George Romero: Remembering a Great

It has disappointingly been revealed that the ‘godfather of zombies’, the great George Romero, has passed away; and with that news the horror genre feels slightly darker…darker than usual of course.

George Romero has always been a staple in horror cinema, ever since he cemented his place there with 1968s Night of the Living Dead. Although Romero did have other work to his name around the same time as the aforementioned film, it was this picture that really defined him as a household name.

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Made on a shoe-string budget of $100,000 Romero created Night of the Living Dead, a film that would influence countless other zombie films in the decades to follow, and began his iconic Dead trilogy. Trapped inside a farmhouse with a stranger named Ben, Barbara must band together with other survivors of the apocalypse in an attempt to fight off hoards of the undead. The film was praised for its character development in such a small setting and its use of practical effects, especially on the extras who were playing the ravenous creatures.

Before Romero brought his legion of reanimated corpses to the silver screen, his most frequently used antagonists were depicted fairly differently by his peers. They were portrayed by other film makers more as ‘voodoo’ inspired zombies that were being controlled by a witch-doctor or dramatic Hammer Horror villain; as seen in films such as White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie. It was Romero who truly defined the monsters we know and love today, with their infectious bites and lust for human flesh.

After the success of his first film Romero began work on a second, one that would go down in history as arguably the greatest zombie movie of all time… that film was 1978s Dawn of the Dead. This time set in a mall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the story follows four survivors as they clear out the undead from said mall, block off the doors and await their impending doom. This second edition to Romero’s Dead trilogy saw everything from the first film being cranked up a notch, with the characters, setting, story-arc and make-up effects all coming together in this horror masterpiece. The latter was largely due to horror special-effects maestro Tom Savini, famous for his work on Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, whose artwork added an extra touch of realism to the film.

Other than spawning movies that shaped the horror genre, Romero has also been commended for touching on issues such as racism, sexism and consumerism throughout his work; something which was rarely focused on in early horror cinema. Some of the ways that he challenged these social norms of 20th century media was by writing strong female characters, often in lead positions and casting ethnic minorities as his heroes. In that respect he was giving a glimpse into the future of a more representative Hollywood that we benefit from today. As Romero said himself, “I always thought of the zombies as being about revolution, one generation consuming the next.”

Romero’s final film in his Dead trilogy was 1985s Day of the Dead. Some fans see this as the weakest of the trio, but it still ranked highly with critics and holds its own as an enjoyable zombie romp. This time adding an element of science fiction to the mix, a group of soldiers and scientists attempt to figure out the cause of the plague, and whether the undead’s humanity can be returned. The film ended the Dead series on an optimistic note, as one of the most famous characters of the trilogy (Bub the zombie) appears to have gained some of his humanity back.

Romero’s dabble with the undead did not end there, however. Throughout the years he continued to create more movies with the ‘…of the dead’ moniker attached to their title, such as Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead, although not to the critical acclaim of their earlier counterparts.

As well as heading other horror classics such as The Crazies, Creepshow and Martin, he also dipped his hand into producing comic books with the release of Empire of the Dead; a series written by Romero and published by Marvel. This venture also saw the introduction of vampires to his universe.

With the announcement of yet another Day of the Dead remake it is abundantly clear that the influence of the masterful George Romero lives on through film makers and fans alike.

One can only hope he takes a cue from his own flesh-eating creations and rises from the grave to walk amongst us once more.

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5 Great Horror Films To Watch On Halloween: Part 2

Seeing as it is Halloween soon I thought that it would be fitting to give another list of, what I consider, to be great horror films. Watch these on your Halloween night and it is sure to be an enjoyable, yet terrifying one. This list compiles horror films from a wide range in the genre, so it is likely that it will contain something that will give your spine a shiver.

Film Type: Creepy Classic

Psycho 1960

Where would horror be today if Alfred Hitchcock had not decided to take on directorial duties? Thankfully we don’t have ponder that question, as he created many masterpieces in his time; including the film which will have inspired many horror directors after him, Psycho. Anthony Perkins takes on the role of the infamous Norman Bates, a lonely motel owner who is slightly too attached to his eerie mother. When beautiful women check into Bates’ motel, they don’t usually check out. Perkins gives a stellar performance here, as he convinces the audience that underneath that shy persona a psychopathic mentality lurks, just waiting to strike at his next available victim. Psycho is a complete classic all round, will probably be in most horror fans film collections and contains one of the most famous shower scenes in cinema history. Janet Leigh never saw that knife coming.

