Burial Ground (1981) review

Burial Ground posterDirector: Andrea Bianchi

Starring: Mariangela Giordano, Roberto Caporali, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Karin Well, Antonella Antinori, Simone Mattioli, Peter Bark

Also known as: Le Notti Del Terrore (The Nights Of Terror), The Zombie Dead

“Mother, this cloth smells of death.” (Michael, Burial Ground)

When you ask someone to name some old zombie movies, the usual suspects inevitably pop up.

The obvious contenders, the ones folk will almost unconsciously start with, are Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead.

Then you may get the occasional Return Of The Living Dead, or – if the person you’re asking knows their video nasty history – Zombie Flesh Eaters.

This is all perfectly understandable, mind – all five of the above are fantastic films – but there are plenty of excellent old zombie movies that, for some reason, never quite reached that same level of universal notoriety and acclaim.

One of the finest examples is Burial Ground, or The Night Of Terrors to give it its original Italian title. Continue reading “Burial Ground (1981) review”

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Hellgate (1989) review

Hellgate posterDirector: William Levey

Starring: Ron Palillo, Abigail Wolcott, Carel Trichardt, Petrea Curran

“Take this, you zombie bitch!” (Pam, Hellgate)

Have you ever suffered from PMS? I have. No, you fool, I don’t mean that. I’m talking about Plot Missing Syndrome.

You know how it works. Sometimes you’re watching a film and you’re slightly tired. You nod off without realising it and wake up 30 minutes later, none the wiser.

Slowly you start to realise that the film isn’t making sense any more. Characters are talking about things that haven’t happened. The hero and his love interest suddenly hate each other for some reason. One guy’s missing a leg.

It eventually dawns on you that you must have fallen asleep. You rewind back to the last scene you remember and, more often than not, are stunned that you managed to miss around half an hour without noticing.

When I first watched Hellgate, I thought PMS had struck again. So I watched the film a second time from start to finish and realised, to my bewilderment, that it actually hadn’t. Continue reading “Hellgate (1989) review”

The Beyond (1981) (Video Nasty review #7)

The Beyond posterDirector: Lucio Fulci

Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale

Also known as: Seven Doors Of Death (USA)

“Be careful what you do, because this hotel was built over one of the seven doors of evil.” (Schweik, The Beyond)

Though Italian director Lucio Fulci may be best known in the UK for his video nasty Zombi 2 (better known as Zombie Flesh Eaters), it’s another video nasty that most horror fans worldwide associate with him. It’s understandable, because The Beyond is easily one of his better films.

After starting with a flashback in which a poor sod in New Orleans is crucified in a cellar by a mob who think he’s a warlock, we fast-forward to the present day (well, 1981) where we meet Liza (MacColl), who’s moved from New York to New Orleans to inherit, refurbish and re-open a decrepit hotel.

The Beyond
Here’s a joke for you love, what do you call a blind… oh Christ I am so, so sorry

It becomes clear very quickly that, as luck would have it, the hotel is built on a gateway to Hell, and as such there’s a whole load of shit going down in the basement including the zombified remains of the lad from the flashback. That’s Hell, not Hull, mind – though I appreciate it’s hard to tell the difference. It’s up to Liza along with her friend John (Warbeck) to try to figure out how to stop this from happening. Continue reading “The Beyond (1981) (Video Nasty review #7)”

Zombie Strippers (2008) review

Director: Jay Lee

Starring: Jenna Jameson, Robert Englund, Roxy Saint, Penny Drake

“Let’s see if I got this straight. Our best stripper is a reanimated corpse who is feeding off the living flesh of our customers, who in turn reanimate, even if they’re just a fucking head? You don’t see this as a problem?” (Ian, Zombie Strippers)

Usually when a film has such a blatant and exploitative title as this it’s using that title to draw people to a film that in reality can’t live up to the name (hang your head, Alien Terminator). Zombie Strippers however not only successfully does what it says on the tin, but crams so much of both aspects into said tin that you’d need some sort of special spatula device to be able to scoop out the tightly packed contents. What I’m basically saying in a needlessly elaborate way is there’s a lot of zombies in here, and a lot of stripping.

