The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Zombi 2 (dir by Lucio Fulci)


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(After reading my review, please be sure to check out Arleigh’s thoughts on Zombi 2!)

Two questions:

1) Do you love Zombie movies?

2) Have you seen Lucio Fulci’s 1979 film Zombi 2?

If your answer to the first question was yes, then you should definitely have had the same answer for the second.  Along with launching the long and extremely influential genre of the Italian zombie film and being one of the best zombie films ever made, Zombi 2 is also one of the best horror films ever made.

First off, a few words about that title.  Zombi was the Italian title for George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.  Zombi was a huge hit on Italy and, in that shameless way that is beloved by all Italian horror fans, producers Fabrizio De Angelis and Ugo Tucci decided to take advantage of Zombi‘s success by naming their upcoming zombie film Zombi 2.  And, while I have always liked to think of Zombi 2 as being a prequel to Romero’s Dead trilogy, Zombi 2 is actually in no way related to Dawn of the Dead.

It has often been assumed that Zombi 2 was directly inspired by Dawn of the Dead.  While Romero’s film certainly provided more of an influence than just providing a title, Zombi 2 was actually in production before Dawn of the Dead opened in Italy.  And, ultimately, Zombi 2 is a far different film from Romero’s film.  Eschewing the social commentary and satire that ran through Dawn of the Dead, Zombi 2 is instead a work of pure horror.  They’re both excellent films but Dawn of the Dead ultimately inspires debate while Zombi 2 inspires nightmares.

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Opening with a previously dead body being shot in the head as it slowly sits up on a stretcher and ending with a haunting vision of apocalypse, Zombi 2 is coated in a palpable atmosphere of doom.  A boat floats into a New York harbor and the two cops who investigate are greeted by a lumbering and hungry corpse.  Tisa Farrow plays the daughter of the boat’s owner.  When she and a reporter (Ian McCulloch, giving a likable and bemused performance that often finds him playing straight man to a bunch of decaying corpses and which provides a nice run up for his openly subversive performance in Zombie Holocaust) team up to find her father, their investigation leads them to an isolated island where the haunted and alcoholic Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson, bringing so much gravity and self-loathing to his role that he literally elevates the entire film) is struggling to deal with an outbreak of zombies.  Along with a boat captain (Al Cliver) and his girlfriend (Auretta Gay), McCulloch and Farrow try to escape the island before they end up joining the ranks of the undead…

As a director, Lucio Fulci was known for bringing his own unique visual flair to the horror genre.  Fulci, perhaps more than any of the other great Italian horror directors working during the Italian horror boom of the 80s and 90s, literally brought nightmares to cinematic life.  As a result, Zombi 2 is probably one of the most visually memorable zombie films ever made.  From the minute that McCulloch, Farrow, Cliver, and Gay arrive on the island, you can literally feel the oppressively hot wind and dusty wind that blows through every scene.  When the dead walk across the desolate landscape, Fulci emphasizes the decayed state of these zombies, forcing the audience to consider just how fragile the human body truly is.  The fact that the undead manage to be so pathetic and so dangerous at the same time only serves to make them all the more frightening.  When a group of conquistadors come back to life, Fulci films it from their point of view and, for a few minutes, we literally are one of the undead, clawing our way out of a grave.  Needless to say, Fulci doesn’t shy away from the gore of a zombie apocalypse either.  His zombies are ravenous and destructive.  The Walking Dead may be bloody but it’s got nothing on Zombi 2.

Along with the conquistador scene, Zombi 2 is especially remembered for two scenes, both of which showcase the best of both Fulci and Italian horror.

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One is the scene where Dr. Menard’s wife (Olga Karlatos) is menaced by zombies after taking a shower.  Even after she slams the bathroom door, a zombies hand breaks through the door and grabs her by the hair and starts to pull her through the jagged hole in the door.  As she is slowly pulled to her doom, her eyeball is pierced by a splinter of wood.  It’s definitely an over-the-top moment, the type of thing that we expect from an Italian horror film.  But, as over-the-top as it may be, it’s also incredibly effective and terrifying.  It’s a scene that lets us know that there is no escape from our fate.  It’s a scene that reminds us that the zombies will always win because there is no way to lock out death.

(In fact, it’s such an iconic scene that almost all of Fulci’s subsequent films would feature a character losing an eye.  Adding a certain poignancy to his trademark scenes of ocular destruction was the fact that Fulci, himself, was diabetic and reportedly often feared that he would lose his eyesight.)

