The Dead Do What The Dead Do, Dude

George A. Romero had a way with zombies. His first three zombie films, the trilogy if you will, stand as a testament to the whole zombie genre of filmmaking in my eyes. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were not only horrific tales of the dead rising from their graves(or from wherever they may have dropped dead initially), but there was real biting(no pun intended) social commentary within those two films.

Night came out at a time when the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, and segregation were all still very much in the forefront of social and political discussion. He mixed old school horror, new school gore, and very real race issues into a one of a kind late night drive-in flick.

Dawn took a small group of survivors(including two from a news channel and two soldiers) and dropped them in the relative safety of an abandoned mall to attempt to rebuild their lives. It really spoke to a time in the late 70s when malls were becoming all the rage and on some existential level a place where we felt at home. A one stop shopping experience where we could buy clothes, appliances, semi-automatic weapons, jewelry, and grab an Orange Julius while we were at it. As our protagonists found out, no matter how many amenities we may have, life and living can’t be created out of thin air.

So that leaves us with the third film, Day of the Dead. It is obviously the lesser of the three. It had the potential to be another amazing horror film, but the budget was cut drastically which caused Romero to cut down the screenplay significantly which caused his story to lack. Here’s the thing, I think that may be partially true. There’s a feeling that Romero had a lot more to say about the militarization of the country in an apocalyptic situation such as a zombie invasion. And I could see a case for science vs soldiers. These could have been really interesting topics to explore had their been the money and proper resources for Romero to work with. As it turns out he took a 200 page script and cut it down to an 88 page script. I would’ve gladly sat through a 3-hour epic story about zombies, soldiers, scientists, and the battle to save civilization. What we got was a movie with a lot of overacting, scene-chewing, lots of yelling, a strong female lead, stereotypes, misogynistic soldiers, and some of the best gore from the 80s.

So many characters over shot in this film; in-particular Joseph Pilato as Capt Henry Rhodes, Anthony Dileo Jr as Salazar, and the gruesome twosome soldiers under Pilato’s Rhodes. There was just so much chewing of the scenes here that it made it hard to even concentrate on the well done acting that was going on(Lori Cardille, Richard Liberty, and Sherman Howard were actually great in this.) I’m not against hamming it up a bit for the sake of fun, but the crassness of the soldiers towards the female doctor was just a little over the top for me. I think it would’ve been more effective for the misogyny to take a backseat to more existential dread of being stuck in an underground base for all eternity.

Despite all that I still love this film.

I recently grabbed the reissue of John Harrison’s excellent score courtesy of Waxwork Records. Putting this on the turntable I was reminded how much I really liked the music in this film. When it starts playing I’m instantly taken to those scenes. The opening scene of Dr. Sarah Bowman’s nightmare, to the title sequence with Tom Savini’s handiwork, to the scenes with Bub re-learning to be human again; the score was a very visceral experience for me. It’s the sort of thing that hits you like something locked away in your subconscious for years that’s set free at the drop of a needle.

Before I oversell this thing, let me first say it’s definitely a dated score. The film came out in 1985 and the soundtrack shows. There’s lots of 80s keyboard tones here. Some of these motifs could have been stand ins for 80s network TV melodramas, but don’t judge it on that. It’s all well done. Harrison made a career out of working with George Romero, having been a Pittsburgh guy himself. He seems to have locked into what Romero needed for his films. As well as Day of the Dead, he scored Creepshow and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, as well as serving as executive producer on Romero’s Survival of the Dead. He had a lifelong connection with the king of the Dead, so he added just the right touches to Day. It’s a very warm score; human, even. It goes a long way to help add humanity to a lot of living characters that come across as dead inside as the zombies they’re hiding from.

Though Day of the Dead didn’t turn out the way the late master of Horror wanted it to, it’s still a solid chapter in the zombie canon of George Romero. It also has some of the best gore from any film in the 80s thanks to Tom Savini. It’s also got one hell of a score by John Harrison.

October is finally here. Let the horror(of the cinematic variety) begin.

King of the Dead : George Romero 1940-2017

The first movie that ever truly got to me was George Romero’s Creepshow. At 10 years old I watched the George Romero/Stephen King horror collaboration and was more and more horrified as each story unfolded until we reached “The Crate” and I felt my blood run cold. Something about that scene where the college student goes under the stairs and is pulled into the aforementioned crate by the Tasmanian Devil and is gnawed on and killed. Blood running down his shirt as he’s pulled up into the crate to be a late night snack. That scene made my stomach curdle(and I hadn’t even gotten to the “bug” episode.)

