Archive for February, 2010

Romero never set out to become a Hollywood figure, yet, he has become one of the most defining, successful and imitated director/writer in recent times. Below are a collection of my comments on George A. Romero’s zombie films, the Godfather of the undead. Sit back and I hope you enjoy.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

George A. Romero has readily admitted that Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls influenced in his making of Night Of The Living Dead (NOTLD). For me, they’re both low budget, both filmed in black and white and both are chilling creepy in places.
Both went onto be get ‘lost’ but unlike Carnival of Souls, NOLD was haled by critics abroad, who saw it not just as another horror movie, but a film that reflects society. Romero has gone on to define a genre, a feat that very few have accomplished. Many films have been influenced and have imitated George’s creation but few successfully.
A group of people hide from bloodthirsty zombies in a farmhouse…
NOLD is seeped in history and has become as intriguing as the chiller its self. There’s really not too much to comment on that hasn’t already been said before. The dead are played mindlessly well. Duane Jones is a fantastic lead actor and stands out, an actor ahead of his time but the others are less convincing. The stock music is bold, and the sound is an adequate mix but all these things with their faults add to the charm of this little horror classic.
It’s dark, gloomy and entertaining but more importantly it was a turning point in horror history.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

A pandemic has caused the reanimation of the dead and four survivors of the outbreak hide inside a suburban shopping mall and attempt to keep out the dead.Dawn of the dead, there’s loads of reviews on the net. I’ll start with the bad, make-up consistency, poorly edited, poor sound, intrusive score music and a pie fight. Sounds horrid eh? Like a bad B-movie? Well Dawn of the Dead through all it’s faults is still a classic sub-genre film. I wont go into all the under tones, subtext of consumerism, mass hysteria, social commentary and satire yada, yada.

This is possibly George A. Romero’s most balanced and satisfying of all his zombie films. What it boils down to is film has dated. Even so, the script is very well written and the film oozes atmosphere, the emptiness, notably the basement, and airfield scenes.
Tom Savini provides some fantastic gore effects, many of which stand up effectively today. While it’s gory, bloody, violent and disturbing, I would think today’s film viewer has hardened up to it, but this is not fault of the film, it is an amazing product of it’s time.
Many horror buffs think it’s overrated, but it’s more that just a straight horror, the character interaction, even down to the priest speech is understated. Should they have had a bigger budget and more time, maybe the faults I mentioned wouldn’t have been made. However, made they were and Dawn of the Dead is still the finest zombie film to date, a must see.
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

A small group of military officers and scientists reach breaking point in the confines of a bunker as the world above is overrun by zombies.The first two scenes set precedence that the rest of the film can’t equal. The jumpy dream sequence is followed by and eerie deserted city during the day that soon comes to ‘life’ with the walking dead. The city scene creates tension, the howling wind and echoing voices.

Lori Cardille acting is excellent as Sarah, as too is Terry Alexander, as realist pilot, John. Jarlath Conroy is the alcoholic radioman William McDermott, however, after this strong introduction and the movie looses it lustre and wider audience as it goes into the underground bunker.

From here on in, we’re treated with a great performance from Sherman Howard as the ‘thinking’ zombie Bub and a fantastic monologue from Alexander, this is where the film finds it feet. There are fantastic special effects by Tom Savini, who fine-tunes what he did in Dawn’ and adds some more gore into the mix. Over the years the score by John Harrison has really grown on me and given the film a memorable lost hope feel.

There are other fine moments in Romero’s script, Miguel Salazar’s break down, Sarah’s struggle and some memorable on liners mostly from Richard Liberty’s Logan and Joseph Pilato’s Rhodes. However, what lets this film down slightly is some uneven acting. That said, John Amplas underrated and overlooked subtle performance as Dr.Fisher is a hidden gem and Johns monologue at the ‘Ritz’ is Oscar worthy.

Day of the dead is a tight zombie film, and debatably a classic but even if you disagree it’s worthy enough to enjoy time and time again.

LAND OF THE DEAD (2005)


The living dead have taken over the world, and the last humans live in a walled city as they come to grips with the situation but how long will it be a safe haven.