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The other is a scene that always seems to bring a smile to the face of anyone who see it.  That’s the scene where a zombie gets into a fight with a shark while Auretta Gay swims nearby.  Again, it’s a bit ludicrous but it’s also incredibly effective.  If nothing else, it invites us to wonder how — if a shark can’t beat a zombie — can there be any hope for humanity?

The answer, of course, is that there isn’t.  Ultimately, in the world of Fulci’s film, whether by causes natural or unnatural, we’re all destined to become one of the zombies.

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(This review is cross-posted over at Fourth-Day Universe where all of October has been Zombie Month!)

 

Horror on TV: Night Gallery 3.10 “She’ll Be Company For You”


Janet


In this episode of The Night Gallery, Leonard Nimoy plays a widower who is happy to be rid of his invalid wife. However, he then gets a cat who doesn’t seem to like him. And who can turn into a leopard and a tiger at will…


I just like this episode because it features a kitty!


Review: Valknacht – Le Sacrifice d’Ymir


Valknacht is a five-piece paganish metal band from Quebec that have released three albums beginning in 2009–not to be confused with Walknut, the highly acclaimed side-project of Stringsskald from Темнозорь (Temnozor). I suppose I grabbed this album for an obvious reason: it presented a pagan tag from a relatively new act I had never heard of. With the folk and pagan metal scene now fifteen years in the making, a lot of the old stalwarts are simply running low on material. I am always hoping to stumble upon a new collaboration willing to pick up the slack and carry one of my favorite genres onward into a new era. Valknacht could be that band, but it’s going to take some work.

Valknacht – Bataille de Maldon, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

The album begins with a 3 minute intro track that I’ll not bother sampling here. You already know what it sounds like. Oars splash through the sea in time with viking voices oooing and OOOing and sometimes aaahhing. Break and repeat with some overbearing choral and brass synth, throw in a gong for good measure, and you will find yourself in the opening moments of “Bataille de Maldon”. Add a dash of synth woodwind, queue the crunch crunch crunch monotone guitar, and remind your drummer to make it metal in a few more measures. The black metal at 2:05 gives us a well-needed boost, and from there the song transitions to something that ought to be really, really cool. 2:40 made me think of Nokturnal Mortum’s “The New Era of Swords” from Weltanschauung, and for about one minute “Bataille de Maldon” is a song I really want to listen to. But the segment soon gives way to something fairly indistinguishable from what came before.

For the vast, vast majority of this 9:30 song, what you hear is an endless rain of double bass, rhythm guitar that only knows two patterns and three chords, a cheap synth whistle that’s totally unconvincing as the real deal, an admittedly interesting lead guitar, and total synth overkill plugging in every gap, sometimes doubled up with layers of “OOOOOOOOO”.

Yet, this could have all worked out really well. This band surely listened to a lot of Moonsorrow, and the string portion of the synth gets playfully close to Nokturnal Mortum at times. But the rest of the synth is just bad. It feels so fake. They use bold brass like they’re Equilibrium or Turisas, but the music isn’t nearly bombastic enough to merit it. The woodwinds have no depth, no air, no punctuation… Аркона (Arkona) is about the only band I can think of that pulls off fake woodwinds effectively (unless others are doing it so well I take them for studio musicians), and they must have much higher-end equipment than Valknacht at their disposal to do it with. It would have been nothing for one of the band members to pick up a whistle and record it proper. The vocals get really annoying really quickly for lack of dynamics or anything interesting to encase them. And the song goes on and on and on without ever adding much of anything. By 3:10 we’ve pretty much heard everything, and there’s next to nothing in the form of build-up or break until we hit a sudden transition at 8 minutes into an admittedly solid finale.

So, am I going to say anything good about this album? Surprisingly, yes. Quite a lot actually.

Valknacht – Le carmin des anges, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

The tragedy of Le Sacrifice d’Ymir is that just about anyone listening to this album will get the same impression that I did for its first 13 minutes. How many will keep listening? Few, I suspect, and it’s a shame because by the end this album is sounding pretty damn solid. “Le carmin des anges” is the closing track. It should have been the opening. Here is a song that cuts out all of the bullshit and condenses everything I did like about “Bataille de Maldon” into a much more manageable 5 minute package. The term “trying” drops back down my throat, and I hear some really badass Windir licks connected by groovy breaks and synth again reminiscent of Noktrunal Mortum. Thorleïf’s vocals do a total 360, and his previously dull deeper bellows sound epic when juxtaposed and then overlaid with higher-pitched rabid black metal screams.

