Posts Tagged ‘Night of the Living Dead’

CHECK IT OUT: RICHARD’S “HOUSE OF CROUSE” PODCAST EPISODE 111!

Welcome to the House of Crouse. This week the late, great George A. Romero puts an end to one of the most enduring film legends of all time. Then the former Vice President of the United States drops by to discuss his new documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” and what to do when it gets so hot the street starts to melt. Stop by and sit a spell, it’s good stuff. Also, there is a great pun inhere somewhere about the pairing of the Zombie King and a man named Gore, but we are too tasteful to make it.

 

 

House of Crouse Extra: A tribute to the late, great George A. Romero

Welcome to the House of Crouse. World War Z, Zombie Women of Satan and The Walking Dead owe a debt of gratitude to Night of the Living Dead. In 1968, the story of story of people trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse trying to survive an attack by reanimated ghouls dragged a bloody new horror genre into the marketplace. The film was directed by George A. Romero, man a kind and gentle man who became known as the King of the Zombies. He passed away this weekend at the too young age of 77. The House of Crouse pays tribute to the great man.

 

RICHARD’S “CANADA AM” REVIEWS FOR FEBRUARY 5 WITH BEVERLY THOMSON.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 12.45.13 PMRichard and “Canada AM” host Beverly Thomson review the screwball comedy of “Hail, Caesar!,” the thrills of “Mojave,” the tearjerking of “The Choice” and the heartwarming of “The Lady in the Van.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES: 3 ½ STARS. “Slashterpiece Theatre.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 3.13.55 PMImagine “The Walking Dead” as seen through the lens of “Masterpiece Theatre.” Slashterpiece Theatre. Or maybe the love child of Jane Austen and George A. Romero. Either way, you get the high concept idea of the new Lily James film “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” It’s such a whack-a-doodle idea it’s either going to be great or the worst thing ever.

Set in 19th century England, the movie shares some character names and situations with the novel but in this new, fanciful version a plague has turned much of the population into “ravishing unmentionables.” These zombies are different than the “Night of the Living Dead” style droolers. If these ever-civilised British stenches never consume human brains, they will never fully transform. Still, enough of them have changed to warrant building a Trump-style anti-undead wall around London and for regular folk to become zombie-killing ninjas. Literally.

In this story upper crust English families send their children to Japan or China to learn the secrets of martial arts. One such clan are the Bennets. All five daughters are deadly—with knives hidden in their petticoats—but second oldest Elizabeth (Lily James) is a Shaolin monk trained fighter who can disembowel a zombie before you can say “Mr. Darcy.”

Speaking of Mr. Darcy, he’s a Colonel with a bloodlust for brain-eaters and a romantic lust for Elizabeth. His rival for Elizabeth’s affections is Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston), a handsome lieutenant who wants to try and find a way to coexist with the unwanted invaders. “Soon the dead will outnumber the living,” he says. “Nine months to make a baby, 16 years to turn them into a soldier… but just two seconds to make a zombie.”

As the zombie menace intensifies so do things between Wickham, Darcy and Lizzie. A final showdown brings them all together, alongside their pride, prejudice and yes, zombies.

The idea of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” may be koo koo bananas but it works. When they aren’t trying to make Blighty an undead free zone, or high kicking and karate chopping, for the most part they play it straight. As Darcy watches Lizzie slice-and-dice her way through a crowd of zombies he looks on in admiration, reciting a quote from the book about her face being rendered, “uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.” The situation is ridiculous but the actors play it straight, heightening the absurdity.

It’s not all Austen, however. Darcy’s use of carrion flies to identify people who have been bitten but not yet turned into zombies—they’re attracted to dead flesh—is far beyond the English novelist’s sense or sensibility. Instead of Austen trademarked biting irony, there’s just a lot of biting.

As for gore, I’m sure the film would horrify Austen, but there’s more actual blood-and-guts in the first 10 minutes of most “Walking Dead” episodes than in this entire movie.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” makes the best of its one joke, the mashup of Austen romantic fiction with zombie realism, deftly (and ridiculously) blending the sublime with the ultraviolent.

Metro: Modern zombie movies owe big debt to “Night of the Living Dead”

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 8.33.48 AMBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Movies like World War Z, Zombie Women of Satan and this weekend’s comedy-horror Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse — the story of three Scouts who must bond to save their town from a zombie outbreak — owe a debt of gratitude to Night of the Living Dead. In 1968, the story of story of people trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse trying to survive an attack by reanimated ghouls dragged a bloody new horror genre into the marketplace.