Panned by fans and critics, I feel Romero’s grander scale zombie instalment has got a rough ride. It’s true it lacked that roughness of the previous zombie outbreaks, I’m talking about zombie grit but truth be known it was only really Dawn that had this (as it was a 70’s product film of it’s time). That said, Diary’s shaky cam didn’t do the job either.

What Land’ does have is an ominous tone, story and great performances notably from Simon Baker, John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper, who delivers some great one liners. The music score is fitting. In honesty aside from some CGI blood there’s nothing really wrong with George A. Romero’s movie. Although some of the themes, like ‘putting out the trash’ could have been explored there’s some visual striking set pieces, great zombie ideas and more.

Either way George can’t win, every time he panders to ‘fans’ whims he shoots himself in the foot. Let the guy just make his movies, watch Land’, it’s dead good.

DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007)

As the dead rise a group of people during their plight for survival decide to record the epidemic incident.Actress Michelle Morgan, an Eliza-Dushku-a-like thankfully holds this film together. It was said to be a George A. Romero goes back to basics after the studio look of Land of the Dead. However, the filming while commendable is unnecessarily complicated as the story is told through the lens of a cameras (but that’s been done to death).

My gut feeling is that if this film were to have been filmed in the ‘traditional’ manner with some tweaks on the dialogue, it may well have been more satisfying as the characters journey is quiet interesting. The effects are also executed sleekly and the acting, bar a few dodgy moments, is above average for this type of horror.
It tries to be to clever for it’s own good, all in all watchable zombie film but lacks Romero’s secret magic formula.

Survival of the Dead (2009)
On an island local residents and a group of soldiers simultaneously fight a zombie epidemic while some hope for a cure to return their un-dead relatives back to their human state.Zombie heads on sticks, underwater zombies, zombie children, soldiers, horse back zombie, Irish accents, yeap, is it’s Romero’s latest dead flick. In George A. Romero’s 2009 zombie instalment there is anisland off the coast of North America where local residents try tocontrol and fight a zombie epidemic.

The ferry scene covers a lot of exposition ground and there’s a flash back to diary. One jumpy scene stands out but the whole story feels like a forced rehash of ‘For A Few Dollar More’ or ‘Last man Standing’with a few zombies thrown in. Every living character is borderline stereotype, there’s no one to root for, the dead are not menacing and just set up to be killed (on occasion with poorly executed CGI).
The acting is a lot better than in Day, the script is not bad, however,there’s a little too much humour in it for my liking but there are plenty of rotten zombies. The female characters are underdeveloped written but the actresses do their best. Athena Karkanis rightly grabs some attention. Adam Swica’s cinematography deserves a mention great Autumn-like backdrops and moonlit sky’s. Romero’s direction is fine as too is the editing, with plenty of cuts and gone is the shaky point of view ofDiary.
It’s a shame that George hasn’t found that balanced zombie diet of Dawn’s eerie, foreboding and empty feel…

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Love them or loath them here are a few comments on the Exorcist ‘legacy’ including the abysmal 2nd instalment. Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist was directed by Paul Schrader and Exorcist: The Beginning was then directed by Renny Harlin, neither of which compare to the 1st or 3rd Exorcist. Here we have an anomaly of two Exorcist films utilising the some of the same actors, the same sets and almost the same story… this is what makes these Exorcist prequels interesting and a complete oddity.

For me Harlin’s version, even though over cooked, it is the slightly better film of the prequels. I would suggest only watching these films out of interest and here’s my comments on why.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

Father Merrin assists a team of archaeologists who unearth a church. At first, Merrin resists the idea that supernatural forces are in play but an encounter with a demon inside a boy may change his mind.

Dominion is the Prequel to the Exorcist (1973), the story is engaging, however like Harlin’s Exorcist: The Beginning it’s doesn’t capture the tone of the Exorcist and feels more like a TV movie.The story of Dominion is very interesting, probably more so that the above mentioned Harlin’s version but isn’t as technically pleasing. It just can’t getaway from that television look, the script is clunky, the sets are not dressed very well and the lighting is poor. The acting is more theatrical and the lack subtle cuts make it feel a far smaller film.

