Monthly Archives: October 2014

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The Living Dead: Zombie Favourites

Shannon Briggs and I are big fans of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Shaun of the Dead (2004). So we came together to discuss two of our favourite zombie films.

Gabby: I recently Shaun of the Dead as part of a Cornetto Trilogy in a beautiful cinema in London, The Prince Charles Cinema. It was such a treat to see it in such a great location and when I saw those films up on the big screen, I got even more out of them than I had before. I noticed little bits I hadn’t yet and I laughed with the other fans in the screen. I also now have a poster of their advertisement of the screening of the trilogy up on my wall, so it was a great night for me. Do you have any memorable viewing experiences of “Night” or “Shaun”?

Shannon: I was extremely lucky in my first viewing of “Night” in that I didn’t really know that much about it until I was like nine. It blew my mind! Seeing a zombie girl not much older than me stabbing her mom to death was and is an unnerving scene, like a lot of scenes in that film. “Shaun” caught my interest because I heard it was a “horror romantic comedy” and I really hadn’t seen any horror comedies at the time. The trailer also made it look like it was more of a slacker comedy and being a big Kevin Smith fan at the time, I felt I had to see it. “Shaun” turned out to be much more than that. It was the first DVD I immediately switched to the commentary track after viewing it.

“Shaun” was such a nice sur88prise because at the time, the cast was unknown to me and Edgar Wright’s direction caught my eye. Wright has proved himself a visionary director and I consider Simon Pegg and Nick Frost two of the best comic actors of this generation. I admire that while “Shaun”, like Romero’s “Dead” films, uses zombies as a metaphor; it’s a metaphor that isn’t dated…Immaturity.

Gabby: I heartily agree that Wright is a masterful director and story writer as well as Frost and Pegg excelling themselves in their performances. Shaun of the Dead is so full of small character beats it makes the film irresistibly re-watchable. Take that instance when Shaun is realising his mother is in trouble. There is comedy, horror and tragedy. We love these characters; we don’t want to see them turn into zombies. We want to spend more time with them. That to me is the sign of a brilliant movie. The themes that it deals with make it even more special and immaturity is definitely a major one.

Shannon: Yes! Edgar Wright puts so much thought in every scene, it demands to be watched over and over. I remember on Ebert & Roeper’s review of “Shaun” that Roeper really didn’t like the dark turn the third act took. I think it works because we’re expecting there to be a last minute change and everyone survives, that is not the case.

Gabby: I agree I think that there are clues the whole way through Shaun of the Dead that it is going to be, as Margo Channing would put it, a bumpy night, and it’s the same with “Night”.

What elements of Night of the Living Dead are the ones that still stand out to you?

Shannon: I remember the ending of “Night” really sticking with me (it seems to stick with everyone). I know casting Duane Jones wasn’t about his race but his acting ability and Romero didn’t intend it to have racial overtones, but how doesn’t it? Also, it shows that at the end of the world as we know it no matter how much we wish it was full of Bens, it’s more likely it’s overrun with Harrys.77

Gabby: The end is so powerful you can’t help it staying with you. I do hope that there will always be a few Bens to balance out the Harrys of this world. Let’s dive into the racial undertones a bit. What impact do you think that vibe has on a modern audience?

Shannon: Well, what really works is that there isn’t any acknowledgement of Ben’s race. Again, I know that Romero didn’t write the character as African American. But I think coming off the Civil Rights movement and a lot of the turmoil going on at that time, it just struck a chord. Today, no matter how evolved we think we are about race, racism still exists. So I think it still strikes that chord now.

Gabby: I also think Duane Jones’ performance is such a rock for the film to be supported by. It has so many magic elements though; I still think there are still some brilliant images that are still haunting. It is wonderfully made. What is it about the two movies that earn them a place on your favourites?

Shannon: I know that “Night” can be extremely slow and other than Jones, the acting veers from naturalistic to extreme. However, Romero sets a perfect atmosphere of dread and hopelessness, and the deadness in the eyes of the zombies during their on66slaught on the house is haunting. “Shaun” is the template for horror comedies. It pays respect to the genre it obviously loves but doesn’t let that define it. It’s silly and horrifying at the same time.