"Stand back, I know CPR"

It begins, as so many zombie films do, with a secret government research facility making an arse of things. They were trying to create a bunch of super soliders that could come back to life after being killed, but naturally what they made instead was a bunch of zombies. After a failed attempt to destroy them, one escapes and makes his way to a strip club where he attacks Kat – a stripper (Jenna Jameson) – and bites her neck out. And if you think I’m going to stoop to the obvious “deep throat” joke there, then I’m frankly stunned.  Continue reading “Zombie Strippers (2008) review”

Dead Heat (1988) review

Director: Mark Goldblatt

Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Vincent Price

ROGER – So what’s the story on these John Does? What’s so unbelievable?

CORONER – I’ll show you. The teeth and fingerprints are practically worthless but I noticed one thing – stitches. You can see where the cut was made, traversing the sternum and incised with an electric saw.

ROGER – They had surgery?

CORONER – Nope. They had autopsies. They’ve been here before, fellas. I certified them myself.

Dead Heat is an 80s cop movie in which one of the cops is a zombie. There you go, that should be all you need, enjoy.

Fine, I suppose I’ll elaborate for the sake of making this review worth your while, but that description really does sum up what I believe is one of the most criminally overlooked cult gems of the 1980s.

"Sorry lads, the lookalike agency needs to save money and Luke Wilson and Chris Kamara just aren't popular enough"

Detective Roger Mortis (get it?) and his partner Doug Bigelow are called to a robbery at a jewellery store. As the crooks leave the store they pull out shotguns and start shooting at the countless officers who have surrounded the area. Although the officers score a number of direct shots on the criminals, it doesn’t appear to harm them and they continue to shoot cops dead until one is blown up and the other is run over.

Roger and Doug reckon there’s something funny about this so they ask the coroner (and Roger’s ex) to look into it. It turns out the criminals had been dead before, and had somehow come to life. Dum dum dummm.  Continue reading “Dead Heat (1988) review”

Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

Director: George A Romero

Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini

“You know Macumba? Voodoo. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” (Peter, Dawn Of The Dead)

While once-legendary horror director George A Romero has let his talents go a little wayward recently, the man will always be best known for his Dead trilogy. No film series has inspired more amateur horror filmmakers than Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead. They were the first contemporary zombie movies, the films that wrote the rulebook and laid the foundations on which countless zombie movies, comics and video games in the decades since have built upon. While Night Of The Living Dead was the film that started it all off and created the modern zombie as we know it, its sequel Dawn Of The Dead is the film that many argue is the best of the trilogy. I’m inclined to agree.

Davina McCall zombie and Richard Pryor zombie were first in line at the Next sale

Taking place a short while after the events of Night Of The Living Dead, the original spate of reports of the dead coming to life has now escalated into a full-blown epidemic in which zombies roam the streets and buildings of Philadelphia. Two workers at a TV station realise things are starting to get out of hand and, as they try to escape a building being overrun by zombies and SWAT team members, they meet two soldiers who also think it’s time to bail. They head to the roof, “borrow” the TV station’s helicopter and go in search of a place where the locals are decidedly less bitey.  Continue reading “Dawn Of The Dead (1978)”

The Boneyard (1991)

Director: James Cummins

Starring: Ed Nelson, Deborah Rose, Norman Fell, Phyllis Diller

“The bodies… the bodies we saw? They’re not dead.” (Alley, The Boneyard)

This one’s a little off the wall. Alley Cates (Rose) is a psychic who’s been asked by the police to help them figure out what’s happened to three young children whose naked, rotting bodies have been found. When she gets to the morgue (which, conveniently, is underground and difficulty to leave quickly) she realises that the ‘children’ are actually zombies who were afflicted with an ancient Chinese curse and are ready to wake up and munch on some human.