Opening scene of the film is certainly very effective as Merrin faces the Nazi’s. Nevertheless, it does have other faults especially the CGI effects. However, Ralph Brown as Sergeant Major is very good (and his screen time is sadly limited in Harlin’s version).

It works more as psychological horror but there are too many distractions to engross you, again like ‘The Beginning’ what makes this film interesting is the fact there are two films that utilise much of the same story, sets and actors. Best viewed as an exercise

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Father Merrin has crisis of faith after the horrific events he witnessed during World War II but when an ancient church is uncovered he must confront a supernatural evil force.

Renny Harlin’s prequel to the Exorcist’s is of almost the same material as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, using some of the same actors and sets it is debatably technically superior. The script seems sharper, the sets appear dressed and lit better, the acting more subtle and the use of more cuts with higher quality effects make it feel a far bigger movie.
 
Stellan Skarsgård as Father Merrin is again a good choice and he’s far more likable in this version. The little Joseph boy played very well by Remy Sweeney deserves a mention and Izabella Scorupco brings some weight to the role of Sarah. It does however have a special effects driven finale. Director Harlin delivers some jump scares and atmosphere notably the Indiana Jones-like explorations.
 
It’s the history of ‘making of’ which possibly makes The Beginning more interesting given the fact there are two films that utilise the many of the same actors and story.
 
All in all it’s not a classic but the first half of the film is certainly effective and entertaining. Harlin’s version is a solid film, but it arguably doesn’t fit in tonally to the Exorcist (1973) world which may disappoint some.
 
Now the earlier films…The Exorcist (1973)I’ll start by saying you could argue the film is almost over-rated. From the start the film still retains a creepy atmosphere but over the years it seems to have lost it’s scare factor. That said, some scenes are still disturbing and the some foul language still amazes to be shocking.The score, sound and editing can sometimes be a mix bag but the acting and direction by William Friedkin is exceptional. Max von Sydows limited screen time leaves an impression and Jason Miller as Father Damien Karras plays the troubled priest, however the star is rightly Linda Blair as Regan, the actress is great especially for someone so young.

There probably hasn’t been a more intelligent horror film since 1973 or a better film on demonic possession. A must see for new horror fans.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Set four years after The Exorcist Regan MacNeil is still recovering from her previous demonic possession, but the evil may only be repressed. A priest and Exorcist is tasked with investigating his late teachers death.

As a stand alone film or sequel it’s shocking and for all the wrong reasons. Maybe with another script the fantastic actors, Richard Burton and James Earl Jones to name a few wouldn’t have been wasted. The music score by Ennio Morricone, dreamlike atmosphere and some effects are the films redeeming features.

With fancy locations, sets and lighting Boorman’s direction is fine (who brought us the excellent Excalibur (1981)), but it seems the failing is in the script. It never seems to flow. Not even a good performance from Burton can save it nor another edit as it delves into unsatisfactory trance driven telepathic melodrama  – sadly it is pale in comparison to it predecessor.

Watch it if only for curiosity or Burton’s and Blair’s performance. As Burton’s Father Lamont states, “It was horrible, utterly horrible… and fascinating!”

The Exorcist III (1990)
The Exorcist film which spawned sequels and Prequels is a landmark horror film. William Peter Blatty, writer of the Exorcist novel, directs this intriguing and underrated 3rd film. Blatty ignores the messy sequel and injects some realism, horror and suspense in The Exorcist 3.

Good news for fans Jason Miller, Father Damien Karras, makes a surprise appearance. In addition to Karras the character ‘Bill’ Kinderman (of the original) played by Lee J. Cobb who died in 1976, is played excellently by George C. Scott. The film mostly consists of a serial killer hunt. The script is very natural and the witty rapport between Bill and the priest is fantastic, there is also a very good dream sequence.

William Blatty, considering being an inexperienced director uses some thoughtful and interesting camera angles and creates an unnerving atmosphere. This film maybe not be as shocking as other horror films but for me it has the better story line of all the series of films and is certainly worth the watch.