For better (see Re-Animator) and for worse (see Zombie Nightmare) the movie Rex Reed called “a classic” has spawned almost five decades of brain eating and head explosions, but according to the film’s co-author John Russo, the origin of the idea was anything but sinister.

“Sometime in the winter of 1966 George Romero and I were having lunch with Richard Ricci,” says Russo, then a co-partner with Romero and Russell Streiner (who has the film’s most famous line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”) in The Latent Image, a commercial television production house.

“George and I were complaining about the fickleness of our commercial clients. Richard said, ‘So why don’t you do something about it?’ I thought about it and said, ‘We oughtta be able to make something better than the crap we see on Chiller Theater.’

“George right away got excited, slammed the table with his big hand, sending bottles and glasses flying, and yelled, ‘We’re gonna make a movie!’”

The two batted around several ideas. One, titled Monster Flick, was a horror comedy about teenage aliens, while another focused on flesh eating aliens.

“But we quickly discovered that we could not afford all the necessary special effects,” he says, so the writing continued.

“We’d go to work late at night in separate offices, at separate typewriters,” says Russo. “I said right away that our story should start in a cemetery because folks found cemeteries spooky. I was working on a script that started in a cemetery and involved aliens coming to earth in search of human flesh. But George took a break at Christmas time and came back with half of a story that started in a cemetery, and was in essence what became the first half of Night of the Living Dead. There were all the proper twists and turns and a lot of excitement, but George never said who the attackers were or why they were attacking.

“I said, ‘I like this, George, but who are these attackers? You never say.’ And he said he didn’t know. So I said, ‘It seems to me they could be dead people. But why are they attacking? What are they after?’ Again, he said he didn’t know. So I said, ‘Why don’t we use my flesh-eating idea?’ And he agreed. “So that’s how the modern flesh-eating zombies were born!”

These days it doesn’t take a lot of braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains to see the legacy of Night of the Living Dead. The ghoulish story is considered a classic, has spawned comedies like the box office hit Zombieland and hit television shows like The Walking Dead.

“We were absolutely dedicated toward making a movie that was true to its premise and the motivations of its characters, from start to finish,” says Russo, adding, “[the movie] struck a primal chord in everybody, perhaps because of the atavistic memory of our species as easy prey for wild beasts, which we were for most of human history. We all carry the deep-seated fear of being devoured.”

Metro Canada In Focus: Unfriended #Iknowwhatyoudidonline

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 12.52.08 PMBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

The best horror films are never only about the Double Gs—guts and gore. Sure, part of the appeal of scary movies is that they make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, and that frequently requires a spray of blood or a nightmarish vision of terror in the form of Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorhees, but great horror films are always about something other than the thrills and chills.

To be truly effective scary pictures must tap into a collective anxiety; societal hot buttons that elevate the frights to a new level. For instance, Frankenstein plays on people’s fear of science while Godzilla is an obvious cultural metaphor for nuclear weapons in reaction to the devastation of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to see Dracula as the metaphorical embodiment of everything from drug addiction and old age to alternative lifestyles and capitalism.

Perhaps the most socially self-aware horror film of all is Night of the Living Dead. It’s got zombies galore but director George A. Romero had the braaaiiins to include a subtext that echoed the contemporary state America’s of race relations, the horrors of Vietnam and cynicism with government. It’s the best of both worlds—a thought-provoking movie that gushes with gore.

Film historian Linda Badley suggests Night of the Living Dead horrifies because the zombies weren’t bizarre creatures from outer space or from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, but because, “They’re us.”

This weekend a new film, Unfriended, turns the camera, or in this case the Skype screen, on us in an eerie story about bullying. On the surface Unfriended may look like a cheapo teen horror flick with a cast of unknowns—which it is, but so was Night of the Living Dead—but by basing the plot in the world of social media and the bad behaviour that comes along with anonymous avatars, it becomes a ripped-from-the-headlines comment on a very touchy societal subject.

The movie begins a year after Laura, a popular high school student, was cyber shamed into killing herself. A teenage girl is on a group Skype session when she begins to receive cryptic and threatening messages from Laura’s old account. As the movie unfolds secrets are revealed and the danger is amped up.

The mysterious killer is a hoary old horror convention, but here it’s told in the contemporary language of Millennials. Unsurprisingly, the movie has already sparked the interest of the Y Generation—the trailer garnered almost 300,000 Twitter comments on its first day—who relate to the setting—by-and-large it takes place on a computer screen—and who are all too familiar with the everyday brutality of Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Instagram and Spotify. They understand what a minefield the web can be and the filmmakers realized the narrative possibilities of creating cinema’s first deadly internet troll. Freddy Kruger is your father’s baddie; the new horror comes in bits and bytes.

