Tuesday, April 22, 2008


MAN WITH TWO LIVES is a pointless Poverty Row programmer--say that five times fast--from 1942, courtesy of director Phil Rosen, a former cinematographer for Thomas Edison who cranked out quite a number of films, many of them B-grade pics like this one.

Edward Keane plays a scientist who's recently discovered a way to restore life to the dead, and is called to revive a car-crash fatality, the son of a colleague. As luck (and plot convenience) would have it, at the very same moment Keane brings the young man (Edward Norris) to life--exactly twelve midnight, natch--a violent criminal is put to death in the electric chair, causing the latter's soul to migrate into Norris's body. How or why the movie never bothers to explain.

What at first seems like your typical "playing God" scenario soon switches into DONOVAN'S BRAIN/BLACK FRIDAY territory, as Norris resumes his criminal career in his new body, taking over his old gang and reuniting with his former squeeze. However, unlike those more memorable films, MAN WITH TWO LIVES lacks the true sense of tragedy and loss of identity that made them work, unspooling like a standard gangster story as Norris's cronies inexplicably cook up a plot to send him to the police. And let's not forget the bullshit all-a-dream ending that's not only the worst kind of cop-out, isn't even consistent with the start of the picture.

Rosen uses some interesting lighting design, and the camera movies more often than the typical Monogram release, but a limp plot and bland cast (no names here, but look close for Ed Wood cohort Kenne Duncan) prevent it from generating much interest. Many enjoyable movies have slipped out of the Poverty Row ghetto, but this one was intended to round out double-bills and nothing more. Oh, how it shows.

Monday, April 21, 2008


The ennui of a dead-end job is a great backdrop for a zombie film; the countless hours performing the same repetitive tasks, the soul-crushing tedium, the blank faces of your co-workers staring at the unmoving hands of the time clock--for a subgenre that thrives on metaphor, I'm surprised there aren't more of them set in the working-class milieu. Then again, if Ed Brisson's 2003 short film a lack of like-minded films could be a blessing.

At what must be the only 24-hour bookstore/coffeeshop (is there really that many people clamoring for a copy of THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE and a mocha latte at 4 a.m.?) employees Ryan and James gripe and moan about their crummy jobs--gee, I wouldn't mind sitting on my ass all night, passing out free coffee to random homeless guys--and their dictatorial boss Ray, who's been turning them into zombies via arcane rituals and the employees-only coffee. (Yeah, Ray's a jerk, not to mention a sucky actor, but if my hires were whiny bitches who constantly gave free stuff away, I'd turn them into the living dead, too.) For a pair of losers who complain about every aspect of their minimum-wage jobs, they sure take becoming the undead rather well, though for story's sake they still get their revenge.

Yes, we've all had shitty jobs and slaved under asshole managers, but GRAVEYARD is hardly a blue-collar wish-fulfillment fantasy; instead, it's a feeble cry of annoyance that's neither as clever or defiant as it thinks it is. Rather than adopt an axiom like CLERKS's "Title doesn't dictate behavior" (a refusal to compromise one's identity to the yes-man nature of the service industry), GRAVEYARD is content to take the same bellyaching tone as its leads.

Dreadfully inert and thoroughly unfunny, despite its repeated insistence that it is, GRAVEYARD manages to be as much fun as actually going to work, stuffing a whole eight hours of boredom into 21 minutes.

(Couldn't find this one online, but if you're curious enough, it is available on Netflix.)


Picked up by AIP for American distribution, the 1964 sword-and-sandal pseudo-epic ROME AGAINST ROME (better known stateside as WAR OF THE ZOMBIES or NIGHT STAR--GODDESS OF ELECTRA) could technically be considered the first Italian zombie film, though it bears no resemblance to the gorefests of Lucio Fulci or Umberto Lenzi. No, this is an entry in the peplum film canon with a light sheen of the supernatural to set it apart from the other HERCULES-inspired rip-offs of the period.