Gabby: Whilst on the subject of the zombies, what do you think they represent in “Night” and “Shaun” retrospectively? Do you think that both Wright and Romero use zombies in an effective manner to comment on humanity?

Shannon: The zombies in “Night” seem to me to represent a lot of things…revolution, paranoia among others as there was so much turmoil going on at that time. In “Shaun”, the zombies represent us going through life as brain-dead as they are. Shaun’s obliviousness as he walks over the zombie threat to get a Cornetto for a hangover cure is one of the funnier scenes. But really, are we really that different staring at the screens of our electronics?

Gabby:  I think you are right that in “Night” it is more open to debate as what they represent. In Shaun it explores how we are mindlessly wandering and that connects with the theme of immaturity. I think commitment is one of the strongest things Shaun picks up from his experience. He is no longer going to stare his life away. He is willing to go to great lengths to commit to keeping his gang together, those he loves and those he comes to understand. I think that is present in “Night” as well. That sense of what type of person you are when the situation gets really tough. Maybe so many reject Barbara as she is what we don’t want to be, inactive.

“Night” practically invented the modern movie zombie. What kind of legacy do you think it has left? Do you think that “Shaun” has left an impact also on the zombie film? It seems that since “Shaun”, we don’t get many straight zombie films. It is either comedy or turned into a virus problem.

Shannon: Every zombie movie has the DNA of “Night” inside them. One of the most popular comic books and highest rated television shows, “The Walking Dead”, owes a huge debt to “Night”. After “Shaun” became such a cult hit, there have been several zombie movies that tried to be comedies. I think it’s a testament to the creative genius of “Shaun” that I can name a small handful of them that are even decent.

Gabby: I know we are both fans of 28 days later, what is about it do you think that makes it an interesting take on zombie/ virus scare movies?london

Shannon: It started the whole “fast zombie vs. slow zombie” nerd battle! Seriously, Danny Boyle did a bang up job of filming the “zombies”. The way they are edited makes them appear to come out of nowhere and they are pissed off as well! That lends a certain unpredictability that was refreshing to see.

I think the cast is all around excellent, especially Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris. The protagonists, Jim and Selena, become two different people at the end of the movie then what they are at the beginning. Jim is interesting in how much daddy issues he has. He spends most of the film searching for a patriarchal figure, and ends up becoming one. I know the third act is considered the weakest part, but John Murphy’s “In a House-In a Heartbeat” score in that third act is one of the things I love about it.

Gabby: Even though the film doesn’t approach the brilliance of Shaun and Night, 28 days later does have those performances and themes that make it very interesting to watch. One theme that speaks to me is that reflection of humanity. Like Night of the Living dead and Shaun of the dead, 28 days Later explores this idea that humanity is corrupt and falls into as monstrous behaviours as the zombies. But I think what you have picked up on is the humanity is also capable of great acts of love, such as Jim finding that figure of fatherhood within him. I think that zombie films can also offer quite a lot of hope for those that do stand up and fight for their humanity. Do you think that the zombie is here to stay?

Shannon: I think the zombie is riding high in a big way right now. My wife and I, as are a lot of people, are fans of The Walking Dead. But I think there is a backlash in that zombies are so main-stream right now that a segment of the horror community is sick of seeing them everywhere. It reminds me of the rise of Slashers in the late ’90s because of the success of Scream. The Walking Dead will eventually end and the zombie will go back in the shadows. But as long as there are talented people behind it in all forms of media, the zombie will never die.

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The Horror of the Video Nasties!

Gabby: Dennis Atherton has been doing something different this Scary Movie Month. He has been having a video marathon of 80s Horror movies that are traditionally associated with the term “Video Nastie”. The Video Nastie gave British politicians a scapegoat to shift the focus off of raising unemployment and strikes that were occurring at the same time as the video industry was booming. The right wingers suddenly were portraying themselves as those acting for the good of the British nation as well as the preservers of British morality.

Dennis, what are your opinions on the fanatical politics surrounding the banned videos in the 80s?

