George A. Romero: 1940 – 2017

It is with a heavy heart that we heard today that George A. Romero, god-father of the modern zombie, has passed due to Cancer in Toronto today. Romero of course gave us the Dead series of films starting in 1968 where he envisioned zombies not in the traditional Haitian, plantation sense, but as the end of the world, and as a (possibly accidental) metaphor for racism and the 1960s. It was also a rip-roaring good horror flick that has stood the test of time for nearly 50 years for being ahead of its time (in part due to the lead character Ben (played by Duane Jones) being black, but also in terms of narrative and filmmaking style).

The director started making industrial/commercial films for various companies after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but after Night of the Living Dead he was a pretty major indie filmmaker and followed Night with a sequel, the more ambitious, both in gore and metaphor, Dawn of the Dead, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest films the genre has ever made. And while 1985’s Day of the Dead is kind of ignored by the mainstream lovers of the genre or considered ‘lesser’ than the first two entries, I personally love it dearly.

While Romero was often type-cast as ‘that zombie director’ he also re-invented the witchcraft film with Season of the Witch, government conspiracy and chemical weapons, The Crazies, the venerable vampire film as an addiction metaphor, Martin, as well as the creature feature anthology with Creepshow. There are so many nutty little corners of his career, from directing an episode to Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood, to (effective!) primate freak-out horror Monkey Shines, and gonzo medieval motorcycle cult favourite, Knight Riders.

Romero struggled in the 1990s and 2000s as he churned out a few more Dead films (including a modest sized studio entry, Land of the Dead) to diminishing returns. He moved to Toronto and acted as part-time mentor to several members of the local filmmaking community, and was popular at conventions and in repertory screening Q&As. I recall seeing him enthusiastically offer his unvarnished opinions on the large resurgence of the Zombie Genre he helped popularize in the early 2000s, a renaissance that has continued to this day. It is notable, that like John Carpenter, many of his classic films have been officially and unofficially remade, and homaged in every conceivable way.

Mr. Romero will be missed, but his contributions to the wilder side of cinema will likely never be forgotten.

The L.A. Times has more.

Blu-Ray Review: Train to Busan

Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Screenplay: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jung
Country: South Korea
Running Time: 118 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve been enjoying a glut of East Asian genre movies of late with Creepy and The Wailing both impressing me. I hoped to continue this winning run with the South Korean zombie film Train to Busan, which has been gathering a lot of acclaim from critics and horror fans alike. I’m a bit tired of zombie movies these days to be honest, but I have faith in the Koreans to inject a bit of fresh blood into the genre and from what I’d heard, Train to Busan had done just that.

The film sees a zombie outbreak tear through South Korea after a leak at a biotech site. We don’t witness the beginnings though, instead we follow the hard-working hedge fund manager Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) as he takes his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) on the train to Busan to see her mother. The two parents have separated and Seok is struggling to spend enough time with Soo-an, so she wants to go live with her mother. Circumstances around the pair cause Seok to have to step up as a father though when the undead start attacking in hordes and the two are trapped on the train along with a few other survivors and the hungry remnants of the less lucky passengers.

I’m not sure it quite lived up to all the hype, but I did enjoy Train to Busan quite a lot. Pitching closer towards action than horror to some extent, the film played more towards my tastes in that aspect. Instead of jump scares and a reliance on gore (this is bloody, but not gross-out) we get pulse-racing chases as waves of zombies launch at our protagonists. This style of fast paced zombies attacking in great numbers is reminiscent of World War Z, but the scale is kept just about small enough and less CGI-heavy to seem more realistically threatening.

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TIFF 2016 Review: The Bad Batch

 

Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 

How do you know you’ve taken a wrong turn on your journey?

Maybe if you happen upon a preacher testifying on top of a giant boom box? What about an ex-con missing an arm and a leg? Perhaps a knife-wielding beast of a man, strewn with tattoos, who finds serenity drawing and painting to pass the time.

What about all of it in the same place? Yeah – definitely a sign you made a wrong turn back around Albuquerque.

The Bad Batch is a designation given to a class of criminal all interred before a great fall of civilization – they are caught, branded, and kicked into a massive, fenced-off wasteland with nothing but a jug of water. A bad-batcher named Arlynne (Suki Waterhouse) manages to walk straight into the path of a band of cannibals – a sort of tribe within The Bad Batch. She is captured, her right arm and right leg severed, cooked, and consumed…all inside of the film’s first fifteen minutes.

