Wednesday, October 31, 2007


We begin our year-long exercise in zombie cinema with THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (LA MORTE VIVANTE)--Jean Rollin's 1982 meditation on life, the endurance of friendship, and arterial spray--which remains his most successful work, both commercially and artistically.

The story involves Catherine Valmont (Francoise Blanchard), a young girl brought back to life by a cloud of toxic gas accidentally released by the three goons robbing her crypt (as well as dumping 55-gallon drums of contaminated waste--nobody multitasks like French hoodlums). No mere flesh-muncher, Catherine opts for gouging her fingernails into her would-be graverobbers' eyes and throats before wandering home to her family's estate. She reunites with her childhood friend Helene (Marina Pierro)--who, when they were children--vowed, "If you die first, I shall follow you." Rekindling their relationship, Helene proceeds to procure unwitting victims to sate the hunger of her undead friend, until a bickering American couple discovers their secret.

Despite the usual trappings of horror film--torchlit tombs, the lonely decrepit castle--and the often shocking bursts of violence and gore, Rollin seems more concerned with the relationship between his two protagonists. Although it's never made clear the exact nature of that relationship, Helene's unconditional acceptance of Catherine's state and her near-obsessive compliance in providing her victims (not to mention her somewhat melodramtic childhood vow), suggests that their friendship was more than platonic. Rollin laudably underplays their history, opting instead to focus on the tragic nature of their situation--that inevitably, despite Helene's devotion, their friendship cannot be.

That tragic quality is most effectively conveyed by Blanchard's performance, portraying the undead Catherine as a child reborn, who gradually learns who she was and what she's become. By the third act she begins to embody the tragic figure of the classic monster (think the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's creature) as she's consumed by guilt over what she is. She yearns to be dead again, telling Helene, "I'm evil." (One aspect that the film seems to neglect is the nature of evil; I thought Catherine was more a victim of circumstance than a figure of evil; even Helene, who has no qualms about sending people to their deaths at Catherine's hand, can't be easily dismissed as "evil"--she's merely doing what any committed friend would do in her situation.)

The doomed inevitability of the story comes to a head as the American couple, who've photographed the undead Catherine roaming the countryside, start asking questions around the village. (Perhaps this is just French-phobic paranoia, but I find it curious that Rollin chose a pair of annoying, troublesome Americans to seal his characters' fate.) After discovering the girls' secret, they're gruesomely dispatched by Helene as a distraught Catherine attempts to drown herself. Helene rescues her, but Catherine--unable to be anything but an undead figure hungry for human flesh--holds Helene true to her vow in a stunning tableax of bloodshed, their tragic ending finalized.

THE LIVING DEAD GIRL is a film that should appeal to arthouse aficianados and gorehounds alike. Though the pace is deliberate and the scenes of violence infrequent, Rollin's dream-like method of filmmaking, as well as the beautiful pastoral setting, makes for a thoroughly mesmerizing experience. Don't miss it.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Imagine, if you will, George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as a literal zombie movie--that's to say, a film that sank its teeth into the consciousness of the movie-going public, into the hearts of other filmmakers, into the cogs of the low-budget film marketplace. A bite that infects with the lingering, insidious effect that all well-executed art leaves behind.

Now imagine that those inflicted with Romero's bite--Jorge Grau, for example--transfer that impression into their own work, creating a subgenre of their own--that of the flesh-eating ghoul, laying to rest (perhaps permanently) the notion that zombies are voodoo-powered servants of Haitian high priests, or tools of some grand Nazi scheme. Romero himself succumbs to this phenomena, and the resulting DAWN OF THE DEAD catapults the plague beyond any mere quarantine.

The infection spreads so rapidly it can no longer be contained. DAWN begets an overwhelming number of offspring--a brainless collective single-minded in purpose moving from one hapless victim to another, this subgenre so voracious that it starts consuming itself in its need for raw meat. Soon the dead are everywhere, their numbers great enough to overcome you, make you one of their own . . .

All of which is to say, there's an awful lot of zombie films out there. Enough to take over this blog for an entire year for the following experiment: 365 Days of the Dead.

The challenge: starting this Halloween, watch one zombie movie a day, every day, for an entire year. Each day's entry will then be reviewed here.

The goal is to examine the different permutations that zombie films can take, to see how other countries or cultures portray the living dead. To discover the rare gem among the shambling, entrail-dragging imitators. Maybe even find something that challenges what a zombie movie is, or can be.

A few ground rules: The loose definition of zombie I'm using is any person or persons who die and then return as an ambulatory corpse. Said zombie(s) should be integral to the movie, not simply window dressing or pop-ups in a single scene. Although the blog may not neccesarily be updated daily, each day will be represented in subsequent posts.

If there's a particular movie you'd like to see reviewed here, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do to add it. Also, any filmmakers with a zombie movie you'd like to offer for review, feel free to contact me; I can't guarantee that it'll be featured, nor can I promise a positive response. Feedback on the blog--good, bad, or indifferent--is always welcome.

Hope to see you on Halloween.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Tucked away in the countryside of northwest Pennsylvania lies a cemetery. There the chill autumn breeze caresses rows of headstones, their faces worn smooth by the elements. The names that had been carved there are unimportant; it's the fetid husks resting beneath that matter.

Leaves from a gnarled oak tree fall and scatter across the ground. The soil below this blanket of dead foliage shifts subtly, the movement nearly undetectable. It isn't until the earth begins to part, and the stench of putrid flesh issues forth, that I realize what's happening.

By then, of course, it's too late.

One by one they rise from their earthen prisons, a collective undead consciousness eager to consume me. To make me one of their own.

It would be easy to run. The dead move slowly enough, and there's nothing preventing me from bursting through the wrought-iron gate at the edge of the cemetery. This is precisely what I do, pinballing my way between slanting monuments, avoiding the dessicated hands sprouting toward my ankles. Trying to ignore the guttural moans of base, instinctual hunger emanating behind me. Trying not to retch from the smell.

My shoes skid on the gravel road leading from the cemetery as I race toward some semblance of safety. Running, however, will only delay the inevitable. You can't escape the dead. Once they've decided to claim you, there's nothing you can do except pray that it'll be painless.

So I'll run until I can't go any further. I'll attempt to hide as best I can. And hope to God the dead are capable of some degree of mercy.

They're coming to get me.

And this Halloween, they'll be coming to get you.