Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Title:  Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Director: Edward Wood Jr.

Cast: Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson


“You are interested in the unknown…the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here...” with these ominous words, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space opens, inviting us to enter into his imagination, deep into the cheesy recesses of b-movie territory. Some films are known for being bad; their call to fame is the fact that they are terrible films, i.e. badly written, acted and produced. This is the case with Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. Though of course  depending on who you ask; some will hail it as the best example of how NOT to make a film, while others will tell you it’s silly, campy, fun. I finally had the chance to see it after years and years of having it on my must watch list; and yeah, it’s a bad film, but it’s not without its charm. There are all kinds of mistakes left and right, every five seconds you can either see a boom mike pop up somewhere, an actor reading the script from his lap or the strings can be seen on the miniature flying saucers, but again, this is part of what makes Plan 9 from Outer Space such a fun film. 

Story revolves around a group of alien invaders who want to destroy the earth because they fear that the humans will create a doomsday device that can destroy the entirely galaxy, so in order to prevent this from happening, they put ‘Plan 9’ in motion. Plan 9 consists in resurrecting the dead so they can take over the earth and annihilate mankind and their destructive inclinations. These aliens are trying to protect the universe from us, so in a way, these aliens are benevolent in nature; just not towards us humans.

I gotta hand it to Ed Wood, the guy had his heart in the right place. He might not have had millions of dollars to make his movies, but it’s obvious that he had the creativity and the energy, the drive. He had a creative wealth of ideas. Here was a guy who was always writing, directing or producing something. You just get the feeling that he simply needed more money to put his ideas across in a better fashion, but that passion for telling stories was always there. He might not have been much of a filmmaker; but the guy wrote like a mad man! He didn’t write masterpieces either, but the crazy ideas would never stop coming. I personally think he was better as a writer of cheap sci-fi b movies and novels than at directing films. He produced and wrote many more films like Orgy of the Dead (1965) and The Bride of the Beast (1958), he even made some soft core porn! But it was Plan 9 from Outer Space which would go down in history as “the worst film ever made”. To be honest, I think calling Plan 9 worst movie ever is a bit harsh; there are far worse contenders for this title out there in movie land.

I won’t lie to you, yeah Plan 9 is badly produced and directed, not a second  goes by that you don’t see some incomprehensible image that has nothing to do with the film, a goof, a boom mike, a false wall moving, sometimes this kind of thing just makes me bust a gut laughing. For example in some scenes, Wood would mix scenes shots during the day in exteriors with scenes shot in a set, with a pitch black background, it’s moments like these that you begin to question his abilities as a filmmaker. There’s this other scene where a bunch of people are coming out of a crypt, because they were burying a friend, and it’s the smallest crypt I’ve ever seen! And if it’s not the stock footage of Russian military tanks (which are supposed to be American) that makes you laugh, then it’s the totally inane dialog. Now here’s where the real fun of the movie lies for me; that crazy ‘written in five minutes’ dialog! The film opens up with a psychic telling us that “future events will affect us in the future!” and he ends every sentence by calling the audience “my friends” about five times in less than a minute….now that’s some funny shit right there my friends!  My favorite is a dialog between two characters in which one tells the other “This is the most fantastic story I’ve ever heard!”  and the other guy says “And every word of it is true too” and the other guy replies “That’s the fantastic part of it!” Like I said, the dialog is hilarious stuff.

Obviously not Bela Lugosi! 

Ed Wood was a huge fan of the old Universal Monster movies, one of his favorites being Dracula (1931) which is the reason why he ended up using Lugosi in Plan 9. I’m sure Wood also wanted to have a star on his movie to pull in an audience and Lugosi with his vast experience certainly had that star power. This was Bela Lugosis’s final film, he doesn’t do much in it, in fact, he doesn’t even talk. Lugosi’s role in this film functions like a silent film. He simply weeps for his dead wife, who by the way according to the film was ‘Vampira’ and then he dies, off camera, only to be reborn as a zombie wearing the same exact attire he wore for Universal’s Dracula! I bet Ed Wood must’ve gotten a special kind of thrill having Lugosi in his full Dracula regalia on his film. In a strange twist of fate, I think there’s some sort of poetic justice that Lugosi dressed up as Dracula for his last performance on film. After all, Dracula was his most recognized role. About Lugosi’s participation in the film, it’s hilarious how Wood simply shot a bunch of random stuff with Lugosi, and then somehow found a way to squeeze it into Plan 9. Even funnier is that when he couldn’t use Lugosi, he would use this actor who would cover his face with the Dracula cape, to hide the fact that it wasn’t Lugosi! At the end of the day, the daftness of the production makes it endearing to watch. You get the feeling that everyone involved knew they were making a crappy movie, but they did it anyways. Or maybe it was all part of Ed Wood’s desire to spoof big budget sci-fi films? Maybe he did it all on purpose and the film is exactly what he wanted it to be? Watch the film and judge for yourself, but one thing I can assure you, you won’t be bored for a second, it’s a funny ride every step of the way. 
Rating: 2 out of 5