Eventually, short two limbs, she manages to escape the cannibals and is dropped at the gates of Comfort; a sort of post-apocalyptic cult compound. After she is taken in and given a prosthetic leg, she happens upon two more cannibals outside of Comfort’s gates. She kills the woman, and takes in the little girl.
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TIFF 2016 Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

 

Opening with the eponymous girl locked in a cell and counting upwards to a thousand, The Girl With All The Gifts may as well be ticking off the sheer number of zombie films that a fan of the genre is ‘forced’ to contend with in these days of “The Walking Dead”. In actuality, twelve year old Melanie is being gathered for daily school lessons, dressed prisoner’s duds while strapped to a wheelchair along with her classmates in neat rows, all equally restrained. Halfheartedly walking through a memorization exercise, a teacher (hint: not one of the good ones) mutters under her breath, “content is not really relevant, is it?” This is a thesis that screenwriter Mike Carey (adapting his own novel) and director Colm McCarthy clearly want to shatter into a million pieces. For indeed, the zombie movie has new places to go and new ideas to explore: Consider the The Girl With All The Gifts in stride with South Korea’s Train To Busan, argues that fast zombies (being all the rage) have evolved to the point where they are here stay, where a good filmmaker can have his protagonist and eat him too.

While I have not had the pleasure of watching the second season of BBC’s gangster drama “Peaky Blinders” nor the supernatural 2010 drama Outcast, it is very clear that McCarthy knows when to put something in the frame and when to leave it out. Rare is the movie in this genre that is not only patient in its world-building, but also handsome in its photography. (28 Weeks Later… springs to mind, and it shares a grace note or two with this film in the idea that social progress should be never be managed by the military.)

In The Girl With All The Gifts, The UK (perhaps the world also) has been infected with a fungus that elevates hunger beyond consciousness (read: zombies). Like in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, there are military enclaves that have survived and are actively working the problem while fences keeps the hordes at bay. Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) seems very close to a solution with a small group of children born after the plague that exhibit tendencies of both the ‘Hungries’ (read: zombies) and normal children. Certain smells in certain circumstances set the children off, preceded by dry heaving and ending in chomping with lower jaw (think Keira Knightly in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method).

The eager and innocent Melanie is the best and brightest of all the children. Clearly she is Caldwell’s Bub, only with kinder eyes and a keen vocabulary. Young Sennia Nanua is indeed the gift the movie gives to us. Her character represents our own better natures as human beings – being bright, confident and unfailingly considerate to others. Melanie is the hope that any parent might have for their own offspring and Nanua realizes all of this seemingly effortlessly as perhaps most capable child actor I have seen in years. This is telling, because not only has child acting come a long way in the past 3 decades, but Nanua spends a sizable portion of the film wearing a transparent Hannibal Lecter mask covering her blood stained face. Talk about artistic constraint! I cannot wait to see this girl grow up and star in, hopefully, dozens of films, the talent here is staggering.

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Trailer #2: Burying The Ex

The latest film from Joe Dante, Burying The Ex is rather flatly lit and somewhat lacking in stylistic verve, but there is a pretty solid screenplay at the core of it all. At least this second trailer doesn’t go plot point by plot point, like the first one.

Max (Anton Yelchin) is a nice guy. Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is his overbearing but incredibly beautiful girlfriend. Max knows it’s time to call it quits, but there’s just one problem: he’s terrified of breaking up with her. Fate steps in when Evelyn is involved in a freak accident and dies. Evelyn returns in zombie form and is determined to take her boyfriend back from her nicer, cuter, possible soul-mate replacement, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario).

Burying The Ex comes to VOD June 19th, with an accompanying limited theatrical release.

Trailer: Cooties

“Oh look! Carnage.”

This is what happens when you let the Saw people play with the Glee people. It’s the teachers vs. the students in this latest iteration of the Zombie-Comedy-Siege film, Cooties. In 2015, when zombie comedies are done to death, this one against all odds, looks pretty darn good.

Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, and Jorgé Garcia star as the teachers who have to fight off their entire classrooms due to a fast-zombie outbreak which only affects humans who haven’t gone through puberty yet. Before you can mash Who Can Kill a Child together with The Faculty and Shaun of the Dead, some kid can yell, “Ewww, Cooties!”

Trailer: Burying The Ex

Yes it has been 6 Years since Joe Dante released a feature film. The Hole is a so-so picture, with surprisingly good (and restrained) 3D, that very few folks in Canada or the US got a chance to see due to poor distribution, so more or less, it has been 12 years since Mr. Dante has had a theatrical feature in the multiplex (Looney Tunes Back in Action). As much as I quite adore his Trailers from Hell website (Seriously, spend some time there, it’s great!) and his occasional TV work, I’d really like to see a return to form.

By all accounts, Burying The Ax is not going to be that thing, and a muddled, often obvious trailer (cut rather artlessly considering trailer editing was Dante’s Truck & Trade for years under Roger Corman) seems to confirm this.

