The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Diary of the Dead (dir by George Romero)


I have to admit that I was a little bit hesitant about watching the 2007 film, Diary of the Dead.

It wasn’t that I don’t like zombie movies.  In fact, it was the complete opposite.  I love zombie films and Night of the Living Dead is one of my favorites.  George Romero, of course, went on to make several sequels to Night of the Living DeadDawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead are certifiable horror classics.  However, I had heard mixed things about the two zombie films that Romero directed after Land of the Dead.  Seeing as how Diary of the Dead was Romero’s second-to-last film before he passed away in 2017, I was worried that I would watch the film and discover that I hated it.  I didn’t want experience anything that would tarnish Romero’s cinematic legacy.  It didn’t help my expectations that Diary of the Dead is a found footage film and the conventions of the found footage genre tend to get on my last nerve.

(Seriously, nothing makes me throw a shoe at a screen quicker than the sound of someone in a horror movie saying, “Are you filming this?”)

But you know what?

I did watch Diary of the Dead and it’s actually not bad.  It may not reach the heights of Romero’s other zombie films but it’s definitely a worthwhile companion piece.  It opens with news reports about the start of the zombie apocalypse, meaning that Diary of the Dead is meant to take place at roughly the same time as Night of the Living Dead.  (Never mind that Diary of the Dead is full of references to YouTube and blogs and other things that most people probably couldn’t even imagine when Night of the Living Dead first came out.)  A group of film students are in the woods, filming a terrible mummy movie when they first hear reports of the dead coming back to life.  Some say that there’s no way it could be true.  Others say that something must be happening but surely the dead aren’t actually coming back to life.  They soon discover that the dead have indeed returned.

We follow the students as they travel across Pennsylvania, trying to find a place that’s safe from the Dead and discovering that there’s literally no such place left in America.  Along the way, they also discover that the government has no intention of telling the people the truth about what’s happening.  In fact, a group of national guardsmen turn out to be just as dangerous as the zombies.  In their efforts to survive, the students are forced to rely on an underground network of bloggers and video makers.

Diary of the Dead has all of the usual zombie mayhem that you would expect from a film like this but, at the same time, it’s got a lot more on its mind than just the dead returning to life.  Much as he did with Land Of The Dead, Romero uses Diary of the Dead to comment on the state of America under the Patriot Act.  With the government using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and increase their own power, the film’s characters are forced to depend on new and independent information sources.  It’s not hard to see the parallel that Romero is making between the War on the Living Dead and the War on Terror.  As well, making all of the characters film students allows for some discussion about whether or not horror films should simply concentrate on being scary or whether they should also attempt to deal with real-world issues.  The film leaves little doubt where Romero came down on that issue.

On the negative side, Diary of the Dead struggles a bit to overcome the limitations of its low budget and none of the characters are as compelling as Ben in Night of the Living Dead or Fran in Dawn of the Dead.  At times, you find yourself wishing that Diary of the Dead featured just one actor who was as into their role as Duane C. Jones or Ken Foree were in Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, respectively.  But Diary of the Dead still features enough zombies and enough of Romero’s trademark political subtext to be an acceptable addition to Romero’s vision of the apocalypse.

Book Review: Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna


It’s been a few months since I read Room to Dream and I’m still thinking about it.  It’s definitely one of the most fascinating and frustrating Hollywood memoirs that I’ve ever read.

It’s fascinating because the book is not only about David Lynch but it’s also by him.  Lynch, in his own words, tells us about his childhood, his time as an art student, his struggle to complete Eraserhead, and all the rest.  He tells us about directing some of the greatest British thespians of all time in The Elephant Man and also shares with us the frustrations of directing Dune.  He tells us about Twin Peaks and how Mulholland Drive went from being a rejected pilot to being an award-winning film.

All of the familiar stories are here.  He tells us about the time when he was a child and he saw a naked and bloodied woman stumbling down the street.  (This image would later reappear in Blue Velvet.)  We hear about how he was essentially homeless while directing Eraserhead and how, during the casting of Blue Velvet, Dennis Hopper called him up and announced that he was Frank Booth.  Not surprisingly, Lynch writes extensively about the importance of meditation in both his life and his art.

At the same time, there’s also a lot of new stuff in this book.  Did you ever want to know who Lynch believes to have been behind the Kennedy assassination?  Well, it’s right there in the first chapter.  Want to know how Lynch actually feels about using drugs as a creative aide?  It’s in there.  Did you know that among the films that David Lynch has been offered (and turned down) were Return of the Jedi, American Beauty, Tender Mercies, and The Ring?  You do now.  He writes about his occasionally difficult but very real friendship with actor Jack Nance.  He writes about some of the legendary actors and producers that he’s met and what’s interesting is that he rarely has a bad word to say about anyone.  Even when he writes about how difficult Anthony Hopkins was on the set of the The Elephant Man, Lynch still allows that Hopkins may have just been dealing with stuff in his own life.  Lynch comes across as being as generous, artistic, and eccentric as you would hope that he would.

Clocking in at over 600 pages, the book has an interesting format.  The book is divided into sections, each one dealing with a different period of Lynch’s life.  Each section opens with Kristine McKenna discussing what was happening in Lynch’s life at the time and interviewing Lynch’s friends and collaborators.  It’s only after McKenna has given us the facts of what was going on in Lynch’s life that Lynch then gives us his interpretation and recollections of the facts.  It makes for a challenging but often interesting read.  One thing that immediately becomes clear is that Lynch is far more comfortable talking about his art than talking about his relationships with other people.  Lynch comes across as being the epitome of the artist who spend almost of all of his time in his own head.  Room to Dream gives us a chance to see the world through Lynch’s eyes and he tends to remember most of the events of his life as if they were just another atmospheric scene in one of his movies.

