Tag Archives: Dawn of the Dead

Fright Club: Best Black Characters in Horror

We didn’t want to let Black History Month slip by without recognizing the best black characters in horror. Obviously, this is actually a countdown and podcast we could have done at any time, but any particular excuse to talk about William Marshall must be taken!

Regardless of the (far too often proven) cliche that the token black character in any horror film is simply the first victim, there are many amazing characters and actors worth celebrating in this list. The all time kickass Pam Grier stars as a voodoo practitioner in Scream Blacula Scream (1973), Morgan Freeman brings his characteristic gravitas to the role of mentor cop and general smartypants in Seven (1995). Wesley Snipes combined vampire and badass in the Blade trilogy, as did Grace Jones in Vamp (1986) – and these are just a few of the candidates we will not be mentioning.

Nope, instead we present you with the five best black characters in horror.

5. Selena (Naomi Harris), 28 Days Later (2002)

When it outbreak comes – and you know it will – what you want on your team is a pharmacist (someone with some medical training) who is not afraid to use a machete. Naomi Harris was the brains and the backbone of the ragtag group of survivors in 28 Days Later. Without her, Cillian Murphy wouldn’t have made it.

The great Danny Boyle, working from a script by Alex Garland (who wrote and directed the magnificent Ex Machina last year), upended a lot of expectations, giving us tenderness in the form of the great Brendan Gleeson, and a vulnerability in the newly-acquainted-with-the-apocalypse Murphy, but the brains and the bravery are Selena’s. That isn’t to say the realities of gender inequality disappear during the apocalypse – Nope! But this is a really uncommon character in a horror film: a strong, black female survivor.

4. Peter (Ken Foree), Dawn of the Dead (1978)

When George Romero returned to his zombie apocalypse in 1978 – nearly a decade after he’d rewritten the zombie code with Night of the Living Dead – he upped the ante in terms of onscreen gore, but there were some pieces of the formula he wasn’t ready to let go of.

Two members of SWAT join their newsman buddy and his producer girlfriend, take off in a helicopter, land at a mall, and set up house while that whole zombie thing blows over. Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. While the leads were flat and bland, Foree not only delivers the film’s strongest performance, but Peter is the most compelling character and the one you’re least willing to see go.

3. Candyman/Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), Candyman (1992)

Oh my God, that voice! Yes, Candyman is a bad dude, but isn’t he kind of dreamy?

Like a vampire, the villain of Cabrini Green needed to be both repellant and seductive for this storyline to work, and Todd more than managed both. With those bees in his mouth and that hook for a hand, he is effortlessly terrifying. But it’s Todd’s presence, his somehow soothing promise of pain and eternity, that makes the seduction of grad school researcher Helen (Virginia Madsen) realistic.

Clive Barker wrote the original story, and the racial tensions that run through the film are both intentional and required. Madsen’s raspy-voiced heroine offers a perfect counterpoint to Todd, both of them a blend of intelligent and sultry that make them more parallel than opposite.

Todd would go on to love again in the Candyman sequel Farewell to the Flesh, as well as star or co-star in countless other horror films, but it was the first time you hear that voice in this film that sealed his fate as an iconic horror villain.

2. Blacula/Mamuwalde (William Marshall), Blacula (1972)

Did someone mention awesome voices and onscreen presence? The great William Marshall is the picture of grace and elegance as Mamuwalde, the prince turned vampire.

The film is a cheaply made Blaxploitation classic, with all that entails. For every grimace-inducing moment (bats on strings, homophobic humor) there’s a moment of true genius, almost exclusively because of Marshall’s command of the screen and the character.

Though he’s often hampered by FX as well as writing, the character remained true throughout the film, even to his death. It’s the kind of moment that could be brushed aside, in a low budget flick with a lot of plot holes and silly make up. But there’s more to Blacula than meets the eye.

Blacula is a tragic antihero and it’s all but impossible to root against him. Marshall brought more dignity to the role of vampire than any actor has, and the strength and respectability he imbues in the character were not just revolutionary at the time, but were so pivotal to that particular character that he has become a legendary character in the genre.