Summarizing the plot is rather difficult--thanks to director Giuseppe Vari's sloth-like pacing, which makes it hard to follow the overwrought drama--but it has to do with two warring factions (one of which is led by John Drew Barrymore, as the obligatory esteemed actor gone a'slummin') in a fantasy setting passed off as ancient Rome. Barrymore, a high priest of some sort in cahoots with a three-eyed stone effigy of a goddess known as the Night Star, resurrects the bodies of their fallen comrades to send into the climactic battle--a sequence of gaudy, hyperlit color and slow motion action that some have deemed surreal but which really looks like cheap cinematic trickery.

Those into fantastic historical epics may want to give this a try, but there are much better movies that blend the horror and sword-and-sandal genres, like 1961's GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES. But for viewers more accustomed to the likes of GLADIATOR and 300, stay far away.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I've already got quite a few scoffs and upturned eyebrows when I announced I'd be including this 1998 straight-to-video cartoon as part of 365 Days, and I'm interested to see what the overall reaction is, but c'mon--it's a zombie movie, albeit intended for kids. And while young children aren't the usual demographic for living dead fare, they're really the only ones who'll truly appreciate this; us Gen-Xers who grew up with the original Mystery Machine gang will simply have to be content with the fact that this time, the monsters are (finally) real.

Boasting a richer animation style than its earlier incarnations, yet retaining the same kid-friendly Gothic vibe as the original SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU series, ZOMBIE ISLAND attempts to upgrade the classic formula. After years of solving mysteries, and repeated disappointment that the culprit was always an elaborate hoax involving a man in a costume, Fred, Daphne, and the others have gone their separate ways. When Daphne investigates a Louisiana plantation that's truly haunted as part of her GHOST HUNTERS-ish TV show, the gang reunites to tackle an honest-to-God real ghost.

The film repeatedly acknowledges the frustrating "man in a mask" gambit, and during the first act it slyly introduces us to several would-be red herrings, yet the running gag soon grows tiresome through repetition. Yes, the pirate ghosts are real this time, and as the increasingly chaotic plot picks up, so are the zombies (who are actually presented as the good guys), and the villainous cat creatures (led by a French-accented Adrienne Barbeau). I don't know if screenwriter Davis Doi couldn't settle on one monster, or if he assumed the target audience would be too attention-deficient to sit through a mere haunting story, but it's an incredibly busy 75 minutes--so much that it borders on the exhausting.

Although it casts a knowing wink to the older generation of fans, SCOOBY-DOO ON ZOMBIE ISLAND is a little too juvenile for them to enjoy. (I would've loved this movie to death in the second grade.) And while it may be intended more for kids than Mom and Dad, at least the filmmakers had the good sense to keep that little fucker Scrappy-Doo far, far away.

(Couldn't find a trailer or a good quality clip for this one, so you'll have to settle for the "hard rock" music video for the closing song--with Spanish subtitles, no less; there are, perversely, a number of fan videos on YouTube that set clips of this flick to everything from Kelly Clarkson to Ted Nugent. Hmm.)

DAY 162--THE FOG (1980)

The follow-up to his enormously successful HALLOWEEN, 1980's THE FOG remains the closest thing John Carpenter has done to a zombie film. Okay, so maybe the movie's creatures are closer to ghosts, they're still corporeal beings that've returned from the dead--making them fair game for our purposes.

It'd certainly be appropriate to classify them as spirits, since THE FOG is structured very much like a ghost story, even beginning with one as a cameoing John Houseman sets the tone and establishes backstory with his opening monologue (if the prologue feels a little disconnected from the rest of the story, it's because the scene was an afterthought, a means to lengthen the rough cut to a more acceptable length). The premise--a group of pirates returning to exact their revenge on the centennial of their death--and its execution stay true to the campfire-tale elements.

I don't know if Carpenter was specifically trying to avoid the visceral terror of HALLOWEEN (though there are a few gloriously suspenseful moments), but THE FOG is an exercise in atmosphere and mood, achieving more with its early moments of subtle, ambiguous dread than the scenes involving the pirate Blake and his murderous crew. Aided immeasurably by Dean Cundey's cinematography, Carpenter's decision to shoot in anamorphic widescreen gives the film a scope and depth not usually found in a run-of-the-mill horror film. (An ensemble cast that includes Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook doesn't hurt, either.)

