Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2021

Well, last year was…a little better…right?

Hello again, everyone! We’ve reached the end of 2021 and it’s time, just like every year, to discuss the best in movies from last year. 2021 was an overall improvement of a year, and I also happened to see a lot more movies in 2021 than the year prior. In 2020, I think I saw 30 movies. 2021 was a lot closer to 90.

More than anything else, 2021 was the year I got to go back to the movies. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that would happen. This year, the theaters reopened (and had movies to show), and I got vaccinated. To be honest, it was tough for me to even consider going to the movies again once they reopened until I was vaccinated. That’s not me preaching to any of you; it’s more me saying that I didn’t think I could lose myself in the movie without thinking of COVID.

That means I missed seeing theater-worthy movies like Godzilla vs. Kong, but I was finally convinced it was time to return to the cinema for Spiral: From the Book of Saw was released. Saw was such an important franchise for me, I couldn’t miss it.

Yes, I finally went back to the theater in June, and I haven’t looked back. It’s been a really solid element in my mental health to be back at the cinema (I’ve stated many times that the theater has been a place of solace for me when the world becomes too much to handle). I’m not alone in this regard, as audiences flocked back to the theaters back in the 30s in the height of the Great Depression. Well, 2020 and its sequel were rather Greatly Depressing, and I used the theater as a tool. Great movies or terrible ones, it really didn’t matter.

All of that is a long way of telling you that I saw a great many movies, and I feel better talking my Top Ten Films of 2021. So let’s not waste any further time and get right into it.

Now, in order to properly begin, we have to state the obligatory forewarnings:

  • I did not see every film released in 2021. In fact, there are still a few films released very quietly in 2021 that many reviewers have not been able to see, like The Tragedy of Macbeth and Cyrano, and I am unable to include those films in my list. If you know of a film that belongs on this list but you don’t see it, it just means I didn’t see it…that, or it doesn’t belong on my list.
  • On that note, this is my subjective list, not yours, and not objective whatsoever. They are MY personal picks for best of the year. These are the films that spoke to me as a filmgoer. There are better made films that came out in 2021, and there are some films on this list that did not get Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and quite a few that will miss the Academy’s selection process for Oscar-worthiness. They are MY picks and mine alone, so don’t be upset if a film is on your list that isn’t on mine. That’s the beauty of art and entertainment: we don’t have to love the same things to make them worthy.
  • Along with all that, I crave discussion, dissection, and (respectful) disagreements. So let me know by commenting below with your Top Ten Movies of 2021 (or just a list of favorites, especially if they aren’t on my list). I’d love to see what you loved last year.

Alright, without further adieu…

  1. The Sparks Brothers

-In less than 2 1/2 hours, Edgar Wright turned me, someone who had heard one Sparks song but couldn’t even connect it to the band, into a lifelong fan who spent his entire summer listening to the band as if he was trying to play catchup for time lost. His documentary is equal parts biography, concert film, and fever dream, and it all seems to work quite well. It’s also an incredibly watchable film, an entertaining instruction manual on first watch and a celebration of the band for those viewers who had discovered the incredibly prolific but under-appreciated musicians.

  1. Spencer

-Who would’ve guessed that the Princess Diana movie starring Kristen Stewart would end up being a horror-thriller Christmas film? Well, okay, it isn’t so exact as that, but this is a Christmas-set “biopic” that is less concerned with the details and minutiae of a life’s timeline and more set on a story that captures the character and person that Princess Diana was. Set during the last holiday season of her time involved with the royal family, the film sees Diana breaking apart at the seams while she struggles to maintain a strong face for the sake of the Crown. She’s there for her children, the one piece of her life in this world that still has good in it. I also have to credit the incredible performance of Kristen Stewart as Diana, a piece of acting prowess that captures her spirit and soul more than her mannerisms and speech patterns, but I was completely lost in her performance and never once doubted that I was seeing Diana on the screen. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the unsung actor from the film, Sean Harris as McGrady, the Royal Head Chef, and one of the best scenes of the year, in which McGrady confesses how the staff really feels about Diana, and don’t forget the single best needle-drop of the year as the film comes to a close.

