[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 1 – Father’s Day (2011)

Director: Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matt Kennedy, Steven Kostanski, Conor Sweeney

Cast: Adam Brooks, Matt Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Amy Groening, Mackenzie Murdock, Meredith Sweeney

Screenplay: Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matt Kennedy, Steven Kostanski, Conor Sweeney

99 mins. Not Rated.

 

Well, it’s October again, my favorite time of year. Do you find that you wait all year for a certain time? I know I do. A time of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and multicolor leaves…and the horror. My God, the horror! Well, let’s get started with a throwback grindhousian B-movie from a team of five writer/directors called Father’s Day.

The plot here is more than convoluted, so let me try my best. A serial killer named Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock, Manborg, Peelers) raped and murdered ten fathers thirty years ago but got off on a technicality, and since that time there have been multiple other rape/murders of fathers, including the father of Ahab (Adam Brooks) and Chelsea (Amy Groening, Goon, Halloween Party). Ahab went out looking for vengeance and ended up in prison. His sister became a stripper. Now, out of prison, Ahab discovers that his history with Fuchman is far from over, and the rape/murders are starting up again, and he may be the only one who can stop it.

There’s a respectable level of lunacy to Father’s Day. The film knows exactly what it wants to be, and as you all know, that’s the most important part of my reviews. Father’s Day wants to be a send-up/homage to B-movie/Grindhouse films, and in that way, I think it completely misses the mark for me. It feels like it’s heading in the right direction several times, but its overly-complicated story and choppy editing lead it down a path to ruin. The film jumps around so much that you don’t have time to really connect to any of the characters and appreciate the B-level attempt. You can argue and say that’s what makes it a B-movie, and I would argue back that it still needs to be a good movie to be a good movie, regardless of style.

Adam Brooks is a very unlikable lead, but then again, there’s no one character that is interesting or likable, and that’s probably what really took me away. Let’s compare this aspect of Father’s Day to the ultimate send-up B-movies, Grindhouse and Machete. In Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse, pretty much all of the main ladies are enjoyable enough or interesting enough to follow. Even Stuntman Mike is interesting as much as he is unlikable. In Machete, our title character is an asshole, but he has a code, and that’s very clear from early on. Ahab is boorish and full of assholery. Fuchman is not a villain who I ever want to spend time watching; he’s disgusting and awful and purely unwatchable. Chelsea is initially introduced with an element of at least connective likability, but all that goes out the window pretty quick.

Where the film wins is its style, and while I don’t think it’s edited together very well (there’s so much jumping around that I had trouble sticking to any semblance of a story), I think there’s a lot of stylistic choices that make this film feel like it was taped on a VCR from some midnight-movie channel. There are advertisements for films playing on the station later on in the night, and the movie plays as though it has fallen into public domain and no company has come along to restore the negative, like all the cheap or free copies of Night of the Living Dead you can find in the bargain bin (but please just go get the Criterion). The film is dirty and torn and put back together and oozes with a level of cheapness, which works because it was distributed by Troma, so it fits nicely in that catalogue. Using this style allows the film’s later crazier elements to work better, especially the creature design effects for the finale.

Yeah, Father’s Day was a bust, and it’s too bad because on the surface I really thought this one would appeal to me, but as it went on, I noticed an over-reliance on gross-out humor, virtually zero character development, and a choppy story structure that just couldn’t keep my interest. I may be in the wrong, though, as the film has garnered some positive reviews. You can easily find it online for cheap or free, so maybe give it a try on your own. For me, this was a complete misfire.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s The Void, click here.

For my review of the anthology film ABCs of Death 2, 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 22 – Night of the Demons (1988)

Director: Kevin Tenney

Cast: William Gallo, Hal Havins, Amelia Kinkade, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley, Alvin Alexis

Screenplay: Joe Augustyn

90 mins. Rated R.

 

There are so many “Night of” films. Night of the Living Dead, The Night of the Iguana, The Night of the Hunter, Night of the Creeps, Night of the Comet. It can get confusing trying to remember which night we are all in. Night of the Demons slipped by me for some time because of it. Now, here we are.

Night of the Demons is classic 80s rock horror from director Kevin Tenney (Witchboard, Bigfoot). In it, several friends and acquaintances gather at an abandoned funeral parlor on Halloween to party with host Angela (Amelia Kinkade, My Best Friend is a Vampire, Girls Just Want to Have Fun). But when evil and demonic forces begin possessing some of the teens, it is clear that there will be some serious fatalities and not all of them will make it to November.

As before, this is prime time cheese 80s horror. It is easy to tell with Linnea Quigley (The Return of the Living Dead, The Barn) appearing, but director Tenney and screenwriter Joe Augustyn (Exit, Night Angel) crafted a seriously goofy and strange horror film. There’s an odd framing subplot involving an old man purchasing apples and razor blades that feels oddly out of place, and the enjoyment level is very hit or miss throughout.

Night of the Demons was enjoyable enough, but it wasn’t really all that good. Genre fans may find something to love, but this movie doesn’t have a lot of appeal and hasn’t aged as well as other similar fare. Maybe the sequel is better, but I doubt it.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 19 [Happy 25th Birthday!] – Night of the Living Dead (1990)

 nightofthelivingdead1990c

Director: Tom Savini

Cast: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles

Screenplay: George A. Romero

92 mins. Rated R for adult situations/language, nudity, and violence.

 

Last year, we covered Night of the Living Dead, an incredible classic of the horror genre. This year, we’ll cover the remake, a less stellar but still interesting reworking of the zombie hit.