Yet I don't think Carpenter had a lot of faith in his material, as he later went back and beefed up many of the scenes to roughen the film's edges and ensure an R rating. But while these additions don't neccesarily detract from the mood--the close-ups of various body parts being impaled during the Sea Grass massacre does give the sequence some extra impact--it doesn't bring much, either. One instance in particular, when Jamie Lee Curtis encounters a sentient corpse in the morgue, is a pointless, payoff-free moment, the type of cheap scare found in lesser movies (and would be trotted out ad nauseum in the years to come).

Not as accomplished as HALLOWEEN or THE THING (but a damn sight better than dross like VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED or GHOSTS OF MARS), THE FOG holds up well today, a reminder of a bygone era when low-budget horror films could be more than throwaway entertainment. (And for a perfect counterpoint for what's wrong with horror flicks today, see the execrable 2005 remake.)


God, do I have to go through this again? Having watched the 1999 short NIGHT OF THE HUNGRY DEAD I can't help but sound like a broken record, if I may break out that anachronistic ol' saw. Ever read a previous review of a badly made short film that I hated? Then this one's going to feel awfully familiar.

Set in some backwater redneck hellhole--if the hair and wardrobe of the characters are any indication--this alleged horror-comedy sticks with the standard "we're trapped in the house by zombies and can't get out" scenario, throwing in a ponytailed douchebag who likes to poison his guests. Filled to bursting with moronic people who spew their asinine dialogue in the shrillest manner possible and displaying a staggering lack of creativity at every turn, the movie plays like a thirty-minute icepick lobotomy. Director Ron McLellan gets it all wrong, whether it's cribbing from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (to no effect) or littering his intro with typos and grammatical errors, it's clear that he possesses not a whit of filmmaking savvy. Unfunny. Unscary. Poorly written, directed, and acted.

This movie sucks. I hated it. After suffering through these clips, you'll hate it, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Released as part of After Dark's 2007 Horrorfest line-up, Jim Mickle's MULBERRY STREET is a slow-burning tale centering on the residents of the eponymous street, who live in a tenement slated for gentrification. What makes the film remarkable is that is takes a rather preposterous premise and spins it into a story of surprising intensity (remember when B pics did this all the time?).

Here, the zombies are caused by a rat-borne infection (the epidemic even begins with a nod to the Italian anti-classic HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, as a seemingly-dead rodent sinks its teeth into the first victim) that spreads quickly until Manhattan is placed under quarantine. From there we watch as the various tenants--some of whom teeter dangerously close to being stereotypes, but an interesting array of people nonetheless--deal with the slowly escalating crisis as the infected become flesh-hungry rat people. (An improbable concept, but it makes for some extremely freaky-looking creatures.)

I've said this before, but my favorite part of apocalyptic zombie films is the earliest stages of the outbreak, as the characters slowly realize that things are not normal, and it's this element that drives the bulk of MULBERRY STREET's plot. With his washed-out color palette almost completely devoid of primary hues, Mickle gradually layers on the tension; a solid enough tactic, but knowing the inevitable outcome compromises that tension somewhat. Fortunately, the excellent cast picks up the slack--yeah, there's some familiar faces (an Italian tough-guy, a single mom and her teenage son, a pair of old duffers that've lived in the building for decades), but it's the relationship between a former boxer (co-scripter Nick Damici, in a quietly powerful performance) and his combat-scarred daughter (Kim Blair, in a great non-traditional role) that really fuel the movie. Several times as I watched Blair struggle through an increasingly dangerous city to reunite with her father, I wondered if the filmmakers were fans of Brian Keene's zombie novels; there's a definite DEAD SEA/THE RISING flavor here.

Mickle sets up quite a few suspenseful moments, but he never truly taps into post-9/11 tension or paranoia, despite references to Bin Laden and terror alerts. (That may or may not have been the intent; I imagine we'll be invoking both 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina during any large-scale cinematic disaster for years to come. There is, however, a Katrina-like allusion to the lack of government response during the outbreak.) And though I cringed in anticipation of the rather predictable ending--note to the actors: when the guys in hazmat suits show up, your character's going to die--but even with this telegraphed denouement, Mickle ends on a note of unexpected tenderness and irony.