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Film Type: Uncanny Undead

Dawn of the Dead 1978

The second in the Godfather of Gore, George A. Romero’s, dead trilogy; and predecessor to the film which shaped zombie films today, Night of the Living Dead. Where the first in the trilogy introduced us to these flesh-eating ghouls, Dawn of the Dead was much more character driven and the make-up effects were just spectacular, even though most of the undead did appear blue. Zombies have already risen and two soldiers, with a helicopter pilot and his girlfriend team up to secure a mall to wait out the on coming hoards. From beginning to end this film is enjoyable, not only does it have great a story, characters and make-up but it also brings that creepy 70s vintage film vibe that adds a lot to the atmosphere.

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Film Type: Sinister Supernatural

The Evil Dead1981

The demonic low-budget horror film which, along with its two sequels, has become one of the biggest films in the cult arena. B-Movie superstar Bruce Campbell stars as Ashley ‘Ash’ Williams, as he, his girlfriend and their three friends travel to a cabin in the woods for a night of debauchery. Unfortunately the festivities are cut short as one of the members of the group reads from the Necronomicon; an ancient evil book that is bound in human flesh and written in human blood. From that moment on a demonic force is released and goes on to take control of the various members of the group, forcing them to try to kill their friends. Buckets of blood, amazing make-up that will turn your stomach and cheesy one-liners make this a film one that you will never forget. Oh, and there’s the tree scene, no explanation needed…just watch it.

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Film Type: Eerie Extraterrestrials

The Thing1982
Master of horror John Carpenter has given us some amazing flicks over the years; such as Halloween in 1978 and The Fog in 1980. However, there is one film from this director that was leaps and bounds above what anyone expected it to be – The Thing. Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr., the plot is that a crew working out in Antarctica find an odd frozen creature at a Norwegian outpost, after they take it back with them and it thaws out it takes the form of any person it can come into contact with. The audience, along with the characters, never know who truly is the alien and who isn’t; you find out quite suddenly though when it starts attacking you as its body morph into all kinds of nasty creatures. The Thing is praised for having effects which were way ahead of its time, and also one of the most suspenseful blood testing scenes ever.

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Film Type: Macabre Monsters

The Descent2005

This British horror from Neil Marshall really gives you that feeling of claustrophobia, as six women decide to take a trip caving and get trapped underground. What they don’t know is that this particular cave just so happens to house flesh-eating humanoids; creatures who have adapted to the dark and will tear at and eat any fresh meat they can find. The Descent plays on the creepy vibe so well, firstly by making you feel trapped in the caves with the characters, but even before the cave-in as it casually shows you the creatures lurking in the distance. The scene that makes this one of my favourites though is after the girls realise the trouble they are in, in the dark one of the group puts on the night-vision camera, and as we look through it a scare happens which I have never forgotten; no matter how many times I’ve watched it.

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Happy Halloween.

Oculus: A Review

With the Oculus Rift making horror games so much scarier, it was only a matter of time before a film would be named after the Latin word for an eye-shaped opening.

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An original story-line in horror goes a long way these days, as the vast majority of films are just re-workings of existing plots, remakes, sequels or prequels. To be honest, from the trailer it seemed as though Oculus was going to fit right in as one of those films. But thankfully the trailer didn’t reveal much in terms of the story-line; so you had no idea what to expect. That unexpected feeling stays with you throughout the entire picture.

Oculus starts with a flash of the past, which depicts Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan, best known for Doctor Who) who are two young children, and are in a desperate attempt to escape from a man with a gun and what appears to be some form of supernatural being. Fast forward 11 years and it appears that the man was their father (Rory Cochrane), and due to their family possessing a mirror called ‘The Lasser Glass’, he was unknowingly forced into killing their mother (Katee Sackhoff). The tale doesn’t end there though as now in present day, Kaylie decides that the mirror needs to be destroyed so that it can never cause anyone pain again. With the help of her recently released from incarceration brother Tim, they prepare themselves for a night of terror in the hope that by morning the mirror will be destroyed and they can put their horrible ordeal behind them. But as The Lasser Glass’ mind tricks begin to engulf them and their reality starts to sink back into what happened 11 years ago, the destruction of the mirror seems almost hopeless.

