The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is an amazing movie that I kept putting off watching because the plot got spoiled for me. You know how it is, you keep hoping you’ll forget so you can watch it feeling fresh?

Yeah. You never forget.

So, if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read past the poster.

It’s an amazing horror comedy that takes a deep look at the entire horror genre.

cabin-in-the-woods

The Poster
I love the simplicity of the poster design. It illustrates the title clearly and gives us the understanding that there is something seriously wrong with that cabin. The sheer size of the cabin depicted makes me really think of a three-story home but it’s clearly, stylistically a cabin and you’d be lead to believe there are probably all sorts of labyrinthine twists and turns, within its walls.

And you’d be right.

The Good
I don’t really want to say too much about this because I’ll end up sounding like a drooling fanboy. Too late!

The soundtrack is fantastic, the casting is great, the makeup and special effects for the zombies and most of the other creatures are amazing. (Love that merman.) Plus to top it all off we have Sigourney Weaver’s cameo which is perfection!

The story plays on all the classic tropes and cliche’s of the horror genre. It drops them in a blender and throws them back at you in a way that’s not particularly surprising but a hell of a lot of fun. It’s very much like a combination of the Truman show and every horror movie I’ve ever watched.

The number of references to the horror genre are legion and as much fun as it would be to write them all here, the good folks at GoodBadFlicks have already done that for us and I defer to them. Except the one thing I don’t think they mentioned was how the “elder gods” in the movie is a clear reference to H. P. Lovecraft and Cthulu.

The Bad
The copy of the movie I saw had one major flaw. It’s way too dark. At some point the release was delayed for a number of reasons, one of which was to convert it to 3D. Unfortunately the 3D conversion process can often screw up the way a movie looks if it wasn’t actually filmed in 3D. So in many scenes, most noticeably the night scenes, (which is like a third of the movie,) it’s actually pretty hard to get a look at anything clearly.

I don’t hate 3D, but I’m not a fan of it either and I’m definitely not a fan of damaging a films integrity just for a gimmick.

The Ugly
Due to MGM filing for chapter eleven, a tie in with the game “Left for Dead” fell through. This caused the movie to be released several years after it was shot but the tie-in characters from Left for Dead can still be seen in the Cube-like elevator cages.

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The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue

This movie has also been called Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. The copy I found via YouTube was titled The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Internationally over the course of several years, the film was released under fifteen different titles.

Sheesh!

If you haven’t seen it yet beware the spoilers below and I’ll save you a bit of time by saying, yes, it’s worth watching; not a bad piece of horror at all.

Do_Not_Speak_Ill_of_the_Dead_poster274full-let-sleeping-corpses-lie-(the-living-dead-at-manchester-morgue)-posterThe Poster
These two posters are perhaps my favorites. The one on the left is the original theatrical release poster and reads: No Profanar El Sueno De Los Muertos or Don’t Speak Ill of the Dead.

Very cool.

The artwork is creepy and the stripped down imagery feels modern for the time. With a line of corpses or corpselike figures coming towards the viewer in a seemingly endless stream we just know this doesn’t mean good for anyone involved.

Something about it feels a bit like a Mike Mignola illustration.

The Good 

  •  The plot revolves around a young man and woman, George and Edna, traveling through the English countryside after Edna crashes into the George’s motorcycle forcing the two together. They quickly fall foul of the police who suspect they are responsible for a series of murders which are actually being carried out by the undead who have been brought back to life accidentally as the result of an experimental machine used as an alternative to pesticide by some local farmers.

    The machine works on very basic nervous systems like those of insects and it makes them go crazy tearing each other apart. It also turns out to work on babies and the recently dead who are then somehow able to bring back the not-so-recently-deceased.

    This is a Cassandra-like tragedy where the main characters know what’s going on and try to warn people or elicit their help but no one believes them.

    I have to say that the lack of romantic connection and the incredible ending were actually two of the best choices for the film and make a fairly cliche film feel a bit more original.

  • The sound design is nicely done as well with a haunting sound track of ambient noise and music as well as some gruesome noises created when the dead are nearby. It’s a bit much to really be coming from one of them but it creates an incredible atmosphere and is used to good effect.
  •  It’s beautifully shot. Most of the setting and imagery outdoors was well framed with rich color saturation that I just fell in love with. Though the film takes place in England, most of the movie was actually shot in Italy with  just a few locations created in Britain.
  • Despite how slow and shambling the zombies are, they feel threatening in a very realistic way. It’s like being in a dream and not being able to run or run fast enough to get away from whatever is chasing you. No matter what you do, the threat slowly keeps coming at you.