While not a genuine zombie film per se--the creatures aren't neccesarily the living dead--it still adheres to the classic undead-film formula, often to much greater effect than some legitimate zombie releases. It may not break any new ground, but MULBERRY STREET succeeds in telling a good story.

(Special thanks to Alex for the recommendation; otherwise this would've remained in the basement of my Netflix queue.)

Monday, April 14, 2008


Sometimes I feel stupid for griping about the plethora of microbudgeted shot-on-video movies I watch as part of 365 Days; it's like bitching about getting a headache while scarfing down ice cream--what else did you expect? Not that I have a problem with the form per se, it's just that 99.99999% of them display as much creativity and skill as a crayon-scribbled portrait hanging on a refrigerator door. That's why I enjoyed Justin Wingenfeld's 2007 release SKIN CRAWL, a movie that may be flawed, but at least keeps its zombies in front of the camera.

A 17th-century prologue sets the stage as a trio of witches (led by the always-awesome Debbie Rochon) places a curse when they're brutalized by the local menfolk, a surprisingly solid beginning with great sepia-tinted photography and competent performances marred only by cheesy digital trickery and a none-too-convincing rape scene. (It just occurred to me that I frequently use "competent" as a somewhat backhanded compliment, but after sitting through such turdburgers as ZOMBIE CAMPOUT and ZOMBIES GONE WILD, the fact that an actor can deliver dialogue without giving me the giggles is high praise indeed.) Culminating with the murder of the youngest witch, we flash-forward to present day as the film morphs into a stale domestic soap opera, with Rochon--presumably the descendant of her prologue's character--moping about her crumbling marriage. And though I commend Wingenfeld for an impressive prelude on a DIY budget, the opening fifteen minutes ultimately has no payoff, and a few economically-written lines of dialogue would have conveyed the same amount of information.

What SKIN CRAWL is really about is Rochon's murder (committed at the same spot as the earlier killing--an event that would've had more resonance had Rochon been the one initially slain) by her husband (Kevin G. Shinnick) and his mistress (the alluring, and oft-nude, Julian Wells) so they can enjoy her fortune. It's a plot we've seen many times before, and Wingenfeld covers all the bases, right down to Wells's double-cross. Considering the film's visual acuity and the performances of the leads, it's rather disappointing to see such an unoriginal tale trotted out once again, though editor Bret Piper keeps things engrossing by constantly backtracking to reveal deeper layers of the story from various perspectives (this technique tends to grow wearisome by the third act, however). When Rochon returns from the grave to exact her revenge, it's as predictable as the CREEPY/EERIE comics is so closely emulates. Aided by a few plot contrivances, it's shot perfunctorally, with a minimum of bloodshed, so that it can't help but feel obligatory, almost anti-climactic--though the disgusting, maggot-puking finale makes up for it a little.

Despite the familiarity of the material, SKIN CRAWL manages to maintain interest with a uniformly strong cast and fun, sure-handed direction (that's thankfully free of pretension) that includes an interesting juxtaposition as Rochon dies while her husband boinks his other woman. With his knack for doing a lot without much money, I'd like to see what Wingenfeld can do with a more original script.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Also known as THE DEAD ONE (a more accurate description of the movie itself, rather than any character), Barry Mahon's 1961 voodoo "thriller" BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE owes more to Mahon's nudie films than any true zombie flick. Shot in the same pedestrian manner as his T&A-fests (Mahon's the only person I know who can make naked women boring), it's an infuriatingly tedious affair that neglects to provide even the basest of thrills.

With the same production vales typical of softcore pornography (static camerawork and abominable sound quality, particularly the scenes that sound like they've been recorded in a grain silo), BLOOD's threadbare story concerns a newlywed couple who've come to claim a Louisiana plantation, only to find that the groom's cousin (Monica Davis, in a performance so tightly-wound I expected her to drop from a stroke any second) is using a voodoo-powered zombie for sacrificial purposes. The titular dead one, named Brother Jonas and resembling a Leatherface prototype, is the quintessential slow zombie, dragging his way toward his victims with as much energy as a kid stuck doing chores; rest assured, Mahon captures every interminable footstep--marvel at the scene in which Jonas (played by Clyde Kelly, who I'm sure was grateful his mug was covered in cheap makeup) lumbers up the stairs one step at a time, trying not to trip in his clunky Frankenstein boots.

