Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Remember When I Lost My Mind

Here is probably the crowning achievement of George A. Romero on his downtime. I haven’t watched Martin yet, but this smells of superior quality somehow, I could be wrong*. This movie, interestingly enough is like an older sibling to pioneer gross-out I Drink Your Blood. The two have a huge amount in common, not the least of which is actress Lynn Lowry playing a nutcase. The music is a hyper version of the simple electric guitar riff from the first movie, the colors are just as intense, the characters are caricatures of people, the hysteria is hysterical and the ending is ambiguous. This isn’t a zombie film, neither is I Drink Your Blood really, but it’s close enough. This is an incredibly silly movie, but I liked it in spite of myself, just like I Drink Your Blood.

The Crazies
by George A. Romero

The story: the military quarantines a town after an experimental virus gets released that turns people crazy. This goes well. Romero regular Lane Carroll is Judy, a nurse and Will McMillan is her husband David, a volunteer firemen and veteran. When Judy and David are summoned on two equally urgent calls, Judy by her boss Dr. Brookmyre and David by his war buddy and fellow firemen Clank, something serious must be going on. Their calls have to do with the first thing in the movie we see: a man burning down his house with his children and dead wife inside. The children are still alive and contain the virus “trixie” which apparently comes with a few conditions: that a military regiment under the command of the sympathetic Colonel Peckem be sent to force marshal law on the people of Evan’s City, PA, a scientist, who's head of the project must do research in the high school where they've begun quarantining the town folk, and most importantly, civilians have just become expendable. David, Judy, Clank, an old man and his creepy looking daughter (Lynn Lowry) take to the woods to remain out of sight until the whole thing blows over...or until they all catch ‘the bug’ and become crazy....or until the military finds and kills them....

Movies that feature mass hysteria are a favorite of mine; a fondness I inherited from my dad. This one has that and mildly likeable Pennsylvania types do I’m naturally drawn to this picture. The hysteria is fantastic; poorly edited, violent, no continuity between guns fired and squibs blown, impromptu and frequent. They come out of nowhere and they really sucker-punch you. We will see David nervously watching Clank’s behavior get more violent and then out of nowhere comes this incredible sequence of a few dozen men in plaid shirts with rifles firing at the military men in identical white jump suits with gas masks on. Grenades, axes, pitchforks and many, many bullets are used. The absurd quality of the crazies makes the moments of linear plot just that much sillier. Richard France as Dr Watts, the technician on ‘trixie’ is really something to behold. He speaks like an angry Shakespearian actor not given enough room to develop his instrument. He works for hours in the high school chemistry lab, flirting with his assitant, trying to do…something. Not for nothing, the disease is left ambiguous. We know it’s dangerous, that it was spread by monkeys, and that the government wants a plane over Evan’s city ready to nuke the place.

Romero, like Wes Craven is about as subtle as the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to putting anti-conservative messages in their films. The military quarantining a town and killing at random stating marshal law as their reason is not even a metaphor; it just is what it is. The fact that nothing is ever given away and that more and more people are just killed makes this movie and its people hard to sympathize with and hard to watch, especially when they become so crazy that they engage in incest. This surprised me when it came time to feel sad. Watching the mental deterioration of the film's central characters was a lot more effective than it should have been in a film with absolutely no character development. We see a lot of characters with little to no compassion who don’t change, some who are compassionate in very loud and obvious ways, and some who just have their small personalities taken away by ‘Trixie’. It comes as no surprise that in the end Lloyd Hollar’s Colonel Peckem still agrees to supervise the transformation of hamlets into necropolises and David doesn’t seem all that bummed out when he is turned into a military lab rat. He and Peckem exchange knowing glances and the film goes out on a bleak but ineffective note.

The colours and setting are fun to watch, the wilderness of Pennsylvania has always possessed a strange charm that I’ve loved since I was a kid; parts of Doylestown look just like Evans City. Also look for a lot of Romero regulars: Scott H. Reiniger from Dawn of the Dead as a policeman in the first act, A.C. McDonald from Night of the Living Dead’s ending posse is in there somewhere, Richard Liberty who would go on to play Logan in Day of the Dead also present. Richard France, the eye-patched scientist on TV in Dawn plays a sort of precursor to his character here. Most of these people gave much better performances in the other films but who can blame Romero for making a hysteria film where both sides put up an equal fight. Maybe the knowing glance that David and the Colonel give each other is because they knew that Dawn was only a few years away and Romero would end his post-Night slump and show the Europeans how it’s done.

*I was wrong

I Wonder Who The Real Cannibals Are...