A freshly-woken Cher reaches for her makeup case

Typically the morgue’s exit is blocked, trapping Alley, an experienced police chief, his young deputy, a mortician and a suicidal young woman who was pretending to be a corpse. As you do. They need to figure out a way to get out of the morgue while also killing the three zombie children and any other monsters that turn up. And trust me, they do.  Continue reading “The Boneyard (1991)”

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

Director: George Romero

Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman

“If you have a gun, shoot ’em in the head. That’s a sure way to kill ’em. If you don’t, get yourself a club or a torch. Beat ’em or burn ’em. They go up pretty easy. ” (Sheriff McClelland, Night Of The Living Dead)

Although the idea of the dead coming back to life had been covered a number of times before the release of Night Of The Living Dead, it was George Romero’s low-budget 1968 flick that essentially laid down the rules of the modern zombie movie and kicked off what is (along with the slasher) easily one of the most oft-produced subgenres in horror.

"That's the last time I buy a tombstone and refuse to pay the £5 home delivery"

It starts with Barbara and her brother Johnny heading to a cemetery in Pittsburgh to visit their mother’s grave. There they’re confronted by a man who stumbles over to them and attacks Johnny, killing him, before chasing Barbara. Managing to escape, she finds solace in a small cottage in the middle of the countryside, but is shortly joined by another chap, a black man called Ben. Soon many other similarly stumbling maniacs join the crazy man outside and a small army of shuffling ne’er-do-wells begins to gather around the cottage.

I don't know, some people just can't spread jam properly

As Barbara and Ben are joined by a few more people who’ve been hiding in the house’s basement, they manage to get the radio and TV working and tune into the emergency news broadcasts. They learn that the dead have started coming to life and are eating the living. Any people they eat in turn become one of these ‘ghouls’ (they’re never actually called zombies at any point during the movie). And thus the modern zombie film is born.

Two things spring to mind while watching Night Of The Living Dead – the first is how surprisingly grim and graphic it is given the era in which it was filmed, and the second is writer/director George Romero’s fairly obvious commentary on how we interact with one another. The former is the most immediate – considering the furore surrounding some of the now-tame taboos broken by Hitchcock’s Psycho (such as the shot looking inside a toilet bowl and the suggestion of a clothed unmarried couple sharing a bed), to have a film only eight years later showing hundreds of mindless ghouls, some completely naked, eating flesh and entrails must have caused outrage at the time. Indeed, many of the scenes that stunned in 1968 still have the power to shock in 2011, in particular one involving a young girl and a trowel.

The KFC in Hull wasn't quite up to the franchise's normally high standards

The latter is more subtle but lingers longer after the credits. Each instalment of Romero’s original Dead trilogy (Night/Dawn/Day) is laced with social commentary, and while it’s laid on thickest in Night’s sequel Dawn Of The Dead there’s still plenty being preached by Romero here. As those in the house discuss their escape plan, it all starts to fall apart as arguments begin and fights break out. It’s clear what Romero’s telling us – even with faced with the bleakest of situations it’s still difficult at times for people to work together harmoniously. In a way, the biggest threat to the human race isn’t the dangers outside, it’s the human race itself and our inability to trust each other.

This point wouldn’t come across nearly as well had it not been for the fantastic cast of unknowns who make up the occupants of the house. They all have their own very clear and distinct personalities and these personalities clash just as you’d expect. In your head you’ll form your opinions quickly, defining each of the characters – the good honest guy, the bastard who deserves to die, the one who means well but deep down you know isn’t strong enough to survive – and it’s a true testament to the cast’s abilities that every single character’s fate is of interest to the viewer.

Good old Ben. Nice to see someone knows what they're doing in this film

You may wonder why I felt the need to mention Ben’s colour earlier in the review. Indeed, you might already have a Word document open, ready to scribe your no-doubt carefully-worded statement accusing me of all sorts of discriminatory shenanigans. The reason Ben’s colour is so important is that Night Of The Living Dead is one of the first mainstream movies that featured a black man as the hero.