Science fiction is a huge spanning genre of fiction. It’s an incubator for imaginative minds to create visions that help us to glimpse not only the future, but also something about ourselves. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible. I’ve left Terminator and Alien(s) out both I’ll visit in the future, in the meantime here are my comments on a few old classic films and new comers of Sci-fi…

Repo Men (2010)

It’s is the near future, Jake and Remy are repossession men for body organs. After a repo’ goes wrong Remy’s heart is replaces and he finds himself on the run before his heart is repossessed.

It’s a high concept idea with a twist at the end. The gory repo scenes are cringe worthy and action scenes backed with a pumping music score are amazing. The sets, location and effects are attention-grabbing. Miguel Sapochnik’s directing admirable but its failing is the screenplay, Repo Men is a jarring mismatch of a film, it doesn’t know what it wants to be, one minute a social commentary, the next minute a comedy, then an action, a serious thriller and so on. It just doesn’t gel and as a result it’s a let down.

Schreiber’s Frank is menacing as one of “The Union” heads and there’s a welcomed cameo appearance by John Leguizamo (Asbury). A lighter, healthier Forest Whitaker makes an impression in this odd toned movie, quirky lead and ever reliable Jude Law looks uncomfortable with the role Remy. Alice Braga’s (Beth) performance is average and she isn’t atheistically beautiful enough to convince the audience of Remy’s infatuation with her.

Unfortunately, Repo Men tries to cater and appeal to a spectrum of movie goers and as a result fails to entertain or satisfy in any capacity or arena.

Planet of the Apes (1968)


Franklin J. Schaffner is never given enough credit when it comes to the genuine sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes. The talking points are usually the twist ending, or the late great Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall.

A philosophical sci-fi made in 1968 and nominated for two Oscars it still holds up today as a social parable, effective drama with a relevant and underlining social commentary. It’s the primitive depiction of an ape civilisation rather than technologically society made Planet of the Apes standout as the iconic film it is haled as today.

‘Apes builds up nicely, there’s a wonderful score, (groundbreaking for the time) by Jerry Goldsmith, creating eerie and ominous atmosphere with the first exciting ape reveal at about 30 minutes in.

The film is wonderfully directed and has a solicitous and thought proving screenplay by Michael Wilson & Rod Serling. That said source material was from Pierre Boulle’s very wry, whimsical and thoughtful novel. Astoundingly Boulle is also author of The Bridge over the River Kwai.

The few visual effects are sufficient but the ape make up is admirable and star of the show. Recognisable only by their voices Kim Hunter as human conservationist Dr. Zira and the anxious Cornelius played by McDowall are splendidly magnificent as they assist Taylor played by the boldly cast film legend Heston to escape the command of the apes. The attractive Linda Harrison, who plays Nova is effective and the British classical actor, in orangutan make-up Maurice Evans is outstanding, giving a weight of believability to the subject matter.

Planet of the Apes is an original science fiction must see.

Blade Runner (1982)

I must admit I’m a huge fan of Ridley Scotts’ and Blade Runner is one of
his finest moments, panned by critics and by most on its release, it was ahead of its time on every level.

Whichever version of Blade Runner you prefer, it has atmosphere, great costumes and a mood of gritty realism about it. The neocityscapes, the dark street life and polluted air all paint a grim futuristic picture complimented by a score by Vangelis , which is touching and haunting. The lines are memorable and there are fantastic performances from Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos. Harrison Ford is perfect as the moody ex- Blade Runner and Joe Turkel should have won an award as the Frankenstein -like creator.

Blade Runner is quite a simplistic tale that is complicated by the fantastic visuals and effects. Lying beneath the plot that many writers contributed to there’s heart and soul, questions of what it means to be human and delves into our own mortality.

Its edgy hi-tech art-house that brings science fiction to life and while it’s not the most fulfilling sci-fi film it certainly is a fantastic visual experience.

RoboCop (1987)

A cop is brutally murdered in the line of duty only to be resurrected as a robot cop. With a mission to clean up Detroit stopping criminals and corruption unwitting Robocop meets his killers.