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

Title: I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Cast: Frances Dee, Edith Barrett, Tom Conway, James Ellison


As I work my way through all these old zombie movies I realize just how similar they all are. In my review for King of the Zombies (1941) I mentioned how similar it was to White Zombie (1931), but here I am again to tell you that I Walked With a Zombie is yet another film that shares an alarming amount of similarities with Bela Lugosi’s film. They all share similar scenes, situations, premises and characters. Again, we have a Voodoo Island, we get to hear drums in the jungle, we get the black slaves, the zombie bride, the sugar mill…but I will say this, I Walked With A Zombie is superior to all of these movies I’ve mentioned because it benefits from something that none of the others films had: producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur. The involvement of these two talented individuals is what makes I Walked With A Zombie one of the classiest zombie movies ever made, I know that sounds like a contradiction of sorts because who’d think a zombie movie could be classy right?

In I Walked With A Zombie we meet a nurse named Betsy who has just accepted a job in the West Indies as a nurse taking care of the sick wife of a rich land owner named Paul Holland. What ailment has stricken Mr. Holland’s wife? No one really knows, some think she’s affected by some sort of fever, others think she has a mental disorder, but if you ask the slaves they’ll tell you she’s been zombified! Who knows the truth of what really happened to Mrs. Holland?

Director Jacques Tourneur was a master in creating atmosphere in his films, I remember noting this when I first saw Night of theDemon (1957). There’s moments on that one that are genuinely creep where the supernatural seems almost like a real thing. Tourneur was a director that knew how important shadows are, the importance of having the wind blow against the leaves of a tree, the sound the wind makes and the importance of those eerie moments of silence. I Walked With a Zombie has many moments such as these and though the film plays with themes and premises I’d seen before in similar films, what set this one apart is the quality of the production, the performances, the cinematography; all these elements where top notch on I Walked With A Zombie in contrast to films like King of the Zombies and White Zombie, which can sometimes seem cheap and show their budgetary limitations. I Walked With A Zombie does not suffer from these problems, this is a top notch production, or at least it felt that way! 

A thing or two can be said about the titular zombie on this film, which is without a doubt in my mind the most beautiful zombie in all of zombie zinema. I mean I’ve seen sexy zombies, I’ve seen gross out zombies, I’ve seen many a walking bag of puss, but I’d never seen me a more beautiful zombie then the one depicted on this film. Edith Barret played the zombified bride, she doesn’t speak a word throughout the entire film, but she looks hauntingly beautiful. I love the way she looked as she walked in her white dress, the wind blowing on it…she has a haunting almost ghost-like quality to her. Tourneur really made an effort to make her feel as if she was a shell of a human being, an empty vessel.

Same as with Night of the Demon and Cat People (1942) (another awesome Jacques Tourneur film) for a huge chunk of the film, we are never really sure if the supernatural elements are real or not. I’ve always enjoyed that about Tourneur’s films; he always questions religion and the supernatural. Even if in the film eventually the supernatural ends up being real, for most of the film the existence of the supernatural and its validity in the real world is always put in question and explored. In Night of the Demon the main character is an incurable skeptic, a guy who only believes in reason and reality, the same happens in I Walked With A Zombie. Characters are always questioning Voodoo. Is it real? Should we be afraid of it? Is it real only in the mind of the people who believe in it? I love the fact that a film from the 40’s explored these themes with such honesty, this is a recurring thing in Tourneur’s films.

But in the end, even though this is a film that puts belief systems in question, the film doesn’t forget that what we want is to be spooked, and that it does well. There’s this amazing sequence where Betsy goes walking with the zombie girl and she immerses herself, slowly but surely, in the world of Voodoo. Great sequence, the imagery there is unforgettable for me, the mood, the ambiance, undisputed; Tourneur really was a master creating truly eerie moments. So in conclusion, this one is a real find. I Walked With A Zombie is one of the best of its kind. Out of all these zombies in a voodoo island films, I’d say it can only be challenged by White Zombie which is still my favorite because it’s more of a horror film. Even though this Jacques Tourneur zombie film has its spooky moments and memorable imagery, I’d see it as more of a tragic love story then a horror film. Still, this is without a doubt, a gem of Zombie Zinema, not to be missed!