Dennis: The term “Video Nastie”, invented by a British journalist, wasnastie just used as a soapbox to stand on as politicians need to show they cared about something but all they really care about is getting elected. Mary Whitehouse was one of the campaigners who seemed crazy at the time but her persistence actually lead to the Video recordings act.

Gabby: Mary Whitehouse brought a voice to this growing hot topic of, as her supporters might put it, the moral decay and depravity of the content of films such as The Evil Dead and The Exorcist might bring to their viewers. What is your opinion on whether or not this argument holds any significance or if it is, as you put it, something for the politicians to shout on their soapbox.

Dennis: The main problem with Mary Whitehouse was that she never actually watched any of the films she was so quick to shout about. How can anyone talk about the depravity of a film they have not even watched? It’s just the same with music. Years ago they thought Rock and Roll was the Devil’s music. Give me a break!

Gabby: Certain myths are created about violence and horror in films to give support to the conservative campaigns. For example, they say it is harmful for children and it creates a society of violence, but really those are hollow fabrications and come from a place of prejudice as well as ignorance.

You have a particular love of the Video Nastie, what is it about them that first caught your interest?

Dennis: I was 14 when I was told I was not allowed to watch The Evil Dead as it was now banned. It all really started from there. it just started with a childish rebelliousness and a kind of interest in why I was not allowed to watch certain films  and I grew into a collector of these Banned movies. The Exorcist was also on the banned list too, So of course I had to see it. Before I may of had no interest, but after I had to see this movie, why was it banned? My interest was peaked. There was around 70 films on the British Banned list originally but the List kept getting changed. It was all a big farce really, they actually had ” The best little whorehouse in Texas” on the banned list at one point, which is a musical. There was also the Sam fullers “The big red one”, a war film, on there at one point. This shows how out of touch with reality these people were.

evilexGabby: Tell us about that first experience with The Exorcist.

Dennis: I was 15. It was a bad VHS copy, probably a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. Video piracy was ripe. But as The Exorcist was banned, it was the only way to see the movie. I wanted to see all the films on the banned list. Most of them were rubbish. The Exorcist wasn’t. It was scary. It had an atmosphere. The language was totally shocking. I remember hearing “Your mother sucks cocks in hell”. I looked at my friend and we both giggled. It was like watching something we should not watch and getting away with it. That nervous fear and excitement is why I love horror.

Gabby: The Exorcist still packs a powerful punch. That fear of seeing a person we love slowly being lost, and although we try to save them, no one around, not even with the best that modern science has to offer, can tell you how. That is unsettling for anyone, especially as we see their humanity fade away, despite their struggles. It is almost as though we can see the soul fading, it gives me the shivers just thinking about it. Then faith, (not religion) which has always given more questions than answers, serves as the answer to this problem. That is not an easy answer though; it is a battle for re-asserting Damien’s faith in the world around him and what is important to him more than his relationship with God.

The Evil Dead was one of the first associated with the term Video Nastie and was a massive hit in the video market. What do you think it is about The Evil Dead as to why it caught on to such an extent at this time and in this manner?

Dennis: The Evil Dead is special. I am sure the famous quote from Stephen king also helped but to me it’s the American dream. Sam Raimi and friends from college all begged, borrowed and did anything just because they loved movies and wanted to make one. For me anyone who takes anything in The Evil Dead for real is crazy. They received notes from the censor asking to cut lots of scenes and make them shorter. less impact-full,    For instance please just imagine how stupid that letter would actually sound, Please trim the scene with Shelly being stabbed in the back with the Kandarian dagger by the possessed devil demon. What? Who cares? It’s supposed to be bonkers, too bonkers to be taken seriously. I personally don’t like real horror and I don’t like any real cruelty. I like horror to be so crazy it’s just fun. The Evil Dead is totally bonkers, out of its skull, unreal and totally brilliant. At least now we live in a world where the BBFC are a bit more realistic about censorship and those crazy draconian days are behind us. I still own all the uncut pre-cert movies on lovely  old fashioned VHS.

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Gabby: The Evil Dead, Evil dead 2 and Army of Darkness are such wacky gory fun. I can’t see why you wouldn’t just give into them and strap into the ride instead of being morally offended by them. At least there are some of us horror fans that know how to have fun. Would you share one of your favourite stories about the banning of Video Nasties or one of the court debacles?