Don’t forget, this was nearly 45 years ago, a time when non-whites were very much considered a lesser class and the blaxpoitation boom was still a few years away, so black audiences were barely seeing their colour represented on the big screen at all, let alone in lead roles. As a result, for Night Of The Living Dead to feature a black man as the protagonist in a movie aimed at mainstream audiences was a huge decision at the time, one that nowadays wouldn’t have us batting an eyelid (which, of course, shows the progress we’ve made since).

Then there’s the controversial and powerful ending, with its strong double-meaning barely hiding its racial undertones. Make no mistake, this is more than a mindless monster movie.

Night Of The Living Dead is a true classic, a film that any self-respecting horror fan has to see at least once. It’s aged incredibly well and still packs a punch 45 years later, and Romero’s not-so-subtle social undercurrents should give budding sociologists something to sink their teeth into too.

28 Days Later (2002)

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston

“No, no, see, this is a really shit idea. Know why? Because it’s really obviously a shit idea.” (Jim, 28 Days Later)

I went to see 28 Days Later on its day of release in the UK (way back in November 2002) and as a result was not privy to the excessive hype it soon gathered afterwards. The first time I saw it I came out slightly disappointed, but after repeated viewings I warmed to it.

I think the main reason I was initially let down was because I was expecting a zombie film. The trailer gave the impression it was a zombie film, it was being billed as a zombie film, and as a result I was ready to see a zombie film. Let me get this straight, however: 28 Days Later is not a zombie film. The “infected” (as they shall be known) are fast as fuck. Yes, they may portray zombie-like symptoms (such as scarred flesh and the need to destroy humans… we do not necessarily know if any are eaten), but the red eyes and occasional violent vomiting of blood suggest that they are indeed infected with a virus.

Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a coma to find that it’s been 28 days since Britain has been exposed to a highly infectious virus known as Rage. He doesn’t know it yet but because he’s been lying in a hospital he’s become one of the last remaining people in Britain. The first 15 minutes are amazing for anyone who has been to London before and knows the surroundings. The shots of Jim walking through a deserted Piccadilly Circus are a sight to behold, and it makes you wonder exactly how they managed it (unless you watch the DVD, in which it’s revealed in the extra that they did it by filming the scenes just as day broke and just off-camera was the film crew trying to stop drunken clubbers wandering into the frame as they stumbled home).

Before long Jim begins to encounter the infected and meets up with a small number of other survivors including Selena, the other main character. He is told of the country’s mass exposure to the Rage virus and its subsequent evacuation. More infected appear. Jim and Selena get running and eventually they meet up with Hannah and her father. Unfortunately for any chairs looking to get their big break in acting, it appears that the young actress playing Hannah is more wooden than they could ever hope to be.

The rest of the film is a take-off of sorts on both Dawn Of The Dead (the group raid some shops, have a laugh then make some thoughtful, deep comments on the future of the human race) and Day Of The Dead (the group end up at a military base full of arsehole soldiers who keep some of the infected locked up). Even though it’s not a zombie film, honest guv.

Generally the acting is of a very high standard (with the exception of the aformentioned girl of wood, of course). Christopher Eccleston appears near the end of the movie as the leader of a military group and more or less steals the show with his performance, which is just as well because the rest of this final act is a bit rubbish. What was before a thought-provoking film about survival and what exactly the end of the world would mean (“you’ll never be able to read a new book or see a new film”), becomes a “men with guns versus zombies” blastfest, which seems somewhat out of place in a film that has for the most part been human-free.

You see, what makes the “infected” scenes so scary is the fact that the film’s locales are quiet and tranquil for the the vast majority of the time (since the towns and motorways are deserted), so when the infected arrive, there’s a clear change in atmosphere – what was once calm and peaceful has been flipped onto its arse, and shit’s about to go down (this is best demonstrated in the excellent tunnel scene). Once at the military base however, there are too many people we have to get to know (there are at least 4 or 5 new characters with distinct personalities), and by the time we’re used to these new, busier surroundings after being treated to sparsely populated scenery for 70 minutes, the film’s over.

Despite this, 28 Days Later is an outstanding horror film that is thoroughly recommended. The soundtrack is superb, the direction is gritty and it’s just a very well-made British horror.