George Romero, The Quiet Man

It’s been a long time since posting to this blog, and it would take something like this to bring me back to it. But I couldn’t not writ about this.

George A Romero, creator of the Night of the Living Dead and credited with the development or popularization of the zombie as a centerpiece of American story telling has died.

From the L.A. Times:
Romero died Sunday in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer,” according to a family statement to The Times provided by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. He was 77.

Romero died while listening to the score of one his favorite films, 1952’s “The Quiet Man,” with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side, the family said.

You know the Quiet Man don’t you? You might know it even if you don’t. The Quiet Man is a rare brilliant gem of a film with John Wayne as an American returning to Ireland to look up the family roots. He’s an outsider and has to prove himself worthy to the local gentry. One scene in particular has him taking his woman in his arms as the wind whips around him and the little house in Ireland. It was this scene E.T. was watching at home as the parallel events played out at between Eliot and the girl he liked at his school.

It was an appreciation for not just that film but filmmaking and its history that informed Spielberg in his own storytelling. In that way, a long past film was resurrected to entertain another generation who didn’t even suspect it. Romero has passed, and unlike his creations, will not be back. But for future directors and moviemakers, he will live on in our storytelling.

George_Romero

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Lingerers

Lingerers

At first, I thought lingerers were kind of rare in zombie lore, but the more I look around the more I think they are basically the norm. Lingerers are zombies who retain something of their old selves. They remember something, either an ingrained skill or maybe even all their memory.

In the Romero movies many of the zombies slowly began regaining their human skills and memories over time. In Return of the Living Dead they were basically just angry versions of themselves.

Regardless of the film series, these are some of the most common zombies around.

lingerers

Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Terror

A while back I remember a bunch of people quoting this movie called Night of the Dawn of the Day of the something or other. I finally got around to watching it this weekend only to realize I’d already seen it but I can’t remember when. In Uni? Did I see it last year? No clue.

Well, after all this time, here it is: Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D
Night-of-the-day-of-the-dawn-part-2
The Poster:  (aka the DVD cover.)
Is pretty amazing. it’s a fun illustrations of some nasty zombies in a kind of gross, kind of comedic look. The text is awful but this isn’t exactly big-budget humor. What we are talking abut is an old copy of Night of the Living Dead that got dubbed over by a guy named James Riffel with alternate dialogue and a few short extra clips like where they make a jab at Romero for not getting a copyright or where the guy doing the voice over tells some pretty rotten old jokes.

The Good: 
It’s funny.
There are a bunch of moments where I find myself laughing despite myself. Weird little things like the sound Riffel makes for headlights being smashed or the way Barbara looks around for a duck when she first enters the house.

The Bad: 
It’s not funny.
Most of the jokes are dated and pretty poorly put together. It’s like something your cousin Steve made when he was drunk in Uni which seemed brilliant at the time because you were stoned out of your gourd. The dubbing never matches the actors’ mouths and it’s not even the first time this sort of thing was done. I remember a whole series of these things on Nick at Night back in the day.

The Ugly: 
Every copy I’ve come across is pretty rotten, but then a lot of copies of Night of The Living Dead are pretty rough looking.

Shaun of the Dead

How have I not done a writeup about this movie yet?

Shaun-of-the-Dead-PosterThe Poster
If you’ve ever been on a crowded train you know what this poster is all about. Living in Tokyo I am regularly confronted with trains that look exactly like this door. People pressed to the doors and windows, unable to move save for a short shuffle or twitch; faces pressed to the window, starting dead-eyed out the windows groaning. And being on the train, you really do feel like you’re just surrounded by zombies.

The Good
Shaun of the Dead is incredible because of Simon Pegg. He always seems to me like the working class comedian. Other comedians or celebrities are good at making it look like it’s easy. When I see Simon Pegg, I see a guy who worked wicked hard to get where he is and is still working hard even though he’s also sort of enjoying the ride.

In one interview with Pegg he described being at Comi-Con and bumping into Carrie Fischer and nearly losing his shit because he’d had such a crush on her as a kid. I mean, how many of us haven’t had that sort of feeling. Pegg’s a regular bloke.

Simon Pegg Princess Leia
The story revolves around Shaun, a thirty-something guy who hasn’t got his shit together. He’s got a great girl he under appreciates, a best friend he over appreciates, a job he hates, and potential he never chases. (Not unlike a lot of people.) It’s time for Shaun to get his life on track but it literally takes the end of the world to get him moving.

– The movie is full of little tips of the hat to other great zombie movies like the space probe we hear about on the radio which comes from Night of the Living Dead and the quick cuts a la Evil Dead that liven up the breakfast scene. Also, although we  never see him, Shaun’s boss is named Ash. Another nice homage to Evil Dead. Oh and lest I forget the restaurant Shaun was meant to take Liz to was called Fulci’s. A clear reference to the Italian director. (And if you don’t know who he is, you’re reading the wrong blog.)