That movie and that moment put me on a track to horror-dom that I’ve never quite gotten off of, and I owe it all the George Romero(and I suppose Stephen King, too.) That night started a journey into all things creepy, kooky, and downright disturbing. While many directors helped to fill my psyche with visions of the bizarre and bloody, no one did it with as much class as George Romero. Before Creepshow I had seen Night of the Living Dead on late night TV, but it didn’t really sink into my brain at 7 or 8 years old. Once Creepshow indoctrinated me, I was off and running. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was the game changer. It was disturbing, chaotic, quirky, gory, and it spoke to society and consumerism. You couldn’t go to the mall after seeing DotD and not see blue-skinned zombies walking around with Orange Julius cups and Hot Sam pretzels. Day of the Dead, while not as essential as Dawn, still spoke to the evil that men do went left to their own devices. It also upped the ante in the gore department.

Those two movies, along with after revisiting Night of the Living Dead felt like these massive peaks that every horror filmmaker ever since have been trying to ascend to. George Romero wanted to scare the hell out of you, but he also wanted to comment on the current state of affairs. He wasn’t out to give us cheap thrills. He wanted to show us the horrors that awaited us outside our very front doors that we weren’t willing to look for ourselves. Romero’s zombie films were like these carnival mirrors showing us the world in distorted, grotesque fashions. You could get lost in the metaphors within those films, so if you chose just to enjoy the gore, story, acting, and sights instead no one could blame you. Least of all George Romero.

Besides his series of zombie films that changed horror forever, George Romero made many more amazing horror films. Martin, The Crazies, Monkey Shines, The Dark Half, Bruiser, and even his collaboration with Dario Argento Two Evil Eyes all showed Romero’s unique eye and perspective on a genre that had been weighted down by sleazy thrills and cheap production design.

George Romero came from a place of creating art over commerce. His influences were heavy hitters and included Orson Welles, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Michael Powell’s The Tales Of Hoffman as one of his favorite films. His films never felt like cheap horror. They borrowed from the classics that came before and built their own worlds within Romero’s keen eye and knack for storytelling. He could’ve told stories in any genre, but horror was where he found a unique space to tell his stories. Edgar Allan Poe, with his morality plays as seen through the eyes of a doomed world and lovelorn spirit, is where Romero himself found a spot to speak out on society’s missteps and foibles. There’s nothing more horrifying than what’s lurking in our own subconscious, waiting to rise up when we least expect it.

We’ve lost one of the great voices in horror cinema, or any cinema for that matter. Romero saw the world, both the good and bad, and attempted to portray them both with equal fervor in his films. Despite the darker dispositions of his films, he was a man with heart and the desire to make great art. If he’d only made Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead and had stopped at that point we’d still be talking about the man as a genius.

Long live George Romero, the King of the Dead.

 

 

Ole. Okay?

DSC04269Technically my week-long sabbatical from work is over. It’s Friday evening, 6:38pm to be exact, and this would now be considered just another Friday night. But fear not, I’m not letting technicalities bring me down. No way, pal. The big cold shoulder from Mother Nature is on it’s way, and she’s making it extra cold. Highs are going to be in the negatives on Monday, with Sunday possibly bringing a foot of snow. That Mother Nature, she’s a feisty one. So in preparation for such arctic temps and glacial situations, I’ve stocked our pantry and fridge with essentials: milk, eggs, cheese, meat, fruits, and beer. Yep, we’re covered. Oh, and there’s a new container of peanut butter and two loaves of bread in case things get hairy. I don’t see it getting to PB&J desperation. It’s better to be cautious than some carefree, peanut butter-lacking idiot, am I right?

Since it is Friday night, there’s a record playing(Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out to be exact)and a beer next to me(Old Style…yep, Chicago’s finest lager. A stained wife beater will be worn momentarily.) Earlier I spun John Coltrane’s Ole. It took me some time to grab this album. Not sure why. Maybe because I don’t speak Spanish? No, that’s not it. That’s just stupid. After some reading up on the album and that Eric Dolphy had something to do with this record(the music, not the actual recording process)I decided to go for it. I picked up the remastered 180 gram version(thanks, Atlantic)haven’t looked back. It’s another great album in a line of great albums by Coltrane. I won’t go into detail, I’ll just say it’s a hell of an album and if that sort of thing tickles your fancy or butters your muffin you should get a hold of this album.