When a film is only 20 minutes in and you have already jumped out of your skin to man kicking a box then you are probably onto something. The creepy atmosphere that Oculus creates is what, among other things, really draws you in, it grabs hold and rattles about your every last nerve. The viewer begins to embody the characters themselves, their fears become yours, and Kaylie and Tim escaping this nightmare feels all that more vital as you are trying to escape it as well.

Director Mike Flanagan really did an excellent job of intertwining the realities, we are shown both the story from 11 years ago and the one in present day. When the older Kaylie and Tim begin to remember what happened to them, they are thrust back into reliving those horrific days when The Lasser Glass took over their family. Although at some points you may feel lost, as soon as a scare comes through you get your bearings back. You really have to otherwise you won’t be able to prepare yourself for the next jump.

When you look at films such as Signs, Halloween or The Thing, they are such landmark films that give us the shivers even to this day; and one of the main reasons is the music score. Some simple notes can add a lot of terror to a film, tunes that will stick with you even after the film has ended. Oculus is one of those films, its bassy long notes, which are uncovered when the cast are running frantically from the antagonists, almost resemble an air raid siren. Something audiences recently saw in 2012’s Evil Dead remake. When those sirens start-a-comin’, you better be-a-runnin’.

You are constantly guessing with Oculus, although you can follow the plot. What will mystify you is the mirror itself, as it isn’t so much a being, but more a force. We aren’t really indulged into its power until about half way through the film as well, so when the scares come, and they do, you really don’t know what to expect.

Tag Line: You See What It Wants You To See.

 

Shocking Saturday: The Conjuring

The truth based story of the Warren’s most horrifying case makes for a thrilling film, that brought box office selling ghost stories to the big screen once again.

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In 1971 the Perron family have moved into a new home in Rhode Island to make a fresh start, however after revealing the boarded up cellar, eerie occurrences begin to happen in the house. Such as: the dog barking wildly, unexplained smells and noises in the house and of course one of their daughters being dragged out of bed. The family seek the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) – who are regarded as the most famous paranormal investigators in the world – to look at their home and deal with the problem. However once Lorraine, who is also a medium, enters the home she senses something much darker at play than just a normal haunting. The evil twisted past of this dilapidated house is beginning to come to life once more, and it plans to destroy the Perron family from the inside.

One of the first things you notice when watching The Conjuring is the money and ideas that have gone into it. Although they are basing on what happened in 1971, the scares and creepy atmosphere that the director James Wan, who is also famous for the Saw franchise and Insidious, creates is one that I have not witnessed from a horror in quite a while.

It’s not only the creepiness that won me over, but also the climax. A lot of horrors are able to create that feeling of unease in us, and they usually do it by not showing us the antagonist until the very end of the film. When we do see it, the CGI created beings usually ruin the rest of the film; for example in White Noise. However The Conjuring keeps you gripped to the screen throughout the entire running time, and at the conclusion you don’t want it to end.

You know how in a horror film there tends to be that one character that just gets on your nerves, it could be the typical dumb blond or the screaming child – although the War of the Worlds remake is not a horror, Dakota Fanning’s character was just unbearable. Well I could not find one fault in the portrayals in this film, yes there were parts were I was thinking ‘why are you looking in the cellar?’ But the actual characters were very likeable, even with 5 young children, and therefore you weren’t rooting for them to be killed, you actually wanted this family to survive the terrors. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga definitely stole the show, as the ghost hunters who were both fully in belief of the supernatural, but were also sceptical when going into a case. That characteristic alone made them one of the most enjoyable things about the film, as they didn’t go into an investigation instantly believing there was paranormal phenomenon involved.

The back story for this film is just so interesting – depending on what type of films you like. But I find it great when you can view a film and then look it up afterwards and discover new things about the story; and The Conjuring is one of those films. As it is based on Ed and Lorraine Warren – the two most famous paranormal investigators – it tries to put as many of their famous encounters into the film as possible, including the infamous ‘Annabelle’ doll case and the Amityville case. We get to take a look inside all of their hauntings and adventures when the film shows the room in their house where they keep all the cursed objects from their travels. If you research about the Warrens and watch the film again, you are bound to spot one or two familiar items. Things like this show that the writers – Chad and Carey Hayes – have thoroughly done their research for the film.

