Halloween Havoc!: ZOMBIE (Variety Film 1979)

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I’ll admit, I’m a latecomer to the Lucio Fulci bandwagon. I viewed my first film by The Maestro, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY , earlier this year, and absolutely loved it! I’ve been looking for more Fulci films to discover ever since, and recently recorded his most famous, ZOMBIE, off the El Rey Network (which I highly recommend to Grindhouse fans out there). ZOMBIE goes by many names, but this is the title I watched it under, so we’ll stick with that.

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From that opening shot of a gun pointed at the camera, then blasting the head of a rising corpse, I knew I was in for a good time! After the credits roll, we see a derelict ship floating in New York harbor. The harbor patrol boards it, and find it deserted, with rotting food and supplies strewn everywhere. One of the cops investigates further, and is killed by a zombie, who jumps overboard. The boat is owned by Dr. Bowles, and his daughter Anne is questioned by the police. Anne is played by Tisa Farrow, who looks like her sister Mia but isn’t quite as talented. Later that night, Anne sneaks onboard to look for clues, when she’s startled by reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), who has found a letter from her dad to her, telling of contracting a “strange disease” on the Caribbean island of Matul. West’s paper pays for the pair to fly to St. Thomas and make their way to the mysterious, unchartered island.

Meanwhile on Matul, we’re introduced to Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson of THE HAUNTING ) and his alcoholic wife Paola (Olga Karlatos). Menard’s the guy behind the gun in the prolog, and Paola is pretty bitter about what’s going on. It’s seems the good doctor’s experiments involve native voodoo, and she wants to leave this island of terror, but Menard insists on staying. Paola rants and raves at him, earning herself a punch in the face!

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Peter and Anne meet a couple, Brad and Susan (Al Cliver, Auretta Gay) about to embark on a two-month fishing vacation. Peter tells them his and Anne’s destination, and Brad responds that Matul is “not a cool place to head, natives claim it’s cursed, avoid it like the plague”, but reluctantly agrees to drop them off. Susan decides to take some underwater pictures while out at sea, and strips down to a thong before putting on her scuba gear. Topless scuba diving… sure, why not! While below, Susan encounters a shark, and then an underwater zombie, and now comes my favorite scene- Zombie vs Shark in the deep blue sea! I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s handled well, and I got a big kick out of it.

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Meanwhile back on Matul, the zombies are running rampant. Paola, alone in the house, tries to fend one off, struggling mightily to KEEP THAT DOOR SHUT as the undead thing attempts to break on through to the other side. Smashing the door panel, the beast grabs her hair and pulls Paola closer, hungry for some flesh. As it pulls her closer and closer, we see a large splinter of wood heading straight for her eyeball… then get jammed right through it in a terrifyingly gruesome scene that’s as gross as it sounds!

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Our intrepid quartet has finally made it to Matul, where Menard informs them of “the disease” ravaging the isle. The natives call it voodoo, but the doctor believes there must be some kind of scientific explanation, and is determined to find it. He lends them his Jeep to go check on Paola, where they find the living dead feasting on her corpse. They hightail it out in the Jeep and hit a zombie in the road, knocking them off the road and wrecking it. Making their way through the jungle, they stop to rest in what turns out to be an old Spanish Conquistador graveyard, where the rotting corpses begin to rise from the dead. A worm-eye-filled zombie snatches Susan and rips her throat out. Our remaining heroes have no choice but to leave her dead body in the graveyard and flee for their lives.

The zombies have now overrun Matul, and everyone holes up in Menard’s makeshift hospital, a former church. Now the gorefest truly begins, as the zombies keep coming in droves, the heroes battle back with guns and Molotov cocktails, and things escalate to epic proportions. Zombified Susan takes a chunk out of Brian’s arm before the whole enchilada goes up in flames, and Peter, Anne, and Brian make it back to the boat. They lock him below and head for New York to warn the populace, but it seems they’re a bit too late, as a radio broadcast alerts them the zombies have taken over The Big Apple: “They’ve entered the building… they’re at the door… ARRRGGGHHH!!”

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ZOMBIE is beautifully shot and framed by Fulci and DP Sergio Salvati, with some breathtaking photography amidst all the carnage. The pace is frantic and exciting, and you’ll be glued to your seats following all the action. Fabio Frizzi’s score sets the tone, and those incessant voodoo drumbeats add to the overall mood. Anyone new to Lucio Fulci should start with ZOMBIE, which many claim is his masterpiece. But I wouldn’t know, being fairly new to him myself. I’ve got much more Fulci to discover… CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is sitting in my DVR even as we speak!

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 6: All-Star Horror Edition!