The Bad

  • Like a lot of movies from the time, and let’s be honest from today as well, it relies on some funny science that’s been shoehorned around supporting the plot. Honestly it doesn’t bother me much at all as I like getting into the mindset of the time period. More often than not these kind of explanations reflect the popular science stories of the time. That’s why you always hear Bones talking about adrenaline on the original Star Trek. Adrenaline was a hot topic at the time just like DNA and cloning have been since the 90’s. The difficulty is that for modern audiences the science seems a bit silly after a certain time and ends up dating the film.
  • I’d have to look into it but I have the feeling that when bodies were transported in 1970’s England they weren’t put in mysterious silver space-boxes with windows on multiple sides as we see this morgue using. This detail jumps out at the viewer and jars the sense of realism in an unsatisfying way.
  • Although I like most of the soundtrack there are times where the dated nature of the music really interferes with my enjoyment. Instead of building tension it simply reminds me of watching educational programs from the seventies and eighties.

The Ugly

  •  Boobs. Boobs? Boobs!
    There’s this odd scene in the beginning where a young woman runs naked through traffic. I suppose it was meant to signify the culture of the town of the time with the 70’s in full swing and all but other than a quick excuse for some T&A I can’t figure out what it was even doing in the movie. Was it meant to disarm us or throw us off our guard? Did it represent the counterculture or the perception of young people as wild hedonists?
  • It doesn’t actually have anything to do with Manchester.
    It’s understandable that films like this get shopped around and have their titles changed for international audiences. In this case the British release title includes the Manchester Morgue although the story doesn’t take place in Manchester. It takes place in South Gate. This would be like an American movie being called the Boston Morgue Murders but actually never taking place in Boston. For audiences it would definitely seem a bit strange.
  • Cliche
    There are small plot points that are a bit cliche. When a person important to the plot just happens to be in the right place at the right time it’s to move the story forward and advance the plot. This can be pretty unrealistic though like when George is at the asylum. A nurse gets hurt and the doctor simply hands her off to George, a total stranger saying “Look after her.” Moments later George is there interacting with the baby that injured the nurse. It moves the story forward and informs the viewer but it doesn’t feel at all realistic.

    All in all this was a great flick to spend an hour or so with.

Bloody footprints

One thing that makes horror work brilliantly is surprise. It’s deeply engrained in all of our story telling but it’s a key element in horror. Yeah sure the jump scare or the BOO! is a big part of that. But it’s more subtly used in good story telling when a couple of seemingly incongruous elements that we wouldn’t think would go together are suddenly thrust together.

Clowns are scary. Sewers are scary. What the hell is that clown doing in the sewer!!
it

I tend to love it when an element of horror story telling is subtle or juuuuuust odd enough. This week I was working with some students and one of them told me about a temple in Kyoto with bloody footprints that have been there for four hundred years. It’s pretty freaky to think that a murder that happened so long ago can be brought back to us afresh because that person’s blood is still there. Stranger still that their, or the killer’s footprints are still visible.

On the ceiling.

genkoan-20
Oh SNAP! That’s the freaky part that just kills me. The surprise twist, that got me so interested that I thought I would write about it here.

Ok so how do you think the footprints got there? Some wild battle where ninja were running up the walls? A crazy melee where one man grabbed another and tried to flip him, but the guy kicked his feet against the ceiling trying to get out of it? A ghostly thing that lurked along the ceiling like a madwoman, hair dripping down in the faces of people trying to run from her wretched gaze?

Nope.

Actually the floorboards come from Fushimi castle. 
In 1623, the castle was dismantled, and many of its rooms and buildings were incorporated into castles and temples across Japan. Several temples in Kyoto, such as Yōgen-in (養源院), Genkō-an (源光庵) and Hōsen-in (宝泉院), have a blood-stained ceiling that had been the floor of a corridor at Fushimi Castle where Torii Mototada and company had committed suicide. (Thank you wikipedia.)

SO! Perfectly logical explanation for all that. But I still like the idea of a bloody horror from beyond the grave stalking along the ceiling, blood and water dripping down, hair whipping about. Sick, slick eyes

Flipboard

If you want even more great zombie lore from Surviving the Dead including more survival tips, fun stories and a larger world of horror you should check out my magazine on Flipboard

FLIPBOARD LOGOIf you aren’t using it you might like to check it out. I’m a big fan of it. It basically gathers all your news feeds from Facebook and blogs and Twitter and all that and organizes it into a layout that’s super easy to manage and fun to read. It means being able to get through a ton of content without wasting your whole day and in my case it means being able to share more awesome grossness with you.

SO check me out on Flipboard by clicking here and let me know what you think in the comments.

