Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Tombs of the Blind Dead – Review

Tombs of the Blind Dead – Review

Jan 10, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Amando de Ossorio, 1971

Tombs of the Blind Dead is a Spanish horror movie directed by the legendary Amando de Ossorio and is part of his famous “Blind Dead” collection of which there are four films:  Tombs of the Blind Dead, Return of the Blind Dead, Ship of Zombies, and Night of the Seagulls.  Created on a shoestring budget with limited to no budget for special effects, Tombs of the Blind Dead cemented Ossorio as a brilliant director with a creative spirit.

The movie is about a group of three friends, two of which are female and have a relationship that goes back several years to college, who discover that a love triangle can literally be a deadly thing.  When Virginia White realizes that the guy she is crushing on has a flirtatious attitude toward her best friend, Betty, she decides to take drastic measures.  During a train ride to a local vacation spot where the three were going to enjoy some relaxation, Virginia suddenly jumps off the train with her sleeping bag.  Betty and Roger watch from the moving train as their friend makes her way through a field toward an old, abandoned monastery.  Unfortunately for Virginia, this is the monastery where 13th century Templars were on a quest to secure eternal life by drinking blood from virgin women and offering them as sacrifices.  Put to death for their actions and hung from trees so that birds could pluck their eyes out, the Templars were nevertheless able to secure their immortality by returning from the grave every night at the ringing of the monastery bells.  From there, the story moves from Virginia’s death at the hands of the undead to the ensuing investigation and increased carnage.

Watching this film was a real treat for several reasons.  First, Ossorio’s creativity shines in the movie as he provides some clever working of the camera I have not seen in any other zombie/undead film.  For example, because the Templars had their eyes plucked out during their punishment, they are only able to move in on their prey by sound.  One victim picks up on this weakness of the zombies and stops dead in her tracks.  The ploy is working and the Templars lose her for a moment.  But then the soundtrack slowly builds on the sound of the poor girl’s heartbeat.  She is scared to death and the racing of her heart is enough for the Templars to once again pick up the scent.  To add punch to the scene, Ossorio moves his camera slowly into the heart area of the victim’s chest as the soundtrack continues to increase in volume.  It was a beautiful scene.  The setting of the monastery is also effective and comes across, to some degree, similar to the look of Dracula’s castle in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula.  Finally, Ossorio does quite well with what limited resources he has to work with.  Although the film is certainly not a gore-fest, it does provide a nice array of gruesome death and torture scenes.

Of course, a film like this has plenty of flaws.  The acting is brutal to watch as is much of the dialogue.  The love triangle plot at the beginning was pretty lame and for some reason they threw in a strange flashback to a lesbian encounter between Virginia and Betty during their college years which was completely pointless.  Some of actions taken by the victims toward the end of the film defy any logic whatsoever.  Add to that a incredibly awful subtitled film, 1/3 of which was not readable because it blended in with the film, and you have plenty to overlook while watching.

But, it really is pretty easy to overlook.  I finished the movie and was impressed with what I had seen.  I look forward to checking out the remaining three films in the series.

Click Here to purchase Tombs of the Blind Dead

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The Walking Dead Episode 2 – Review

The Walking Dead Episode 2 – Review

Nov 12, 2010

reviewed by hallo

No, I am not going to review every single episode of the new The Walking Dead series on AMC.  But, I thought the first couple were fair game to provide my thoughts and commentary.  Here is a brief review of the second episode.

It was wonderful.  Perhaps even better than the first.  This was in part due to a brutally strong performance by Michael Rooker, perhaps the greatest character actor to ever live.  That name might not ring a bell to many of you, and yet all of you have seen him.  In episode 2, he plays Merle Dixon, a redneck tough guy who has a streak of white supremacy about him.  Rooker’s portrayal of Dixon served as a potent reminder that a world overrun by zombies is not enough to wipe away the inner human darkness in all of us.  At this point in the story, what are we most concerned with?  We find ourselves worried about the relationship between Rick-Shane-Lori.  We find ourselves disgusted by the racial insensitivity in the group, and yet rooting that the handcuffed Dixon makes it out alive.  We come alongside Rick with our compassion for Wade, the zombie who was cut up and used as rotting flesh to make their escape.  And in the back of our minds we are still concerned for the father and son who had lost their wife/mother and were struggling to survive emotionally and physically.  Oh, and somewhere in there is the worry of being eaten by zombies.  But in two episodes the story and the characters are so strong that the actual “eaten by zombie” issue is last on the list.  Truly incredible.