Keep the River on your Right
by David Shapiro & Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Tobias Schneebaum is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever encountered. The documentary Keep the River On Your Right is just as enigmatic as he is. It starts by introducing Tobias, an eccentric, profane anthropologist who beguiles his final years by taking jobs as a lecturer on the subject of the tribes of south-eastern asia and central America. We see him as an illustrator, a 78 year old man who used to paint, but stopped after his visit to Peru where he tells us something inside of him died. While lecturing at a museum we find out that while he was there he lived with cannibals and engaged in cannibalism while he lived there for a year.

As this documentary progresses we are shown more and more of this man’s life, his loves all over the world, and his many friends. Interview footage of him on Charlie Rose, Mike Douglas and elsewhere show the incredible naïveté and prudery of the world he escaped by living with tribes for those years in the 1950s. Charlie Rose’s disgust at the thought of a homosexual wife-swapping society is particularly funny. This man had a summer of love existence that was more exotic and violent than most others can claim. Norman Mailer, who lived with Tobias in the 50s speaks about his courageousness and his polar opposite personality traits. More fascinating than this was that Mailer credits Schneebaum as opening his eyes to the world of homosexuals and his mind to the thought of alternative lifestyles. As he discusses his childhood fascination with the Wild Man of Borneo, his mother’s battle with cancer and his current struggle with Parkinson’s disease, we feel sympathy, intrigue and compassion for this 78-year-old man. His story is so fascinating and the imagery of the film so strong that we forget why we rented this movie. He has no desire to relive the reason for his fame , but eventually he is talked into going back to Peru and meet the people he lived with by an incredibly insistent film crew, anxious for a story.

The meat of this film is when the documentary film crew pushes this frail old man to travel further and further down river to find the natives he once lived with. Watching him remember the Peru he left, and even more surprisingly the Peruvians he left remembering him is almost cathartic. As we meet the men he lived with and they remember their days of raiding nearby villages with a smile on their faces, something interesting happens. The directors ingeniously blended this reunion with footage of Mike Douglas and guests reacting to the tales of raids and murderer, but somehow we side with the smiling, singing old men and women of the tribe Schneebaum rediscovers in their untouched glory.

What really gets inside my head is the talk of the raid and how evil Schneebaum must have seemed to the unassuming audience of the 1960s. He went on a hunt painted red with the rest of the men, but it lasted a little longer than usual. When night fell they invaded a nearby village and killed all the men. The Italians really had no idea what they stumbled upon when they started making cannibal movies. Watch this man’s face when he talks about being forced to kill and eat human beings. He’s never dealt with the pain in his head and his words are truly haunting. I wonder what must have run through the heads of Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi when they decided to make their money exploiting the behavior tribes that existed for hundreds of years untouched by the influence of Europeans. The movie, though it veers off course is an effective one. Often times nobody realizes the impact of what they do until much after the fact, as is the case with this man and his cannibalism. Everyone he’ll ever encounter we’ll ask him about it because they don’t understand it, but what they don’t know is that Schneebaum doesn’t understand it either.

“I’m not a cannibal. I’m something else.”

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What A Nightmare! HAHA! Oh Me!

Nightmare City or Incubation of a Contaminated City as it's Italian title would have been originally is really something. All I’ll say about this film before describing it is that in the documentary Tales from a Contaminated City contained on the DVD, Umberto Lenzi, director of The Man From Deep River, Cannibal Ferox and other Italian masterpieces has this to say, “Consider AIDS and how people infected with AIDS have a similar breakdown to the characters in Nightmare City.” Umberto Lenzi just insinuated that AIDS was some sort of copy cat virus that took after the characters in a zombie movie. Astounded? Well, let’s let him explain. “Do you remember in Philadelphia, how it started with a slight outbreak, the fear of appearing different, the breakdown of the physical body, which continues until everyday life is desecrated, this leads to the desolation of social relationships in the organized society, the American society. That’s how it happens in my film in a much more fantastic way.” Yeah, I do remember that. Maybe if you'd put any of it into this piece of shit, it might have been worth a damn. Wait, a minute, did he just compare AIDS to zombiedom? DO YOU SERIOUSLY THINK YOU CAN COMPARE AIDS TO BEING A ZOMBIE, YOU MISERABLE FUCK!? Nevermind that the AIDS crisis wouldn't become public knowledge until about six years after he finished this fucking thing and the idea of a director retroactively trying to shove some meaning into his movie is about the most arrogant thing in the world. He couldn't even subconsciously have been thinking about AIDS because it wasn't even called AIDS (when it replaced the acronym GRID) until 1982. He also compares zombies to the anthrax scare a few years ago. Anything to justify your existence, eh pal?