As devoid of humor as it is action (though I did get a laugh out of bridegroom John MacKay grudgingly inviting a belly dancer along on his honeymoon), BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE is of interest only to the New Orleans tourism bureau, with copious scenes of jazz bands and exotic dancers gratuitously padding its opening half--though even these moments are as lifeless as the remainder of the picture.

Only insomniacs and fellow cinemasochists need apply.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


1974's GHOST GALLEON, perhaps better known as HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES, is Amando de Ossorio's third installment of his classic BLIND DEAD series (I'd considered reviewing them in order, but what the hell, it's my blog--and besides, I get the feeling there was never any sense of continuity intended beyond the first two films, as though de Ossorio made them because he knew they'd sell). While not as successful as the original TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, GALLEON still has plenty of charms, even if they're not readily apparent.

A small group of fashionistas (including genre faves Maria Perschy and Jack Taylor) set sail on the Atlantic in search of a pair of models who were lost at sea as part of some publicity stunt. We the audience already know what happened to them, since we got to see a decrepit ghost ship emerging from the fog (a great image, even if it is a tank-bound miniature), loaded with the coffins of the Knights Templar below deck. It isn't long before Perschy and co. find themselves fending off these skeletal members of the undead.

That pretty much sums up the film's events. De Ossorio seems more concerned with atmosphere and mood than action, judging by the almost complete lack of the latter. Those that can appreciate the deliberate pacing will no doubt enjoy the scenes of the Knights creeping ever so slowly among the ship, stalking their prey to the aural accompaniment of spookhouse-worthy groans and clanging chains. The initial appearance of the Knights is always the highlight of the BLIND DEAD films, and this one is no exception, a wonderfully drawn-out sequence as the zombies pull themselves from their caskets to shamble into the camera. (My only beef is that the script--probably bashed out in a single sitting once funding was secured--never explores the sightless Knights' motif of hunting their victims by sound. With all the creaking and moaning on board the ship, you'd think there'd be a lot to work with.)

I will warn you, though, if you're sitting patiently for the blood to flow, you'll be disappointed with this one. While previous installments of the series worked in a few gory bits, GALLEON is relatively grueless, save for a messy decapitation towards the end.

I can easily picture many of you fast-forwarding through most of this picture, if not ejecting it outright, and I'd totally understand. No, not much happens here, but it's the almost dream-like way that little bit happens is what makes it such a re-watchable film for me.

(There's quite a few public domain copies of HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES out there that are easily to track down, but special thanks are due to Donna Williams for hooking me up with Blue Underground's superior widescreen print.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Arguably the best pre-Romero film involving the living dead, 1943's I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE will no doubt surprise (and possibly disappoint) viewers more acquainted with the visceral approach of flesh-eating ghouls. Based on a reportedly true article with Inez Wallace, producer Val Lewton shifted its focus to a JANE EYRE-styled drama (with notable influence by both Henry James's TURN OF THE SCREW and Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA). And while it might not please those looking for a gut-munching good time, director Jacques Tourneur crafted a film with beautifully Gothic atmosphere that still holds up today.

The premise, about a nurse (Frances Dee) who travels to a sugar plantation in the West Indies to care for the owner's fever-stricken wife, doesn't sound promising for a horror film; in fact, the overt supernatural elements, or even the mention of zombies themselves, don't show up until the mid-point. Yet you can feel them in the very fabric of the film right from the deceptively-tranquil opening, thanks to Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray's tightly-wound screenplay. Also setting WALKED apart from other horror movies is the altruism that fuels the story; as Dee falls in love with Conway, she resorts to voodoo to find a cure for his wife (which, unbeknownst to her, is the cause of the condition in the first place), a fascinating mirror of the jealousy motivating such films as WHITE ZOMBIE.