  1. The Last Duel

-Ridley Scott dropped two bangers in 2021, and one of them ended up on this list. I didn’t have the highest hopes for The Last Duel because, for me, Ridley Scott can get a little divisive. Every film he makes, the film gods flip a coin. As bonkers as House of Gucci ended up, The Last Duel is an elegant and intense view at altered perspectives done in the style of Rashomon. I have minor faults with a few elements in the overall film, and I argue that “kids-on-their-phone” is so old man and silly. The reason that The Last Duel underperformed is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and many filmgoers are forced to make choices of what they want to watch. Several great films slipped between the cracks this year, and a movie that portrays a rape (not once, but twice, mind you) may not be the type of film that audiences wanted this year. That’s one of the factors why a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home did so well this year while bleaker fare like Nightmare Alley and The Last Duel struggled to find a presence. Beyond all that, though, the film is fantastic. It’s a tough sell to do a film that covers a painful and intense event from multiple viewpoints. You have to keep the film fresh while essentially telling the same story. Scott’s film teases us with the titular duel and then presents these views in a captivating way, and each retelling sought to alter the narrative in interesting ways.

  1. Dune

-I try not to hinge my thoughts on one film based upon another, but it’s nearly impossible to do so in the case of Dune, or Dune: Chapter One, or whatever it will eventually be called. We knew going into this film that it would be an adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, but we also went into it knowing that the second half of this story was uncertain. It’s a lot of baggage to carry for a single film, and that’s not even diving into the quality of the film itself. Well, Denis Villeneuve surprised us all yet again by turning the oft-believed-unfilmable novel into a science fiction masterpiece on the level of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Well, potentially one day, but it’s a beautiful and elegant masterpiece of cinema nonetheless, but it needs to be stated that this is the first half, and it carries a level of understanding. Dune was not filmed back-to-back with its sequel like Back to the Future II & III or The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions or even the previously mentioned epic production of The Lord of the Rings. Dune was also not handled like the recent 2-part It adaptation. With that film, had we not gotten It: Chapter Two, the first film would stand on its own. Dune: Chapter One hinges on that sequel more than any other two-parter that I can recall. Had that sequel not been announced, I’m not sure this film would be on this list, but it was announced, and it will (likely) happen. With all that, I can’t wait to see this story come to an end and rewatch the first film a bunch when it drops on home video.

  1. The Suicide Squad

-Okay, I trust James Gunn to make a solid and entertaining film, and I trust the recent moves of the DCEU (overall, I’ve been positive on most of the universe, but the recent stuff has been the best), but I didn’t expect nearly as entertaining a time as I got with The Suicide Squad. Early reviews were very positive, and when I finally caught the film at a press screening, I was initially worried the hype was too hyped. Nope, this is an excellent time at the movies, a mean-spirited and bonkers action film that has shades of gritty 70s action pictures. Essentially, Gunn has made a big-budget Troma film, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life with his characters. A more stacked cast than his previous Marvel films, he’s able to give each of his “Squad” a moment to shine. By shine, I’m referring to debauchery or sin, but you get what I mean. The Suicide Squad is a wild ride of entertainment that, dare I say it, is damn beautiful and makes me excited for Peacemaker later this month.

  1. Candyman

Candyman was the last new movie I saw in 2021, and I’m surprised to see it on this list. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original film quite a bit, but I did not expect the hit on this legacy sequel just waiting for me to watch it. A little context for you: I’m big on franchises and I don’t like the idea of the legacy sequel (it feels lazy and oftentimes falls into the same pitfalls as the films it ignores), and the only reason I waited on Candyman 2021 was that I hadn’t watched Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman: Day of the Dead, so last week, I binged the whole franchise, and I must say, this newest film is the best film in the series by a stretch. The clever screenplay, co-written by Jordan Peele, paired with the picture-perfect directing from Nia DeCosta (I can see why she was so quickly snatched up by Marvel). It’s a legacy sequel that chooses to build on the mythology in a way that doesn’t retcon anything that came before but instead decides to add and validate what came before while challenging the history of the series at large. It’s gorgeous, haunting, and thought-provoking to the very ambitious ending.

