and slow-paced (no pun intended) plots of deep human emotion. In a zombie film, zombies do not support the plot…they are the plot. Zombies are not background noise, and zombies sure as hell don’t go entire episodes without claiming a single victim!

There are many faithful devotees of “The Walking Dead”, and with their undying love for the source material and/or the show, a trite few (or more) pine that my argument is invalid because this particular show was not aimed towards “goreheads” and “horror enthusiast” like myself—they could never be any more correct than they are with that statement! The fact is, the horror world was abuzz with the impending show and its inevitable impact on our society. Purveyors of “The Walking Dead” need to understand that while they casually browsed the internet, watched TV, and trolled Facebook to unearth this upcoming television show, zombie fans and enthusiast were exhuming the many sources hyping “The Walking Dead” (be it Fangoria, HorrorHound, Rue Morgue magazines or well-regarded horror websites) as the next big horror show. “The Walking Dead” was supposed to reinvent television for horror fans and establish a point of reference for all horror-related shows to come. Not since the late 80s/early 90s golden age of horror television, with the likes of “Tales from the Darkside”, “Monsters”, and “The Hitcher”, has there been a source of entertainment for the enigmatic horror fan. Sure there was two seasons of “Masters if Horror”—but you needed a premium channel subscription for that and even that show failed to deliver “real masters of horror” (No George Romero? William Malone? Peter Medak? Rob Schmidt? Brad Anderson? Is that your final answer Mick Garris?).

“The Walking Dead” failed at the ability to successfully deliver the supernatural elements that drive a horror film/show, and instead constructed a massive emotional rollercoaster that tells rather than shows. The show had the necessary crew assembled to produce a well-rounded zombie apocalypse with dark emotional undertones (note the prefix under-!) and groundbreaking special effects not seen on any TV show; that in itself is a grand failure for not using what you have to its fullest extent.
When I heard that KNB Effects were on board to helm the special make-up effects for the series, I was more than ecstatic. What more can you ask for when it comes to Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, protégés of the master of illusion, Tom Savini? Nicotero and Berger both have some amazing resumes that include, among others, “George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead” (1985), “Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn”, “From Beyond”, and “Bride of Reanimator”. “The Walking Dead” was a slam-dunk for aesthetically pleasing make-up and eye-popping visual effects. If readers are familiar with Nicotero and Berger’s work, it’s evident that not only do the special effects compliment the film/show, but the special effects are their own character.

Where this area of the show fails (and how could it!?) is in the hands of the script and subsequent cinematography. KNB’s work is not shown and given its credit; it is hidden amongst the wide angled shots of the doomed city (where the art direction and production design units shine), the claustrophobic zooms that try in vain to collect every bit of unrestraint emotion from the actors, and the CGI gunshots and bullet holes (Savini taught these boys the art of squibs and blood filled prophylactics…why not indulge?!). 
Where “The Walking Dead” fails in plot and SFX, it mesmerizes and charms with fervent cinematography and art direction/production design. There is no complaining about the visuals inherent within this eye-candied show. Everything is stunningly shot as the downplay of colors (completely blatant and in regards to an actual concrete jungle) give the scenery a much needed boost and helps laden the somber tone with an unearthly hue of desolation. The camera sometimes hints at a documentary feel, while combing for an omniscient being scanning the ruins and vestiges of the fallen from high above. Obviously, as mentioned previously, the budget was used more so in the cinematography department, parlaying any assumptions of failure within camera aesthetics quickly, with a single pan.

After indulging within the strict parameters and the frequently oblique outlooks above, it would surprise you to hear from me that “The Walking Dead” is technically not a bad show per se. It consists of a well-crafted chemistry and allure that has definitely consumed the masses and found itself many polarized audiences nationwide. Its success in finding a wide audience far outweighs the failure in captivating the small percentage of die-hard horror cinema buffs that have turned a blank and emotionless stare (again with the puns) in the other direction.

The idea of the last vestiges of mankind succumbing slowly (and mentally) to a horde of the undead is nothing new. George A. Romero is the master at crafting emotionally captivating characters and trapping them within the confines of their own moral values (or lack thereof), other’s condescending viewpoints, and cannibalistic zombies from hell. In fact, Romero’s “Dead” films are all made from the same fabric of social commentary and commit themselves as benchmarks in emotional embattlements within zombie cinema—for Romero, zombies will always be “us”, and it will always be us against us.