Rating: 5 out of 5 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Frankenweenie (2012)

Title: Frankenweenie (2012)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Martin Landau, Wynona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short


Funny how Frankenweenie, the short film that got Tim Burton fired from Disney in 1984 is the very film that has now gotten remade and released theatrically by Disney themselves, oh how the tables have turned!  You see, once upon a time, Tim Burton was a fledgling filmmaker, trying to make it in the big bad film world. Burton worked as a conceptual artist for Disney in films like The Black Cauldron (1985) and as an animator in films like Tron (1982) and The Fox and the Hound (1981). When he was given the chance and the budget to produce and direct a short film for Disney, the company found the resulting film too dark/scary for kids, and so they shelved the original Frankenweenie which was supposed to play before the theatrical re-release of Pinocchio (1940). So as fate would have it, the original Frankenweenie never saw the light of day in theaters. But things began to look up for Mr. Burton when he hit it big with films like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and Beetlejuice (1988). Suddenly Disney was interested again in Burton’s work so in order to cash in on Burton’s success, Disney released Frankenweenie on VHS for all to see.  Right now if you want to see the original live action Frankenweenie short film, you can find it on the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) dvd, as an extra alongside Burtons other stop motion animated short film Vincent (1982). So low and behold, Burton’s got so much power now as a filmmaker that he can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants, so of course Disney said yes to this new Frankenweenie remake, which is sort of a sweet revenge for Burton, to get Disney to produce a film for which they originally fired him for. But whatever, all that stuff aside, how was this new Burton film?

Poster for the original live action short film Frankenweenie (1984)

Frankenweenie tells the tale of a very creative little boy named Victor. He likes making short films with his dog ‘Sparky’ as the star, he is a scientist of sorts always experimenting, always asking questions, always curious.  Unfortunately for Victor, one day as he is playing baseball, his dog Sparky is hit by a car and killed. Victor doesn’t accept that his dog has died, so inspired by a scientific experiment he sees in school, he decides to try and re-animate Sparky, to bring him back from the dead, Frankenstein style. And what do you know, he succeeds! Can he hide the fact from his family and friends that he’s successfully brought his dog back from the dead?

Tim Burton’s films have aesthetic all their own, it’s gotten to the point where you see a film and you can immediately tell it’s a Tim Burton film or not. It’s that gothicness they have to them; that love for all things spooky. Frankenweenie feels like a film that exists within that Tim Burton universe we’ve all come to know and love, to me it felt like a mix between The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Edward Scissorhands (1990) and by that I mean the film is filled with cemeteries, tombstones, full moons, windmills at the top of a hill, stormy skies, monsters, picture perfect suburban neighborhoods, nosy neighbors, socially inept kids and parents who are oblivious to the things that their kids are going through. Plus, there’s the fact that it’s stop motion animated, a technique that has become closely associated with Burton because of his involvement with films like Nightmare Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride (2005) and James and the Giant Peach (1996). Tim Burton and Henry Selick have both become the champions of stop motion animation in a time when computer generated imagery is king and you know what I think about that: hip, hip hooray for these guys. Stop motion animation is such a beautiful filmmaking technique that I’m glad it hasn’t disappeared thanks to the efforts of these two guys and a couple of other filmmakers (like the creators of Wallace and Gromit) who just won’t let stop motion animation die.

New Sparky (top) Old Sparky (bottom) 

How does this new Frankeneweenie compare to the old one? Well, in terms of premise and themes, they are pretty much the same film. The biggest difference between the two is obviously that the first one is live action and this new remake is stop motion animated. The stop motion animation gives the remake a higher re-watchability ratio because, as is usually the case with these stop motion animated films, there’s so many little details you can fixate your eyes on, these films are eye candy for me. The other major difference between the two is that while the first one focuses only on Victor and Sparky alone, on this new one we meet a bunch of Victor’s schoolmates who are also interested in finding out how Victor brought his dog back from the dead so they can do it as well with their respective dead pets. So we get more zombie pets then in than in the original short film.

Both Frankenweenie films are a homage to James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), so with this new one you’ll get a lot of references to both Mary Shelly and the old Universal film that starred Boris Karloff. Unfortunately, though I love that old film and the fact that Frankenweenie is a homage to it, this is where Frankenweenie felt a little redundant to me because Burton had already paid homage to James Whale’s Frankenstein in Sleepy Hollow. If you remember correctly, the whole ending in Sleepy Hollow with Christina Ricci hanging from the windmill came right out of those climactic moments in Frankenstein which also take place in a windmill that’s been set on fire. So when when you watch Frankenweenie you might feel that its climactic moments which also take place on a fiery windmill are very “been there done that”, especially if you are a fan of Burton’s films. I guess it’s fitting that the film ends this way when we take in consideration that it’s a homage to Frankenstein, but as I said before, it’s something that Burton has already done before in previous films, in almost the same exact way. The ending to Sleepy Hollow is extremely similar to the ending in Frankenweenie. This was really the only negative thing I could think of.