1. Ben (Duane Jones), Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Over the years, much has been made of director George Romero’s assertion that Duane Jones’s casting in Night of the Living Dead had nothing to do with his color; Romero simply gave the role to the best actor.

Maybe so – and certainly Jones’s performance alone has a great deal to do with the success of the film – but casting a black male lead in this particular film at this particular juncture in American history is among the main reasons the film remains relevant and important today.

Jones plays Ben, the level-headed survivor holed up in a Pennsylvania farmhouse trying to wait out the zombipocalypse. Ben is the clear cut leader of this group of survivors, caring for the shell-shocked young white woman (Judith O’Dea), working in tandem with the young couple also hiding out, and engaging in a needless and ugly power struggle with that dick Mr. Cooper.

Jones’s performance is, as Romero points out, easily the strongest in the ensemble, and that work alone would have made the role and the film memorable. But it’s the kick to the gut documentary-style ending that not only marks the film’s sociological period, it is a horrifying reminder of all that has not changed in the world.

Fright Club: Best Horror Movie Openings

The horror prologue—almost a matter of necessity at this point, a short film in itself to introduce the terror, make you jump, serve as a reference point for a third act call-back.

As cliche as they may be, the opening jump scene is still handled more effectively and more memorably in horror than in any other genre. (I’m looking at you, James Bond.) They can become iconic cinematic moments and pop cultural touchstones like Scream or The Ring. They can, without the aid of the rest of the film, haunt your dreams: It, Martyrs. They can amuse you while setting up the rules for the film: Zombieland. Or they can be just astoundingly beautiful, like Rear Window.

We want to thank Brandon Thomas for joining us this week to count down the six best (fuzzy math!) opening scenes in horror.

6. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film.

And finally! A strong female lead who seems like a real person. Poor, overworked Ana (Sarah Polley) just wants to get off her nursing shift—a subtly brilliant way to introduce the facts of the infection without beating you about the face and neck with it.

Then on to a quiet ride home with “Have a Nice Day” on the radio—one of many brilliant musical choices by director Zack Snyder—and our first aerial of the tidy suburban landscape that is about to be destroyed.

Cut to ordinary, comfortable wedded bliss, then Vivian in her bloody little nightgown, then a rabid husband, a bloody escape and the second pan around the neighborhood gone insane.

5. The Reflecting Skin (1990)

It isn’t often when documenting horror cinema that you have the need to mention an art director, but for The Reflecting Skin, the work of Rick Roberts deserves a note. His gorgeous, bucolic Idaho is perfectly crafted, with golden wheat and decrepit wooden outbuildings representing both the wholesomeness and decay that will meld in this tale.

Writer/director Philip Ridley has a fascinating imagination, and his film captures your attention from its opening moments. A cherubic tot walks gleefully through wheat fields toward his two adorable little buddies, carrying a frog nearly as big as he is. “Look at this wonderful frog!” he calls out to them.

What happens next is grotesque and amazing – the casual but exuberant cruelty of children. It’s the perfect introduction to this world of macabre happenings as seen through the eyes of a little boy.

4. It Follows (2014)

David Robert Mitchell wears his fondness for the genre on his sleeve. His startlingly realized prologue not only sets you on edge for one of the strongest new genre films in a decade, but it announces that Mitchell, like many of us, is a very big John Carpenter fan.

As Mike Gioulakis’s camera circles this comfortable suburban street, following poor Annie (Bailey Spry) in circles as she decides her next panicky move, Mitchell’s inspirations are clear. It’s both clever and ballsy: drawing comparisons to the genre master in your opening scene can very well set you up for tremendous failure.

But not if you’re about to follow this pristine piece of horror set-up with one of the most imaginative, well-crafted and terrifying films in recent memory. Well done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs0PrI3ylso

3. Halloween (1978)

Speaking of John Carpenter, here’s a guy who knows how to open a movie. The Thing, for instance, brilliantly and almost wordlessly sets up the entire film with an economy and visual style that tells you all you need to know about the harsh environment, isolation and, if you’re really paying attention, the danger that’s afoot.