And apparently Romero was so happy with Shaun of the Dead  he invited Pegg and Steven Wright to play zombies in Land of the Dead.

Simon Pegg Land of the DeadLooking about I found a lot of little things like this connected to the film. There are plenty of cameos by people Pegg has worked with particularly on the show Spaced. I haven’t seen it myself though so if you have, keep an eye out for the bike messenger.

If it’s your first time watching this, you might notice something odd about a scene where Shaun’s group pass another group of survivors. There’s always been something a bit odd about that scene to me and it was only recently that I found out what it was. The actors in that scene have all played opposite one another on other shows.

shaun of the dead cameo

• 6 + 7: Simon Pegg and Jessica Hyne played Tim and Daisy on Spaced.
• 3 + 8: Lucy Davis and Martin Freeman played Dawn and Tim on The Office.
• 4 + 18: Dylan Moran and Tamsin Greig played Bernard and Fran on Black Books.

(Thanks to Buzzfeed for that a few other fun facts about Pegg’s films.)

The Bad
Despite being the hyper critical person I am, I find it hard to really find fault with this movie. Perhaps one small complaint would be that the humor, isn’t actually particularly funny. It’s all just a bit predictable.  

The Ugly
Despite the fact this is a zombie comedy, by the end they pull pretty hard on some of our heartstrings. You can’t tell a story like this without people dyeing, but emotionally, they make it hurt.

Messiah of Evil

I’m pretty sure I never would have seen this movie if it weren’t for writing this blog. Growing up I had a lot of good times watching older movies on TV but as I’ve gotten older and the internet has saturated my life with more content than I can really consume, I’ve lost touch with sitting down and really watching older films. So even though this isn’t my favorite flick, that’s what was running through my had as I watched this. (That and a seriously bad case of bronchitis.)

messiahofevil

Let’s start with the poster:
I’m not sure the poster jives with what I personally got out of the film, but it’s not far off. The poster shows the central female character with slightly green or blue skin and a bloody teardrop coming down her cheek. The people below her are pretty creepy but I don’t really remember any actors who looked quite like that in the film.

Something about the poster says vampires to me much more than zombies, but this is a fairly unconventional horror flick.

THE GOOD: 
This movie seems to have a lot of interesting facts and information surrounding it that are actually a bit more interesting than the movie itself.

For example, this movie was released under a number of other titles including Return of the Living Dead. Fancy that! But, guess who wasn’t happy about the suggested connection to Night of the Living Dead? George Romero that’s who. And he sued successfully to have the film distributed under a different name. Unfortunately for George though that case also sealed the fact that he doesn’t own the rights to the terms “The Living Dead.”

Here’s another odd factoid I found while I was casting about. (Ok I was reading the Wikipedia page on the movie. So sue me.)  This movie was made by a husband and wife team who also made Howard the Duck and American Graffiti.

THE BAD
The Plot:
The movie follows a woman as she goes looking for her father, an artist, only to find him missing, and some cryptic entries about impossible animals in his journal. She ends up finding some oddball hedonists who she allows to stay in her home, and becomes close with the man as the movie progresses.

Everyone in the film seems to be acting very strangely and the movie has an odd dreamlike quality to it. You’re never really sure of what is going on, if the town is in on a conspiracy, if everyone is into witchcraft or if the nasties in the film really are zombies or not. There seem to be a lot of contradictions and oddball plot twists that would lead you to think in very different ways. (It also has a classic but disappointing ending that really did put me off, but I won’t give it away in case you like movies that end like a Bob Newhart series.)

The first hint that something zombie-like is going on in this movie is a point where one character follows a guy into a grocery store that seems to be abandoned where she finds a group of people? zombies? at a meat counter chowing down. The whole oddity of these people standing around freaks her out so bad that she takes off running, they chase her down and eat her. At this point in the film though we can’t be sure they are zombies and we are more tempted to just think they are cannibals.

messiah buffet

This scene is a perfect example of a zombie-style movie but it feels incongruous with the rest of the story which is trying too hard to be atmospheric and weird. Only a few moments before this same woman had taken a lift from an albino who showed up with a load of corpses in the back of his truck. (Actually his second appearance in the film. The first was just after the gas station scene I’m about to mention below.) He talks nothing but creepiness and bites the head off a rat before simply letting the girl go. She walks off totally calm. So what was it about the people in the grocery store that put her off so much worse than the psycho albino with the corpse truck? Why didn’t she run from it?!

THE UGLY:
Picture the scene: A single woman driving alone at night. She pulls up to the full service gas station, gets out of her car and hears the sound of a dog, more like a werewolf, then spies the gas station attendant firing a handgun into the dark, rapidly. He empties his gun, turns his gaze to her, walks up and says, “Fill er up?”

What would you say in that situation? What would any NORMAL person say or do? I’d be in my car speeding the hell away from there with a load in my pants. This woman, the queen of calm apparently, stands properly and says. “Sure.” As if nothing at all out of the ordinary were going on.