Zombi Holocaust

This is a bit of an odd movie to me mostly due to it’s production but I’ll get to that a little later. For now, settle in, sit back, and experience “Zombie Holocaust!”

coverzombie holocaustTHE COVER
These two cover images are an interesting contrast. The first looks more akin the type of poster we might have seen when this movie first came out. It seems sort of cheap and actually nonthreatening at all. The zombie killer looks like it’s smiling and the blue sky makes me think more of the park than horror. The style of the lettering also has that cheesy 70’s B-movie feel. What makes it all the stranger is that it’s the cover for the Blue Ray DVD release so they clearly didn’t put much effort into it.

Compare that with the horrifying image of the second image and we get a very different feeling. The rough bloody imagery looks a lot more like the sort of wet collage art that got big in the mid to late nineties. Just think of things like the opening to Millennium and you’ll see what I mean. This image is a lot more powerful and conveys a feeling a lot more like the word holocaust implies.

THE GOOD
The plot revolves around a group of people from an island in southeast Asia who have been committing acts of cannibalism in the US. This is discovered in a New York hospital. A group goes to investigate and are confronted with cannibalistic islanders and of course, zombies.

– The movie opens in a morgue with an amazing scene of a corpse getting its hand cut off. The realism of how it is played out is pretty incredible for the time. Though the sound effects are poor I sort of expect that for movies from this time period when all the sound was added on in post production so we can forgive them that much.

– The following scene of an autopsy being performed on the corpse whose hand was removed plays out nicely too. Some students joking around in class are shot down hard for inappropriate behavior. In a movie like this that is likely to offend a lot of viewers it’s interesting to see a character within the movie calling for a reasonable amount of decorum. It helps set a realistic tone and alters the viewers perception of the film.

– The movie is pretty good as 70’s horror is concerned. I’ve seen a lot of horrible horror over the years and this does pretty well for its time. It’s not so unusual for movies set at night to terrify but to have a movie where large parts of it are set in the middle of the day on a beautiful tropical island and still instill a sense of disgust is pretty special.

THE BAD
– The music puts me off. It’s alternately playful and fun like a kid’s movie and appropriately creepy. It just doesn’t do it for me. Too dated.

The zombies here greatly resemble the ones in Zombie 2, to the extent that they just seem like a bad copy. They also differ from many of the zombies we are familiar with in that they don’t consume their victims, they just kill them. This is more like the voodoo zombies of the old days than the flesh eaters of Romero’s creation. It’s not so bad but it is pretty typical for the time.

– There are times watching this where I feel like I’m watching an episode of MacGyver or or The A-team. It’s just part of the production. Any time you have a  lot of palm trees and wooden crates I start thinking BA Baracas is going to come tearing around the corner any second.

– Alexandra Cole . . . wow. Incredibly beautiful actress though she is, I have a hard time believing the plot details where the white person is made the leader of the native tribe. It’s like Pocahontas, The Last Samurai or Avatar.

THE UGLY
– This movie has alternately been released under the names Zombi Holocaust, Zombie 3 and Doctor Butcher, M.D. The odd thing about this film is that it came to be thanks to the success of other films and this one cashed in on that success. Specifically, the success of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie 2. In searching around I found the Wikipedia page has a decent list of the similarities between this movie and Zombie 2 I an’t really argue with. It really has just lifted large parts of the plot and thrown in some cannibals.

– I could be wrong about this but a lot of the language the “villagers” use just doesn’t sound real to me. I could be totally wrong here and I apologize if I am but it just sounds like a lot of made up mumbo jumbo. In one scene a man is impaled by spikes in a trap and the villagers start eating him where he stands. They are scared off by the arrival of our main characters firing guns at them. As they are running off some of the sounds they make seem almost comical.

– One short bit that put me off just a little was a moment where a zombie wearing the scalp of one of the main characters is mistaken for that person. When one of them sees this he reaches out and takes the scalp off the zombie with only a mild sort of dazed look. There is no revulsion, surprise, horror or anything else. Just a oh, hey. That’s not your hat sort of moment. It could have been played up much better. 

– Is it just me or does the mad doctor seem like a budget Harvey Keitel?

MY FAVORITE QUOTES
– We really have nothing to worry about as long as we stay alive.      (You don’t say.)

– I’m determined to have your brain! It’ll be the culmination of my career!