Similar to Psycho’s Norman Bates or the undead of 28 Days Later, the kids of Unfriended tell a very specific story—the sad tale of a teen suicide—that becomes a universal horror tale by making the characters and setting ordinary and relatable. Like the best of classic fright films, it breathes new life into a form we’ve seen before by recontextualizing it for a new generation.

A Haunted House 2, A humorous hybrid of horror hits.

maxresdefaultBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

If the Paranormal Activity movies curdle your blood and The Conjuring kept you up at night, perhaps A Haunted House 2 will be more your style. A humorous hybrid of horror hits, it stars Marlon Wayans and Jaime Pressly in a sequel to the popular (but critically lambasted) 2013 comedy.

According to IMDB in the new film Wayans has “exorcised the demons of his ex” and is trying to start his life anew with his girlfriend. Unfortunately his new house turns out to be haunted and, even worse, his back-from-the-dead ex has moved in across the street.

It’s all played for laughs and will likely not give audiences nightmares but it would be interesting to know how the makers of movies like Sinister, The Possession, and Insidious feel about having their movies made fun of.

Some filmmakers are flattered.

Night of the Living Dead icon George A. Romero enjoyed the zombie takeoff Shaun of the Dead so much he asked star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright to appear in Land of the Dead. The duo can be seen chained up in a 12-second cameo under a sign that reads Take Your Picture with a Zombie during the film’s carnival sequence.

But not everyone gets the joke.

Years ago Boris Karloff made it known he wasn’t very happy about a horror comedy. He was approached to play the Monster in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but declined because he felt the duo’s brand of slapstick would be an insult to horror movies. Nonetheless he did some promo for the film—there are publicity pictures of him buying tickets at the box office—and later appeared in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Another horror legend said yes to Meet Frankenstein but no to the comedy. The movie was the only other time Bela Lugosi played Dracula on the big screen and he played it straight.

“There is no burlesque for me,” he said. “All I have to do is frighten the boys, a perfectly appropriate activity. My trademark will be unblemished.”

Finally, the movie Young Frankenstein gave overdue credit to an old time movie studio technician. When Mel Brooks was prepping the film he discovered that Ken Strickfaden, the designer of the “mad scientist” electrical machinery in the Universal Frankenstein films, had all the equipment from the original movies stored in his garage. Strickfaden agreed to rent Mel the props and received a screen credit, which he hadn’t been given on the original films.

HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR DAY 2: “It’s the movie that made me want to make movies” By Richard Crouse

imagesYou might imagine that horror maestro George A. Romero’s favorite film is The Exorcist. Or maybe Cannibal Holocaust. Or even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s easy to picture the twisted mind behind Night of the Living Dead curled up in his Toronto home with the Saw marathon unspooling on his blood splattered DVD player. Easy to imagine, but far from the reality. Most nights you’ll find him rewatching a classic. Maybe The Brothers Karamazov, Casablanca or Dr. Strangelove. Nary a decapitated head or disembowelment in the bunch! He also loves The Quiet Man, High Noon and King Solomon’s Mines but his all time favorite is an obscure 1951 Michael Powell film called The Tales of Hoffman.

“It’s the movie that made me want to make movies,” he says.

“I was dragged kicking and screaming by an aunt and uncle. I wanted to go see the new Tarzan; the new Lex Barker movie to see how he stacked up against Weissmuller and they said, ‘No! We’re going to see this,’ and I fell in love with it. It’s just beautiful. Completley captivating. It’s all sung. It’s all opera. It’s not like The Red Shoes where there is a story running through it and then Léonide Massine does a ballet at the end. I just fell in love with it from the pop.

“He did it on a low budget. You could see the techniques he was using; he was reversing action, doing overprints, double exposures and it seemed accessible. I think at that age if I had seen Jurassic Park I would have said ‘Forget about it, I don’t know how to do this dinosaur thing’ but I could see how Powell made the film and it was accessible to me. It made me think that maybe someday I could do something like this.”

All these years later Hoffman and other films of that vintage still move him—“I’m a sucker for the old movies I loved as a kid,” he says. “I put them on and I get a tear in my eye when the overture starts.”—but don’t think he’s getting soft. The man known to fans as the “Grandfather of the Zombie” has a new gut wrenching (literally) movie called Survival of the Dead in theatres this weekend.

Like his previous movies it works on a couple of levels. “Goremets” will appreciate his signature style with the blood and guts but wipe away some of the red stuff and the social commentary of his work becomes clear. “I bring the zombies out of the closet when I have something I want to talk about,” he says.