“The Walking Dead” firmly established itself as a vehicle for drama within the first few minutes of the pilot episode—which is a great way to immerse an audience and enthrall them into submission. The failure, once again, is in the emaciated attempt at constructing the living dead as the antagonists. “The Walking Dead” is keener on letting the survivors emotionally invest within each other, and then deconstruct themselves into a pile of psychological debris. For a more successful run at a television program that is employed with the task of “giving the dead their day” on network TV, the zombies must become more of a catalyst in the psychological breakdown of our pitiful survivors. This is where Romero delivers and why his films are filled with such intellectual gusto. But then again, this is Romero…comparisons definitely pale (no pun intended….again)!

- Ray of the Dead

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Satyricon: Rome. Before Christ. After Fellini.

 I initially stumbled upon the film “Fellini Satyricon” at the behest of one of my favorite Norwegian Black Metal bands, aptly named, “Satyricon”. I’ve come to always push the boundaries when confronted with words and the meanings behind them and “Satyricon” was no different. Upon unsheathing its origin, Gaius Petronius Arbiter (or Titus Petronius…whoever you believe), his background of writing the “first” novel, and Fellini’s grandiose achievement at creating this epic film --all while participating in a Satyricon (the band) discography, I was instantly mesmerized by the sheer decadence and the aesthetically shrewd filmmaking “Satyricon” so proudly exhibits.  

The film loosely follows Petronius’ fragmented novel (passages were lost prior to discovery or unable to be saved through preservation) about the misadventures of narrator and former gladiator Encolpius, his 16 year old lover Giton, and his former lover and friend Ascyltus. The film deviates substantially from the original source material, injecting its own morbid fantasies while recreating and eliminating original scenes. One cannot be irate at Federico Fellini for his attempts at sculpting a polished and polarized view of Rome during the rule of the eccentric and dominant Emperor Nero.

The film begins with our protagonists, Encolpius (the enigmatic Martin Potter), berating his former lover and flat-mate, Ascyltus (Hiram Keller), for taking his love slave, Giton (the very feminine Max Born) and then selling him for a profit. The two tussle in an amusing and highly laugh-out-loud way as Ascyltus leads Encolpius to the buyer of Giton, famous actor and eccentric theater owner, Trimalchio (Mario Romagnoli in a scene stealing role). Encolpius retrieves Giton (with the help from some Roman guards) and sets off back to the massive tenement building that he lives. They eventually meet back with Ascyltus, with Encolpius deciding that it would be best if the two went separate ways, dividing their stuff amongst each other. Ascyltus demands that Giton choose who he would like to go with, inevitably choosing to leave with him. This leaves Encolpius heartbroken, a massive earthquake disrupting his despair to level the entire tenement building.

From there, the film branches off into different storylines, encompassing many different themes and ideas while introducing colorful characters and impressive production designs by Luigi Scaccianoce. Amongst the many diverse characters introduced are an eccentric poet (Salvo Randone), a wealthy freeman (Mario Romagnoli), and a behemoth Minotaur (Luigi Montefiori—known to the horror, cult, and exploitation cinema world as George Eastman, goremeister extraordinaire).

Fellini had already established himself as a primo film director with such titles as “La Strada”, “La Dolce Vita” and “8½” already under his belt. His version of “Satyricon” has stood the test of time and garnered many high praises from film enthusiast and lax theatergoers alike. There is something for everyone in this film. The meaning of life, the choices sculpted by destiny, and the political and economical struggles prevalent within every society ever formed on Earth scream for acceptance and appreciation amongst the film dirt and cigarette burns of this celluloid masterpiece. “Fellini Satyricon” is a permanent benchmark in mainstream arthouse cinema. No film will ever encompass the quintessence embedded within this film of decadence and morality. Long Live Fellini!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Top 5 Films to Watch For Halloween!

5. 976-EVIL –

This flick’s main antagonist scared the living wahoo out of me as a kid. Stephen Geoffrey’s demonic character, Hoax Wilmot is even more evil and terrifying than his Evil Ed character in the popular 80s flick Fright Night.

Hoax is picked on unremittingly by a group of high school bullies that eventually cause Hoax to conjure up the dark one down below via a HORRORscope phone line. All hell breaks loose as Hoax makes a bloodcurdling transformation from school geek to demonic beast.

It is important to note that this was directed by Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund in his first directorial effort. Although the film garnered only mediocre reviews, this Krueger-helmed entry used the dead teenager formula in a more productive way then others of that late 80s era. A noteworthy viewing that will either elicit a chuckle or a yawn.