Dennis: i love the story about Cannibal Holocaust, this film was originally incorrectly thought to be a genuine snuff movie. Ruggero Deodato the director was criminally prosecuted under the Video recordings act and had to bring in the actors to court to prove it was actually fake. The court found him guilty of obscenity and animal cruelty but not murder, giving him a four-month suspended sentence. This was the original found footage movie 20 years before The Blair Witch Project. This story shows me how out of control things were as it illustrates that the censorship issue was being taken far too seriously. No one’s mind has ever been corrupted by just watching a movie. In the immortal words of from the advertising behind The Last House on the Left (1972), just keep repeating to yourself: ‘It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…’

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Dracula: A look into the on-screen legend

Today I am joined by my friend Brett @greyweirdo to have a look at the Dracula legend on screen, with a particular focus on Nosfetu (1922) and Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

Brett, what are the themes that stand out to you in the story and the films?

Brett: There is an interesting subtext of xenophobia about the book. The xenophobia is part of my idea about the unreliable narrator being in every story. I’ve got this notion that all first person is unreliable. I try to identify the provable elements in each story and work out what can’t be verified. In Dracula, there is hardly a word that can be independently verified. I formed the notion that there is no supernatural element in the book. It’s just the heroes’ drive out a Slavic Count and then hunted him down for reasons of their own. Probably they couldn’t stand the idea of him owning that much England. Silly idea, but it amuses me.

Mina is an interesting and dynamic woman in the book, and was practically a Strong Female Protagonist for those times. The Coppola version allows Mina to have a little more say in her destiny. There is a term in Hong Kong action movies, The Flower Vase role. It’s a woman who is very pretty, and very delicate and has as much importance to the story as a flower vase would have. In a lot of movie adaptations, Mina is essentially a flower vase, however I think Coppola manages to subvert that a little. Adding the love story makes it a little more about Mina and a little less about Van Helsing and Co.

Gabby: The fact the vampire as a strange Eastern European immigrant gets to the heart of the complicated man Bram Stoker was. There is such a strong sense of conservatism, racism, sexism and religious Bible bashing in the book. The religious and conservative tone makes the exploration of sexuality a compelling dynamic. It gives you these orgies that sensationalise vampires, having a good time, but also shows how damned these creatures are and should be. I think this contrast is explored really well in the Coppola’s version of Dracula.

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To dive further into the idea of the unreliable narrator, what do you think of Harker and how he deals with the threat of horror? To also pick up on your points about Mina I have a theory that Lucy acts as her double, almost her Id coming to life.

Brett: I have joked that Harker is just about the most feckless character in Western Literature. The idea of just how clueless he can be is almost raised to a point of parody in Nosferatu, but in most cases I find him sort of annoying since he really is the typical bourgeois middle class nitwit. “Oh, horrors from beyond hell are invading. I’m sure that’s nothing to worry about, doesn’t affect me anyway.” And then when it does, he kind of loses his shit in a big way. I never find him as interesting as I do the others.

I do think of Lucy as a double for Mina sometimes. I had a friend who was convinced that Lucy represents that first crazy girlfriend you have. She’s sensual and exciting, but once you break up with her you move on to a Mina. In the story, Lucy certainly works as a warning. This is what’s at stake for Mina. In a greater examination, I do think Lucy is meant to be at least in part of Mina’s make up. In Coppala’s version she is flat out Mina’s Id. She is everything sexy and hot that the two of them share. Only she’s got it out front and Mina keeps it in for private display only. I sometimes think that’s a values judgement, but I try not to speculate too much.

Gabby: What do you think Dracula represents and is that still scary?

Brett: If we take away the xenophobic element, pretty much all vampire stories are just versions of The Terrible Other, which is both attractive and dangerous at the same time. One thing that impresses me with Coppola’s version is how unattractive and creepy he allows Gary Oldman to be. He’s not romantic and beautiful all the time. He can be old and wrinkled, and incredibly dangerous at times. But, Oldman is still a pretty good looking guy and manages to balance the sensual and the dangerous natures fairly well.