It’s been a lovely week off, I have to admit. A trip to Fort Wayne with the family, New Year’s Eve with the kids and my parents, lots of Old Style beer, and many rounds of euchre(dad and I won one round, while my wife and mom effortlessly skunked us the other two.) New Year’s Day was spent tearing down the circus known as Christmas decorations. I also had to do some emergency surgery on my Audio Technica AT-PL120. I love my turntable. LOVE it. But for some reason the folks at Audio Technica were a little stingy on the RCA cable length and the right side got a short in it. After much plugging and unplugging, checking and re-checking I came to the conclusion that my RCA cable was shot. I got a hold of Morrison at NNN Records and he told me replacing it wasn’t a big deal. After about 45 minutes and much hand wringing I was done and by midnight I had a record playing, and what a glorious sound it made. Glorious, indeed. Thursday the boy and I made a trip into town and got stuck at the entrance of our neighborhood in the snow. After some digging, several gear shifting from reverse to forward, and more expletives than a Quentin Tarantino Director’s Cut we made it out of our snow drift(and just in time for the lovely folks in the white Mercedes SUV to blow through the drift like it was nothing.) We had our “spooky movie night” last night. It’s been decided between my son and I that he shouldn’t watch scary movies for awhile. He loves The Walking Dead and he’s watched all of the Romero zombie flicks as well as all three of Raimi’s Evil Dead films and loves them. LOVES them. Well, Insidious was a little too much for him. We ended up sleeping on the couch last night. All I can say is I’ll be hitting bedtime early this evening. The movie was good. Not as good as the original, but it wasn’t bad. I want to watch The Conjuring again sometime this weekend. I think it’s a classic in the ghost story genre to be honest. James Wan knows his spooky horror stuff for sure. And today was grocery shopping for the snow apocalypse. Many jazz records later our time is coming to a close.

Everyone have a great weekend. Well, if you’re on the west coast you should. Eastern Standard Time, watch out. Wear an extra pair of socks, throw a blanket in the car, and an extra one on the bed. A good weekend for Netflix.

DSC04268
Not pictured: stained wife beater.

New Look. It’s….sassy!!

So I did a little remodeling around the old shop here. I felt the place needed a little updating so I went to it. I’m liking the results.  It’s a little slicker, don’t you think?  Plus it’s black and gray.  Slimming colors.  The blog doesn’t look nearly as big.

We’re only six weeks away from the start of the new school year.  You know what that means, don’t you?  What?  School shopping?  Umm, yeah sure.  It means that.  Huh?  Helping with homework?  Yeah.  It means that, too.  But what I was…what did you say?  Yes.  It means the kids have to get up earlier and get on the bus.  But it also means this: normalcy.  It means I don’t have to come home from work to see a bunch of kids laying around the damn house playing their DS, or mastering some annoying game on their iPod.  It for sure  means I don’t have to see Pretty Little Liars streaming on my tv.  It sure as hell means that.  I think there are two types of scenes on that show.  One is the tension-filled scene, where all the, well, pretty little liars, are standing around talking in muted tones about some deep dark mystery(the friend isn’t dead…she’s just hiding out on another teen drama).  The other scene involves the 30 year old actors portraying the teenage love interests(one of the oldest tricks in the book, I know) talking with the, well, pretty little liars, in muted tones staring longingly and painfully as if trying to hold in a massive gas attack.  All the while some sappy Jack’s Mannequin or Death Cab For Cutie ballad pings in the background.  My girls don’t realize it, but they are watching the equivalent of what my mom watched in the daytime when I was a little kid: Days Of Our Lives.  Pretty Little Liars is a freakin’ soap opera for teenage girls.  Is it a bad thing?  I don’t know.  It’s probably not as bad as dipping a breadstick into a gelatinous butter-flavored goo, or seeing Grand Funk Railroad for free at the city park, but it definitely needs to be kept in check.

I have to admit, the kids have made up for their love of lousy teen dramas by now having a solid interest in old zombie horror films.  And I’m not talking crap.  I’m talking Romero, baby!  Last week over the holiday, the kids and I watched Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn Of The Dead.  A few years ago I went Ebay crazy and bought a few movies, and one of them was Dawn of the Dead: The Ultimate Edition.  Within this black case is not just one, or two versions of this classic gore fest, but three.  The U.S. Theatrical Version, the extended version and the European version.  Plus a fourth disc filled with documentaries.  It’s a horror geek’s playland….if the playland was filled with rotting zombies.  So, we watched the extended version, and the kids loved it!  Man, I’d forgotten about the simple pleasure of enjoying some old school horror.  It was summertime the first time I saw Dawn of the Dead.  It was almost a tradition for awhile.  Every summer I’d get that, a Totinos frozen pizza and some Nestle Ice Teasers and stay up till 2am watching it.  Those were good times, and as ridiculous as it sounds I had that same feeling watching it with my kids.  I come home from work on Monday this week and my oldest tells me “We were looking through your zombie movies.”  I come into the bedroom and scattered all over my bed are The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead and the classic Night of the Living Dead.  Technically, Raimi’s movies weren’t really zombie movies.  But they’re staying in the category.

So yes, I’m looking forward to the kids getting back to school.  Not looking forward to the shopping, tuition, homework, getting them up early and all that jazz.  But I’m looking forward for them to getting back into the routine.  Until then, we’ll kick back in the evenings and I’ll get reacquainted with some of life’s simple pleasures:  iced coffee, lying pretty liars, men pretending to be boys and introducing my children to the wonder of zombies and gore.  If we could combine them all together, that’d just be heavenly.