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Night of the Living Dead runs in much the same way as its predecessor. Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness, Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike) is out visiting her deceased mother’s grave with her brother Johnny. When Johnny is attacked and killed by a vicious ghoul, Barbara flees for the countryside, stumbling upon a farm house where she meets Ben (Tony Todd, The Man from Earth, Sushi Girl). Together, Ben and Barbara, along with several other survivors, attempt to make it through the night of the living dead.

Tony Todd makes a great Ben. Patricia Tallman makes a better but not great Barbara. Tom Towles (Halloween, Miami Vice) does okay as Harry Cooper, who only has one goal: protect his wife and sick child (a goal that would prove to be less on his mind as our story progresses). Performances all around are passable.

The real divergence from the original is the screenplay from George A. Romero (The Crazies, Bruiser). Many won’t notice the differences between the two stories, and in fact, there are but few. Barbara’s character arc alters, and the film omits several plot points from fellow screenwriter John Russo, who originally wrote the screenplay with Romero. I prefer this script, but I prefer that movie. Just saying.

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There isn’t a whole lot wrong with the film. Tom Savini’s directing is still very novice here, but it works well enough. Night of the Living Dead has the potential to keep you up all night. It does. You just need to get over a few bumps along the road.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 22 – Monkey Shines (1988)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner, William Newman

Screenplay: George A. Romero

113 mins. Rated R.

 

George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Bruiser) has tackled zombies. I think we all attest to that. He has mastered camp horror (please check out his work with Stephen King in Creepshow, awesome film). There are a lot of things he can do with a horror film. Maybe a killer monkey just isn’t one of those things.

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I recently discovered Monkey Shines, a film I had been looking for since I saw the VHS cover some years back at a rental store (remember all those things?) and I was finally able to watch it.

Allan Mann (Jason Beghe, TV’s Chicago P.D., Thelma & Louise) is a successful athlete who is run down in a traffic collision and becomes a quadriplegic. Suffering from depression and the inability to cope with this new life, Allan is gifted with a monkey from his friend Geoffrey (John Pankow, TV’s Mad About You, Morning Glory). The monkey, named Ella, has been trained by gifted support animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil, The House on Sorority Row, Glitter). Unfortunately, Ella forms an obsessive and violent bond with Allan and begins to kill those around him. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

I think the major flaw with Monkey Shines is exactly what doomed it from the start. It is a horror film that lacks horror. Here is a film with an animal that doesn’t seem all that dangerous, and it doesn’t convince me that Ella is. It isn’t easy to convince us that an animal with such an affectionate bond with a human can alter that love so quickly. We have stories that have succeeded where Monkey Shines failed. We have Stephen King’s novel Cujo, an excellent little exercise in creative horror about a dog who becomes the embodiment of fear when rabies (or as King hints at, pure evil) inhabits its body. Cujo (the book, not the movie) was an achievement. Monkey Shines was not. It just plain isn’t scary. Some of it just comes off as funny.

We don’t have any horrible performances. We get some early work from Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, The Lone Ranger) and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Transformers: Age of Extinction) here, but little more.

Although it feels tough to fully blame writer/director Romero, who had his finished film taken away from him multiple times and finally after being completed, the studio put a different ending in that makes it feel very un-Romero.

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Monkey Shines was taglined as “An Experiment in Fear.” I had my hypothesis. I had my conclusion. This is one experiment we need not try again.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

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

31 Days of Horror: Day 18 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Bill Cardille, Kyra Schon

Screenplay: John A. Russo, George A. Romero

96 mins. Not Rated.

 

Night of the Living Dead is perhaps the most famous name in the world of zombies, as is its creator George A. Romero (Bruiser, The Dark Half). He brought the modern zombie into the fold. Previously, the term “zombie” was used in voodoo films for someone under the control of a curse or possession. The modern-day cannibalistic zombie is a product of 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, which is the story of a night of terror as an unknown source causes the dead to rise up and feed on the flesh of the living. Much of the zombie lore was created in this film, and much more was refined ten years later in the first sequel, Dawn of the Dead. Barbara (Judith O’Dea) is one of our leads, who is visiting her father’s grave with her brother Johnny when they are suddenly attacked and Johnny is killed. Barbara escapes toward an abandoned farm house where she meets Ben (Duane Jones) and several other survivors. Now, they must hold up in the house while hordes of the undead prey on them in a night of shocking terror.

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I love this movie. I love this premise. The originality is less noticeable in today’s age, but this movie was incredibly envelope-pushing. The idea to have a film limited to one very comfortable place and having such horrible things happen to these people as they deal with an unimaginable situation coming to light before their eyes is just staggering. The fact that George A. Romero was able to take this story and use it to show the real fears of the 1960s was another reason it stuck with us.

Lead actor Duane Jones also began a recurring theme of strong black characters in Romero’s Dead series. This would continue throughout the original trilogy.

While the cast and crew are mostly comprised of people who knew Romero is noticeable, but the performances are still strong enough to carry the narrative.

I remember reading an article from Reader’s Digest written around the time of the release where the writer warned against viewing the film as it was cannibal pornography, promoting the consumption of human flesh. I remember finding it to be an odd fear. That was 1968. The world was changing. The space race was currently being run. We had fears of government secrets, wars on the horizon. It was a scary time to be an America. It was a scary time to be human.

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Night of the Living Dead began a series (or several series) of zombie/undead films and franchises that still exist and influence popular culture and cinema today. It still stands the time as a film that touches on fear, paranoia, and death in a way that few films since have been able to touch on. I love this movie, much more now than when I was a kid. I don’t entirely think younger audiences will understand that impact, but I don’t think that it feels aged. It is still relevant to our world, and it is still majorly unnerving.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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