Perhaps most surprising is WALKED's treatment of the minorities in its cast, eschewing the racist undertones or insensitive humor found in movies like KING OF THE ZOMBIES, etc. Here, whites and blacks speak to each other as equals, despite the latter's subservient position; Tourneur never overemphasizes it, but it's a refreshing change nonetheless.

But the film's greatest strength is easily its luminous black-and-white photography, which makes even the most mundane scenes wrought with tension (no surprise that Tourneur would go on to direct some of the most accomplished film noirs, such as OUT OF THE PAST). The climax, as Dee infiltrates the voodoo rituals of the locals, is the culmination of the movie's sustained anticipation, a sequence of subtle yet powerful imagery. Who could forget the haunting visuals of the dead goat hanging from a tree, or the zombified Darby Jones standing vigil in the sugar cane?

A classic, not to be missed.

Monday, April 7, 2008


To paraphrase Kevin Smith's CLERKS, this movie'd be great if it weren't for the fuckin' people.

A 2005 film by writer/director Ti West, produced under the auspices of Larry Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix, THE ROOST begins with an intriguing conceit: that the film is the presentation of a late-night horror show a la Chilly Billy Cardille or Ghoulardi. Bookending the film in grainy black-and-white and featuring MANHUNTER's Tom Noonan as the sinister emcee, this nostalgic touch quickly wears thin by running way too long. Noonan's also much too sedate to be an adequate host, talking in a soft monotone that made me more drowsy than frightened and lacking the cornball gallows humor that made those old shows so endearing.

When the film proper finally gets underway, I was immediately struck by West's stylistic prowess. His color scheme suggests many viewings of SUSPIRIA at an impressionable age, and his use of shadow and natural light during his nighttime exteriors are impressive for a young director. I especially liked how West employed ambient sound and background noise (particularly an ongoing radio show that's never directly acknowledged) to create a plausibly chilling atmosphere. Unfortunately, this technical skill is wasted on the blandest, most personality-barren cast this side of the CW and a story that never gathers quite enough steam.

The set-up--a group of Gen-Y'ers en route to a wedding get waylaid in a car accident and seek refuge at a secluded farmhouse, only to find a horde of bloodthirsty bats roosting in the barn--sounds like fast-paced, pulpy fun. Well, it's certainly not fast-paced (West keeps the pace deliberate, a forgivable offense when generating suspense, but too often it borders on tedium) and his characters take their trite, heard-it-a-million times dialogue much too seriously (most of the conversations sound like acting-class exercises recorded for posterity), taking the lowbrow fun out of its meager CGI effects. Actually, these people take the fun out of the entire film, with their petty backstories and barely-audible confrontations, a group of cyphers so semi-dimensional they're immediately forgotten after the shitty ending.

That's all well and good, you may be thinking, but what about the zombies? Well, the DVD sleeve mentioned them, and I think there are a few, as the bats' victims rise and briefly terrify the remaining survivors. For a second I thought they may have been infected with rabies and transformed into drooling maniacs, though the change is so sudden that it makes about as much sense as bat-bites making people zombies. And if they are in fact zombies, why would you make them such an insignificant part of the story? Why make them a part at all, since there really isn't room for them in a people vs. bats movie.

I'm sure there are answers, but given the film's hip independent pedigree, they're no doubt mired in the same navel-gazing self-absorption that bogged the movie down in the first place. I'm all for welcoming fresh talent into the genre fold, but at least bring something more to the table than a sharp DP.


We've all been snookered by video box art or movie posters that delivered far less than they promised, especially when we were kids. I can remember being intrigued by the VHS sleeve for Don Sharp's 1973 film PSYCHOMANIA with its skull-faced biker gang and just knowing it would be awesome-scary, if I could just convince my dad to let me rent it. I couldn't (this being the time my "obsession" with horror films was considered unhealthy), thus I had to wait well over 20 years before I discovered that no, PSYCHOMANIA isn't awesome or scary at all. Thanks, Dad.

