Horror Book Review: Book of the Dead by Jamie Russell


If you’re still making out your Halloween movie list, might I suggest that you pick up a copy of Jamie Russell’s Book of the Dead?  Because, seriously — what’s a Halloween movie night without a few zombies thrown into the mix?

Book of the Dead is comprehensive study of the history of zombie cinema, starting with a look at how the legend of the zombie first began and then progressing through White Zombie, the dead films of George Romero, the great Italian zombie films of Lucio Fulci, and finally moving all the way to the modern era.  Scary zombies, funny zombies, porno zombies, political zombies, underwater zombies, French zombies; they’re all here!  It’s a well-written book, one that was clearly written by somebody who not only loves the movies in general but zombie films in specific.  Russell seems to be having so much fun writing about these films that it’s impossible not to share his enthusiasm.

Even better, the book contains a comprehensive appendix that lists and reviews basically every zombie film ever made!  Seriously, there all here — from the obscure to famous.  When I first started to seriously study the history of horror cinema, Book of the Dead was one of the first resources that I purchased and I used to obsessively study that appendix.  It’s thanks to this book that I discovered films like I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain.  It was thanks to this book that I discovered that there was more to zombie cinema than just corpses eating brains.

This book was originally published in 2005 and, at that time, basically went up to the Resident Evil-era of zombie films.  Subsequent editions have been updated with even more zombie films and even more zombie reviews!  This is the perfect book for all of your undead needs!

 

Horror Scenes that I Love: Checking Out The Boat in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2


The scene below comes from the 1979 Lucio Fulci masterpiece, Zombi 2.

In this scene, a mysterious boat is floating towards New York City.  Two cops are sent to check the boat out and, as they eventually discover, the boat isn’t quite as deserted as they thought it was.

Now, there’s a few reasons why this scene is important.  Number one, Zombi 2 is an Italian film that was designed to pass for an American film.  (Technically, it was sold as being a prequel to Dawn of the Dead, which was released under the title Zombi in much of Europe.)  In order to maintain the illusion, Italian filmmakers would often spend a day or two shooting on location in a recognizable American city.  More often than not, that city would turn out to be New York.

Number two, since Zombi 2 was promoted as being a bit of a prequel to Dawn of the Dead, one could argue that this scene shows how the whole zombie apocalypse began in the United States.  It wasn’t radiation from space or Hell running out of room.  No, instead, it was juts a boat floating from an island in the Caribbean all the way to New York.

This scene is also memorable because of the “boat zombie,” who is one of the best-known of the movie zombies.  Even people who have never heard of Lucio Fulci will probably recognize the boat zombie.  He’s an icon of the undead!

Finally, this scene sets up one of the greatest closing shots in the history of zombie cinema.  New York beware!

SyFy Film Review: Zombie Tidal Wave (dir by Anthony C. Ferrante)


“Fire up the wood chipper!  It’s feeding time!”

So announces Hunter Shaw (Ian Ziering) towards the end of Zombie Tidal Wave, proving once again that any film, regardless of genre or tone, is automatically made a hundred times better by stuffing someone in a wood chipper.  Or, in this case, several zombies.  Needless to say, there’s soon blood and chunks of blue skin flying everywhere.  It’s messy but, when you’re being attacked by zombies, you do what you have to do.

SyFy advertised Zombie Tidal Wave as being from “some of the people behind Sharknado” and this film definitely shares the same sensibility as the first Sharknado film.  What’s often forgotten is that the first Sharknado film was not quite the all-out parody that the later films in the series eventually became.  It was definitely a comedy but, at the same time, there weren’t any celebrity cameos and David Hasselhoff didn’t end up in space.  Instead, it took a ludicrous idea — sharks in a tornado — and then presented it with just a hint of self-awareness.

Zombie Tidal Wave does the same thing.  As a result, you do get Ian Ziering delivering one-liners, like the one at the start of this review.  And the entire film is full of references to other zombie films.  For instance, there’s a band called The Fulcis and the first zombie to appears bears a distinct resemblance to the boat zombie from Zombi 2.  The many scenes of zombies rising from the ocean will remind veteran zombie fans of Shock Waves.  When the zombies invade a hospital, I was reminded of the infamous Hell of the Living Dead.  But, at the same time, Zombie Tidal Wave plays things relatively straight.  Zombies invade.  People get bitten.  Some people sacrifice themselves for the good of the other survivors.  Zombie Tidal Wave has its moments of humor but it never becomes an out-and-out parody.

Why are zombies washing up on the shores of an island community?  Well, it’s because of an earthquake, one that’s unleashed a horde of the undead.  Hunter Shaw is a fisherman and perhaps the most respected citizen of the besieged community.  Naturally, it falls upon him to not only bring everyone together but also to figure out how to defeat the zombies.  To be honest, it really is a typical SyFy movie, which a handful of characters spending most of the film looking for each other while trying to stay alive and then eventually banding together to battle the threat.  Some people, like Hunter and his wife (Cheree Cassidy) rise to the challenge.  Others, like the rich white guy in the pink shirt, don’t.  Personally, my favorite character was Taani (Angie Teodora Dick) because she grabbed a pointed stick as soon as the invasion began and spent the entire movie kicking zombie ass.  GO TAANI!