 Social commentary, religious connotations and cutting satire, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is now over 20 years old, some of the effects have dated and some of the acting is like two-day-old chicken, but it holds up. It is indeed an often-imitated sci-fi classic. It could have been just another Terminator rip-off but all it shared was a machine theme as it had a whole world of its own. That said, it borrows heavily from lesser known films Jean-Claude Lord’s The Vindicator and The Wraith both made a year prior.

Amongst the rival robot ED-209 and TV commercials what’s more interesting about Robocop (played by the now elusive Peter Weller) is the loss of his family and how they have moved on after Alex Murphy’s gory death which is only partly explored. There’s a lot going on in Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner writing underneath all the action pieces.

Miguel Ferrer as ‘Bob’ is excellent, his performance has all the 80’s Wall Street feel of the time, doing whatever it takes to get to the top. Ronny Cox plays ‘Dick’ Jones and gives the bad guy dimension. It shows a corporate structure and how they also use the underworld to get an immoral job done, in this case using Clarence and his gang played terrifically by Kurtwood Smith.

Basil Poledouris’ music is fantastic and heightens the films punches and subtleties, the action is great as to are the costumes and practical effects. It is a comic book film for adults but is unusually grounded in a surreal plausibility.

It’s Orion Pictures fine production, part man, part machine. All cop.

Moon (2009)

David Bowie’s son directs his debut film. Duncan Jones comes out of his fathers’ shadow and into his own in this low-key sci-fi which is destined to become a classic.

The style is without a doubt influenced by Silent Running and 2001: A Space Odyssey. You could argue that there is also a hint of Gattaca in there, but this does not detract from the strong emotional story line.

Sam Rockwell’s subtle and edgy performance is Oscar worthy, as to are the effects. As Duncan Jones first film it certainly doesn’t show, it screams traditional in the modern sense of film-making. Kevin Spacey voices the robot GERTY, his smooth tones and look are reminiscent of 2001’s HAL and his monotone voice adds tension.

The film is not an action; Moon is a well-rounded package, almost pure sci-fi, and thought provoking playing out a believable premise. It’s a tighter 2001 for a 2009 audience, compulsive viewing.

Star Wars (1977)

It was a long time ago when I first saw Starwars, I watched it as part of a trilogy and then Lucas’ CGI altered edits.

There’s not much I can add that isn’t already littered on the, net, countless books and so on. It has become ingrained in popular culture and it is impossible for me to watch it with fresh eyes. It was great to see my son watch it for the first time and no doubt his children will enjoy it too.

The story is that Luke Skywalker must try to save Princess Leia from the evil clutches of Darth Vader. It could have been an awful b-movie but its strength is a great bold script, memorial characters, fantastic effects, costumes and John Williams timeless orchestral score. It has a princess, lasers, alien creatures, spaceships, and more. It’s a good old fashioned tale of good versus evil and there really isn’t much not to like.

It has inspired and has been imitated in numerous films, books and games. It has changed the way Sci-fi is made and will remain a timeless charming classic.

If you only ever see five films in your lifetime, this is one of them.

Surrogates (2009)

In a world of masks, who’s real and who can you trust? A well made sci-fi, a hybrid reflective of high concept low-budget 70’s-80’s films. Sadly it was in and out of the cinema so fast I missed it.

Bruce Willis character tries to unravel the mystery conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and is forced to abandon his own surrogate, risking his life.

Excellent direction by Jonathan Mostow Radha Mitchell is as usual on top form, Rosamund Pike (give a poor performance) and Ving seem out of place. That said, the effects and music are amazing – I was pleasantly surprised. Overall very entertaining, suspenseful and while not totally original, it combines the best ideas around to deliver a thought provoking piece.

I noticed that there’s a big divide of what people want out of a horror film…

Gore, psychological, slasher and so on. The dictionary definition of horror is an intense fear: a very strong feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. I believe this fits horror in the context of movies best.

Here’s a few of my favourite ‘horror’ films I’d like to share with you.
They are not in any order or my top horror films, just ones I feel are very interesting and ooze atmosphere, that I enjoy. Oh, and I’m not affiliated with any…

Dellamorte Dellamore a.k.a. Cemetery Man (USA)

1994’s underrated zombie horror classic based on the comic Dylan Dog by Tiziano Sclavi, it stars Rupert Everett (in his best role) and
enchanting Anna Falchi.