However.

Most Joe Dante pictures have a way of aging rather magnificently, from The Howling to The Burbs to Gremlins 2. So I look forward to being wrong on this.

Max (Anton Yelchin) is a nice guy. Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is his overbearing but incredibly beautiful girlfriend. Max knows it’s time to call it quits, but there’s just one problem: he’s terrified of breaking up with her. Fate steps in when Evelyn is involved in a freak accident and dies. Evelyn returns in zombie form and is determined to take her boyfriend back from her nicer, cuter, possible soul-mate replacement, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario).

Burying The Ex comes to VOD in June (with very limited theatrical.) To that I say, sorry folks, despite the success of both Warm Bodies and the Evil Dead remake (note image above, and how it resembles the original Evil Dead poster) Joe Dante’s multiplex days appear to be over. I remain hopeful that this is not the case, but we will always have Trailers from Hell.

Trailer: Maggie

Lionsgate mysteriously pulled this film from the schedule of the 2014 edition of Toronto International Film Festival at the last minute. Now the studio is quoting the TIFF festival guide in their trailer. Hmmm. Either way, Arnold Schwarzenegger joins the ongoing Zombie party with this tale of a father-daughter relationship strained by her infection with undead-ness in Maggie.

Comfortably wearing his years, and giving the film (or at least, the trailer) a melancholy tone, this is very much a new page in the Ex-Governor of California film career as he fully embraces his age, even if it feels like we’ve had far too many variations on the undead at this this point. Abigail Breslin, no stranger to the genre after appearing in Zombieland a few years ago, plays his daughter.

Have a look and leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Occultober – Day 23 – The Serpent And The Rainbow

The Serpent And The Rainbow
“Don’t let them bury me…I’m not dead!” Who does get a slight chill when they consider the idea of being though dead and put into the earth still conscious? Wes Craven delivers a lot of exotic-sploitation in the 1988 voodoo-psychological horror picture, The Serpent And The Rainbow. The film is loosely based on the exploits of ethnobotanist Wade Davis, a man who by his own account was ‘turned into a zombie’ and recovered from the experience.

Looking for a ‘natural anesthesia’ for big Pharma, Dennis Alan bounces around in the Amazon jungle, eventually landing in Haiti, where he tries to buy a potent powder from a voodoo priest. Instead he is captured by the paramilitary officers and tortured before being kicked out of the country. But his persistence gets himself back into Port au Prince, for the ‘full experience’ of the powder, which culminates in a trip into his own madness.

Craven layers on a plethora of WTF moments and crazy imagery, mainly because portions of the film take place in Alan’s nightmares — coming off A Nightmare On Elm Street, it becomes clear why Wes got the directing job from Universal Studios after Peter Weir passed on it. In the full Sam Raimi sense, it certainly tortures the hell out of a very game Bill Pullman who is very convincing in the Indiana Jones-esque lead role. In a hollywood kind of co-incidence, Pullman also played a Han Solo character in Mel Brooks Spaceballs which came out within the year of the release of The Serpent And The Rainbow, but of course, has a much less scary vibe join on.

Far from perfect, there is enough going on in The Serpent And The Rainbow to fuel more than a few nightmares for those who discover this forgotten, slightly-unpolished gem.

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Cinecast Episode 360 – It’s Like Mustard

 
Sone famous once said that a person’s character can be defined by what he chooses to complain about. What do you despise? Is it Max Brooks? Is it Steve Guttenberg? The video streaming entity such as Vudu? Or is it someone/something else? By all means sound off! So yes, we explore the depths of our personal hatreds on this week’s Cinecast, but equally so, we also share some fondness, nay love, for Charles Grodin, Jean-Marc Vallée, Brent Spiner, Chris Tucker, Louis C.K. and yes, even Mel Gibson.

Documentaries and Ozploitation occupy the bulk of this week’s conversation. Steve James’ documentary, Life Itself (aka you’re better off just reading the book) and Russell Mulcahy’s creature feature, Razorback. But, and this is important. don’t even bother downloading this show until you’ve purchased your 4-pack of Midnight Run sequels. Yeah, it’s that kind of show.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Teaser: [Rec]4

And speaking of one of the better found footage franchises, the presumably final entry into the Spanish [Rec] series of films has abandoned the Found Footage conceit altogether as it circles back to the protagonist of the first film, TV reporter Ángela Vidal, who is dragged into quarantine on an oil-rig. The director duo of the first two films split up with Paco Plaza making the “Wedding Video” sidequel [Rec]3 before Jaume Balagueró ties a bow on the series with the fourth entry subtitled, Apocalypse.

[Rec]4 is scheduled to open the Sitges Film Festival (just outside of Barcelona) in October.