The collective sound really works here, too. The Moonsorrow vibe they were going for in “Bataille de Maldon” flopped for a far-too-excessive attempt to be epic. That sort of music is meant to sound earthy, and the synth swarm just made it seem cheap and fake. On “Le carmin des anges”, a lot of the frivolous choral and brass sounds are gone, and what remains works far better with the Windir vibe they’re getting at.

Valknacht – Le sacrifice d’Ymir, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

You didn’t have to wait until the last track to find this though. The third, “Chants de guerre”, carries an infinitely more successful Moonsorrow vibe than the song before it. The woodwind’s fakeness is barely significant because the loop it plays is more of an unnatural Falkenbach chant than a harmony. Thorleïf’s full vocal range finally comes into play, and there is way more Windir-esque black metal–a sound they do right. Track 4, “Sur les ruines de Rome”, throws in some seemingly female screams and spoken lines that feel kind of reminiscent of Masha from Arkona, and could be a guest musician or further testament to Thorleïf’s range. (Liner notes for this album have been hard to come by.) As if Masha had been on their minds, track 5, “Le sacrifice d’Ymir”, feels pretty “slava!”, with some frantic whistle and guitar tapping. I had good cause to doubt another 10 minute track, but there is so much more going on here than in “Bataille de Maldon”. Thorleïf’s vocal dynamics alone are enough to make the overdrawn passages–and there are certainly a few–way less dull, the lead guitarist keeps up that Windir kick he’s proven pretty good at, that obnoxious rhythm guitar from the opener is all but missing, mixed down from a nuisance to its proper role and a background accessory.

“De murmures et de givre” starts nice but regrettably returns to a lot of the mistakes of “Bataille de Maldon”–a 7 minute track that could have probably made its point in three and a half. “Que le sang constelle mes mains” gives us our first and last taste of some accordion. Though its synthetic generation is painfully obvious, it does kick off with a melody pleasantly reminiscent of Finsterforst. Again though, the song drones on way too long with boring “I’m going to growl, you chugga-chug, and you hit a whole bunch of notes at once on your keyboard” moments.

So what’s the verdict? I think that this band either ran out of material and had to generate a few filler tracks, or else the minds behind it have some differences of opinion on how they ought to sound and they tried to accommodate everyone. Over all, fans of Windir will find plenty of moments to swoon over, and Moonsorrow die-hards will be modestly entertained. I got a Nokturnal Mortum vibe in some of the synth string utilization and rhythm guitar breakdowns, but not nearly enough to satisfy, and it has to take second stage to a lot of derivative crap. These guys have enormous potential, and they’re relatively young by band standards. I think the inclusion of “Bataille de Maldon” in its present state–at all let alone as the not-so-grand opener–is a little suspect. It would be nice to hear some session musicians for the folk instrumentation, or at least a better keyboard. And they really need to do something about song lengths relative to content. I will have long forgotten Le Sacrifice d’Ymir this time next year, but I won’t forget to check out their future releases. Turisas rose from a totally generic sound to release one of the best albums in folk metal. So did Finsterforst. Valknacht are certainly capable of becoming a band I could fall in love with.

6 Bloodsucking Trailers For Halloween


Here is today’s special Halloween edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers!  For today’s edition, the Trailer Kitties took a special trip to old Transylvania.  Let’s see what they brought back!

1) Dracula (1931)

2) Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

3) Son of Dracula (1943)

4) House of Dracula (1945)

5) Horror of Dracula (1958)

6) Son of Dracula (1973)

What do you think, Trailer Kitty?

Bad trailer kitty!

Bad trailer kitty!

Horror On The Lens: The Pit (dir by Lew Lehman)


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For today’s horror on the lens, we have an odd little Canadian horror film from 1981.

The Pit tells the story of 12 year-old Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders, giving a genuinely creepy performance), a weird kid who lives in rural Wisconsin.  Jame is an outcast who is regularly picked on by the other kids.  His only friend is a teddy bear with whom he has regular conversations and yes, Teddy does talk back.

One day, Jamie comes across a pit out in the middle of the woods.  The pit is full of cannibalistic monsters.  Jamie quickly takes a liking to them and starts to bring them raw meat.  However, Teddy has a better idea.  Maybe Jamie could start feeding them people…

In the original script, both Teddy and the monsters were supposed to be figments of Jamie’s imagination.  However, director Lew Lehman made the decision to make the monsters real and to keep the audience guessing as far as Teddy was concerned.  The end result is a very odd film about a very odd kid.

And you can watch it below!

(Warning: Though this film is tame by our standards, it would still probably be considered to be NSFW.)