  1. Halloween Kills

-This is the part when everyone stops reading, so let me remind you that this is a subjective list, and I would be wrong not to put Halloween Kills on the list. I’ve said it before, but Halloween is my all-time favorite horror film, and I have a special place in my heart for the rest of the franchise, convoluted and deeply-flawed though they may be. For Halloween 2018, I was interested but, as stated above, I don’t like the retcon aspect. All that being said, I get why the rest of this franchise was retconned, as most audiences did not keep up with the mythology as much as I did, and trying to make sense of it all would’ve been a bit of work. Also, Laurie Strode was dead in the previous films. Well, I saw Halloween 2018, and it is easily the best-made film since the original, but I felt like it was more of a Greatest Hits album of Halloween, sending up a mashup of great scenes and references from the other non-canon entries, but really not doing a whole lot to distance itself. Well, I revisited Halloween 2018 right before Kills came out, in what amounted to a quick trilogy binge (1978/2018/Kills). Halloween Kills, while being less-polished than David Gordon Green’s previous film, is all the better for its ambition. Sure, it does tread some of the same waters and ideas, but it uses them in a wholly different way. Here, we see Haddonfield as a real town full of interesting characters (I love that many of the background characters of 2018 show up again in Kills), and it’s a town dealing with its trauma in an unhealthy way. This sequel speaks to the question of how we react to fear, and it pushes the Halloween story into delightfully bloody new directions while making its predecessor much better and more palatable as a chapter in Green’s story.

  1. The Green Knight

The Green Knight was a movie that almost seemed to not want me to watch it. It didn’t have a lengthy run at my local theater, and the weekend my wife and I had planned to see it ended up with me self-quarantining and getting tested for COVID because I was very sick. I ended up being negative but by the time I ended up feeling better, we didn’t have a free night to see it, so we missed its theatrical run. Thankfully, I ended up with a 4k copy of it, and I was actually able to watch it. Also thankfully, the movie is excellent. The way The Green Knight takes the classic fable and legend and reconfigures it to fit David Lowery’s filmmaking sensibilities and give us a Gawain who is essentially a hopeful hero without any heroic skills, a leader who only takes the killshot because he can, a man who cannot take responsibility for his actions and flees at the sight of danger. It’s also a technically stunning piece of medieval fantasy with terrific performances and a haunting visual aesthetic. If you missed it like I did, rectify that immediately.

  1. Belfast

-There’s an argument out there that Belfast is not as hard-hitting and serious as the events it is depicting require, and I can understand it. The reason the film works for me is that it’s not about those events specifically; it’s about the family at the center of it, specifically young Buddy (played by newcomer Jude Hill). Seeing these traumatic events through the eyes of a child was something very effective for me. For Buddy, everything going on in his world is strained through the filter of his family, and that’s all he wants. He wants things to go back to normal, he wants to stay in Belfast, he wants his life to go in the direction it has been up to now. That’s his reckoning in the film, and it’s a small story against a big backdrop, and it was a joyful (as joyful as it could be, given the surrounding political unrest of the time) coming-of-age story that I want to share with my family, friends, everyone.

  1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

-No, I’m not a Marvel fanboy saying it is better than everything ever made without discussion ever. The last time I had a Marvel film on my Top Ten, it was back in 2011 and it was Thor. If you look at my list, there’s a good number of acclaimed films in Oscar contention as well as some really entertaining popcorn movies. Shang-Chi is the best of both worlds, and if there were to be a superhero film in the Best Picture race, it would be Shang-Chi. The film has an important cultural touchstone, and it showcases a terrific starring turn from Simu Liu as the titular hero, but the film has so much more. It has a terrific friend/potential love interest in Awkwafina, and it has one of the MCU’s best villains in real Mandarin Xu Wenwu. The film has loads of excellently-choreographed action, nods to wuxia, and it plays off one of the MCU’s best arcs in the Mandarin, especially with how the character ties to Iron Man 3. I even find the finale to be much more than a CG mess that most superhero fare gets lost in. Shang-Chi ends with a bang, but it is character-driven all the way through. Gosh, I can’t wait for a sequel to this film. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is all-around excellent, and it’s my favorite movie of 2021.

There you have it. My Top Ten Films of 2021. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to say yours. What are your favorite movies of last year? Leave your favorites below! See you next year.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 8 – Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

Director: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Ashanti, Mike Epps, Christopher Egan, Spencer Locke, Jason O’Mara
Screenplay: Paul W.S. Anderson
94 mins. Rated R for strong horror violence throughout and some nudity.