Zombies’ Lake

I’ve seen this film listed as Zombie Lake but the copy I’m watching is titled Zombies’ Lake so I’ll go with that ss the title.  It was actually originally released as Le Lac des Morts Vivants as in the poster below.

zombie lake posterTHE POSTER:
It’s pretty brilliant. I love the painted style of old movie posters and how campy they can be. The rotted face of the zombie with his eyes building out definitely doesn’t seem quite as menacing as it’s meant to. It’s more of a goofy bug-eyed guy looking at some boobs.

THE GOOD:
It opens with an incredibly beautiful woman stripping down naked to do some sun bathing and other girly things that happen when women are left to run wild. Of course we know what happens to beautiful naked women in horror movies . . . that’s right kids! They get attacked by whatever is in the lake thus setting the story in motion.

In this case the thing in the lake is the reanimated corpse of a nazi. I should mention the film is set in France. This guy didn’t rot down there all that time and comes out of the lake ready to feed and he has a whole bunch of his friends with him.

Added to that is the fact that this being a joint French and Spanish movie there is plenty of sex. So much so it’s very nearly a soft core porn for its time. In context the mix of violence, nazis and sex would have been a bit on the edge so I can see how horror movies of the time got the sort of rep they did.

THE BAD:
– Just as the zombie action has started up a reporter shows up to start investigating why the lake is called the lake of ghosts or the lake of the damned and she just so happens to have a book with her about the occult.

Yeah, no. Sorry. Not buying it. That’s too much of a coincidence.

She finds out through a rather long flashback to the war that the resistance tossed a number of nazi soldiers in the lake all those years ago explaining for the viewer what the hell is going on in this movie.

– The opening scene of the young woman stripping down for a swim is repeated more gratuitously later in the movie with an entire basketball team of girls. One of them escapes the slaughter and runs half naked into town, into the pub and has just enough time to scream out “The Lake!” before passing out on a table, tits out, surrounded by men. It’s a ridiculously cheap excuse to show a little nudity that seems more like something out of a slapstick comedy than a horror movie. As near as I know this movie doesn’t have a a sequel but as sequels tend to show us the same things only on a grander scale, repeating the exact same scene as the opening sequence is kind of like watching the movie and the sequel at the same time.

– During the flashback we learn that one of the nazis was having an affair with a local girl. We soon learn that she had a daughter who is living in the town and is at oldest about 12 years old or so. But the movie was put out in 1981. At very least the girl should be about 35.  Oddly this isn’t the only time I’ve seen this sort of time discrepancy in a nazi zombie movie. It also popped up in Oasis of the Zombies. Interestingly enough the director of that movie was the first one offered the roll of director of this movie.

We also see a visit to the girl by her dead father, who strokes her hair and gives her the medallion once worn by her mother. At no time is the little girl even remotely scared by what for all accounts is a man she has never seen and knows nothing about just walking into her room and who also just happens to be a long-dead corpse.

– There is only one way to destroy the zombies! Only the end of the world and the fiery apocalypse will destroy them outright. Oh, that and napalm. Napalm works great. Come on. Your only two choices are the fiery destruction of all existence or some petroleum jelly on fire. Kind of a wide scale don’t you think?

THE UGLY:
The music is pretty horribly dated. It goes back and forth between a 60’s sort of sing-song to a relaxed little piece that easily puts you to sleep. There’s also the more effective zombie theme. It’s not as bad as the other pieces but bad enough.

The makeup for these nazi zombies has them painted green which seems a bit silly. They look more like aliens on Star Trek than real corpses.

Still, I ended up not hating this movie but I doubt I would ever watch it again.

The House by the Cemetery

Rounding out my review of Luci’s Gates of Hell trilogy we have finally come to the House by the Cemetery. It’s a nice bit of horror by one of the masters of the trade.

Let’s start with a  comparison of the posters / cover art.
It’s rare that I get really excited by the cover art of an old horror flick like this but when I was searching around I had a hard time deciding which one I liked the most. They all have merits.

AV_House_DVD.indd

In this first image we’ve got a great dramatic scene that’s beautifully illustrated. The drama of the shot makes it seem both ghostly and dynamic. The color used on the woman’s face is well painted and despite her seemingly exhausted pose, we see real terror in her face. Despite the rough way the architectural elements are illustrated it’s a great image. Unfortunately the girl and the scene don’t really match the action of the film. The face of the horror we meet in this poster is bizarre. And looking at the it we have to wonder what it is. An undead killer? A demon? A spirit? A deformed maniac? It almost looks like a burned up civil war soldier.

house-by-the-cemetery-movie-poster
This image with the red border seems the most “VHS” to me. The oddity here, besides the cheap design is how it doesn’t seem to match the movie itself. The house is totally different from the one in the movie and the killer in the sky behind the house doesn’t seem anything like the one we see in other poster images. Once you watch the movie you realize this Jack Torrance lookalike is nowhere to be found in the movie at all. What’s he doing on the cover?