Lenzi: “It’s a film totally based on reality.”

Nightmare City
by Umberto Lenzi

Starring Hugo Stiglitz. Umberto Lenzi on Stiglitz: “Hugo was a star in mexico, at least he was twenty years ago. As an actor he was insignificant. He wasn’t a great actor but I had to hire him because of the higher-ups.”

02:25 Newsman from the BWC tells the public about a potential radioactive spill.

03:05 Ace reporter Dean Miller is sent out by his boss to greet nuclear scientist Otto Haganbach at the airport to quell the public’s worries.

04:14 A UFO is discovered on the green high pitch meter at the airport control tower.

04:35 Guy on radio pronounces ‘data’ like ‘dada’.

05:17 The plane comes in for a landing, a military plane with no markings on it.

06:19 A yellow van is dispatched and some guys in orange jumpsuits shout at the plane. There is no answer.

06:40 Fire trucks, English police officers, volkswagon eurovans with lights and siren, a truck load of heavily armed Cuban revolutionaries rushes to the scene.

07:40 The police give them 30 seconds in the name of the law to come out with their hands up.

08:10 Military guy looks at his watch. Miller gets antsy.

08:27 The plane door opens. Haganbach steps out and….

08:45 Stabs the military guy. Dozens of zombies follow with axes, knives, sickles, guns, sticks, pipes, chains, hammers, wire, boomerangs, rulers, files and other stuff and start beating up the soldiers and occasionally sucking on their wounds. One zombie has his arm shot off. Miller is unharmed and escapes with his camera man in a VW bus.

10:30 The guys in the control tower die of shame.

11:14 A sexy dance program called “It’s All Music” is in full swing on Miller’s beloved BWC, for some reason. The camera men wear white coats, like doctors. Miller doesn’t interrupt the sanctity of the dance for a couple of minutes.

12:34 Guy in white coat makes rascist joke when Miller demands airtime for no reason.

13:06 The dancers lament their lost airtime. Miller starts yammering about the attack, but the chief cuts him off and demands that the dancers be put back on the air, and they do so with gusto and tact.

14:08 General Murchison tells Miller to keep his lousy mouth shut so that he doesn’t cause a panic. The defense department says not to interfere or make a fuss.

14:53 We are given our first hint as to the location of this movie. “in a democratic country, nobody is allowed to interfere with the freedom of the press.” This rules out the movie taking place in Cuba, China or Laos. Miller is then suspended for his impudence.

17:00 The first breasts of the film are seen. They belong to Sheila, the wife of a military advisor who is called in by General Murchison.

20:23 Zombies attack the dancers, their sexy blue leotards can’t save them from the knives of zombies. For some reason most of the women run screaming with one or more breasts exposed.

23:10 Ace reporter Dean Miller rescues everyone by throwing a television at some zombies, which then explodes.

25:40 Miller’s wife makes small talk with the ugliest men in the hospital. One suffers from dementia and mentions the “hatchet man”. For some reason nobody knows that there are zombies outside about 20 minutes away.

27:00 The military is clueless

32:57 A lawnmower powers itself across that first naked girls lawn. Why?

35:15 General Murchison’s daughter and her husband discuss the fussy nature of generals and a guy in a red beret comes and requests they come with him. Zombies cut the phone line and so the two smartly decide that the best course of action is to sneak out in an RV and the soldier guy is killed.

38:30 Zombies outsmart the military and show up in a big van and hit everyone to death with sticks, then cut the cities power. Just like in Philadelphia.

43:19 Miller, now looking for his surgeon wife passes a hospital elevator, contemplates helping the trapped hospital aides and patients, but decides against it. meanwhile his wife Anna goes to the plasma room and is assaulted by zombies, just narrowly surviving their undead wiles.

45:30 Husband and wife are reunied

46:00 Surgery is interrupted by zombies looking for blood. A whoosh noise is heard when the head surgeon throws a scalpel at a zombie. Downstairs, breasts are exposed and women are murdered.

48:17 A zombie wipes his mouth of blood. The trend continues throughout the film.

50:25 The elevator scene from Dawn of the Dead.

55:35 The following conversation takes place between the general’s daughter and her husband in their vacation spot, which appears to be an infrequently visited road. “They declared a state of emergency.”
“A state of emergency? Are they crazy?”
“I, I don’t know. it’s difficult to understand, but we should go back to town.”
"But we just arrived. I have no intention of giving up my weekend. To hell with the soldiers.”
"Listen, you’re my wife and I love you.”
Lenzi: “I hated the shooting script.”