There are a lot of elements in the third Resident Evil film that convinced 17-year-old me this one was going to absolutely rule. It was directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, In Like Flynn), its trailer appeared to have similarities with my favorite Romero Living Dead film, Day of the Dead, and with the new character introductions, it seemed like it might be honing in on more of what the fans of the games wanted. Sure, what we got wasn’t really like what I had gleaned from the trailers, but let’s be clear: this movie is entertaining as hell through all of its many faults.

It’s been five years since the events at Raccoon City left most of the world devastated by the T-Virus. Alice (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element, Monster Hunter), on her own for some time, finds herself taken in by a convoy including some old friends: Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr, The Mummy Returns, Lair) and L.J. (Mike Epps, Friday After Next, The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2). The convoy is in search of shelter, and Alice shows them a book she discovered, claiming to have safe haven in Alaska, but they lack the gasoline to get them there. The convoy heads to Las Vegas to get supplies and gas, all the while Umbrella Corporation and the sinister Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, TV’s Reyka) plot to retrieve Project Alice and continue their research.

First of all, I have to be the one that says it: screen your movie. Resident Evil: Extinction was not screened for critics, but here’s the thing, we all were pretty confident critics would hate the movie anyway, and most of the time, critical reviews can really only influence about 10% of the box office take. When Malignant came out recently, and we were all discussing the lack of reviews, no Thursday night opening, and the assumption was that the studio didn’t believe in their product. The same is true here. Screen your movie.

As far as Resident Evil: Extinction goes, the entertainment value is a definite win. Sure, the movie itself has flaws in and out, but I was thoroughly entertained. I think that Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction are the absolute best that this franchise will have to give, so if you aren’t won over at this point, this just may not be the movie series for you. Where it wins most is in the action. This is probably the best action of the series, and that is due to Russell Mulcahy’s handling of the set pieces. It’s obvious that he’s the most capable of the directors in this franchise because he has the best looking action, and it’s the most tense that the series gets. His choice to film in sunlight more often as opposed the coldness of the first film and the darkness of the second really give a more stunning visual flair that’s in line with the film’s comparisons to Day of the Dead and Mad Max. In particular, the crow scene is a new element taken from the mythology of the games that feels quite fresh and is handled well.

The returning actors, Jovovich, Fehr, and Epps are all putting forth some solid work, even if it feels odd that Jill Valentine and Angela Ashford are just gone from the narrative (with Sienna Guillory primed to return in the next installment). Their absense gives the film an Alien 3 vibe (something the franchise would probably want to avoid). All the same, I like their general chemistry and performances, but Paul W.S. Anderson’s script just doesn’t give them much to do. The big Alice moments of the film are either “She’s too powerful” or “She does nothing.” She can firebend at some points, and also, Umbrella can completely control her movements, but they’ve elected not to for the past five years. Carlos is mostly reactionary in the film, and L.J. goes from street-smart in Apocalypse to completely foolish in this installment, ultimately becoming a fairly stereotypical stock zombie movie character that we all hate now.

As far as new additions, I feel like Ali Larter (Final Destination, The Last Victim) was miscast as Claire Redfield and Ashanti (Coach Carter, A Christmas Winter Song) is just kind of bland as medic Betty. Spencer Locke (Insidious: The Last Key, Walk. Ride. Rodeo.) is given a nickname as character development, and Jason O’Mara (Batman: Hush, TV’s The Man in the High Castle) is just given very little to do as the first appearance of franchise villain Albert Wesker is concerned.

As mentioned above, you get some pretty iconic characters from the game series here, like Claire Redfield and Albert Wesker, and there’s also a newly-named scientist seemingly modeled after William Birkin with Dr. Isaacs. I guess, at this point, I wonder why they’re even introducing iconic characters if they aren’t going to use them. I’m all for creative license in adapting, especially where the video game to film adaptation is concerned, but Claire Redfield has nothing in common with her video game persona at all, and Albert Wesker ends up being very underutilized in the franchise starting here. As far as Dr. Isaacs is concerned, Iain Glen chews up the scenery quite well and has fun with the role, and because he isn’t named after William Birkin, it feels like game fans were willing to give him a pass as a character. Why didn’t they do that with everyone? It’s become obvious that we’ve strayed heavily from the video game franchise at this point, so why continue to under-deliver on legacy characters? I guess it’s worth noting that Anderson (who scripted every installment of this franchise) did care about fan reaction, but he didn’t do a great job of taking that criticism.