To highlight the point of human destructive issues and our unfortunate and incredible ability to “”eat” ourselves as humans, episode finds Rick and Glenn walking down the streets of Atlanta covered in zombie guts so that the real zombies could not smell them.  Unless you are radically incapable of recognizing sub-text in literature, the picture here is strikingly clear.  For a moment, Rick and Glenn blend in perfectly with the rest of the zombie world.  Again, The Walking Dead asks the question:  Who are the real zombies?

I am hard pressed to find a single fault in episode 2.  I am sure they are there and perhaps some of you can help me out.  All I know is this – I can’t wait till Sunday.

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The Walking Dead Premiere – Review

The Walking Dead Premiere – Review

Nov 1, 2010

reviewed by hallo
shown on October 31, 2010 on AMC

The entire horror community had been waiting for months and months for the premiere episode of The Walking Dead on AMC.  The Walking Dead is the hugely successful and thought-provoking comic book series depicting the difficulty of human relationships interwoven with a world overtaken by the undead.  I have yet to meet a horror movie fan who does not love the Robert Kirkman comic book.  So what about the first episode of the television adaptation?

As with any television series, a review of simply the premiere episode does not and cannot speak for the series as a whole.  Any successful television series works its way into finding the right combination of character development, interaction, and storyline.  In other words, actors “settle in” to their character sometimes weeks or months into a series, so judging The Walking Dead series as a whole just from the initial episode is not possible and this review will not attempt to make that kind of a correlation.  Having said that, we can still talk about how well the impact of the first episode came across and even discuss some comparisons with the comic book without judging too quickly the series in its entirety.

I have intentionally refrained from reading any other critical review of the first episode of The Walking Dead so that I can be unswayed by my assessment of it.

The opening 5 minutes were the weakest of the hour and a half premiere.  After wandering through a sea of deserted cars, Rick finds a little girl holding a teddy bear.  When she turns around, he sees that she is a zombie and shoots her in the head.  Cut to Rick and Shane having a discussion in a cop car.  First of all, there was no real sense of what the initial scene with the little girl was all about (except to preview for the viewers that brain splatter and gore will be a part of this series; the effect looked terrific).  I thought perhaps it was a dream sequence or just a creative way to introduce the series.  Upon reflection, I think it was the latter.  However, for someone who is not familiar with the series, the characters, and the plot (like my wife who actually watched most of the show with me), this was a confusing beginning.  She was under the impression that the world was already infested with zombies, as seen by the first interaction with the little girl, and did not make the connection that when we cut to Rick and Shane in the cop car, we are at a time previous to zombie infestation.  I think the opening could have been smoothed out a bit in that way.

Also, once we reach the cop car with Rick and Shane, the dialogue is forced and way too intentional.  Instead of letting some of the details of their friendship and of Rick’s relationship with Lori (his wife) develop throughout the story, they cram it into a overly long and somewhat boring conversation to begin the episode.  It reminded me of the long, famous explanation at the end of Hitchcock’s Psycho, the only part of that film to ever come under critical criticism.

With those two comments about the opening aside, the remainder of The Walking Dead was a home run.  Andrew Lincoln’s portrayal of Rick Grimes is spot on, as is Jon Bernthal’s depiction of Shane.  The zombies look absolutely phenomenal, rivaling if not beating any full length zombie movie I have ever seen.  The shots toward the end of the film in downtown Atlanta were breathtaking.  And, as mentioned above with the opening scene, the gore effects are gorgeous.  We actually get to see horse’s guts being eaten!

But for me, it was the clear direction that the filmmakers went with in the first episode that gives me hope that this will be an incredibly worthy series to follow.  That clear direction is the weightiness of the story.  The first episode makes clear that this is a story about very difficult times and very difficult human emotions, perfectly making the balance between the threat of the undead and the horrendous emotional response that the living must endure.  Already we are wrestling with how to respond to loved ones who have come under the curse of being re-animated.  In a strikingly powerful scene, one gentleman is working up the courage to put his beloved wife, who was a “walker”, out of her misery, while Rick was showing heart-felt compassion to a zombie crawling through the grass.  He says to the zombie, “I’m sorry this happened to you.”  In this way, The Walking Dead is forcing us to remember that these zombies were once people who were loved, who had a purpose, and who will never again have the chance to live out the dreams of their life.  Personal reflection then causes us to ask the hard question:  How many of us are living the life of a zombie even though we are still among the living?  Have we stopped pursuing life, embracing the joy and opportunity that comes with this gift?  It screams that we “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

The episode ends with a nice moment of tension where Rick, almost to the point of committing suicide, is trapped inside a tank on the streets of Atlanta, GA.  A voice is heard on the tank’s radio asking if Rick is “comfy” inside the tank.  Who is the voice?  How does the voice know Rick is in the tank?  Those questions will be answered in the next episode.