Gabby: Dracula is indeed that ‘other’. I also think he twists that wish for eternal life many yearn for. He tempts you to join him, but really you can live a fuller life without him. Nosferatu is still watched by many all over the world, at just 8 years shy of being 100, what is it do you think that still makes it magical? And do you have any viewing experiences of it that stand out to you?

Brett: It’s a silent movie, so it’s going to have novelty at first for a lot of people. Not only that, but it’s a German Expressionist movie. That makes it the first step into a larger world for a lot of film fans. It’s pretty accessible, and it’s one of the earliest movies where the monster is legitimately a monster. This isn’t someone trying to drive people away by committing a massive fraud Scooby Doo style. It’s a vampire, a real Vampire. My first viewing was on cable, and it was in part to be able to see that movie that we got cable. My father discovered that there were movie channels that actually showed silent movies, which basically no TV channel was doing by that time (heck, even a black and white was getting hard to find for a while) and we got cable in the hopes of finding something like that to watch. When it was on the first time, I was maybe 5? I didn’t understand it at the time, but the face of Orlok froze in my mind as what a monster should look like. Orlok is properly messed up looking. Once you take the hat that he wears in the first few scenes off, he doesn’t look remotely human.

Gabby: He is still one of the scariest looking monsters! I remember my first viewing wasn’t until I was 18. You’re right it was a door for me. I quickly started to watch more German expressionist films and discovered the wonders of the Universal Monsters. The Coppola version I found shortly after reading the book, so I couldn’t buy it at the time as I was under 18. I got someone else to buy it for me and managed to watch it very late at night. I was hypnotised by the angle he took and the imagery he used.

Brett: When Coppola did his version, the character was thought to be tired and creaky, but his version breathed new life into him. I saw Dracula on a date with a girl who looked almost just like Winona Ryder did at the time. There is a lot of… stuff sort of tied up with that movie. I’m a few years older than you, so I could get into the movie no problem .Coppola’s version remains my favorite.

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Gabby: What’s your opinion on the Universal Dracula as well as the Hammer versions?

Brett: I like Bela Lugosi, but the rest of that movie is so stage bound that I start to lose focus halfway through. Universal was still feeling its way and Frankenstein is a much better made movie. Hammer is the group that I have seen the most (color movies played on network TV more than black and white did in those days.) I have all but one or two of the Hammer versions of Dracula.

Gabby: I think for me it is always hard picking favourites. Nosferatu is the one I will go with though. It has been the image on my card holder for a while now. Universal Horror holds such a special place to me. I love Dracula and feel I need to watch it at least once a year. Coppola’s Dracula is so filled with such lively gothic imagery that is so fascinating to watch. Hammer’s 1958 Dracula is great but like the Herzog version of Nosfetatu, I think I would need to re-watch it a few more times before it placed within my favourites.

Do you think the figure of Dracula casts an intimidating vampire shaped shadow on other modern vampires?

Brett: I’m going to be a little unconventional here and say that I think Lestat has become the very model of a modern major vampire (with information vegetable, animal, and mineral). In many ways, Edward Cullen is just Lestat shot through a very specific prism. That’s not to say that Dracula has no place, but he comes off as your father’s vampire while Lestat is a vampire for our age (even though he’s from the 80s). Dracula can still be hip and cool, but it takes someone to put forth the effort. There will always be a place for Dracula. He’s the first step on the road to horror for most people, Frankenstein frequently being the second. Someone will revive the old boy. On an unrelated note – how badass would a remake of Oldboy based on Dracula be? Harker has been in a coffin for 7 years and has to go after a hallway full of vampires with a hammer.

You can find Brett on twitter @greyweirdo as well as:

http://retroflixreviews.blogspot.co.uk or http://greyweirdosguidetolife.wordpress.com

Please share with us in the comments section below what your take is on the Dracula mythology or what your favourite interpretation is.

About

Hi, I’m Gabby Ferro, a MA FIlm Studies Student based in London. I adore films and will be discussing them on this website. I will be sometimes joined by friends. You can follow me on twitter @GabbyFerro01 I hope you enjoy the site!