But it’s the prologue to Halloween that has been the most inspirational of any of his film openings. Backed by his spare and perfect score, the spooky chanting of children sets the mood: black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts/covens of witches with all of their hosts/ you may think it’s scary/ you’re probably right/ black cats and goblins on Halloween night!

Switch to the now-famous killer’s pov through the eye-holes of a Halloween mask—an iconic image clearly inspired by Bava’s devil mask pov shot in Black Sabbath—and then the blank face and bloody knife of the jester-suited Michael Meyers and your masterpiece has taken its first steps.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnWw060ygG8

2. Get Out (2017)

Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” writer/director Jordan Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.

Lakeith Stanfield is just trying to find the party, but he’s lost on McMansion avenue in a suburb. When a sports car slows down next to him and then stops, Peele has introduced utterly perfectly his method of subverting genre expectations to make terrifying salient points about America.

Backed by Flanagan and Allen’s utterly terrifying golden oldie Run Rabbit Run, we watch the age-old genre scene unfold: a vulnerable innocent alone in the dark with no one coming to the rescue. But suddenly it’s not the beautiful co-ed, not the helpless victim we’re trained to worry for, accustomed to seeing as prey. It’s actually the image we’ve been trained to see as the aggressor, the villain, the reason to fear.

And yet, what happens here feels far, far too much like reality.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GheJAxYvbfs&t=5s

1. Jaws (1975)

Poor, drunk Chrissie and her stupid, wasted suiter.

Steven Spielberg, 29-years-old at the time, was about to cause a tidal wave of pop culture defining terror. But first, a late-night beach party, a couple of wholesome if drunken revelers, a late swim and our first taste of John Williams masterpiece of a score.

No, Chrissie does not look like she’s having a good time, and actress Susan Backlini seems to have gone through enough of an ordeal to come away with PTSD. Bill Butler’s camera switches from the disturbing shark’s-eye-view to the even more disturbing close up just above the water line—that line Chrissy keeps crossing, up and down, up and down, and then back and forth and back and forth.

The result was a lingering terror of the water that not only kept you hoping against hope that every member of Amity stayed off that beach, but very likely caused you at least a little anxiety the next time you want for a late night dip.
d: Steven Spielberg; w: Peter Benchley

Fright Club: Best of George A. Romero

Today we salute a man whose career teems with ideas that have been both universal and wildly ahead of their time. There may be no horror filmmaker who’s had more of an influence on his genre than George Romero, whose political leanings and social commentary have given his inventive monster movies the relevance to stand the test of time. A great line, an original idea, and a fantastic pair of glasses – George A. Romero has it all. Here are our five favorites:

5. Creepshow (1982)

By the early Eighties, Romero – who’d basically created the zombie genre – was ready to tackle something slightly different. For Creepshow he teamed up with another genre godfather, Stephen King, who wrote the screenplay (most of which was adapted from his own short stories) and even co-starred.

A series of shorts pulled from the pages of a disgruntled boy’s comic book, Creepshow boasts the wicked humor, juvenile preoccupations and inclination toward comeuppance that mark scary comics. Linked, short form horror had certainly been done previously, but Romero brought a visual sense of the artistry and an affection for the mean-spirited humor that most other films lacked.

He also had a hell of a cast, with appearances by genre favorites Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau as well as King and heavy hitters from outside horror Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook.

They lend a bit of class to some fairly bloodthirsty pieces that find a dim-witted farmer covered in alien foliage, a disabused husband taking advantage of a newly found monster-in-a-box, a cuckolded husband whose revenge plot takes a supernatural turn, plus bugs! Loads of them!

4. The Crazies (1973)

In ’73, Romero used a lot of the same themes from his zombie masterpiece – a genre he’d more or less just created himself – but changed the beast slightly. When military blunder leads to a chemical weapon mishap in a small Pennsylvania town, infected inhabitants go insane. You still end up with a mindless horde capable of anything as well as the fear of contamination, but the fun difference is the unpredictability.

The premise is so ripe: people infected go hopelessly mad. Every version of madness is different. How does each victim behave? Romero didn’t mine this often enough because for him, the real terror was in the government’s behavior. Still, his most provocative ideas here tend to be invested in the varying madness.