So here’s hoping that The Walking Dead enjoys some success and can continue to tell the story of zombies and humans and how the two go hand-in-hand.

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Diary of the Dead- Review

Diary of the Dead- Review

Jul 25, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by George Romero, 2007

“Are we worth saving?  You tell me.” – Debra Moynihan

With those concluding words of narration, Diary of the Dead rolls credits.  It is a question that permeates the brilliant storytelling of famed horror director George Romero in this 5th entry of his critically acclaimed Dead series.  A struggle for power, an insatiable desire to fulfill a perceived life purpose, and a misunderstood destination of safety all provide a thought-provoking 90 minutes of zombie mania.

Diary of the Dead is not a typical sequel in the Dead series, but rather documents a separate story during the initial outbreak of the original Night of the Living Dead movie.  In other words, the timeline follows the same chronology of the original 1968 film even though the immediate setting of Diary of the Dead is in the 21st century.  As this group of young people are struggling with zombies and one another, we can imagine a boarded up house on a farm somewhere in PA where Ben and Barbra are fighting for their lives.  Several references to the original film are made, including the reuse of the original newscast from NOTLD.  Romero himself called this entry a “rejigging of the myth.”

As always, Romero is masterful with zombies and remains in this reviewer’s eye the heavyweight champion of all things zombiefied.  This particular story follows a group of young Pitt film students who are creating a horror movie when the outbreak strikes.  Since documentary is Jason Creed’s first love, he decides to carry his trusty Panasonic camera with him at all times and capture the events of the developing real life horror story.  Along the way, another camera is picked up allowing for two different camera angles of the action.  We learn at the beginning of the movie that Jason’s girlfriend, Debra, compiled the film together so that people would know the truth.  Oh, she also added music and sound effects because she “wants you to be scared.”  Unfortunately, the film at times loses its grip because of the consistent and occasionally tiresome use of the documentary style.  That is one of very few complaints I have with the movie.

In typical Romero fashion, we are immersed in the struggles of the core group of people as they in turn are struggling with survival.  Deeply embedded in DOTD is the universal desire to fulfill our life passion, which almost certainly involves a certain amount of assumed power.  For Jason, the consuming desire to capture the “real” story of the outbreak is convincingly explained to Barbra as the only way they might be able to save lives.  However, Jason’s true motives are revealed when he repeatedly refuses to put down the camera in times of desperate need, choosing instead to film the ending of human life at the hands of the zombies rather than save a human life, which is of course the explanation he provided for the filming in the first place.  In this way, Jason is no different than the living dead.  They know only one thing – to seek out and consume living human flesh.  Jason’s passions close his mind to any reality other than getting the shot on film.  Romero once again reminds us that the line between zombie and human is not as broad as we might think.  Debra, during her overdub narration of the finished documentary, blatantly explains this truth by asserting, “it is us vs. them.  The problem is that they are us.”

Another interesting sub-theme that was consistently placed throughout the dialogue was the realization of the supernatural in the chaotic events.  At one point, a character sarcastically screams that unless you are Jesus Christ you “don’t stand up and walk around after you are dead.”  Another use of narration by Debra insists that “God had changed the rules and we were following along.”  The movie makes clear that a world beyond mere materialism is known by all people in all places, yet even that inner knowledge cannot keep us from pursuing the riches of materialism.  At one point the group seeks refuge in a large garage where a band of friends had looted the entire city and hauled it all to one central location.  Proud of their accomplishments and their acquisition of stuff, they were unwilling to even let the group fill their tank completely with gas.  Finally, they were able to say “look at all the stuff we have.”

In the last 2 minutes of the movie, as the remaining 3 characters are talking with one another, an older professor looks in the mirror as the sun is rising.  The dialogue that ensues is wonderful:

Debra:  Things always look better in the morning.
Andrew:  Not to me. Mornings bring light. I prefer the darkness. It’s easier to hide in the dark.
Tony:  You know, Professor? I actually get the… the mornings. They show you for what you are, instead of what you think you are.
Andrew:  Inelegantly phrased, Mr. Ravello, but accurately put. Mornings… and mirrors. I despise them. Mornings and mirrors only serve to terrify old men.