4. The Burning –

During the very early 80s, the horror genre was inebriated with copious amounts of blood, boobs, and mass serial killers offing drunk, fornicating teenagers. We can thank Sean S. Cunningham and his profound Friday the 13th film for that. What follows in his films legendary footstep into the horror world are massive attempts at making a similar premise work. The Burning is one of those entries. I myself was not a huge fan of the slasher genre that was brought on by F13th. The slasher flicks are very shallow and are only an excuse to spray blood and gore on helpless young nubile females.

Most people watch these films for that specific interest. I am one who relies more on plot, character, development, and (of course) fantastic special effects. The Burning incorporates all of the cliché formula components while encompassing a decent story about a camp handyman/bully of campers named Cropsey who is completely burned by a group of campers and their prank that has gone awry. What follows is Cropsey’s return to the camp years later, and his vengeance that is bestowed upon the current campers and counselors (one of which is a kid from the aforementioned prank).

The effects are amazingly done by a young Tom Savini (who helmed special effects for the original F13th as well as another great slasher film from this era, The Prowler). This has to be some of Savini’s more extreme work along with William Lustig’s Maniac and George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (which we will get to later). The burning is a fun watch that delivers all of the popular Halloween-gag scares but gives you enough of a story to keep things interesting. Watch with a strong stomach.

3. Night of the Creeps –

Night of the Creeps is one of the more fun and interesting films to watch during the Halloween month because of its silliness to incorporate many of the clichés from films during the fantastic 50s and have fun with it. Even while watching the film, the cinematography gives off a film glow not present since the era of commies, aliens, and giant mutant bugs. Night of the Creeps starts off with a bang a never really slows down, due to director Fred Dekker’s ability to integrate a strong plot with believable characters not to mention an always strong effort from one of the genre’s most beloved and amazing heroes, Tom Atkins as one of the main protagonist, Sgt. Ray “Thrill Me” Cameron.

1950s – Above Earth, a rogue alien (looking similar to a mix between Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 80s cartoon show, and popular horror dwarf actor, Phil Fondacaro) unleashes an experimental parasite onto Earth. The parasite quickly claims a host and is then cryogenically frozen with said host following a rather grim plot device involving Ray Cameron, an ex-girlfriend, and a murderous escaped mental patient.

Present Day mid 80s - Two college dweebs release the frozen corpse in a fraternity pledge gone awry. The corpse then releases the slug-like parasites amongst an unsuspecting university community turning already mindless students into mindless zombies.

Not to be missed, Night of the Creeps forgoes the horror genre’s tired mid-80s formula and delivers a film that is fun and entertaining. A must for those interested in Halloween shenanigans!

2. Flesheater –

This lesser known and extreme low budget zombie gore fest is a product of writer/director/actor Bill Hinzman, known throughout the horror world as the cemetery zombie in George A. Romero’s seminal cult classic, Night of the Living Dead. In some instances, the well-trained horror film fan can determine that Hinzman was particularly interested in resurrecting his cemetery zombie character form NotLD. Hinzman’s “Flesheater” even has the same type of suit worn by the icon zombie from the aforementioned film.

Flesheater uses much of the same tired plot device of partying-drunk teens and the shenanigans that ensue. Teens charter a farmer and his tractor into some barren woods to drink beer and possibly fornicate on the eve of Halloween (although much of the latter we are not treated to). Within the same area, another farmer is exhuming an old tree stump, while simultaneously uncovering an ancient coffin protected by a magical pendant. Low and behold, the flesheater is back and claims the farmer as his first victim by viciously tearing his throat out with his teeth (hence the name of the film). As the victims pile up, they resurrect and all eventually become flesheaters, infecting much of the town.

Now, remember my assumption of Hinzman and his throwback to Romero’s NotLD? This becomes even more evident with the arrival of Vince Survinski at the end of Flesheater. Survinski is the gunman who kills NotLD’s protagonist Ben. If you have that tidbit of knowledge, watching the ending of Flesheater is a slap in the face to Romero purists everywhere. Flesheater is a great film to watch during the Halloween month and is not to be taken seriously by anyone, whether that’d be a purist or relaxed viewer. You honestly cannot take a film seriously with an alternate title of Zombie Nosh.