Lynch discusses his work with such enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to get carried away with him.  At that same time, this is not the book to read if you’re expecting Lynch to explain what’s going on underneath the surface of some of his more surrealistic films.  If you’re expecting Lynch to explain why Bill Pullman turns into Balthazar Getty in Lost Highway, you’ll be disappointed.  If you’re expecting Lynch to explain what’s real and what isn’t in Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire, it’s not going to happen.  And if you’re expecting to understand the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return after reading Room to Dream, you’re out of luck.  If anything, Lynch seems like even more of an enigma, albeit an incredibly likable enigma, after you read Room To Dream than before.

And yes, it can be frustrating but you know what?  That’s okay.  In fact, it seems appropriate.  The brilliance of David Lynch lies in the mystery.  When I first heard about Room to Dream, I feared that Lynch would reveal too much and the mystery would be lost.  Instead, it’s even more fascinating than ever.

Horror On TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.13 “Primal Scream” (dir by Robert Scheerer)


Tonight on Kolchak….

What happens when an oil company discovers new, undefined organic matter in the arctic circle?

Well, first off, they mishandle it and it ends up turning into a prehistoric, killer ape-man.

Secondly, it’s time for a corporate cover-up!

Fortunately, the world’s greatest (if unluckiest) journalist, Carl Kolchak, is on the case!

Anyway, this is an okay episode of Kolchak.  If I don’t seem as enthused about it as I’ve been about some of the previous episodes, it’s because a killer, prehistoric ape-man just isn’t as much fun as a Cajun demon or a killer robot.  Still, this episode has a nicely done, underground tunnel-set climax.  Seriously, you can’t go wrong with an underground tunnel.

This episode originally aired on January 17th, 1975.

Enjoy!

Like Nothing Else Before, Or Nothing Else That Ever Will Be : Mike Taylor’s “Late Era Clash” #27


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

So-called “creative types” have been using their art to process loss since time immemorial, but seldom does it come across as raw, as unfettered, and yet as understated as it does in the pages of issue 27 of veteran cartoonist/illustrator Mike Taylor’s Late Era Clash. Between these two-color riso covers (interior pages also coming off a riso, but in stark black and white) is an unmediated primal scream delivered at whisper-quite volume in response to a silent and gaping void of nothingness, as large and as unfathomable as the universe itself.

Here’s the thing, though : it was all supposed to be something entirely different.

When Taylor started work on this ‘zine in 2015 (it’s just starting to get some distribution today, though) his idea was to throw the veil off his artistic process — and those early pages survive, complete with his ever-present, insistent questioning of his tools…

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Horror Scenes That I Love: Francoise Pascal Dances In A Cemetery in Jean Rollin’s the Iron Rose


The Iron Rose (1973, dir by Jean Rollin)

Today’s horror scene that I love comes from the 1972 French film, The Iron Rose.  In this scene, directed by the great Jean Rollin, Francoise Pascal dances in a cemetery.  Why is she dancing?  Perhaps she is celebrating the fact her lover has just suffocated inside of the crypt that she locked him in.  Perhaps she’s just happy that a clown came by earlier and lay some flowers on a grave.  One can never be sure.  This entire sequence is Rollin at his best.

This is one of Rollin’s most enigmatic films, which is saying something when you consider just how dream-like the average Rollin film is.  It was Rollin’s fifth film and his first to not involve vampires.

 

4 Shots From 4 Jean Rollin Films: The Nude Vampire, The Iron Rose, Lips of Blood, Lost in New York


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, I pay tribute to my favorite French director with….

4 Shots From 4 Jean Rollin Films

The Nude Vampire (1970, dir by Jean Rollin)

The Iron Rose (1973, dir by Jean Rollin)

Lips of Blood (1975, dir by Jean Rollin)

Lost in New York (1989, dir by Jean Rollin)

Rebel Days: All-American Murder (1991, directed by Anson Williams)


Artie Logan (Charlie Schlatter) is a wannabe James Dean who keeps getting kicked out of school because he is such a rebel.  His father, a judge, gives Artie one more chance.  Artie can either enroll at Fairfield College or he can go to jail.  Artie chooses Fairfield, where he meets and falls for the beautiful and popular Tally Fuller (Josie Bissett).  However, no sooner does Artie show up for their first date than someone sets Tally on fire and crashes through a window.  Artie is the number one suspect but Detective P.J. Decker (Christopher Walken) still gives him 24 hours to solve the murder and clear his name.  Artie investigates and discovers that Tally was not the innocent, all-American girl that everyone thought she was.  This leads to a nudity-filled flashback that explains why All-American Murder was an HBO mainstay in the 90s.  It also leads to other people being murdered by snakes and hand grenades.

Despite some bloody murders and the presence of Walken and Joanna Cassidy in potentially interesting supporting roles, All-American Murder fails because it asks us to accept Charlie Schlatter as being a charismatic rebel.  When Joanna Cassidy tells him that he’s a “renegade,” not even she sounds like she believes it.  The murder mystery is intriguing but Artie is so obnoxious that you want him to go to prison whether he’s guilty or not.

All-American Murder was directed by Anson Williams, who is best known for playing Potsie on Happy Days.  The Fonz could have framed Ralph Malph for this murder in half the time that it takes Artie to solve it.