One of the best horrors I have seen in a while, not one that has just been churned out with the same story line. It’s got a great back story, impressive portrayals by Wilson and Farmiga, scares when you least expect them and the thing which always gets me going, an eerie feeling that grabs tight of you and just will not let go.

The Conjuring 2 is set for release in 2015 and a spin-off film about the haunting Annabelle doll titled ‘Annabelle’ is set to be released later this year.

Tag Line: Based On The True Case Files Of The Warrens.

Horror Rating: (:-O) (:-O) (:-O)

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Shocking Saturday: Grave Encounters

The found-footage 2011 cult horror by The Vicious Brothers lives up to the hype, and offers much more than your typical hand-held camera film.

grave

Lance Preston is the host of his own paranormal investigation series, and for the sixth episode of the first series him and his crew decide to visit the Riverview Mental Asylum, which is said to have been the source of many ghostly happenings. The team decide to have themselves locked inside the asylum all night until 6am when the caretaker will come let them out. The persona that the team play out on camera is much different to their actual take on the situation, as they believe that they aren’t going to get anything on film. However as the night goes on the asylum seems to come to life, along with its deceased detainees; and the crews persona eventually becomes one…fear. With ghouls and demons chasing them at every corner, they have much more to worry about than just surviving until 6am.

The first thing that I noticed about Grave Encounters was that, even before any of the scares had started, I was enjoying the film. It is a great success when a film from this genre can achieve that, without even needing to use any of their effects. As the film went on it just got better and better, the plot kept you guessing as you tried to work out what was going on just like the characters in the film. Plus, even though we aren’t able to get too in touch with the cast, you still relate to them because they are quite comical in the way they do certain things before they enter the asylum; although you aren’t dying for them to make it out, you certainly do sympathise with them.

The effects and prolonged creepiness are definitely what steal the show here. It’s the not knowing when something is going to pop up when the camera pans around, and the jump-scares that don’t happen when expected but still scare you any way that keep the film going. The casts witty and friendly characteristics force you to put yourself in their positions; imagine stumbling around an abandoned haunted prison in the pitch black on your own; doesn’t sound like something I would want to be doing.

What Grave Encounters really does well is how it keeps you interested in the film, and it does that by swaying from the typical scares and plot of a found-footage horror film. Along with the expected jump-scares that don’t happen, the documentary style photos which were found after the events and the imaginative story, the movie also does something which we barely ever see in horror films these days; and that is keeping the majority of the cast alive for over half of the film. By doing this the audience are able to continue to get in touch with the entire cast, and not, for example, get annoyed by a single cast member who might be the only one left alive.

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Although at some points the acting is slightly wooden, the film gets away with it because of the way that it keeps you watching, all the way up to the end.

A sequel to Grave Encounters was made in 2012 called ‘Grave Encounters 2’, and is about a fan who is so obsessed with the film that he wants to make his own version in the same place. Unfortunately for him it turns out that the film is actually real. The sequel was rather good, however it was let down in the fact that it makes the story too unrealistic. I know it is obviously made up, but where the first film played on your imagination so much and gave you a feeling of claustrophobia, the second tries to achieve this as well but goes so over the top with it.

One of the best found-footage films I have seen in a long time, with some great effects and an atmosphere that will stop you from ever wanted to go explore an abandoned Mental Asylum.

Tag Line: They Were Searching For Proof…They Found It.

Horror Rating: (:-O) (:-O) (:-O)

Star Rating:

Shocking Saturday: V/H/S 2

The thrilling V/H/S anthology franchise returns with a sequel that surpasses its predecessor in quality and original ideas.

VHS2-Poster

Once again someone has been hired to break into a house that is littered with snowy television sets and stacks of VHS tapes; this time a private investigator and his girlfriend have been hired to find a missing college kid by his worried mother. As one of the two searches the house for clues, the other begins to watch the various tapes in a bid to find out what has happened. Unfortunately the tapes do not give any ideas, they just show stories of disturbing and violent footage shot by unknown people; each tape more terrifying than the last. Including footage of a haunting, a suicidal cult, zombies and an alien abduction. As the pair view more and more of the tapes it appears as though watching these may be what has caused the kid to disappear.

What jumps out at me about V/H/S 2 – as it did with the first one – are the original ideas that are just so gripping to watch. Each story is directed by a different person, meaning that each story has a different and fresh take on it; this helps to keep the audience watching in wonder at will come next. What has really been improved on from the original is the length of the video segments; whereas in the first it was five rather short stories that failed to explain their plots well, in the sequel it has been changed to four slightly longer stories that urge you to understand the subject matter more.