Other familiar themes arise as well. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in this film. Indeed, Romero seemed more interested in social commentary than in horror this time around, but once again, his ideas were ahead of their time.

3. Martin (1977)

Martin (John Amplas) is a lonely young man who believes he’s a vampire. He may be – the film is somewhat ambivalent about it, which is one of the movie’s great strengths. He daydreams in black and white of cloaks, fangs and mobs carrying pitchforks.

Or are those memories? Does Martin’s uncle hate him because Martin, as he claims, is really in his Eighties, as his uncle would surely know? Romero has fun balancing these ideas, tugging between twisted but sympathetic serial killer and twisted by sympathetic undead.

Romero’s understated film is more of a character study than any of his other works, and Amplas is up to the task. Quietly unnerving and entirely sympathetic, you can’t help but root for Martin even as he behaves monstrously. It’s a bit like rooting for Norman Bates. Sure, he’s a bad guy, but you don’t want him to get into any trouble!

The film’s a generational culture clash wrapped in a lyrical fantasy, but quietly so. It’s touching, gory at times, often quite tense, and really well made. That, and it’s all so fabulously Seventies!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNIGTSdKPl0

2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Romero returned to the land of the undead in ’78 with a full-color sequel to Night. Set in Philadelphia, at a news broadcast gone crazy, the film follows a news producer, her chopper pilot boyfriend, and two Philly SWAT cops ready to abandon the organized zombie fight and find peace elsewhere. The four board a helicopter, eventually landing on the roof of a mall, which they turn into their private hideaway.

Romero, make-up legend Tom Savini, and Italian horror director Dario Argento teamed up for the sequel. You feel Argento’s presence in the score and the vivid red of the gore.

Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. Romero’s politics are on his sleeve with this one, and he seems to be working to build on successes of his original. He uses the “z” word, digs at Eighties consumerism, shows full-color entrails, and reminds us again that the undead may not be our biggest enemy once the zombie-tastrophe falls.

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

“The scene can best be described as mayhem.”

As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. Romero’s inventive imagination created the genre and the monster from the ground up.

They’re dead.

They’re back.

They’re hungry for human flesh.

Their bite infects the bitten.

The bitten will eventually bite.

Aim for the head.

Romero made a narrative choice that would mark the genre and certainly the filmmaker’s entire career: the mindless monsters outside are not the biggest problem. The shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one inmate turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.

Fright Club: Best Zombie Movies

Ever since Romero reimagined the mindless monster in 1968, horror cinema’s go-to beast has been the zombie. Perfect for true terror or splatter comedy – or, hell, even a romantic comedy now and again – films of the undead proliferated faster than a zombie horde. You can find them in nearly every genre, on almost every continent, and in just about every possible medium including children’s books. (If you have not read Ten Little Zombies, it makes an excellent stocking stuffer. Trust us!)

To help us hone our list we enlisted Dave Man, who kindly joins us on this week’s podcast. If you only have time for 5 (or maybe 6) zombie films, which to choose? Rest easy! We have some candidates.

5. Zombie (1979)

Originally filmed as an unofficial sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, this was director Lucio Fulci’s first true horror film, though he’d done several very violent films previously (Don’t Torture a Duckling, for instance). Shot to showcase violence, and immeasurably aided by Fabio Frizzi’s score, Zombie became a turning point in Z films and in Italian horror.

A boat docks in New York with one undead seaman aboard. A young woman and an investigative reporter head out to the island of that boat’s origins, where her father has been doing scientific work, only to find that the island is overrun with hungry walking corpses.

Fulci’s film tries to marry Romero’s take on the undead with the traditional voodoo narrative of films like White Zombie, but it’s the director’s vivid imagination for festering flesh, plus his now go-to shock of eye gouging, that helped the film make its mark. Plus, zombie-on-shark action!

4. Dead Snow (2009)

Like its portly nerd character Erlend, Dead Snow loves horror movies. A familiarly self-referential “cabin in the woods” flick, Dead Snow follows a handsome mixed-gender group of college students as they head to a remote cabin for Spring Break. A creepy old dude warns them off with a tale of local evil. They mock and ignore him at their peril.

