Night of the Living Dead


Viewed – 31 March 2018  Blu-ray

Criterion Collection

Growing up in the 80s and 90s I had a taste for zombie movies, and cut my teeth on movies like Return of the Living Dead parts 1 & 2 and even obscure oddities like The Video Dead.  However the much celebrated godfather of the genre, George A Romero mostly passed me by, and I hadn’t been that taken by Dawn of the Dead.  You see, I was more into the practical effects, and a sillier vibe to proceedings rather than the much talked about social commentary and seriousness of Romero’s approach.  So of course I never even got around to the 1968 genre-defining original that started it all.

Night of the Living Dead zombies

Although not the first zombie movie, for it’s time it seemed daring and streets ahead of what had been seen before (with the unusual casting of a black lead actor).  It presented a new type of horror that wasn’t set in a haunted house or the Carpathian mountains … but in a world we exist in, with familiar locales and normal people beset by extraordinary events.  When a young woman witnesses her brother get attacked in a grave yard by some strange man, she runs for safety, and eventually holds up in a seemingly abandoned house, where she’s soon joined by a man who quickly takes charge of the situation.  There the two barricade themselves in and gradually witness the undead march on the house.  Will they survive the night?

Night of the Living DeadDirector George A Romero presents a striking and effective, if rather rough around the edges experience, helped immeasurably by unconventional camera work and a claustrophobic setting.  His editing and direction cranks up the intensity, with a group of characters all offering up different viewpoints.  Performances aren’t that great however, and I found myself irritated by how pathetic female characters were, especially the character of ‘Barbara’ despite a strong introduction.  Yet working with a very low budget, applying at times experimental guerrilla film making techniques this still somehow achieves genuine shocks and an unpredictable narrative filled with creepy imagery.    With this taken into account and despite it’s age and at times amateurish performances … I had a better time than expected, which proves just how much it set in place, and still stands as the blue-print for what was to follow.

NOTLD CriterionThe Criterion Blu-ray is jam-packed with extras, but firstly I’ll say the classy black & white 4k-restored image presented in 1.37.1 ratio (yep we get black bars either side of the screen) is vivid and detailed.  It’s grainy but not overly so and generally creates an effective almost film-noir look that I appreciated.  The soundtrack whilst only in it’s original mono is sharp, has clear dialogue and the various moments of orchestral score (taken from believe it or not, stock library audio) is used well and at times creates a welcome Hammer-horror / 50s b-movie aesthetic.  We also get two commentaries, both from key members of the cast and crew, recorded in the 90s, and there’s several new featurettes / interviews covering the impact the movie has had on popular culture (with interviews with Frank Darabont, Guillermo Del Toro and Robert Rodriguez) along with archival footage.  For fans of the movie, this feels like the definitive release, and anyone who has never seen it before, especially if you are a fan of the genre horror – this is the version to own.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

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The Open House


Viewed – 27 February 2018  Netflix

Going into this it was easy to expect a typical haunted house fright-fest, and initially that did seem to be what we get.  However following the untimely death of his father, a teenage guy moves with his mother into a large house in the mountains, which is up for sale but they’re aloud to stay there until it sells.  Yet whilst there they have to deal with the fact it’s on the market as an ‘open house’ meaning the two of them need to make themselves scarce when people come to look around.

the open house

Things start to go bump in the night, and there is a presence watching over the mother and son as they not only try to adjust to new surroundings but also grieve for their loss.  Yet with a strange neighbour who after a time seems to contradict herself with what she says, and a kindly but mysterious local shop assistant who comes across as a bit too friendly, this set up an intriguing concept with an atmospheric setting.  Performances are not bad despite the script frequently letting it’s actors down, having for example the mother and son go into a creepy cellar several times alone rather than together despite a great deal of evidence that something may be ‘down there’.  Really, it was making me want to yell at the screen after a while. It also has a rather cheap reliance on false jump scares.  Yet despite these issues, I still found myself unnerved throughout, and it all lead to a ballsy climax that I hadn’t been expecting, leaving me rather shaken.

Not as mediocre as you may have heard.  Worth a watch.

Verdict:  3 /5

Happy Death Day


Viewed – 20 February 2018  online-rental

Blumhouse Productions seem to getting quite a reputation for making high concept, well received horror what with the popular Purge franchise and the sleeper hit of Don’t Breathe.  So we come to this recent offering that again has a clever concept at it’s heart, and follows a day in the life of University student ‘Tree’ who finds herself stalked by a masked killer and ultimately killed.  No, this isn’t spoiler territory as that’s when Tree’s day starts repeating itself ala Groundhog Day, and so it quickly dawns on her that she has to find how who her killer is, to hopefully set things right again.