The film is very simple in nature because when we get right down to it, it simply turns into a film about stopping the monsters from destroying the town, not unlike Godzilla (1954) (another huge influence on Burton) or Gremlins (1984), yet it does have some social commentary hidden within, like for example, Burtons critique on the suburban lifestyle and the dwindling state of education in our school systems. I loved how Burton depicted the science teacher in the film. For Burton, the importance of science in education has always been of big issue in his films, for example, in Sleepy Hollow he highlights the importance of science and logic over superstition. In his films Burton is always addressing the folly of ignorance and the importance of knowledge, so I of course enjoyed that as well. At the end of the day this was a fun Halloween movie, great to take your kid and teach them about the acceptance of death as a natural part of life. It’s simple film in nature, but fun to watch (especially in 3-D) and extremely well animated, I marvel at the work and dedication that went into making a film like this.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Burton and Elvira at the Frankenweenie premiere 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

King of the Zombies (1941)

Title: King of the Zombies (1941)

Director: Jean Yarbrough

Cast: Henry Victor, Mantan Morland, Dick Purcell, Joan Woddbury


It’s interesting to see how the concept of a zombie has evolved through time. I mean, right now, you ask anybody what a zombie is and they’ll describe a walking corpse who feeds on human flesh or brains. They’ll say “braaaains” and do their best imitation of a walking bag of pus. But zombies weren’t always this way and we have directors George Romero and Dan O’Bannon to thank for re-defining what a zombie is. It’s thanks to their films that today’s idea of a zombie is the way it is. From Night of the Living Dead (1968) onward, zombies were seen as flesh eaters. From Return of the Living Dead (1985) onward, zombies cried out for brains and ran! These two films redefined the concept of what a zombie is and that vision has stuck in popular culture to this very day. But once upon a time, zombies were seen as something vastly different.

In King of the Zombies we meet this trio of friends who are on a plane on their way to the Bahamas when a storm knocks them off course and sends them to a mysterious island somewhere between “Puerto Rico and Cuba”, they never mention it, but I’m guessing they are talking about Haiti, cause you know, that’s where voodoo and zombies were always from in these old movies. Once down on the island, they meet a man by the name of Dr. Miklos Sangre, a rich landowner who welcomes the three men into his home. Like Count Dracula, Dr. Miklos seems like a friendly host, offering the three men refuge for the next two weeks, while the next boat that can take them off the island arrives, but there’s something slightly off about the mysterious host. There’s talk of evil spirits and zombies roaming the island amongst the slave population and how is Dr. Miklos related to the undead?

King of the Zombies is a film that plays out a lot like a remake of White Zombie (1931), the first true zombie movie ever made. A lot of the situations are similar, we get strangers stranded on a zombie filled island, an apparently friendly host with an ulterior motive, and we get a zombie master controlling the zombies for his own purposes, using them as slaves. The zombie master or ‘King of the Zombies’ as the title implies uses voodoo to control the undead. We get a woman, dressed in white walking around zombified. Hell, even the actor playing Dr. Miklos Sangre (Henry Victor) was channeling Bela Lugosi’s Hungarian accent. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that the producers of this film wanted Lugosi for the role but were unable to get him. They even wanted Peter Lorre at one point;  the role ultimately went to actor Henry Victor, who by the way has an imposing figure, he was a good choice to replace Lugosi, though of course, Lugosi would have been better. So what we got here my friends is a film extremely influenced by White Zombie, but with a completely different tone. While White Zombie was a straight forward horror film, King of the Zombies is a horror-comedy; some consider it one of the best. By today’s standards it isn’t har-har slap on the knee funny, but it does have that innocent kind of comedy found in films of this time; I’d say something a kin to Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948). 