housebycemeterycover
Here again I’m not a big fan of the design of the poster itself but we’ve got some recurring elements that are interesting. The deformed killer here seems even more of a horror. He seems almost like a zombified version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. What is he meant to be? A zombie? An alien? And what’s wrong with his arm? It seems to have been severed. Is tis something we should expect in the movie?

poster_house_by_cemetery
And finally this image. Black and white, starkly horrifying. It looks like more of a 70’s comic book sort of image and almost hints at the sort of work we might expect from Frazetta though the artwork isn’t up to his level. It’s got a great creepy feel to it and makes me wonder what the movie itself is like without giving too much away.

THE GOOD:
This is the third entry into the unofficial Luci Fulci Gates of Hell trilogy. It’s not really a trilogy, just three movies of his that share similar themes. I’m tempted to say this movie isn’t really that good simply because it is so derivative of other movies particularly the Shining. The story centers around a researcher who travels to his predecessors old house to find out why the old boy killed himself. He takes his family along and we discover his wife is a loving, good mother and his boy is a psychic who receives messages from a ghost girl in the old house that tries to help him and warn him off. The thing is, it uses the elements of those other movies in a way that feels uniquely Lucio Fulci’s and I can’t really fault him for drawing on good source material.

There are some nice bits where we get hints at what happened to the main character’s predecessor, particularly in a scene where we hear him talking on an audio tape about what happened. It feels very Evil Dead in nature but this idea of using tape recordings to lend voice to the dead who cannot speak for themselves isn’t that uncommon in horror.

The action in this movie and he timing between scenes of horror are well interspersed with character development and dramatic scenes of the family and it feels the most well-developed of Fulci’s films that I’ve seen so far. It builds to a strong ending that really left me a bit disturbed, as any good horror movie should.

There are a couple of shots that are truly gruesome. Like when the undead killer is stabbed and a sick ooze of rot and maggots comes spilling out. GROSS! I love that.

THE BAD:
Despite the fact that a few unanswered questions in a horror flick are sometimes fun there are times in this movie where you just don’t know what’s going on. It’s hinted that the main character might have been having an affair with the baby sitter but this never seems to go anywhere. The babysitter is found cleaning up the blood after a particularly grizzly murder by the zombified killer hiding in the basement. We really have to wonder about this. Was she helping the killer or communicating with him somehow? Why was she cleaning up this mess? Later she is killed off rather quickly making that seem unlikely.

One other thing that will be blazingly obvious is just how bad the dubbing in the film is. It’s incredible how poorly the later sound recording was done. It barely matches the actors at all particularly when it comes to the little boy’s dialogue. Some of the music is poorly edited as well. Near the end of the film when the family is battling the killer Dr. Freudstein in the basement there is a moment where the scene cuts and the music abruptly cuts out too. It just doesn’t feel like a strong transition.

THE UGLY: 
Dr. Freudstein. I’m sorry, but he’s a bit ridiculous.

First of all the name is terrible. It’s some strange mashup of Freud and Frankenstein and it just sounds comical.

The monster himself is sort of a zombie hence the reason I’m writing about it on this blog. But it doesn’t seem like a typical zombie flick. He is in fact an undead killer who is starting to rot and he does seem to consume at least parts of his victims. But he lacks the ability to turn others into zombies and seems more like just a supernatural slasher. (He uses a knife to do some of his killing.) There is also a strong presence of ghosts in this film that isn’t usually present in most zombie films making me lean more towards the undead killer monster and less towards the idea of him actually being a zombie.

THE BEAUTIFUL:
I wasn’t sure if this went in the good or the bad categories but I knew it didn’t belong in the ugly. Of special note here, Fulci used Catriona MacColl  in all three of the Gates of Hell movies and as different characters. I understand directors often use actors and actresses they like multiple times and I understand the Gates of Hell movies are NOT actually a trilogy. And I get the fact Fulci was more interested in making supernatural horror flicks with more of surreal and dream like horror to them rather than straight terror  or slasher movies. So it isn’t surprising that this woman would appear in all three films. She’s a favorite of Fulci fans and it’s easy to see why.

For anyone watching the movies today, she might seem to stand out as a connection between the three stories rather than just an interesting casting choice. She may seem to be the archetypal woman like Anna Falchi’s character in Dellamorte Dellamore. But I don’t think that’s the case. In DD Falchi’s character is clearly meant to be such a woman. And though we may interpret MacColl’s character the same way, that’s just us projecting those ideas upon the character and not Fulci’s intention.