His classic Night of the Living Dead touches on Cold War politics and domestic racism, while others in the Living Dead series shine a light on consumerism, the conflict between science and the military and class conflict. The new one, the sixth in the series, is a lesson in the futility of war. Inserting these ideas into the films is very important to Romero whether audiences get it or not. He says he knows most people are “there either to just take the ride or watch the gore, chuckle at the gore, and don’t care about the other stuff,” but his work has had a profound effect on a couple of generations of filmmakers.

Quentin Tarantino, who says the “A” in George A. Romero stands for “A f**king genius,” cites the director’s fierce independent style as an influence and Romero’s blend of speculative fiction and social comment is particularly apparent in the work of Guillermo del Toro.

When I mention this to Romero he says, “Guillermo is my man! He runs a close second to Michael Powell in my mind.”

HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR DAY 1! John Russo on Night of the Living Dead By Richard Crouse

John_A._Russo_as_zombie_in_Night_of_the_Living_DeadWithout Night of the Living Dead movies like 28 Days Later, Shawn of the Dead or even Zombie Strippers wouldn’t exist. In 1968 the story of story of people trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse trying to survive an attack by reanimated ghouls dragged a bloody new horror genre into the marketplace. For better (see Re-Animator) and for worse (see Zombie Nightmare) the movie Rex Reed called “a classic” has spawned four decades of brain eating and head explosions, but according to the film’s co-author John Russo the origin of the idea was anything but sinister.

“Sometime in the winter of 1966 George Romero and I were having lunch with Richard Ricci,” says Russo, then a co-partner with Romero and Russell Streiner (who has the film’s most famous line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”) in The Latent Image, a commercial television production house. “George and I were complaining about the fickleness of our commercial clients who, when they had not too much money to spend, would come to us for a good, creative job on their spots and sales films, and would promise to come back to us next time, when they would have more money to spend.  But when they got more money they’d run away to the supposed glitz and glamour of New York or Hollywood.  Richard said, ‘So why don’t you do something about it?’  I thought about it and said, ‘We oughtta be able to make something better than the crap we see on Chiller Theater.’

“George right away got excited, slammed the table with his big hand, sending bottles and glasses flying, and yelled, ‘We’re gonna make a movie!’”

The two batted around several ideas. One, titled Monster Flick, was a horror comedy about teenage aliens, while another focused on flesh eating aliens. “But we quickly discovered that we could not afford all the necessary special effects,” he says, so the writing continued.

“We’d go to work late at night in separate offices, at separate typewriters,” says Russo. “I said right away that our story should start in a cemetery because folks found cemeteries spooky.  I was working on a script that started in a cemetery and involved aliens coming to earth in search of human flesh.  But George took a break at Christmas time and came back with half of a story that started in a cemetery, and was in essence what became the first half of Night of the Living Dead. There were all the proper twists and turns and a lot of excitement, but George never said who the attackers were or why they were attacking.

“I said, ‘I like this, George, but who are these attackers?  You never say.’  And he said he didn’t know.  So I said, ‘It seems to me they could be dead people.  But why are they attacking?  What are they after?’  Again, he said he didn’t know.  So I said, ‘Why don’t we use my flesheating idea?’  And he agreed.

“So that’s how the modern flesheating zombies were born!”

The film, titled Night of the Flesheaters, was shot on a shoe string budget—Bosco Chocolate Syrup and pig’s intestines subbed for real blood and guts—in rural Pennsylvania between June and December 1967. Once finished, Russo and Romero had a hard time selling the movie because of its unflinching violence and gory special effects. The pair stuck to their guns, however, denying distributor after distributor who demanded cuts or a happy ending. Finally they found a company who would show the film uncensored but there was still a problem.

“There was already a movie called Flesheaters, and their attorney threatened us, so we had to come up with a different title,” says Russo. “George Romero decided on Night of Anubis, after the Egyptian god of the dead.  This was a weak title, and when Continental Pictures got ready to distribute we changed it to Night of the Living Dead.”

The movie premiered on October 1, 1968 earning a rave from Roger Ebert and that other mark of success for a horror film, condemnation from fundamentalist Christian groups.

These days it doesn’t take a lot of braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains to see the legacy of Night of the Living Dead. The ghoulish story is considered a classic, has spawned comedies like the box office hit Zombieland and serious television shows like The Walking Dead and was even selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

“We were absolutely dedicated toward making a movie that was true to its premise and the motivations of its characters, from start to finish,” says Russo, adding, “[the movie] struck a primal chord in everybody, perhaps because of the atavistic memory of our species as easy prey for wild beasts, which we were for most of human history.  We all carry the deep-seated fear of being devoured.”