Thursday, November 19, 2009

Essential Zombie Movie Viewing

Essential to the appreciation of Zombie Cinema are the classics: Night Of The Living Dead (1968), Dawn Of The Dead (1978), and Day Of The Dead (1985). If you have not seen these films, read no further, hie thee to a video store and purchase—not rent, purchase—post haste this holiest of trilogies. This post will be here when you return. The following movies are in no particular order, other than that in which they occurred to me.

THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974). The government is field testing a sonic device designed to provoke insects into attaching and devouring each other, thereby negating the need for expensive and poisonous insecticides. Unfortunately, this devices emanations are also provoking infant humans to attack their caregivers and, well, it also raises up the dead who attack and devour the living. A rarity, then: a zombie film with an ecological message. It is also the best of the first crop of post-NOTLD zombie movies, with its own, distinctive atmosphere of dread and lurching menace. Previously released as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Anchor Bay), it is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Blue Underground.

CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972). Starring Alan Ormsby in what is widely considered to be to single most annoying performance captured on film. Is it? Well, yeah, he's really fucking annoying, like, please God, kill him, I beg you annoying. But that's okay—that's what kind of movie this is. Don't go into this expecting wall-to-wall zombie gut crunching; it takes a while to warm up. The dead seemingly rise up for the singular purpose of dragging Ormsby's character to hell and, by the time they do, you're right there with them.

THE BEYOND (1981), HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1983). Lucio Fulci's "Real Estate" trilogy, each involving a parcel of land or piece of property. The secret ingredient here, the element that raises this trio of films above the rest of Fulci's horror oeuvre is the work of writer Dardano Sacchetti. Rather than employing a linear narrative, Sacchetti instead creates a series of linked nightmare setpieces; rather than guiding us through a proper story, we are allowed to view, at length, the interior workings of minds terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. More revealing is the moment in City wherein a character, face to bloody face with one of the living dead, turns away; when he turns back, the gore-encrusted specter is gone, vanished, like a dream.

DEAD/ALIVE aka BRAINDEAD (1992). Quite possibly the goriest, bloodiest, sploshiest zombie movie of all time. It also features a terrific story (a rather uplifting one at that), spot-on performances, and Peter Jackson at the height of his directorial powers.

CEMETERY MAN (1994). Michele Soavi, actor (threw up his guts—literally—in City Of The Living Dead; had his eye gouged out by a raven in Opera) and frequent director, turns out a visionary work. Based on the novel by Tiziano Sclavi, creator of the Dylan Dog comic and starring Rupert Everett as the titular character, caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery—he buries them and, when they come back from the dead—he shoots them and buries them again. Surreal, beautiful, and sexy. Anna Falchi is extraordinarily easy on the eyes. (Sidebar: Oddly enough, Rupert Everett was the physical model for Dylan Dog, somehow making him the perfect casting choice for cemetery man Francesco Dellamort√©. It is Brandon Routh, however, who is playing Dylan Dog in the upcoming movie adaptation of the comic strip.)

DEAD & BURIED (1981). Gary Sherman, director of the latter day British classic, Raw Meat, turned his eye toward the living dead to deliver an off-kilter zombie movie with a fascinating twist. James Farentino, sheriff of a small Maine fishing town, is beset on all sides by bizarre murders and the possibility of the dead returning to a semblance of life, all tied to Jack Albertson's funeral parlor. Delightfully creepy, with a snappy sting in its tail.

THE EVIL DEAD (1981), EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN (1987), and ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992). Groovy!

RE-ANIMATOR (1985), BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (1990), and BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003). Without Bruce Campbell there would be no Evil Dead; without Jeffrey Combs there would be no Re-Animator. Even though Combs looks nothing at all like the tow-headed fiend described by Lovecraft.

SHOCK WAVES (1977). Okay, yeah, Wiederhorn did direct Return Of The Living Dead Part 2, but this is no reason to ignore the greatest Underwater Nazi Zombie movie of all time. The special effects and monster make-up was, ironically enough, created by Alan Ormsby.

LAST RITES OF THE DEAD (2006). Marc Fratto, writer/director of the frenetic, kinetic vampire movie Strange Things Happen At Sundown, turns his attention to the walking dead in what could possibly be the best zombie of the new millennium, much as I hate using the phrase "new millenium." The dead rise up, but they're not the discombobulated eating machines of yore; they are walking, talking, rational people who also happen to be dead. When Gina Ramsden is murdered by her boyfriend she joins the ranks of the walking/working dead, ostracized because of her palor and tendency to leak from the bullet wound in her head. She joins a support group, tries to fit in, but is unable to decide who or what she is: life-challenged or simply deprived of the bloody human meat chunks that make her feel more alive than she was when she was actually alive. The climactic three-way battle between Gina, her boyfriend, and the zombie wiccan priestess is a sight to not be missed: vivid, bloody, and whacked right out of its skull. Released cut on DVD as Zombies Anonymous.

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986). Thrill me! (See earlier post.)

NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984). The end of the world does not suck. Amusing, creepy when it needs to be, and funny throughout.

PLAGA ZOMBIE: ZONA MUTANTE (2001). Trying to imagine what a zombie movie directed by Robert Rodriguez would be like? Before he did Planet Terror, I mean. This movie has gore, dismemberments galore, and style to burn. The double disc set, released under the aegis of the Fangoria International label and retitled Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone, also included the first movie in the series, Plaga Zombie, which is cool but not nearly as cool at the sequel.

TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1973). Amando de Ossorio's Spanish classic. Templar knights, hanged for turning from God and performing hideous blood rites to make them immortal, return from the dead to revenge themselves on the living.  Only the first sequel, Return Of The Blind Dead (aka Return Of The Evil Dead in some circles) comes close to matching the original. Night Of The Seagulls, fourth in the series, does have a cool-sounding title, though.

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