“Zombies, guns, and sex, OH MY!!!” was the tag line, and while it’s true it has those things Dellamorte Dellamore is so much more, macabre and violent, with atmosphere you can taste. Excellent music by Riccardo Biseo & Manuel De Sica and direction amazingly executed by Michele Soavi.

Spellbinding and arguably the strangest, most effective zombie film out there to-date.

Night of the Living Dead (1990 Remake)

Before horror remakes became popular and the the term ‘reboot’ was only used for computers Tom Savini horror effects maestro directed the remake of the black & white classic Night of the Living Dead. Originally Savini worked on Dawn of the Dead and other films directed by zombie godfather George. A .Romero, his gory effects were influenced by the real life deaths he witnessed in Vietnam.
The secluded and atmospheric location works a charm and Candyman’s Tony Todd is on top form but the film is let down by some bad performances from the supporting cast, who I wont name.
Savini proves he is a competent director, and makes the wise decision to stick close to the original material giving us a pacier update, a coloured version that comes with a few welcomed tweaks to the story line. It’s worth every zombie bite.
The Shining
What can I say about Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ that hasn’t already been said? I watched the uncut 146 minute version which only reinforced the fact that it is one of the best, if not the greatest tension driven, psychological horror film that has been made.
Thankfully Kubrick doesn’t follow Kings ‘The Shining’ novel to the letter, or we’d have the hedged animals coming to life and an explosive ending, while grand it would have lost the reality and realism that Kubrick creates.

Jack Nicholson’s antics, Shelley Duvall’s fear, Danny Lloyd’s performance (one of the few child leads that isn’t annoying) as Danny. Veteran and voice of Hong Kong Phooey, Scatman Crothers is superb and the array of actors small but memorable parts including, Bladerunners Joe Turkel as Lloyd the Bartender and Barry Nelson as Manger, Stuart Ullman.

It’s not the novel, Kubrick’s the Shining one of the most impressive horror films ever made, and on so many levels.

Well that’s all for a minute, three is enough for anyone but as Austrian actor, now 38th Governor of California once said…

“Who is you daddy and what does he do?”

I thought I’d lay a few questions to rest…

Darkest Moons my Werewolf novel is over half way penned… It’s a raw and atmospheric horror novel. Although, Blood Hunger is a Vampire tale, Deathwatch is a zombie Tale and Darkest Moons a Werewolf tale, however, there’s no cross over stuff.

For the record all my novels are linked (but you have to find out why) I won’t indulge in mixing the sub-horror genres, they’re strong enough as stand alone entities and subject matters in their own right. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the Underworld series, Van Helsing and I like the idea of Meyer’s Twilight etc, but a vampire versus werewolf, and all that jazz. I feel its unnecessary teaming them up or pitting them against each other.

Blood Hunger, Deathwatch and Darkest Moons are all fast paced and there’s no teenagers, I’ve stripped all the recent hybrid/cross over popular culture stuff, and gone back to the essence of these sub-genres. The feeling I’ve gone for is that of the origin, with a modern twist that I hope fans and new readers will enjoy.


Okay, Terminus the Horror Drama has finished filming, it’ll be entered in film fest’s across UK/Europe and the USA/Canada. Watch the trailer here: http://www.terminusfilm.co.cc Director Sean Parsons and Innerface films have done a great job bringing the character of Anushka alive! You can also see headshots of the amazing cast.

The Breathing Dead Webcast show will be revamped, no pun intended, with a new style and new presenter.

I’ve been typing away with my werewolf novel Darkest Moons, I’ve written in a UK cult horror figure with her kind permission. (can’t reveal who yet).

Whilst I was expecting Blood Hunger the novel to be out late ’09 early/Jan’10 the editing process has taking longer than I expected. Dead Pulse will follow quickly after.
In the meantime you can view the inspired photo shoot here:

I’m developing another horror film…

Follow me on www.twitter.com/amesmonde
We’ll that’s it for now, keep it creepy and Hammer Horror Home!