Alongside that, it needs to be stated that this film is the one you can look back on and realize that there was no plan for this movie series. Why is the Red Queen replaced in this film with the White Queen, and then why do we never see the White Queen again? Why does the finale of this film have a trilogy-ending set piece meant to take us “back to the beginning” of the series? I remember the idea going in was that this movie was likely to be the ending of the movies, and this film gives us that sense that we are going back to where it started to finish it, but then it ends on another cliffhanger (something that becomes more frustrating from this point on) and, looking back, this feels like an ending that was retconned into not ending, and even the final installment of the series, titled The Last Chapter, hits the same kind of story beats as this one, going back to the very beginning all over again.

Resident Evil: Extinction looks great, and the action is tense and exciting, but this is a hodgepodge of Resident Evil mythology, a Greatest Hits in some ways, hobbled together and retrofitted to kind of showcase a general knowledge of the video games. It’s full of ideas, but it’s also full of frustrating characters doing stupid things and being punished for it, and while the movie still has a solid amount of entertainment, it’s unlikely that this film will win over video game fans, and the franchise should be moving forward with its own thing and stop trying to be the games.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil, click here.
  • For my review of Alexander Witt’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse, click here.
  • For my review of Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 24 – Diary of the Dead (2007)

Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Michelle Morgan, Josh Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Lalonde, Joe Diicol, Scott Wentworth, Philip Riccio, Chris Violette, Tatiana Maslany

Screenplay: George A. Romero

95 mins. Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, and pervasive language.

 

I got into the Living Dead series when around the time that Land of the Dead was released, and I was fairly certain it would be the last time George A. Romero (Monkey Shines, Bruiser) returned to his world of zombies. It just felt like Land of the Dead ended in the right place, but only a few short years later, Romero decided to pick up his camera and make a movie about the first night when the dead rose, this time present in found-footage.

A team of film students making a horror film in the woods are shocked to hear the news reports claiming that the dead are rising and feeding on the flesh of the living. Director Jason (Josh Close, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Anthem of a Teenage Prophet) and several of the others go looking for Debra (Michelle Morgan, Deep Space, TV’s Heartland), Jason’s girlfriend, and then, the group heads out in search of safe refuge, along the way learning the hardness of life in the apocalypse, while Jason follows along, camera in hand, ready to capture as much of the carnage as possible.

I was extremely excited for Diary of the Dead, and I brought a copy of it home to host a watch party, and while the film is overall fine enough, it was clearly the least-impressive film of the five release at that point. I get the feeling Romero was disconnected from both the youth of 2007 but also the medium of found-footage filmmaking, and there’s several breaks in logic that become noticeable. The film works still but his writing kind of creates flat archetypal characters that are not easy to connect with. It’s more the journey of the film that’s so interesting. So much of Romero’s Living Dead series is confined to a single location. It’s fun to revisit the beginning of the zombie apocalypse in this way.

The performance Michelle Morgan is fine as the lead, but I connected more to Shawn Roberts (Resident Evil: Afterlife, Undercover Angel) as Tony, the brutish foil to Jason, and Tatiana Maslany (Stronger, Destroyer) as Mary, a member of the film crew clearly struggling to understand the situation.

None of the Living Dead films are truly connected, and their timeline is always murky. For example, in Day of the Dead, we see a Stephen King book onscreen, but if the apocalypse started in 1968, Stephen King would probably not be writing. Each film can be placed on a zombie progression timeline but exists on its own. So yes, this film is intended to be set during the events of Night of the Living Dead, but also during 2007, so don’t take it too intentionally, as this has always been the case.

Diary of the Dead is fine overall, but upon release it never was able to reach the level of Night, Dawn, Day, or even Land. It’s okay for fans and creates some interesting narrative around technology and social media sharing, and the cameos are really fun to try and catch (just try to guess the major voices behind the many news recordings), but it isn’t for new fans of Romero.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 14 – House (1986)

Director: Steve Miner

Cast: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz

Screenplay: Ethan Wiley

93 mins. Rated R.