The film's about the Living Dead motorcycle gang (whose members sport menacing names like Hatchet, Chopped Meat, and Bertram), tooling around the British countryside in search of kicks--which usually involves causing bodily harm to innocent motorists. Their leader Tom (Nicky Henson, looking more like Mick Jagger's love child than a badass biker dude) discovers his father's secret of defeating death in a locked room--a sequence that falls rather short of its intended nightmarishness--which just so happens to be unhesitant suicide. After a police chase featuring some daring motorcycle stunt work, Tom bites it by sailing off a bridge; the remaining gang members bury him astride his bike, in a grave that's not even deep enough to cover him (just what kind of funeral home provides such a service? And do you have to pay extra for it?), but it makes for a cool resurrection scene so it's okay. Of course, there's absolutely no consequences for returning from the dead, thus it takes little persuasion for the Living Dead to become just that, enabling them to be the exact same hooligans before their deaths.

Although it's got an interesting germ of an idea, PSYCHOMANIA fails to do little with it, devoting most of its scenes to the stilted melodrama of Tom's mother (Beryl Reid) and the butler-with-a-secret (George Saunders). Director Sharp sets a eerie, dream-like tone with a slo-mo credit sequence as the bikers encircle a Stonehenge-like structure, but otherwise his style is flat and uninspired, preferring to depict the majority of the film's violence offscreen. The worst offender is Tom himself; though competently played by Henson, the fact that he's a rich mama's boy blunts any edge his character may have.

While obviously inspired by the popularity of EASY RIDER and other counterculture films, the movie is less interested in siding with the anti-establishment than reinforcing the worst fears of an older generation, as the gang terrifies middle-aged "proper" adults almost exclusively. Sadly (for the film, at least), it's best enjoyed as unintended camp, especially the montage as the Living Dead commits suicide, or Reid's self-sacrificing methods of saving her son.

(Below you'll find Tom's burial scene, complete with ear-singeing music no self-respecting biker should be caught dead--sorry--around.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


The 2003 film I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is better than most zombie shorts I've seen, due in large part to director Miguel Angel Vivas's keen visual sense. This 18-minute Portuguese production, infused with an obvious love of Italian horror (to both its benefit and detriment), makes up for its one-dimensional storyline with an impressive use of lighting and composition.

The story centers on a young man named Lucio (sigh) and his relationship with his wife, who he let become turned into a zombie after catching her with another man. when Lucio brings home a woman after rescuing her from a pub-crawling brute (named Dario--sigh again), it sets up the perfect scenario for his wife to exact her revenge.

Well, perfect may not be the best word. When Lucio's wife breaks free from her cage it smacks of plot contrivance more than anything--why did she wait until now? And who was her boxing coach, since she possesses quite a mean uppercut (I think I hate zombies who fist-fight as much as I hate zombies who talk or play for laughs). Still, Vivas manages to keep it interesting, even during a second half that's really just an excuse to show off its cool zombie makeup and gore effects, not to mention featuring zombie POVs that somehow move faster than the zombies themselves. Lucio, played by Adelino Tavares, makes for an adequate protagonist; I can understand what he did to his wife in a passionate moment, but the cold-hearted move he pulls near the end was downright shocking--and not in the appropriate way. Most troubling though is the telegraphed ending (Note: when a character says, "If I ever turn into one of those things . . . " you can bet the farm it's gonna happen), capped with an unsatisfying twist. I only hope that this short was a means to display Vivas's directorial skills, and that he employs a better screenwriter when he makes that first feature.

I also have no idea what the title's supposed to mean.


Of the myriad Poverty Row horror cheapies, 1942's BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT remains one of the most accomplished (a dubious compliment to be sure), thanks to an incredibly busy storyline--which crams an awful lot into 61 minutes--and the always-welcome presence of Bela Lugosi. While it's somewhat of a disappointment for the purposes of this blog, it's still an enjoyable relic from a bygone era.