1. Day of the Dead –

This is it. The Mecca of all zombie films. This is the film that was supposed to be the most epic and groundbreaking zombie film ever made…until George A. Romero stuck to his guns against the production company that wanted a guaranteed R-rated picture. Although the film did not turn out as expected, I can’t help but thank Romero for giving us some of the most renowned gore effects in the history of horror. Gore aside, the depth given to Romero’s believable characters only initiates positive emotions and reviews. Many do not feel this way. To them, I say go have a Yoo-Hoo.

Day of the Dead opens with one of the most jarring title sequences ever filmed. The arrival of the genre defining “Dr. Tongue” followed by the pounding score of John Harrison gives you an idea of what is in store. The story follows a group of government scientists and military personnel who are housed beneath an old army missile silo. The scientists are working to find a cure to the zombie epidemic that has been running rampant above. The military is there to protect the scientists from the undead. Ego clashing and violence ensue between both human groups with the only progress of the scientific studies being lead scientist Dr. Logan nicknamed Dr. Frankenstein by his cohorts, teaching a zombie, who he named Bub, to speak, use a gun, and work a tape player, among other things. Soon, things go wrong and the undead are unleashed into the silo to mark one of the most violent and bloody zombie killing sprees ever known to celluloid. The gore effects have to be seen to believe. Savini hits every mark imaginable! To say anymore about this gem of a film would not do it justice. Shut up and watch this movie on Halloween Eve!!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Horror Blogger MEME

1: In Ten Words or Less, Describe Your Blog:

Independent horror conservatism with bits of heavy metal and schlock.

2: During What Cinematic Era Where you Born?

The Video Nasty Era (Mid 80s) where great films ruled the silver screen and VHS-BETA was king!

3: The Carrie Compatibility Question:

Sue Snell or Chris Hargensen, who would you take to the prom?

I would not go to that prom!

4: You have been given an ungodly amount of money, and total control of a major motion picture studio - what would your dream Horror project be?

I would give all the money to George Romero so he can make any film he would like to make. That would be my dream x millions!

5: What horror film "franchise" that others have embraced, left you cold?

Numerous franchises have turned me off. More notable ones include: F13th, NoES, Scream, etc...Pointless slasher stupidity...although NoES has a very unique character in Freddy--the schlock tends to get old.

6: Is Michael Bay the Antichrist?

No, Barack Obama is the Antichrist...Bay is a misguided former hairdresser turned producer. That alone should let you know that anything he touches will turn flaccid.

7: Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Frankenstein Monster - which one of these classic villains scares you, and why?

Well, Dracula's weaknesses are many and I would have no problem dispatching him in any of the easier ways to snuff him.

The Frankenstein Monster was misguided and more of a giant child who could be bought with a rattle or decapitated head of a child so he shouldn't be a problem.

Its the damn Wolfman that would scare the shit out of me. Silver bullets? Who that hell manufactures and sells silver bullets? This guys would tear apart anything with a few strokes of the mandibles. Horrifying! Chaney is God!

8: Tell me about a scene from a NON HORROR Film that scares the crap out of you:

It would have to be the Russian Roulette scene from The Deer Hunter. Beautifully crafted scene with the tension of a thousand rubber bands wrapped around Lloyd Kaufman's pelvic area. Those that laugh know what I'm talking about.

9: Baby Jane Hudson invites you over to her house for lunch. What do you bring?

A Wrap it Up Box cause if the bitch starts any funny shit I'm gunna wrap that crazy bird up!

10: So, between you and me, do you have any ulterior motives for blogging?

Its my way to free associate. I could care less if anyone reads. This blog pertains to me and me only. Its an open dialect of who I am.

11: What would you have brought to Rosemary Woodhouse's baby shower?

I'd bring Reagan over from The Exorcist movie to show her that she doesn't have it all that bad!

12: Godzilla vs The Cloverfield Monster, who wins?

Without question! Godzilla would smash on this unforeseen hunk of mess!

13: If you found out that Rob Zombie was reading your blog, what would you post in hopes that he read it?

Your lame.

14: What is your favorite NON HORROR FILM, and why?

I have too many to list, but one that really has been circulating with me is BLUE VELVET. Dennis Hopper was a gift to film and he was misunderstood and heavily disregarded by  many. Blue Velvet is a pinnacle of amazing character depth and realization for Hopper. RIP maestro!

15: If blogging technology did not exist, what would you be doing?

Writing writing and writing! I would probably have my short collection of stories and poetry published already!
*thanks to Pax Romano of Billy Loves Stu for creating this meme.