Anyway, as a lifelong fan of zombie movies, I enjoyed Zombie Tidal Wave.  It didn’t waste any time getting to the zombie action and really, that’s the important thing isn’t it?  The pace was quick and, as he did in Sharknado, Ian Ziering played the grim hero with the right mix of sincerity and horror.  I don’t know if Zombie Tidal Wave is going to launch a Sharknado-style franchise or not but it was still an entertaining SyFy film.

Horror Film Review: It Stains The Sands Red (dir by Colin Minihan)


So, imagine this scenario.

The world’s ending, again.  The city that you once called home — in this case, Las Vegas — is on fire.  Hordes of zombies are attacking the living and it seems like even the people who have, up until now, survived the undead have still allowed their worst instincts to take over.  The military is opening fire on anyone that they come across and scavengers, both living and not, are all over the place.

Your boyfriend, Nick, has a way to escape.  His lowlife buddies have a plane ready to go.  They’re just waiting for him to show up, mostly because he’s bringing the drugs.  His friends, of course, could hardly care less about you but, as long as you show up with Nick, you know that you’ll be able to escape with them.  Unfortunately, Nick is now dead.  His throat was ripped open by a zombie.

So, now, you’re walking across the Nevada desert and you’re just trying to make it to the airfield without getting killed.  It’s over a 100 degrees out.  You’re not sure where you’re going.  You’re not dressed for a desert journey.  You’re haunted by memories of your son.  Though you’re smarter than people give you credit for being, you have no desert survival skills.  Meanwhile, the same zombie that killed Nick is staggering along behind you, hoping to get a chance to do the same to you.

And, just in case this week wasn’t bad enough, you’re also on your period and you have exactly one tampon.

That’s the situation in which Molly (played by Brittany Allen) finds herself in the 2017 zombie film, It Stains The Sands Red.  As Molly makes her way through the desert, she finds herself becoming cautiously attached to the zombie pursuing her, a zombie that she nicknames Smalls (and who is played by Juan Reidinger).  It makes sense, really.  For most (though not all) of the movie, Smalls is the only other creature around.  Who else is Molly going to talk to?  It also helps that, being a walking corpse, Smalls can’t interrupt her while she’s speaking or dismiss her concerns out-of-hand.  When you compare him to the living people that Molly meets, a group that includes two redneck rapists and a few trigger-happy soldiers, it’s easy to view Smalls as being harmless.

Or, at least, it’s easy to view him that way until he gets too close and tries to bite off your finger.

I had mixed feelings about It Stains The Sands Red.  It’s an extremely uneven film, one that is sometimes quite clever and even empowering and sometimes rather forgettable.  Molly’s monologues bring a welcome feminist sensibility to the zombie genre and there’s a clever scene in which she uses a bloody tampon to distract her zombie stalker.  And yet, it’s indicative of both the film’s strengths and its weaknesses that the scene with the tampon is played as much for shock value than as an example of Molly’s resourcefulness.  The film is full of scenes in which we see that Molly has somehow managed to slow down or subdue Smalls but we’re always left wondering how she managed to get close enough to him without getting attacked.  Smalls’s effectiveness as a zombie seems to change from scene-to-scene, depending on the needs of the narrative.

And yet, there’s one thing that I greatly appreciated about It Stains The Sands Red and that was the character of Molly.  As soon as you see her snorting cocaine while wearing her leopard-print leggings, her pleather halter top, and her fake fur, you know that Molly is the type of character who usually dies within the first 15 minutes of a film like this.  Instead, Molly not only survives the first 15 minutes but she goes on to repeatedly show that she’s far more determined and intelligent than anyone in the viewing audience originally gave her credit for being.  She emerges as a compelling and determined survivor, one who refuses to surrender to either the desert or its predators.  Molly is the type of strong female character that horror fans like me have always wanted to see in a film like this.  She elevates It Stains The Sands Red above its flaws and makes the film worth watching.  In the role of Molly, Brittany Allen brings life to this film about the dead.

 

Here’s The New Red Band Trailer For The Dead Don’t Die


I know that I should probably be more excited about The Dead Don’t Die, the upcoming zombie comedy film from Jim Jarmusch.

I mean, after all, Jim Jarmusch has made some brilliant films and I enjoyed his take on vampires, Only Lovers Left Alive.  Add to that, the film is full of wonderful actors, people like Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, and Tilda Swinton.  And yet, for whatever reason, I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for The Dead Don’t Die.  Everything that I’ve seen about it so far just seems to add up to one big “meh.”

Maybe it’s just the fact that there’s seems to be a new zombie movie every week.  Seriously, zombies were a lot more interesting before they went mainstream.

Anyway, The Dead Don’t Die opened the Cannes Film Festival yesterday and the response so far has been rather lukewarm, if respectful of the fact that the film was directed by a very important filmmaker.  Reading the reviews, you get the feeling that it’s a film that the reviewers wanted to like more than they actually did.

To coincide with the Cannes premiere, here’s a new redband trailer!  You can watch it below.  Maybe it’ll leave you with a bit more enthusiasm than it does me.

The Dead Don’t Die comes to theaters on June 14th.

Horror on the Lens: Night of the Living Dead (dir by George Romero)


Happy Halloween everyone!

Well, as another horrorthon draws to a close, it’s time for another Shattered Lens tradition!  Every Halloween, we share one of the greatest and most iconic horror films ever made.  For your Halloween enjoyment, here is George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead!

(Be sure to read Arleigh’s equally famous review!)

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.