The comedy of the film comes in the form of a character called Jefferson ‘Jeff’ Jackson, a black comedian of his time. I have to admit, he does offer up some of the funniest lines in the film. He plays a man servant, a popular idea at the time. This film was made during those days when black people were seen as servants to the white; by the way this is an idea that if you ask me, hasn’t completely disappeared from the face of the earth, even in this modern day and age. This is what I found most interesting about this movie, same as Night of the Living Dead,  King of the Zombies (a film that appears to be a silly horror comedy) has a lot to say about the issue of racism. The King of the Zombies is a white man who controls black people to do his bidding, once under his hypnotic control; they become brainless zombies who don’t think for themselves, they instead follow orders blindly. I just thought it was a bold statement that all the zombies in this film are black people! And he who leads them is not only an evil white man who sees the blacks as inferior to him, but he is also a Nazi, trying to acquire military secrets from the Americans! So yeah, this film does have some meat to it, I liked that about it. On the surface it might seem like an ultra silly film, but deep inside, it has some ‘cojones’. Some see King of the Zombies as a racist film and while I wont deny that the film does display some terribly cliched stereotypes of blacks; I saw the film as a comment on racism; in the end it criticizes racism, it doesnt  condone it.

I’ve been enjoying watching zombie films from all countries and eras, with King of the Zombies I wanted to take a dip into that zombie era where zombies where something entirely different. It is interesting to hear characters in this film defining what a zombie is. For example, at one moment in the film we see how alien the idea of zombies was when a character asks what a zombie is and they go into how zombies are the undead, yet they walk. At one point someone complains that a zombie was trying to eat him and someone replies “zombies don’t eat human flesh!” And there my friends is where I noticed just how much the concept of a zombie has changed with time. The film also goes on at one point about zombies not being able to talk and zombies not standing salt. They actually go on about how if zombies eat salt they shrivel up and die all over again, which got to thinking of why they didn’t just use salt to kill all the zombies in the film, but whatever. That’s just me saying. Bottom line with this movie is, if you want to see a film that’s lighthearted yet old school spooky, and to be honest a bit on the monotonous side, King of the Zombies is the way to go. Just don’t expect to see walking corpses or flesh eating, cause this are zombies from an entirely different era, a time when zombies did nothing but walk around mindlessly waiting to do as they are told.

Rating 2 out of 5 

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Living Dead Girl (1982)

Title: The Living Dead Girl (1982)

Director: Jean Rollin

Cast: Marina Pierro, Francoise Blanchard, Carina Barone, Mike Marshall


My first experience with a Jean Rollin film was Zombie Lake (1981), and obviously, if you have seen Zombie Lake then you know that wasn’t the best place to start. Zombie Lake is a terribly boring Nazi zombie flick. I’m guessing Rollin wasn’t too proud of that one since he worked under the ‘J.A. Lazer’ moniker for that film. Calling a Rollin film ‘boring’ is a common reaction amongst those who experience his films, because Rollin often times went for dreamy atmosphere and slow paced scenes with little dialog. Personally, I dig this kind of storytelling, the kind that relies more on stories told through visuals alone rather than dialog. ‘La Morte Vivante’, a.k.a. The Living Dead Girl, a.k.a. Queen Zombie, is an amazing film told through this type of dreamy, slow paced little dialog type style, which fit this film perfectly. I’m trying to watch a lot of Euro horror these days and catch up with all of these horror films that I haven’t seen and I have to say, so far, I’m really diggin’ some of these films. The Living Dead Girl is a fantastic lesbian vampire/zombie film, why did I dig it so much?

Story revolves around Catherine Valmont and her best friend Helene. They are two women who grew up together and lived through various experiences during their childhood, like becoming blood sisters; the old childhood ritual where two kids cut themselves, unite their blood and become friends for life. One promises the other that if one of them dies, the other will follow. Well, Catherine ends up dying and she is buried in the crypt of her very own castle. Lucky for her that an earthquake spills a vat of toxic chemicals near her coffin and the toxic mist brings her back to life! Catherine and Helene reunite, but is Catherine the same old Catherine? Nope; now Catherine is a member of The Living Dead! What’s Helene to do?

The Living Dead Girl falls in the same category as films like Hammer films The Vampire Lovers (1970), Harry Kumel’s Daughters ofDarkness (1971) and Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983); these are all lesbian vampire movies that for whatever the reason are all excellent horror films, very artful, very well shot, well acted and interestingly enough, they never forget to be horror films. The Living Dead Girl also falls in that strange middle ground between a vampire film and a zombie film. The same thing happened to me with The Revenant (2009) and Deathdream (1974). I simply couldn’t tell if these films were zombie films or vampire films. For example, The Living Dead Girl starts out with two grave robbers, stealing jewelry from the dead. While they are down in the crypts, an earthquake erupts and a toxic spill brings back Catherine Valmont from the dead. This opening sequence quickly brought to mind Return of the Living Dead (1985) which also starts out with grave robbers and chemical spills. The title, The Living Dead Girl also suggests it’s a zombie film; in fact, one of this films alternate titles is ‘Queen Zombie’. But then, as you watch the film, you see Catherine Valmont acting more like a vampire with her lust for human blood. Just like a vampire, she hates animal blood and must feed on warm human blood. But then she feeds on human flesh with the voraciousness of a zombie, so yeah, to me, this is one of those films that falls in that strange place that mixes vampires and zombies, though there were moments in which the films hints that its more of a vampire film. 