This convoluted crime melodrama features Lugosi as a professor who uses a soup kitchen as a front for his organized gang of crooks (maybe it's the indelible impression he made as Dracula, but Lugosi's menacing even when ladling out soup for the homeless); Lugosi also has a memorable calling card, offing an accomplice during each heist to leave at the scene--a rather novel conceit, but one that's got to affect employee turnaround. Various subplots abound--from the student in Lugosi's class (KING OF THE ZOMBIES's John Archer) who just so happens to date the soup kitchen's nurse to the rather non-urgent police investigation (led by Dave O'Brien of THE DEVIL BAT)--including one about a doctor lackey of Lugosi's (Lew Kelly) who hoards the corpses of the murdered hoods in the kitchen's basement and has somehow brought them back to life, easily the most interesting plot thread and thus given the least amount of screen time, disclosed in the last quarter of the picture.

Even though it's referenced in only two scenes, one being the closing minute of the film, and used really as a fitting punishment for Lugosi's misdeeds, the living dead element remains one of BOWERY's strongest points. The initial reveal as the doctor lifts a trapdoor (concealed in a burial mound, no less) for the zombified crooks to shuffle into view is understated yet undeniably eerie and it's a shame director Wallace Fox didn't use them more--though in a story this complicated I'm sure that would've muted their impact. And while I'm sure an upbeat ending was the order of the day during WWII-era cinema, the epilogue is particularly confounding, as the recently-reanimated Archer discusses his upcoming nuptials with his fiancee, seemingly no worse for wear.

Filmed in the same stagebound style as most Poverty Row pics, which to me's as comfortable as beat-up pair of sneakers, this should please fans of vintage horror, even if the dialogue lacks the usual rat-a-tat delivery common to the period (though a few minor zingers sneak in). A perfect companion piece to Lugosi's other penny-ante zombie classic WHITE ZOMBIE.

(Couldn't find a trailer for this one, but you can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube.)


Following the worldwide success of ZOMBIE (or ZOMBI 2 or ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS or whatever you want to call it), Lucio Fulci embarked on what could be called his "gothic period," firing off a trilogy of films (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE BEYOND, and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) in rapid succession. A mixed lot, all of which are slated for eventual review here, they're often regarded as Fulci's best work. The 1980 film CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD--best known stateside under the alternate, and more accurate, title THE GATES OF HELL--usually falls in the middle of critical reception, better received than HOUSE yet it never gets THE BEYOND's superlatives; it's also my favorite Fulci.

Sharing scripting duties with Dardano Sacchetti, Fulci drops the action into the sleepy hamlet of Dunwich, but don't expect the normal Lovecraftian hijinx here; in fact, there's very little of the man from Providence in this tale of a psychic (Catriona MacColl) and a detective (Christopher George) trying to close the recently opened doorway to Hell, an occurrence kick-started by the suicide of a priest. What powers CITY isn't its narrative but its evocative gothic atmosphere--utilizing soft, almost surreal photography and an ominous electronic score--and the strength of its individual shock set-pieces; that the two can work together is a testament to both Fucli's direction and Sergio Salvati's cinematography.

Not much about CITY makes any literal sense, yet the film operates under its own dream-like logic so that even the most idiotic plot twists seem natural (such as the living dead's ability to transport from one side of the room to another to claim their victim, a technique battered to death by later installments of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise that nonetheless retains a glint of effectiveness here). Often, the movie progresses like a series of stylishly-recreated nightmares, from the scene in which George "exhumes" a still-living MacColl from her grave to the gory highlights of the entrail-vomiting sequence and Giovanni Radice's drill-through-the-head (two moments that've given many a gorehound pause) before tying off its loose ends in a more conventional method. This dream-like feel helps save its open ending, which has sparked much debate about its true meaning--though it's really just a post-production trick to cover an editing goof.

For a movie that relies on the power of its imagery, it's a shame that Fucli felt it neccesary to crib from Dario Argento, most notably the rain of maggots that suggests the one in SUSPIRIA to the opening seance that recalls a similar scene from DEEP RED. The climax even borrows heavily from ZOMBIE's hospital stand-off, with both its zombies aflame and its mimicked score; whether this was to establish a thematic unity or to just redo what already worked is hard to say.

Still, this remains an all-time favorite. Maybe not as narratively coherent as ZOMBIE, but a lot more engaging than the oft-overrated THE BEYOND.