But co-writer/director/Scandinavian Tommy Wirkola doesn’t just obey these rules. He embraces our prior knowledge of the path we’re taking to mine for comedy, but he doesn’t give up on the scares. Wirkola’s artful imagination generates plenty of startles and gore by the gallon.

Spectacular location shooting, exquisite cinematography, effective sound editing and a killer soundtrack combine to elevate the film above its clever script and solid acting. Take the gorgeous image of Norwegian peace: a tent, lit from within, sits like a jewel nestled in the quiet of a snowy mountainside. The image glistens with pristine outdoorsy beauty – until it … doesn’t.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55uGN58UOkk

3. Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992)

Rated R for “an abundance of outrageous gore,” Braindead is everything the early Peter Jackson did well. It’s a bright, silly, outrageously gory bloodbath.

Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) secretly loves shopkeeper Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Penalver). Unfortunately, Lionel’s overbearing sadist of a mother follows the lovebirds to a date at the zoo, where she’s bitten (pretty hilariously) by a Sumatran rat-monkey (do not mistake this dangerous creature for a rabid Muppet or misshapen lump of clay). The bite kills her, but not before she can squeeze pus into some soup and wreak general havoc, which is nothing compared to the hell she raises once she comes back from the dead.

Braindead is so gloriously over-the-top that nearly any flaw can be forgiven. Jackson includes truly memorable images, takes zombies in fresh directions, and crafts characters you can root for. But more than anything, he knows where to point his hoseful of gore, and he has a keen imagination when it comes to just how much damage a lawnmower can do.

2. Dawn of the Dead (1978/2004)

Romero returned to the land of the undead in ’78 with a full-color sequel to Night. Set in Philadelphia, at a news broadcast gone crazy, the film follows a news producer, her chopper pilot boyfriend, and two Philly SWAT cops ready to abandon the organized zombie fight and find peace elsewhere. The four board a helicopter, eventually landing on the roof of a mall, which they turn into their private hideaway.

Romero, make-up legend Tom Savini, and Italian horror director Dario Argento teamed up for the sequel. You feel Argento’s presence in the score and the vivid red of the gore. Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. Romero’s politics are on his sleeve with this one. He uses the “z” word, digs at consumerism, shows full-color entrails, and reminds us again that the undead may not be our biggest enemy once the zombie-tastrophe falls.

Plenty of filmmakers have remade or reimagined Romero’s flicks, but none did it as well as Zack Snyder.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpuNE1cX03c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhsutNfvuAY

1 Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual, and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. His inventive imagination created the genre and the monster from the ground up.

They’re dead.
They’re back.
They’re hungry for human flesh.
Their bite infects the bitten.
The bitten will eventually bite.
Aim for the head.

The shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one inmate turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.

Listen to the whole podcast HERE.

Day 12: Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Plenty of filmmakers remade or reimagined George Romero’s flicks, but none did it as well as Zack Snyder. Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Night of the Living Dead sequel with high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley) who seems like a real person. Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed, and genuinely terrifying.

Plus, one truly good guy, one effective change-of-heart character, an excellent slimeball, and solid performances all around keep you invested in the characters.

You’ve got to kind of make up your own mind about the zombie-baby, though.

And who hates Nicole? I do. I hate Nicole.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Fright Club: Best Horror Sequels

Who says a sequel can’t be better – or at least as good – as the original? If you look closely, there are loads of excellent horror sequels: New Nightmare, Scream 2, 28 Weeks Later, Ringu 2, The Devil’s Rejects. But which are the best of the best? We have the answer!

5. Exorcist III (1990)

William Peter Blatty wrote and directed this dialogue-dense sequel to the 1973 phenomenon William Friedken had made of his novel. Blatty starts strong enough, garnishing shots with vivid, elegantly creepy images. He enlists George C. Scott to anchor the tale of a cop drawn back into a supernatural case. In other inspired casting, New York Nicks great Patrick Ewing plays the angel of death in one of Kinderman’s freaky dream sequences, joined by romance novel coverboy Fabio as another angel. Also, the always great character actress Nancy Fish plays the bitchy but reluctantly helpful Nurse Allerton.