56:55 The general’s daughter’s friends arrive and they are now harpoon zombies. They harpoon the two and then eat them.

01:04:08 Miller and his wife find a gas station, which appears safe. Too safe. Oh and there’s a bloody axe there.

01:06:05 the following is said:
Miller: “Just like a western.”
Miller’s wife: “Except that they didn’t have instant coffee in the good old days. Another advantage of civilization, my dear. Like Coca Cola or nuclear energy. We’d be a whole lot healthier without all that stuff.”
“This is good (indicating the coffee). Do you think we should give up the advantages we have gained.”
“Maybe It would be better. However, it’s not the fault of science and technology, but of man.”

01:07:21 A radio announcer estimates damage in the hundreds of thousands. Of what?

01:12:00 Spousal abuse calms Miller’s wife

01:16:00 Miller’s wife: “remember the medieval legend: If they’re really vampires, they can’t enter the house of god.”
Lenzi: “they’re more like vampires than zombies.”

01:16:30 Miller kills a zombie priest.

01:24:56 Miller and his wife run up a roller coaster for safety.

01:27:35 After a botched helicopter rescue, Miller’s wife falls to her death, but…

01:27:43 Miller wakes up from a dream. Although he’s late, he is still thrilled about his assignment, to interview nuclear scientist professor Haganbach.

01:28:01 Déjà vu. Or, no I'm sorry, recycled footage. That's what I meant. This is the same goddamn footage from the beginning.

01:30:46 The Nightmare Becomes Reality.

Historical significance: running zombies. Not the first, that honor belongs to The Messiah of Evil, but early nevertheless. That's about it. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Recently Viewed Films/Enjoy Spring Break

Below are the most recent Zombie films I’ve seen with a brief statement about each (I can't say I recommend any of them). If you've been busy like me, you've had time for a few of them, so respond with some of your break activities and/or films watched. Right now I’m writing the sequel to the one I wrote a few years ago that I’ve shown a few of you (this time the techies are the star). Ok, here we go.

Oasis of the Zombies
by Jesus Franco

My first Jesus Franco film (fate tells me this won't be the last) is a boring little number. Nazi stock footage guards an oasis on top of hidden gold. An Italian boy who apparently attends university cause it's just something to do inherits a map to the oasis and a bunch of his idiot friends go searching for the treasure and instead find...Zombies. The effects and acting are miserable affairs (some of the zombies look like paper machete, some are rip-offs that go as far back as I Walked With A Zombie). The scenes of the zombies far away in the desert look dreamlike, but not particularly scary and the gore and nudity are tame because of its Spanish audience and board of censors, so all in all, a big mistake.

Hell of the Living Dead
by Bruno Mattei

A film that rips off Dawn of the Dead so heavily I couldn't watch all of it. Everything from the exact Musical score is stolen (even the outfits of the main characters) and the plot is nowhere near as sustainable as even the loosest of Italian films. Directed by Bruno Mattei the man responsible for sullying Lucio Fulci's reputation by finishing Zombie 3 as a tragic farce that many refuse to credit as actual cinema. Awful, terrible, big, mean, dumb.

Dead and Buried
by Gary Sherman

A misty film about a cult that inhabits a salty New England fishing village that kills visitors and turns them into productive members of society. This film scores points for treating zombies as the real thing: in Dead & Buried, it's manual labor in exchange for a soul. Bits are silly, like when a couple with their young child stubbornly investigate a house while having an argument that consists of the same two lines of dialogue ("Let's get out of here!" "I saw a light!"). A lot of really frightening stuff involving syringes and bugging eyes. Could have been a bit better, could have been a lot worse. At the time of the film's release, the producer put Dan O'Bannon's name on it to drum up business, but he himself never came within 10,000 feet of the project. He claims he was embarassed by the film after having seen it. Eh, I don't think it's all that bad.

by Joe Dante

Showtime original movie and part of the Masters of Horror film series, Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins) makes an all-too-obvious statement about Bush on a shoestring budget. The story follows a campaign worker and conservative pundit who helped the president get elected and supports the war in Iraq starts sleeping with an Anne Coulter character after he makes a comment on national TV about wishing the dead soldiers could come back to life. Soon after, they do and they want to vote and they won't die until they do. Iraq war veterans spring up as a Karl Rove character tries to spin it as a pro-war zombie epidemic, he pays for it. In the end there is not enough money to achieve any kind of success with the effects or scale of the zombies and the film's look is too dry to scare anyone. Dante employs the old trick of putting zombie director's names on the names of veteran gravestones after republicans fix the election.

All in all, not a hugely successful haul, but after Zombie Lake anything's preferable.