We all prefer the darkness, it is indeed easier to hide.  On this point of dialogue, it is hard to imagine that Romero did not have John3 in mind:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Are humans worth saving?  Absolutely.  And yet because of our own love of darkness, not all will be saved.

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The Crazies – Review

The Crazies – Review

Mar 16, 2010

reviewed by JB
directed by Breck Eisner, 2010

First off I would like to thank my wife for attending this feature with me. She hates “my kind of movies,” so thanks baby. Now on to the presentation. The Crazies is apparently a remake of a 1973 Romero film by the same name. I myself have never heard of it, but I plan to try and rent it at a later date. I have read other written reviews of the ’73 flick and it was seemingly very politically driven ( more later ). The current version stars Timothy Olyphant as a sheriff of a small farming town. Radha Mitchell plays his doctor wife and Joe Anderson plays his loyal deputy. These are the characters the movie focuses on through the course of their perils. The opening scene shows the peaceful little town on the first day of baseball season and the town is enjoying the game when all of a sudden like five minutes into the movie the events get rolling. A man supposedly the town drunk, which we learn later, comes out of left field, literally, with a shotgun. The sheriff is forced to confront him all the while noticing that he appears drunk or not right with a crazy look in his eyes. Just like in the trailer the sheriff shoots him dead. The autopsy comes back and the guy is not drunk and the mystery begins. More people start to act ” not right ” and one man is seen by the doctor. He then proceeds to repeat himself to the doctor so she wants to send him to the closest big city (remember this) Cedar Rapids for a cat scan. This is where things start to go nuts. The man who saw the doctor indeed has problems and the first attempted scare happens. Really there are some creepy moments in this film that have you tense, but the scares are hard to come by. Which this is a zombie/infected flick and to me they are more about gore (more on this later also) and tension and the chase or escape moments than scares anyway. I suppose the genre of HORROR spans all of this and not just films with scares even though the film has several weak attempts at some. From here on out more townsfolk keep doing odd things, and out of the blue on a gut hunch the sheriff decides something isn’t right. Then some guys are out in the swamp of Ogden Marsh and find a parachute and the dead pilot submerged in the bog. The sheriff and his deputy investigate, and the deputy recalls a local hearing a big crash in the night so off they go to investigate. Turns out there was a plane crash in the marsh, and in one of the cooler visual scenes in the movie, they set out and find the plane in the murky water of the bog. This is where the movie lets you on to the big secret. The government plane had some stuff on it and it’s bad for everybody. I have read in other reviews, as mentioned before, that the original has a politically charged theme in regard to government. This is that tie in, but the 2010 version doesn’t take it that far. They let you know through the movie that big brother is watching, but it’s not an anti gov. movie. As for the comparison I will let you know when I see the original.

After the plane is found the sheriff and his deputy determine that the plane is contaminating the water that the town drinks and that is what is causing everybody to become CRAZY. The government finally comes in and tries to segregate everybody according to who has a fever. Apparently this is the first sign of the infection. Earlier on the viewer is made aware that the sheriff’s wife is pregnant, which in turn cause her to have a fever and hence she is assumed infected and taken from her husband. After this there is another one of the creepy scenes. If you watched any of the trailers you saw the person dragging the pitchfork through the hospital, well this is it. I was pretty excited to see some good gore here, but it was a little of a letdown. I was expecting a crazy dude just going off and stabbing person after person and blood oozing, guts dripping, eyeballs flying, arms loped off, brains spilling—– sorry I got a little carried away, but the point I am trying to make while the scene was well shot and kinda creepy, I expected gore. In my opinion zombie movies need some gore and this version of The Crazies didn’t have enough for me. From here on out the movie is more of a survival story where the sheriff has to save his wife and escape. The couple along with the trusty deputy run around, mainly from the government and some crazies here and there, and have a neat little run in with some crazies at a car wash. They are trying to get to the government exit point where they plan on hopping onto a bus and going happily off into the sunset. More problems arise and if this review is sounding a little redundant that is because that is how this movie goes. Find a safe place and whoa, wait it aint safe here. Anyway without spoiling the ending which isn’t all that much of a twist, the sheriff and his wife escape and the loyal deputy makes a not so dramatic-dramatic choice.