As I watched this tale unfold, I couldn’t help relating the dynamics between the characters of Catherine and Helene with that of the passionately in love characters in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987). In both of these films we meet characters that are willing to do anything for their objects of affection. In Hellraiser, we meet a woman willing to bring victims to her lover who’s just escaped from hell, so he can feed on them and grow a new body. In The Living Dead Girl we have a very similar structure, Helene starts bringing victims for Catherine so she can feed on them. She knows she’s doing wrong, but she does it anyway, to please her loved one. Earlier I mentioned that The Living Dead Girl portrays a lesbian love affair, but in truth the lesbian angle is only implied. One gets this idea because Helene and Catherine are so passionate for each other, willing to go to such lengths to please each other. They never kiss or become intimate, but one gets the idea that they have because of their obsession and obvious love for each other.

The Living Dead Girl is awesome for the same reason that Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness was awesome, it mixes the art house film with the horror film. The Living Dead Girl has these beautiful shots, haunting imagery but at the same time it doesn’t forget that it’s a horror film and suddenly, it takes outs its claws and reminds you. Yes my friends, I’m happy to inform that The Living Dead Girl is a distinctively savage horror film. Catherine Delmont has these long finger nails which she effectively uses to kill her victims; wow, some awesomely gruesome moments awaits, in fact, right from the get go you’ll be treated to some gruesome mayhem. In the end, it truly surprised me that The Living Dead Girl was directed by the same guy who made Zombie Lake, funny thing is both of these films were made months apart, how can a director go from crap to awesome in the blink of an eye? Ask Jean Rollin, because he knows how to do it perfectly well! This film is so superior! Francoise Blanchard does a great job as The Living Dead Girl, she comes off as someone disconnected from being a human, a tortured soul coming to terms with what she is becoming; a character that’s becoming more and more instinctive and animal like in nature. And speaking of animal like, this film has one of the best and most savages scenes I have ever seen of a living dead feeding on a human being. It is such a savagely graphic scene, definitely one for the books! This scene alone makes it worthwhile to seek this one out, but in reality, the whole film is awesome. The only downside for me is that some of the performances don’t come off as natural or particularly good, especially when it comes to the actors portraying the Americans tourists, but for me this was a small hiccup in an otherwise great film. Highly recommend this one!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Oasis of the Zombies (1982)

Title: Oasis of the Zombies (1982)

Director: Jesus Franco


There are a couple of zombie movies out there that are complete bore fests in which very little happens in the way of action or suspense. It seems to me that filmmakers who do these types of films make them  to make some quick cash, so they can move on to something else they want to do. The trick to making money with these types of movies is to make the cheapest possible zombie movie you can and I mean really cheap, all talk, no action, no gore, and very little in the way of make-up effects work, this way you spend very little in making your film and have a better chance at making back your budget. Then, the second part of the plot involves making the masses believe they are going to see a zombie fest, the greatest zombie film ever made. This is usually achieved by getting a really cool poster for your shitty film and by cutting a trailer that shows only the zombie scenes. Normally what we end up with in this type of situation is a really crappy film, but a cool as hell poster. Most of the time, the poster is better than the film. Then sit back and wait for the ka-shing!, if all goes well, you’ll have made your money back because once you’ve managed to get your audience in the theater seats, they have already paid the ticket; their money is yours! The most notable example of this type of sleazy filmmaking would be the Nazi zombie film Zombie Lake (1981) and the film I’ll be talking about today: Oasis of the Zombies (1982), which consequently is also a Nazi zombie film; barely anyways.

This film concerns a rich kid named Robert whose father is killed in Africa after he reveals the location of a treasure to some greedy bastard. When Robert reads into his father’s diary he discovers that his father actually knew the location of a gold treasure worth six million dollars, a treasure that used to belong to the Germans, but they all died in a firefight defending the gold, so know the gold is supposedly still buried somewhere in an Oasis in the middle of the African desert. So Robert decides that taking his friends with him on an expedition to find the gold will be a great idea! So much for mourning the death of your father! So anyways, these kids take off for Africa to get the gold, unfortunately for them, Nazi zombies are protecting the gold! Will they find the gold, or will they instead find themselves?