Every video tape is incredibly imaginative, the various directors (Adam Wingward, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason Eisener) have not just used a typical horror film narrative, they have added a different aspect to them. For example with the first segment ‘Phase 1: Clinical Trials’, in which a man is fitted with a new eye – that is also a camera –which makes him see dead people, it is not just another ‘The Eye’ film. In the short viewing I assure you that you will be more creeped out and shaken than throughout that entire Jessica Alba flick. Not only that, what the segment offers that is great is an amazing contrast between incredible state-of-the-art technology and simple practical make-up. The variation of these two things showed both ends of the horror time-line put together – the practical effects of the Hammer Horror classics, and the gadgets which are used in a large portion of today’s horror films.

Straight after experiencing the first segment it was obvious that this film was miles ahead of the original; I just hoped that it wouldn’t go downhill from there. It definitely didn’t as the second ‘A Ride In The Park’ took one of my favourite horror monsters – zombies – and span the idea on its head; as we are watching through the Go Pro camera of a recently joined member of the undead. Although the shortest of the videos, its compact size stopped the story, that we have seen many times before, from getting too monotonous.

The third segment ‘Safe Haven’ definitely steals the show, as it just had everything you could have asked for; a creepy vibe throughout, unlimited amounts of gore, an interesting plot and characters that you could get in touch with. The Indonesian based story follows a documentary crew who are filming at the location of a cult who believe they are heading for the gates of paradise, unfortunately the crew are there when they begin their journey…lets just say a lot of blood is spilt. This segment put V/H/S 2 at a much higher standard of horror.

The final tape ‘Slumber Party Alien Abduction’ is pretty self-explanatory from its title, and while it did not leave the film on a bad note, it did have a disappointing low-level of creepiness; something which really is needed in alien themed films.

Although I did really enjoy the first V/H/S film, what really let it down were the video tape segments that never really seemed to go anywhere and were over too quickly; therefore character development was not seen often. Also the shakiness of the hand-held camera was too much at times, I understand that the film makers were trying to make it as realistic as possible but it gets to a point where realism goes out the window, and the audience just can’t make out a single thing on-screen. It is only after viewing V/H/S 2 and re-watching V/H/S that I realised how bad the quality of the first film was, thankfully this, and much more, has been improved upon in the second film.

vhs2 man

As I have said many times when reviewing found-footage, it has been done to death now and directors need something new to offer their viewers. V/H/S 2 definitely ticks that box by using new technology such as Go Pros and spy cams throughout the film, perhaps to relate more with a 21st century audience. Something else I look for is the effects that are used on camera, unlike where V/H/S seemed to use gore a lot just to fill spaces in where the plot was lacking – gore for the sake of gore – the sequel gets exactly the right amount. When the effects are used they are incredible and very believable, however they are not over used at any point where they’re not needed.

To sum up V/H/S 2 was a definite step above the first film, and for any fans of found-footage or anthology films I would recommend this. It is one of the most enjoyable horror films that I have seen in a while.

Tag Line: Who’s Tracking You?

Horror Rating: (:-O) (:-O) (:-O) (:-O)

Star Rating: 

The Birds Remake

Another day, another silver-screen classic gets a remake.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds is such an iconic movie for thriller and general film lovers alike. What an enjoyment it was to watch Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor and the people of Bodega Bay suddenly be attacked by flocks of birds. But it wasn’t just these attack scenes that made the film sensational, it Hitchcock’s classic touch of suspense and realism in the scenes that kept you gripped and watching the story – which was an adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier novel.

birds

As you have probably guessed by now, this incredible film is receiving the remake treatment; and it is not just in talks, the production is in full swing with Platinum Dunes. Naomi Watts has been said to be taking the lead role with Dutch director Dierderik Van Rooijin at the helm, and Transformers director Michael Bay is in the role of producer.

Although I do think Naomi Watts could bring a great portrayal to the role of Melanie Daniels, it is hard to imagine how Van Rooijen and Bay expect to create the same edge-of-your-seat feeling that the original delivered – Bay probably hasn’t been told yet that the plot includes no explosions, car crashes, drug busts or shoot-outs.

If the remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1998 is anything to go by, then the soon to be remake of The Birds will surely fail to dazzle.