I’m not sure what that is, but see the movie and you will understand that you saw it coming. The last frame of the movie shows the sheriff and his wife walking off into the sunset and a government satellite picks up the couple heading to Cedar Rapids and declares an emergency quarantine protocol. If you see the movie you will see that that is going to be bad news.

All in all this was not a bad movie. I would have personally liked to see more gore, which I think by the reviews of the ’73 original it has more. There was nothing new or ground breaking in it either. Timothy Olyphant is one of my favorite actors with a great role in Deadwood as coincidentally the sheriff, and as agent 47 in Hitman. Here he does a pretty good job, but there wasn’t a whole lot to work with as far as script. As for the costars, all did a good job being scared, frightened, surprised, but you could have put me and my wife in the roles and the outcome could have been sufficient. I put the mediocrity of this movie on the director whose vision of the movie was different than what I would have preferred, which is kinda strange in that Romero was a producer on the film. In the end I would save this as a renter on a cold October night.

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The Plague – Review

The Plague – Review

Feb 2, 2010

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Hal Masonberg, 2006

Whenever you see the name “Clive Barker” attached to any horror film project there is a anticipatory sense of quality and creepiness.  Such was my expectation when dialing in director Hal Masonberg’s 2006 movie The Plague through my “On Demand” service.  Barker was one of apparently several producers involved with the film which is based on a epidemic that strikes teenagers at the same time all across the world.  Panic ensues as parents rush their children to hospitals to see what can be done about their coma-like state.  Nothing, of course, is the answer and the world has to patiently wait to see if not only the children will awake, but if there is a future for civilization on Earth.

The story follows the events through the eyes of Tom Russell (James Van Der Beek) who is a single parent of one son.  Tom has to wait ten agonizing years before he finally is able to see his son function on his own again.  Unfortunately, upon his son’s revival from the coma, Tom discovers that his precious boy only wants one thing – to kill Tom.  In fact, all the children of the world wake up at the same time and begin stalking humans in a zombie like manner, although unlike traditional zombies, the children move very fast and have normal coordination skills which makes them able to use weapons, etc.  What follows is a series of slasher-esque killings where the townsfolk are running for their lives from the deranged zombie-children.  Throw in a love interest for Tom, as well as a reunion with an estranged brother, and you have the completion of the plot narrative.  The story ends, as you might expect, with everyone succumbing to the terror of the children except Jean, Tom’s love interest.  What Jean discovers throughout the movie is that the children just simply want someone to be “ready” and “willing” to offer themselves to the zombies.   They apparently are able to “absorb” life and influence from the adults they touch.   Once this willingness is offered to the children, you apparently get to live in peace.

The beginning few minutes of The Plague shows great promise.  The action begins quickly and the momentum continues to build, especially when Tom rushes his drooling, coma-induced son to the hospital only to be told to “get in line.”  We then see the horror of hundreds of children experiencing the same fate as Tom’s son.  Even during the interim between the children’s reception of the plague and their coming out of it ten years later, the film provides some eerie imagery and perks the curiosity of the viewer.  One such example is when a nurse who is “on duty” and watching a gymnasium full of comatose children is unaware that every child in the gym, probably a couple of hundred, turn their heads and look at her all at once.  Pretty creepy.

Unfortunately, the children wake up.  And what follows is an incredibly disappointing series of deaths at the hands of the ticked-off children.  No explanation is ever given for the cause of the plague, a reality that does not by default ruin the movie since no real explanation is given for the zombies in Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead.   However, the social commentary in the latter is clear and poignant.  Not so in The Plague.  We are left guessing what the picture is ultimately trying to say, and probably it isn’t trying to say much except provide a creepy concept from which to build.  There are some indications of a religious theme hidden in the film when the core group of survivors has to hide in a church.  Some texts are read about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters coming against each other.  But if the filmmakers were trying to provide a concrete foundation for the horrific events that have transpired over the last ten years, they failed.

In light of this, I will make up my own social commentary which is admittedly peering too deep inside a simple, low budget horror film.  Having said that, there could be a hinting at the universal need and desire of all teenagers to receive influence from their parents and from adults.  Without the proper time and energy spent by adults to teach, discipline, train, and love our children, there is a risk of them turning to a cookie-cutter mentality of what seems appropriate, popular, and acceptable.  Thus, they lose their true identity and are a product of society, turning on the very ones they most long to receive attention from.  The only cure is to stop, re-prioritize, and give ourselves to the younger generation.

All of that is probably garbage.  But, it at least provides some help to a movie that has great potential but fails to follow through.  I liked it.  I just didn’t like it enough.

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