 

I caught House on the Sci-Fi channel as a child and was swept up in it. I taped it and watched it again and again and again. I figured that, today, I would take a look back at this movie to see if it’s worth my love or if it’s just a guilty pleasure. Both are fine with me.

Roger Cobb (The Man from Earth, The Other Side of the Wind) has just inherited his aunt’s house after her passing, and he’s taken the opportunity to move in and work on his next book. He has bad memories of the house; his son went missing several before and the house was the last place Roger saw him. The resulting marital problems left him divorced from wife Sandy (Kay Lenz, Breezy, The Secret Lives of Dorks). He’s also suffering from PTSD from his time in Vietnam. Roger has a lot of demons, and he’s about to discover that the house isn’t a normal one. It’s a conduit of evil, and Roger’s about to face his worst fears within its walls.

I might have given myself up too quick on this one at the beginning, but I fucking love House. It’s easily in my top ten favorite horror films of all time. There are faults to the film that are more apparent watching it as an adult, but I don’t even care because all the great parts of House outweigh the bad ten times over.

Let’s start with the incredible William Katt, an actor who never got the full-on recognition he deserves. He’s been steadily working for decades, but he kills it as Roger Cobb. I may be harboring a man-crush for Katt because I grew up watching him in Carrie and Greatest American Hero, but I just find him to be such a charismatic neighborly presence onscreen and his portrayal of Cobb as a sympathetic tortured but sweet individual is really strong.

The supporting cast is small but mighty. Though Kay Lenz doesn’t get much to do, George Wendt (Grand-Daddy Day Care, TV’s Cheers) gets a lot of the heavy lifting as new neighbor Harold. Wendt provides the straight-man comic relief to the many horrors of the house, and he really hits that perfect level of smarmy but friendly and truly caring about his neighbor. He’s not always the most-loyal, but I was taken by the realism that a standard comic relief character was able to be conveyed.

The real stars of the film, though, are the creatures. House contains some of the coolest and creepiest creature designs I’ve ever seen, and it’s all for the sake of twisting and turning Roger’s life upside-down. I don’t even want to pick a favorite one because they’re all so great. Hell, there’s even a bunch of sentient tools from the work shed that come to life and try to kill Roger, and it somehow works for the exact tone that director Steve Miner (Warlock, Day of the Dead) is going for.

House is an absolute blast that can be repeat-viewed over and over again. It’s a shame that this franchise never really kept to the quality of the original because I love the idea of the house being something different to each of its occupants. William Katt kicks ass as the lead and the film boasts some truly spectacular creature effects. Seek this one out immediately!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 16 – Land of the Dead (2005)

Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, John Leguizamo, Eugene Clark

Screenplay: George A. Romero

93 mins. Rated R for pervasive strong violence and gore, language, brief sexuality and some drug use.

 

Land of the Dead is actually the movie that got me watching the Living Dead franchise created by George A. Romero (Monkey Shines, Bruiser). When I heard a new film was coming out (the last one had been 20 years prior), I became incredibly interested. I hunted down the previous films (in a time without streaming, Night of the Living Dead was still relatively hard to come by) and they changed my life. Land of the Dead is actually the final film, chronologically, of the Living Dead series, and it’s a pretty solid and explosive entry.

It’s been three years since the dead got up and starting shambling about, and survivors have built a refuge out of the Golden Triangle area of Pittsburgh, calling it Fiddler’s Green. The city is run like a feudal government, with the rich living in a high-rise at the center and the poor on the streets squabbling for survival, but hey, it’s better inside the walls of the city than outside, right? Riley Denbo (Simon Baker, Margin Call, TV’s The Mentalist) operates Dead Reckoning, a large armored vehicle used for traveling the zombie-infested parts outside the city. Riley and his team search for food and supplies that the residents need. His second-in-command, Cholo (John Leguizamo, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Bloodline), wants an apartment with the Fiddler’s Green high rise, but he is denied by the leader, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider, Blue Velvet), and decides to take Dead Reckoning hostage as vengeance. Now, Riley and the rest of his team, which includes gunman Charlie (Robert Joy, The Hills Have Eyes, TV’s CSI: NY) and hooker Slack (Asia Argento, xXx, The Executrix), have been tasked by Kaufman to retrieve Dead Reckoning before Cholo uses it to destroy Fiddler’s Green.