Here’s a question I often times ask myself when watching a film like Oasis of the Zombies, when filmmakers make a movie like this one, do they know they are making an extremely boring movie? Are they even aware of it? Are they making a boring film on purpose? Or do they think they are actually making an entertaining flick? Thing is that this movie actually has an interesting premise and back story to it, but it somehow still manages to deviate into an extremely boring movie. For example, the movie starts out with these two hot chicks stopping at the titular Oasis to refresh themselves, and since the camera focuses very sleazily on their bee-hinds, you get to thinking cool, we’re gonna get some hot lesbo action. This isn’t a chavanistic thought on my part, I only come to this conclusion because this is a Jesus Franco film, and Lesbo action is one of the elements his films are known for. So anyhow, you figure these two chicks are gonna get naked and THEN get eaten by zombies. A very similar scene happens in Zombie Lake as well, and since the same filmmakers are involved in this film I thought they’d go with the same ‘modus operandi’, but no, we only get a pair of zombie hands emerging from the sand and attacking the girls. Worst part is the whole attack happens off camera! So right there and then we know, this movie is shying away from showing us the goods in more ways than one, no naked chicks and on top of that, no zombies.

This flick was seriously trying to cut back on costs in another way: the zombies only come out at night for some reason that’s never mentioned in the film. But I’ll tell you the reason:  they only come out at night because it’s an effective way for the filmmakers to hide a lot of the cheap make up effects or even better, it’s an effective way to hide the fact that there’s no make up effects whatsoever! For some shots they simply show ominous looking shadows walking about! Wow, so I’m no Jesus Franco expert, but this must not be his best film. There’s huge gaping plot holes on this one, for example: fine, there’s a lost cache of gold somewhere in the dessert and the Nazi’s who it used to belong to are now zombies…who guard the gold…for what purpose? This is the same question I asked myself when watching John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980). Fine, the ghosts are hiding in the fog, but what do they want the gold for? What exactly are they planning on buying from the afterlife? Same question I got about these Nazi zombies! And why did they turn into zombies? It’s as if Franco simply wants us to take for granted the whole Nazi  Zombie premise, because it’s a sub-genre, and Nazi zombies simply are? Come on, that’s some lazy writing right there, if there was even any writing involved, which by the looks of things I seriously doubt.

Funny thing about this poster for Oasis of the Zombies, there are no tanks, no graveyards, and no zombies shooting guns in this movie! At all! 

It doesn’t surprise me that this ultra cheap-o zombie movie was such a bore, it was written and directed by Jesus Franco, the same guy who wrote Zombie Lake, the most boring zombie flick I’ve ever seen.  I guess I knew going in the kind of film I was getting myself into, and I was absolutely right. I’m still going to watch some Jesus Franco films, Vampyros Lesbos (1971) looks good, and I’m sure Franco has some more good ones in his roster,  but Oasis of the Zombies was a complete disappointment. It does have a couple of cool shots of zombies walking in the dessert dunes, and some of the zombies are cool looking, but these few scenes do not save the film from what it is: a complete waste of time. I gave it the benefit of the doubt and it failed to surprise, shock, or entertain, three things a zombie film should always aim to do. My advice is skip this one, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. 

Rating: 1 out of 5

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

Title: Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

Director: Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso


It’s kind of hard to believe that four people hold writing credits for this completely nonsensical film, but yeah, four brains got together to write this stupid, stupid film! Normally you’d think that the more writers the better the movie should be, but truth is that in Hollywood the rule of thumb is the more writers, the worse the movie. This is certainly the case here, this movie blows! Yes my friends, this movie is awful, but in that Italian horror sense that also makes it completely watchable? This is the reason why you’ll find people that will tell you this film rules and in a strange sort of way, it does. Yes my friends, this is yet another “so bad its good” flick from those money loving horror directors of Italy. And by money loving I’m talking about directors Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso two guys who just loved to make cheap knock offs of American films to make a quick buck. These guys knew these films were so sleazy and low grade that they always used pseudonyms for these films, which is why instead of saying this film was directed by Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei, the title screen says ‘Directed by Vincent Dawn’, as if they were ashamed at the film they just produced;. chances are they probably were. These films would get made at lightning fast speeds and with very little money, the results would usually be the kind of film we’ll be talking about today, the nonsensical (yet entertaining just for that) Hell of the Living Dead a.k.a. ‘Virus’ a.k.a. ‘Night of the Zombies’ a.k.a. ‘Zombie Creeping Flesh’ a.k.a. ‘Zombie Inferno’.