There are also two of the scariest scenes in cinema. Eventually the story moves into a hospital and stays there, but just before that move, there’s a terrific confessional scare – crazy spooky voice, effective cackle, blood – that elevates the entire project.

And then there’s that insane flash of terror as one nurse crosses the narrow hallway in front of the camera, quickly followed by some gauze-draped figure, arms outstretched. Eep!

4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Romero returned to the land of the undead in ’78 with a full-color sequel to Night of the Living Dead. The film follows a news producer, her chopper pilot boyfriend, and two Philly SWAT cops ready to abandon the organized zombie fight and find peace elsewhere. The four board a helicopter, eventually landing on the roof of a mall, which they turn into their private hideaway.

Romero, make-up legend Tom Savini, and Italian horror director Dario Argento teamed up for this sequel. You feel Argento’s presence in the score and the vivid red of the gore. Bloated, dated, and suffering from blue zombie make up, the film does not stand up as well as the original, but it still packs a punch.

Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. Romero’s politics are on his sleeve with this one. He uses the “z” word, digs at Eighties consumerism, shows full-color entrails, and reminds us again that the undead may not be our biggest enemy once the zombie-tastrophe falls.

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Tobe Hooper revisited his southern cannibal clan 12 years after unleashing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on an unsuspecting world, and he had the great Dennis Hopper in tow. Hopper plays a retired Texas Marshall. He joins forces with a radio host, played gamely by Caroline Williams. Together they flush the Sawyer family out of hiding. And just in case we’d missed how Leatherface got his name, the act of removing someone’s face to wear as a mask is revisited in a kind of weird wooing ritual.

TCM2 certainly gets weird, and boasts an unhinged performance by Hopper as a lawman willing to make some ugly choices to follow his obsession. Jim Siedow (The Cook) returns, and veteran genre favorite Bill Moseley adds a quirky ugliness to the proceedings. There’s also an awful lot of screaming, even for this kind of a film, but it’s a worthy genre flick. It pales in comparison to the original, but it deserves its own appreciation. Hold it up against any other low-rent horror output of 1986 and it’s a standout.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUyEaYxTI2U

2. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987)

In 1981, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell crafted the single bloodiest film ever made. Six years later, Raimi gets a little Ray Harryhausen and Campbell gets a makeover in a sequel that’s mostly a remake. An even broader comedy, with clay-mation monsters aplenty, Evil Dead II works harder for laughs than for scares.

Expect a lot of the same: Necronomicon, possessed friends, demonic woods, dismemberment, and fun. Plus hundreds of gallons of black, green, and red goo. Nice.

The wide eyed, romantic Ash from episode one slowly morphs into the ass kicking, catch phrase spouting, boom-boom stick toting badass we’ll see in all his glory in the third installment. Ash would finally learn how important it is not to listen to tapes left by the owners of the cabin you’re secretly squatting in for the weekend. And we’d eventually learn never to wear Michigan State paraphernalia when camping with Bruce Campbell.

1. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

James Whale and Boris Karloff returned to Castle Frankenstein for an altogether superior tale of horror. What makes this one a stronger picture is the dark humor and subversive attitude, mostly animated by Frankenstein’s colleague Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger).

Thesiger’s mad doctor makes for a suitable counterpart to the earnest and contrite Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive, again), and a sly vehicle for Whale. This fey and peculiar monster-maker handles the most brilliant dialogue the film has to offer, including the iconic toast, “To gods and monsters.”

The sequel casts off the earnestness of the original, presenting a darker film that’s far funnier, often outrageous for its time, with a fuller story. Karloff again combines tenderness and menace, and Elsa Lanchester becomes the greatest goth goddess of all film history as his Bride.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.

Fright Club: Best Horror Reboots

This week the new Ghostbusters cast was announced and for the first time, we were excited about this reboot. The reimagining of a classic is hard to do well, which is obvious when you count the unforgivably botched horror reboots there are: Shutter, The Eye, The Hills Have Eyes, Prom Night, Rob Zombie’s Halloween – don’t even make us say Oldboy. It’s a long, depressing list. But that only makes those rare gems – the well-made reboots – shine the brighter.