Happy Death Day

It’s not a new idea but given a teen-movie twist along with the central character having to solve her own murder is at least a novel spin.  Yet despite strong potential in a creepy and played straight opening, once it descends into the day repeating, ill-fitting comedy comes into play and transforms this into a sillier movie than I’d have liked.  This is not helped by a mostly unlikeable group of characters, who despite best attempts at quirky pop-culture spouting dialogue, come off as self-absorbed idiots, including our lead.  Yep, she’s got some tragedy in her past, but does that mean she should be so utterly stuck up?

It attempts to save itself in some fun, if tame stalk and slash sequences and a couple of twists did keep me guessing … but when we have the final reveal, it’s pretty ‘meh’ again because of it’s wafer-thin characters.  There’s some moral lessons to take away here, but overall this was nothing to rush out and see.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

The Blob


Viewed – 06 February 2018  Blu-ray

You have to love the 80s.  It was a golden era for horror, and a time when horror could be fun as well as horrifying. Today a lot of horror movies go straight for the jugular and can be way too nasty   They’re almost a test of endurance.  That can’t be said for this rather under-appreciated 1988 remake of a 50’s b-movie of the same name.

the_blob

When a meteor crashes near a small town, biker rebel Kevin Dillon (The Rescue) finds himself thrown into a battle for survival alongside high school cheerleader Shawnee Smith (Saw).  Even as authority figures and adults dismiss the disappearances along with sightings of a weird goo … of course it’s up to the kids to find a way to stop what’s happening.  Yeah, there’s nothing all that clever here, but it retains that b-movie tongue-in-cheek tone that perfectly suits such a silly concept, with cast all doing a great job of going along for the ride.  Director Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) piles on some effective gore with still great practical effects and a couple of genuine shocks (the kid in the sewer).  Also I’d forgotten how likable Shawnee Smith is, and well Kevin Dillon’s always been a great bad-boy (where’s he gone?).

It reminded me at times of John Carpenter’s seminal The Thing remake but fares poorly in comparison due to clichéd characters and only passable acting, and that silly tone stops it from being scary even for a second.  Yet as it stands this is still a great deal of fun and is certainly worth your time.

The Blu-ray is rather a pleasant surprise … image quality may seem a bit soft but colours are vibrant and overall the picture is clean, and free of any print damage.  The sound gets the lossless 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio treatment, but seems to lack a bit of ‘punch’ overall.  Extras feature a trailer and a director interview, but that’s it.  Considering the movie at time of writing still lacks a UK Blu-ray release this Region B Australian release is a godsend.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

Pet Sematary


Viewed – 23 January 2017  Blu-ray

I seem to be doing a Stephen King season lately with my viewing, and with this fondly remembered entry from 1989 I was very excited to check it out again.  It tells the tale of a family who move into a house located near a busy main road where truckers drive seemingly with no awareness of their surroundings.  A kindly, elderly neighbour (the late Fred Gwynne) befriends the family and soon tells them about the aforementioned Pet Cemetery, a place where for decades children have gone to bury their pets.  However something sinister lies beyond the cemetery, that of a sacred Indian burial ground – and we all know they’re never good places.

Pet Sematary

I was surprised how well I remembered this adaptation and it certainly has a slightly goofy charm along with it’s intriguing concept.  Acting is serviceable and a little cheesy in places (especially Fred Gwynne not that far removed from his turn as Herman Munster in The Munsters TV series).  Yet it certainly has it’s moments; the child actors especially stealing the show, with the stand out being toddler Gage who turns rather iconic in later scenes.  Also it’s got effectively freaky flashbacks / dream sequences that send shivers (creepy sister ‘zelda’) and a few solid set pieces with effective gore.  Yet the movie didn’t entirely get under my skin, not helped by questionable motivations of certain characters (despite warnings and shit-going-down) which ruins the movie’s second half.  Yet for one of those 80s horrors that has for some reason always stayed in my mind … I still had fun with this.

The Blu-ray, part of a ‘premium collection’ boasts a very detailed and vibrant picture that I wasn’t expecting.  Sound is delivered in the original 2.0 stereo or a very effective and immersive 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio (just hear those trucks shake the room).  Extras aren’t exactly plentiful but we do get a commentary from director Mary Lambert as well as welcome featurettes on the making of as well as Stephen King himself.  The set also boasts a nice slip case and art cards.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5