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As many of you Dear Readers know by now, classic horror has always been my favorite genre. From the Universal Monsters to Bug-Eyed Aliens to Freddie Krueger and friends (fiends?), a good scary movie is a good time! Even a bad scary movie can be fun, if I’m in the right mood. So here are six (count ’em), yes six horror films I’ve recently watched, with some great horror actors and directors at their best (and worst!):

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MIRACLES FOR SALE

(MGM 1939, D: Tod Browning)

The first great horror director, Browning teamed with Lon Chaney Sr. in the silent era to shock audiences with films like LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT and THE UNHOLY THREE. He kicked off the Golden Age of Sound Horror with DRACULA, followed by the controversial FREAKS. MIRACLES FOR SALE was his last film, and while it’s more of a locked-room mystery, it’s loaded with those bizarre Browning touches. Robert Young stars as The Great Morgan, ex-stage magician who now devises tricks for others, in this occult-flavored whodunit involving a beautiful blonde damsel in distress, a phony mystic, a demonologist’s murder, and magic tricks aplenty. There’s some chills to be had here, and Browning fans will enjoy seeing the old master at play one last time. (Fun Fact: Universal horror vets Henry Hull (WEREWOLF OF LONDON) and Gloria Holden (DRACULA’S DAUGHTER) play key roles in the mystery.)

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SCARED TO DEATH

(Screen Guild 1947, D: Christy Cabanne)

Move over, Ed Wood…this may very well be the worst movie ever! A dead woman on a morgue slab narrates the tale of how she died. The story’s told in flashback, with occasional annoying cuts back to the corpse for a brief sentence. Bad acting, non-existent direction, rotten writing…even the cheap Cinecolor process is atrocious. Horror icons Bela Lugosi and George Zucco are wasted, as are character actors Douglas Fowley, Nat Pendleton, and Joyce Compton.  And I have no idea what midget actor Angelo Rossito is supposed to be doing except being a midget! SCARED TO DEATH may bore you to death! (Fun Fact: It’s your only chance to see Lugosi in a color film…but don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

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FRANKENSTEIN 1970

(Allied Artists 1958, D: Howard W. Koch)

Boris Karloff  plays a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein instead of the monster in this quickie. A television crew visits Castle Frankenstein to shoot footage for the 250th anniversary of The Monster’s creation. There’s a strong Hammer influence, as we see onscreen body parts, though they’re kept in a fridge and gotten rid of via garbage disposal! Karloff slices up the ham pretty thick here, but the spooky atmosphere and some creepy scenes almost make up for his overacting (almost). The King has done far better films, but this one’s OK for a rainy day with nothing better to do. (Fun Fact: Former cowboy star Donald “Red” Barry plays the obnoxious TV director.)

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THE VALLEY OF GWANGI

(Warner Bros 1969, D: James O’Connelly)

This sci-fi-Western hybrid is much more fun than the recent COWBOYS & ALIENS, thanks to the genius of special effects master Ray Harryhausen . A failing Wild West Show  travelling through Mexico stumbles upon the Forbidden Valley, where prehistoric dinosaurs still roam the Earth, and capture a T-Rex in this film that owes a lot to KING KONG . James Franciscus loses his Texas accent about halfway through, Gila Golan’s Israeli accent had to be dubbed, and Lawrence Naismith camps it up as a British paleontologist, but it’s not about the acting, it’s about those marvelous Harryhausen monsters. Always fun to see his Dynamation dinosaurs engage in a roaring battle. A good if not great little gem. (Fun Fact: 50’s sci-fi icon Richard Carlson (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE ) plays rodeo boss Champ in his last film role.)

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SHOCK

(Laser Films 1977, D: Mario Bava)

Mario Bava directed some classic Italian horror and giallo films (BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE…hmm, I sense a pattern here!) and his last, SHOCK, is an eerie and uncomfortable thriller about a creepy little kid (David Colin Jr of BEYOND THE DOOR) who’s possessed by the spirit of his dead junkie father and tries to drive his mother crazy. Bava’s familiar themes of sex, death, and horror are in play, as is his eccentric cinema wizardry.  A truly twisted swan song from one of the world’s most unique filmmakers, well worth checking out. (Fun Fact: Daria Nicolodi who plays the mother, is the real-life mother of actress/director/cult figure Asia Argento)

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THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY

(Fulcia Film 1981, D: Lucio Fulci)

Believe it or not, this was my first time viewing a Lucio Fulci film. It won’t be the last!! THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY took me back to the days when I’d go see movies like DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, great loopy masterpieces of cinema schlock. A family rents a home in a quaint suburban Boston town while the husband completes some research by a colleague who committed suicide. Unfortunately, the house is still occupied by Dr. Freudstein, a disgraced (and deceased) turn-of-the-century surgeon who lives off his victim’s body parts. There’s gore galore and plenty of frights to be had here, and Fulci does a good job with the New England atmosphere, including nods to local supermarket giant Stop & Shop. And that scene with the bat scared the piss outta me! (Fun Fact: this was the final entry in Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy…you know I’ll be looking for the other two!)

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