George A. Romero always crafted incredibly human stories within the confines of a zombie film, and Land of the Dead is no exception. The story of a class system, feudal government, and alienation, are incredibly well-perceived and well-executed. Land of the Dead is maybe more accessible to modern film-goers with its cast of characters and simpler layout. I know a lot of people that didn’t care for Day of the Dead due to its excessively depressing story. Land of the Dead has a bit more hope in it, though not much more.

This is probably one of the more well-acted of the Living Dead films just due to have actors who have more experience. Simon Baker has some nice chemistry with Hopper, Leguizamo, and Joy. Having a feature zombie like Bubb from Day of the Dead, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark, Christmas Next Door, TV’s Night Heat) adds an interesting layer in the development of the zombie. It feels like this horde that just keeps coming back for more has grown and evolved over time.

The screenplay is serviceable if bloated a bit at the beginning. Romero used a lot of unused material from his original Day of the Dead screenplay. Thanks to his partnership with Universal Pictures, Romero is able to use incredible effects like Dead Reckoning, something I’m certain he would not have been able to do in previous or future Living Dead films

I also find it quite interesting that this is the most-connected film in the series to that point, something Romero’s series has never been very focused on. This film is set about three years after Night of the Living Dead, and just like the other films he seems disinterested in explaining away the advances in technology in the near-40 years since that films release. He uses actors Shawn Roberts and Alan Van Sprang, which he will revisit with future installments (yes, I know they have different names later on, but it seems very interesting how similar they are. He utilizes Tom Savini reprising his role from Dawn of the Dead in a cameo (again, this was likely in a jokey way) and he actually uses dialogue and imagery from Night at the beginning. He actively tried to connect his franchise, either jokingly or with serious intent, and it’s a nice way to end off the series if we never get the long-gestating Road of the Dead that Romero was developing when he died.

Land of the Dead is a fascinating “final” chapter of the apocalypse George A. Romero began back in 1968. His craft is unquestioned here, even if Land of the Dead doesn’t have the bite that some of Romero’s previous work contains. This is a worthy and accessible film and thankfully brought me into this franchise in a big way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 24 – Day of the Dead (1985)

Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

Screenplay: George A. Romero

96 mins. Not Rated.

 

We lost a great one this year. Director George A. Romero (Bruiser, The Dark Half) was an innovative and topical storyteller who forever changed movies, both as a genre filmmaker and an independent one. Romero was most notable for his Living Dead franchise, and today we will be looking at the third film in that series, Day of the Dead.

The world has ended. Society has crumbled. The living dead have taken the world. What’s left of the government is in hiding in military bases, trying to solve the undead crisis. Doctor Logan (Richard Liberty, Flight of the Navigator, The Crazies), known as Frankenstein around the Everglades-based military outpost, is trying to cure the disease. On the other side, the military man Rhodes (Joe Pilato, Pulp Fiction, Digimon: The Movie) is trying to maintain order under his command in a dictatorial rule, and stuck in the middle is Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille, No Pets, Dead and Alive: The Race for Gus Farace). As egos clash and weapons are drawn, it becomes clear that the living might be more dangerous than the dead.

I love Day of the Dead. In the six-film series, I think Day of the Dead is the best installment. A lot of my colleagues can’t stop praising Dawn of the Dead, and I love Dawn of the Dead, but for me, Day takes the finale of Dawn of the Dead and makes an entire movie out of it, and it works so well.

The performances aren’t all perfectly tuned, especially from the tertiary characters, but the tension that builds with every interaction involving Rhodes or Logan just amps it up. I won’t say that Day of the Dead is as satirical as its predecessor, and it isn’t a fun time for viewers, but the realism is disturbing and I love it.

Day of the Dead is worthy of any zombie fans praise. I think it’s Romero’s best film in a great career. If you love modern zombie works like The Walking Dead, you have to look back and see where this all came from, and Day of the Dead is the zombie genre at its most perfected.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 8 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross

Screenplay: George A. Romero

127 mins. Not Rated.

 

I still remember watching Dawn of the Dead for the first time. I had come across a copy at a Best Buy and spent a lot more than I should for it. I barely got it home and immediately popped it in. It was very different than my mind had expected. I hadn’t expected horror to be so artful.

