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.

Running

Running is starting to become easier for me. Maybe it’s that I’m getting healthier as I get older. Or maybe it’s that I’m scared.

Scared of what?

Mortality. I’m “runnin’ from the devil”, perhaps. You get older you get closer to the big sleep. It’s inevitable. It’s gonna happen. “I’m still relatively young. I’ve got plenty of time left”, said the guy that died at 46-years old of a brain aneurysm. It doesn’t matter how old you are. The man in the bright nightgown could be anywhere. Maybe in that plate of pasta you’re eating too fast, or in an 18-wheeler barreling around the corner that’s slowly creeping into your lane. He could be with that guy in the camouflage onesie with an assault rifle flung over his shoulder walking into the bagel shop you’re getting breakfast in. That knock on the door, that tick in your chest, that twinge in your head; it could mean curtains when you least expect it.

So I’ll keep on running.

Maybe I’m running from myself. Maybe I’m running from someone I was a long time ago that I’ve long since divorced myself from. That guy that didn’t think about things like pre-hypertension, cholesterol levels, and hangovers. That guy that could care a less about credit scores, financial stability, and principal interest. He’s that guy that thought college tuitions, “sweet sixteens”, and high school graduations were a lifetime away. He’s that dude that robbed Peter to pay Paul, only to end up cheating Paul out of that money in a shell game and paid Peter back; but only half of it. He’s that dumbass that couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

I’ll lace up and run another lap then.

It could be that I just want to be fit. Running was never an easy thing for me. As a boy in Husky jeans and too tight of t-shirts I was the last one to finish the mile(besides that kid with the limp and lazy eye; though he usually beat me as well.) It didn’t help I had asthma. The wheezing and coughing never made for a triumphant finish. I was the guy that the gym coach was relieved to see he was alive at the end  of that 16 minute mile. “Glad you made it back Hub. I’ll tell the paramedics you’re okay.” As I got older the asthma subsided(except for run-ins with cats and dust), but the fear in running remained. “I’ll walk. It’s not so hard on the joints. That’s what my grandma tells me.” I was a 14-year old curmudgeon. Running seemed like this goal I’d never achieve. I’d have dreams of jogging. It felt invigorating, running in my dreams. I got quite a workout running down the freeway with the Hamburgler and Jean Valjean as we headed to some unknown destination on Tralfamadore. But, as soon as I woke up I’d decide to hold off. That has changed. At ten years old, the tightness in the chest and the pained staccato breaths were worrisome and cause for panic. What are they now?

Progress.

I don’t run the entire time I’m out. Actually, just a half mile to a mile at a time. I’m not killing myself. This isn’t a race. It’s trying to not drop dead of a heart attack at 50- years old, not become Adonis. Or Atlas. Or Ryan Gosling. Or even a tight Ed Harris. I’m mixing and matching. Run a little, walk a lot. Run a little, walk some more. I’ve seen the effects of long distance running on the human body over time. For the last 10 years I’ve seen my dad be rebuilt like a Midwestern Humpty Dumpty. He ran regulary through most of my childhood. Now he’s just running(walking slowly) to the orthopedic surgeon. An ankle surgery here, a knee surgery there. Maybe an Achilles heel for good measure. My brother got on the running kick a few years ago. He started out jogging in the neighborhood, then he worked his way out of the neighborhood and onto county roads. I thought “Good for him.” Then I’d see him and he’d have knee braces on. Then ankle braces. Then I’d see him less and less. Then nothing. It’s that “all or nothing” thing. Maybe he was working towards permanent retirement from physical activity and running was the key to that.

“How do  I completely destroy every limb, tendon, and joint in my body in less than a month?”

“Just start running, fatboy.”

Nah. That won’t be me. Running is just part of a balanced exercise diet. It’s merely a course in a long, sweaty, breathless meal. It’s the hot tamales sprint before the cool sangria stroll, or something like that. For many, exercise and running is the gateway to some fit and lean goal. For me it’s many things, but not really that. It’s not self-absorption or vanity that drives me to put one foot in front of the other in quick succession. It’s really just Darwinism in cross trainers. Survival of the fittest, literally. You see, when that zombie apocalypse hits I don’t want to be the guy consumed by a group of slow, trotting, decomposing walkers. I want to be the guy sprinting through the mall parking lot and making his way inside, past the Orange Julius stand and the DeBrand chocolate shop. I want to be the old guy jogging through the neighborhood with an Ensure in one hand and a AARP card in the other, taking his grandkids to go see some inappropriate movie their parents surely wouldn’t approve of. I don’t want to get winded at 75 years old while I tie my New Balance.

That’s really all I want out of running.