So to sum all that up, this movie seems to have a lot going for it but gets lost in trying to throw the viewer off the scent while doubling back on itself. We do eventually get the “zombies” in the film but the lead up to that is more like a story about a freaky little town than anything else. Once we have zombies in the movie we can’t be sure they really are zombies and once we are sure we don’t know what to do with them because there’s so much other BS being built up about why they are taking over.

This movie is definitely worth watching, but taken with a grain of salt. I’d say it could seriously use a remake.

My favorite quotes:
We do get magazines in Point Dune. Some of us can even read.

You don’t just unzip a man and say goodnight.

Brains

brains
Braiiiinnnzz!

There’s an amazing sort of irony about brains as they relate to zombie lore. That being that zombies just don’t seem to have any. Zombies represent an abhorrent force out to consume the very thing they seem to lack.

haitian zombies

Zombies started out as mindless slaves exploited by religious practices to force them into a life or afterlife of labor. The zombies of Haiti were either brainwashed humans or reanimated corpses without the ability to really think for themselves. They were robotic automatons used by evil men. But they didn’t eat brains. In fact I have yet to see a Haitian zombie film where they actually consume living humans in any form. I’m not saying they aren’t out there, I just haven’t come across them which leads me to think that the trend in Haitian zombies is that they don’t typically even eat humans.

Bill Hinzman 2
It’s really not until Night of the Living Dead comes out that we start to see zombies in the mainstream as consumers. This is when the standard types of zombies we see in movies today really solidified themselves in the social subconscious. Now, no longer simply slaves to humans, or mindless things, the slaves had risen up and were willing to not only fight their oppressors, the humans who enslaved them, but actually consume them.

Ok, yes, I’m applying an overarching connection between the Haitian zombie flicks of the 1930’s to the anti consumerist zombie flicks of the 60’s and 70’s that may not really exist. But remember, we’re looking at the way zombies have been viewed by the general public over the decades.

Here again the zombies seemed for the most part, mindless. Though they could use tools, like their Haitian predecessors, they still stumbled about in a roughshod sort of way and had very little direction to their action. They had only a single  stream of thought, consume people.

And brains had nothing to do with it. These zombies were flesh eaters.

half lady corpse
It wasn’t until Return of the Living Dead came out in the 80’s that zombies were given the power of speech and the hunger for brains. Even then they were still flesh eaters. They still tried to eat humans but the brains were a particular delicacy and the main target of their desire. Oddly enough, it was these zombies, the smartest of all, walking, talking, tool using and clever that most desired our brains.

So after decades of zombie lore involving essentially mindless zombies with no desire for brains, we finally got quite clever zombies who were mad for them. These two images have mixed up a bit since the 1980’s. We now have the predominantly foolish zombies with a few hints of smarts still eating flesh but occasionally going after our brains. They have gotten physically more threatening but not much smarter.

The only good explanations I’ve seen for why zombies want brains are the comedy Warm Bodies in which the zombies want to consume not the brains but the memories of the people they eat and Return of the Living Dead which gave us brains as a sort of pain killer for the dead. That at least seems psychologically more plausible than the memory consumption but somehow memory consumption is more satisfying.

Flesh Eaters Vs Brain Eaters

What do zombies eat?

Seems like a pretty obvious question with an easy answer right?

After all, zombies eat brains, don’t they?

No, actually they don’t. Somehow the feeding habits of our favorite monsters have gotten a bit mixed up over the years. Up until the Return of the Living Dead in 1985 zombies didn’t eat brains at all. In the early 30’s, 40’s and 50’s zombies were simply mindless victims who had been altered by voodoo magic and often used as some sort of slaves.

In the 60’s Romero’s zombies came to life so to speak and feasted on the FLESH of the living. In his series, zombies eat people and only people. Or at least they did until he gave us Survival of the Dead in which we find zombies eating horses. That image of the flesh eating zombie survived until the 80’s.

flesheaters
From that point on the idea of zombies as brain eaters has widely persisted in the cultural context. It’s just what they do. And there’s no turning back. With 17 solid years of zombies as flesh eaters between 1968 and 1985 and nearly thirty years since Return of the Living Dead came out, the brain eaters have won the day.

Or have they?
brain eaters
See the simple truth is that even brain eaters eat flesh. There’s just no way around it. Every single zombie movie depicts zombies eating flesh. Even the ones where the zombies go for people’s brains show them chowing down on some good old fashioned human meat. They go for the guts, the necks, legs, arms whatever they can get their hands on. In some cases we see one zombie chowing down on the brain while others go for the guts and the body. It’s highly unusual for brain eaters not to go for the body as well.

So, given the fact that flesh eaters came first, and brain eaters eat flesh, it looks like the scale is actually tipped in favor of the flesh eaters. So when someone asks you what zombies eat next time, tell them they eat people! Brains, flesh and all!