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The world is ending. The dead are rising up and attacking the living. As the news station WGON is running out of steam, Stephen (David Emge, Hellmaster, Basket Case 2) and Francine (Gaylen Ross, Creepshow, Madman) escape in the station’s helicopter alongside SWAT officers Roger (Scott H. Reiniger, Knightriders, The Other Victim) and Peter (Ken Foree, The Devil’s Rejects, The Lords of Salem). When the four arrive at an abandoned mall, they set up shop and create a life for themselves as the dead lurk outside, constantly trying to break in.

Fun fact: Filming at Monroeville Mall took place overnight when the mall closed and ran from 10:00pm to 6:00am. It would have been longer but at 6:00am the Muzak would come on and nobody knew how to turn it off.

The story of Dawn of the Dead‘s production is actually almost as good as the movie itself. But the movie. This movie is amazing. It took several viewings for me to see Romero’s comic-book influences, which becomes evident with the director’s stylish flourishes, dry comedy, and vibrant blood.

The performances of the four leads need to be good enough to maintain this film’s through-line and they do. Each character is developed through their decisions, and George A. Romero (Bruiser, The Dark Half) offers up some social commentary among the gore.

Unintentionally, Dawn of the Dead also features a tremendously strange and memorable score due to Goblin and Dario Argento (see yesterday’s Suspiria). It was through the partnership of Romero and Argento that both careers at the top of the genre for so long.

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Dawn of the Dead is horror at its best. Each part of his Living Dead series has its own unique style and characters and Dawn of the Dead is one of the best (even if I prefer the far more depressing Day of the Dead). A great follow-up to Night of the Living Dead, there are parts of this sequel in just about every zombie story to come after, but rarely is it done this well.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

[Friday the 13th] Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

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Director: Steve Miner

Cast: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stuart Charno, Marta Kober, Tom McBride, Bill Randolph, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Russell Todd

Screenplay: Ron Kurz

87 mins. Rated R.

 

Films like Friday the 13th don’t ever really get sequels. It is a horror film, so nothing is truly out of the question, but rarely does a sequel happen when the killer is [SPOILER ALERT] beheaded at the end. That didn’t happen for the Friday the 13th franchise, when a small tie at the end of the film involving Mrs. Voohees’ deceased son attacking a frail and fatigued Alice (Adrienne King, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming) led to the first sequel in this highly-successful horror franchise.

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It has been five long years since Alice survived that fateful Friday and now, the camp is to be opened again and a group of new men and women have gathered to learn the trade of the camp counselor. What is required of camp counselors? Drugs, sex, and death, obviously. Plain and simple. But who is killing these teens? Mrs. Voorhees is long dead, and no one has ever found the body of her son, Jason.

The problem with Friday the 13th Part 2 is the fact that it is essentially Friday the 13th all over again. The film provides very little in terms of really progressing the plot, other than the introduction of a new killer. Pulling off the killer switcheroo isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. Several other franchises have tried and failed to complete the change, but Friday is lucky enough to have completed this change very early in the franchise. This is a transitional period for the series and it happens to transition nicely, in part due to its simplicity.

The strengths of this sequel come from the colorful group of likable leads who provide slightly cookie-cutter characters though still enjoyable ones. Ginny (Amy Steel, TV’s All My Children, April Fool’s Day) and Paul (John Furey, The Galinez File, Flight 93) have a solid amount of chemistry if somewhat underused. It is interesting to note the level of danger who two leads carry in the film is less than sufficient, but is a stylistic choice popular to the 1970s and 80s. Director Steve Miner (Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Day of the Dead) utilized the style of several Italian horror films to influence the rainbow of deaths in the film. I’m not one to discuss how interesting the death is in horror films. That was younger Kyle. I prefer to believe that the way the person dies bears little when compared to the emotions I feel for him or her. In that way, the ways our killer dispenses with them is disturbing with a sizable amount of cheese (not exactly a bad thing in this way).

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Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2 has enough potential to keep the series alive past what already seemed like a death knell. Likable characters in disturbing danger and an unknown assassin keep the tension high enough to enjoy this sequel all the through the 14th. Happy Holidays.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

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