The story goes something like this:  a chemical leak has taken place in a chemical plant in New Guinea. The air borne chemical spreads all over the land, bringing the dead back to life. As chaos spreads throughout New Guinea, a swat team of four men is sent to investigate this situation. I thought it was funny how there’s talk of zombie threat in New Guinea and all that gets sent in are four SWAT team members? For a whole zombie threat? What the --? But whatever, so these guys are sent in and apparently left for dead because they’ve lost contact with whomever it was that sent them; I’m guessing it was the U.S. Government. These crazy SWAT guys end up meeting with a crew of two documentarians who are here to investigate what’s going on in New Guinea. For whatever the reason, they end up together for the rest of the film; together they must try and uncover the mystery behind the appearance of zombies in New Guinea.

Hell of the Living Dead was shot in Spain and Italy but in order to give the illusion that the film takes place in New Guinea, the filmmakers spliced in all this random stock footage of wild animals flying and jumping from trees and running through the wilderness. This stock footage is pretty funny because it appears randomly at any given moment in the film, so it’s like, we’ll have these characters talking and suddenly, there’s a monkey jumping from tree top to tree top! Characters walk a bit and then we get a gazelle flying, then, a stampede of elephants, then, a fox eating a rabbit and so on, it’s a cheap-o way to make your film longer. They even used stock footage of real life tribes conducting their rituals. Most of the time, whenever we see tribes men dancing and running, what we’re actually seeing is footage from a documentary called ‘La Valle’.

I’m afraid that with the kind of film that Hell of the Living Dead is, this is going to be the kind of review that makes fun of how nonsensical and stupid everything is on this film, so excuse me for that, but I just can’t help myself. So these zombies are the chemical kind, and since this chemical is airborne, it spreads all through out New Guinea, reaching deep into the desserts and forest and turning even the Indian tribes that live within into zombies. The first time we meet these tribes, they are conducting a burial of some kind. The lady documentarian says she knows how to deal with these cannibal tribes because she’s lived with them before, so she immediately strips which I thought was hilarious, because she strips right in front of these horny SWAT guys,which by the way apparently have nothing to say about this naked lady. Then, she puts on some body paint (which she apparently always keeps handy) and then goes mingling amongst the tribe. This scene was so sleazy; it was obviously just an excuse for some nudity! She could have done just the same with her clothes on, but whatever. A few minutes after that, the SWAT guys meet up with her and the tribe and all hell breaks loose when the dead guy that the tribe is burying comes to life and starts infecting the whole tribe. It turns into a full blown gorefest of a scene, in this respect I must say that the film does not disappoint, there’s tons of gore.

Earlier I mentioned that this film was a rip off, and it is. It’s a rip off of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). This is blatantly obvious when we see that some scenes are almost identical . Let’s see, we get little kid zombies, we get a SWAT team, a hostage situation…they even stumble upon a priest, who ends up being a zombie, mimicking that scene where the SWAT team guys in Dawn of the Dead stumble upon that freaky priest. We get scientists and politicians talking on television trying to solve the zombie situation. The main characters work on television and so on.  But of course, this film is also NOTHING like Dawn of the Dead, because Dawn of the Dead was never a comedy which is basically what Hell of the Living Dead feels like to me. Funniest part is that it was all unintentional; it’s obvious these guys didn’t know they were making such a hilarious movie, but they did it anyways. The comedy comes from how stupid these characters are and the dialog they say. For example, it is made abundantly clear that in order to kill these zombies you have to shoot them in the head, yet the characters keep shooting an exorbitant amount of bullets in the chest! It makes you feel like screaming out loud to these stupid characters, they’d save so much ammo if they simply shot one bullet to the head, but no, they empty a whole machine gun in every other body part that isn’t the head! Even after a character has screamed it and showed them how effective it is to shoot them in the head.

Want funnier stuff? Well, how about the fact that some zombies are repeated during the film? We’ll see a zombie in this scene here, then cut to another scene somewhere else and there’s the same actor playing the same zombie! Ha ha ha! Hilarious! How about a SWAT team member who in the middle of a zombie attack decides to put on a Tu-tu and start dancing and singing “Singing in the Rain”? How about motor boats that are simply lying around on the beach waiting for the protagonists to arrive? How about the fact that characters seem to simply wait around for the zombies to grab them? Arrgh this annoyed the hell out of me! I’m like run, don’t just stand there waiting for all those zombies to grab ya! Ha ha…hows about the fact that this films borrows the soundtrack from Dawn of the Dead and Alien Contamination (1980)? Ha hah….How about the fact that characters never seem to run out of bullets? EVER? And the dialog? It’s pure cheesy brilliance. For example, when a group of characters stumble upon a building one of them says: “Buildings have people in them, we’d better go investigate” I mean the hilarity is never ending with this movie and therefore it’s watchable just for that; its empty calories of the zombie kind.

Rating: 2 out of 5


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