Here is a list of horror reboots we love – maybe even as much as we loved the original!

Funny Games (1997, 2007)

Michael Haneke is a genius, an amazing creator of tension. Everything he’s done deserves repeated viewing. With Funny Games, he makes it easy because he made it twice.

A family pulls into their vacation lake home to be quickly bothered by two young men in white gloves. Things deteriorate.

Haneke begins this nerve wracking exercise by treading tensions created through etiquette, toying with subtle social mores and yet building dread so deftly, so authentically, that you begin to clench your teeth long before the first act of true violence.

As teen thugs put the family through a series of horrifying games, they (and Haneke) remind us that we are participating in this ugliness, too. We’ve tuned in to see the family tormented. Sure, we root for them, but we came into this with the specific intention of seeing harm come to them. So, the villains rather insist that we play, too. In one particularly famous scene, Haneke decides to play games with us as well.

His English language remake is a shot for shot repeat of the German language original. In both films, the performances are meticulous. This is true of the entire cast, but it’s the villains who sell this. Whether the German actors Arno Frisch and Frank Giering or the Americans Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt, the bored sadism that wafts from these kids is seriously unsettling, as, in turn, is each film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48s781bxWF8

Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004)

Zack Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley). Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

The Ring (1998)/Ringu (2002)

Gore Verbinski’s film The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of the fledgling director. Verbinski’s film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.

This is basically the story of bad mom/worse journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts) investigating the urban legend of a video tape that kills viewers exactly seven days after viewing.

The tape itself is the key. Had it held images less bizarre the whole film would have collapsed. But the tape was freaky. And so were the blue-green grimaces on the dead! And that horse thing on the ferry!

And Samara.

From cherubic image of plump cheeked innocence to a mess of ghastly flesh and disjointed bones climbing out of the well and into your life, the character is brilliantly created. (It’s actually a full grown man who climbs herky-jerky out of the TV.)

Hideo Nakata’s original was saddled with an unlikeable ex-husband and a screechy supernatural/psychic storyline that didn’t travel well. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger did a nice job of re-focusing the mystery.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”

At this point we realize he means us, the audience.

We watched the tape! We’re screwed!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PkgRhzq_BQ

Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flick in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.

Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Linda Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

Hollywood’s 2010 version is the less confusingly entitled Let Me In, and fans of the original that feared the worst (ourselves included) can rest easy. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.

While the original had an ominous sense of dread, a feel of bleak isolation, and a brazen androgyny that the update can’t touch, Let Me In scores points all its own.

Together the films set the standard for child vampire fare, and neither one should be missed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYcBSQokyBU

The Crazies (1973/2010)

Just five years after Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero found himself interested in taking his zombiism concepts in a different direction. Building a cumulative sense of entrapment and dread, the both versions of this film rely on a storyline whisper-close to a zombie tale, but deviate in a powerful way. The slight alteration plumbs for a different kind of terror.

The military has accidentally tainted a small town’s drinking supply with a chemical. Those who drink the water go hopelessly mad. Both films begin by articulating humankind’s repulsion and fear of infection and loss of control before introducing the greater threat – our own government.

Romero was more interested in social commentary than in horror, therefore his film is not as scary as it could be. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in his film.

Breck Eisner’s remake offers solid scares, inventive plotting, and far better performances than expected in a genre film. Eisner’s languid pace builds dread and flirts with an effectively disturbing sense of compassion. His sense of timing provides a fine balance between fear of the unknown and horror of the inevitable. He also has a far more talented cast, and he mines individual madness for more terror – although he pulls one punch Romero was happy to land.

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Halloween Countdown, Day 7

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Plenty of filmmakers remade or reimagined George Romero’s flicks, but none did it as well as Zack Snyder. Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Night of the Living Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley) who seems like a real person. Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

Plus, one truly good guy, one effective change-of-heart character, an excellent slimeball, and solid performances all around keep you invested in the characters.

You’ve got to kind of make up your own mind about the zombie-baby, though.

And who hates Nicole? I do. I hate Nicole.