Film Review: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Release Date: August 16th, 1985
Directed by: Dan O’Bannon
Written by: John Russo, Rudy Ricci, Russell Streiner, Dan O’Bannon
Music by: Matt Clifford, Francis Haines
Cast: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Linnea Quigley

Hemdale Film Corporation, A Greenberg Brothers Partnership, Orion Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, there’s a bunch of people from the cemetery who are stark, staring, mad, and they’ll kill you and eat you if they catch you. It’s like a disease. It’s like rabies, only faster, a lot faster. That’s why you’ve got to come and get us out of here now… right now!” – Burt Wilson

There are very few movies as awesome as The Return of the Living Dead. It is, hands down, the greatest zombie comedy ever put to celluloid… sorry, Shaun of the Dead. It is also balls to the wall insane from beginning to end while being full of punk teens, great older actors and the best zombie hoard in the history of motion pictures.

Like Dawn of the Dead, which was George A. Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead, this film is also a sequel (in a way), as John A. Russo was the other half of the creative duo that gave birth to that original film back in 1968.

The Return of the Living Dead is an alternate continuity to Romero’s Living Dead universe, though. In fact, the original film is mentioned in this picture, as it is a movie that exists within this alternate timeline. However, the movie is referenced and casually dismissed as a Hollywood version of the “real story”. This film continues off of that original story, which is established in a conversation between two of the characters very early on.

The reason for the split continuities, is that Romero and Russo had creative differences over the property. Romero even went as far as to send Russo a cease and desist order over this film, which effected the marketing but ultimately, didn’t stop the film from being released and spawning its own sequels.

Romero purists will probably hate me for saying this but this is my favorite Living Dead film. It is also my favorite zombie picture. I wouldn’t say that it is the greatest, as far as overall artistry is concerned, but it is the one that I watch the most and have the largest amount of appreciation for. The film is just fucking cool and that is really an understatement.

Initially, Russo wrote a Return of the Living Dead novel and shopped it around Hollywood to be adapted. At one point, Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1 & 2Poltergeist, The Funhouse) was slated to direct the film but that fell through. Ultimately, what we got was this, which is better than what the Hooper film probably would have been.

In this film, we quickly learn that zombies don’t die by destroying their brains. The zombies can be dismembered, have their heads knocked off and still keep coming. They’re essentially impossible to kill. At one point, they cremate a pile of animated zombie parts. However, the smoke from the crematorium goes up into the clouds, which rain onto the graveyard, reanimating the dead. There really isn’t an effective way to kill the zombies, which makes the threat in this film, infinitely worse. Not to mention the fact that they move with speed and want to eat human brains.

I know that they don’t give out Oscars for pictures like these but James Karen put on a performance that was legendary. He was a hilarious and useless doofus that accidentally set the zombie threat free. All he did from that point forward was freak out and whine but he did it with such believable gusto that it is impossible not to be captivated by his absurd character and to love the scenes that he’s in.

We also get Miguel A. Núñez Jr. in my favorite role that he ever played. He’s a punk rocker that kind of acts like a damsel in distress but it works. Linnea Quigley also shows up, gets butt naked and dances on a tomb because this is the kind of stuff she was best known for. It is also her most memorable role, in my opinion. Don Calfa, probably best known as the killer in Weekend At Bernie’s is the guy who works at the crematorium and he’s also fantastic in this. Clu Gulager is perfect as the no nonsense older alpha male lead; Thom Mathews, one of the Tommy Jarvises in the Friday the 13th film series, pulls his weight too.

This film, for what it is, is absolutely perfect, which is why I have to give it the highest score possible. I used to love watching this when it rotated in and out of Joe Bob Briggs’ MonsterVision on TNT back in the 90s but nothing beats watching the unedited non-television version. How else are you going to see the beautiful gore and Ms. Quigley’s glorious breasties? Her bum is quite exceptional too, for the record.

The Return of the Living Dead could make a case for being the coolest movie of all-time. It probably isn’t for everyone but for kids who grew up watching horror in the 80s, this thing is a friggin’ masterpiece.

Plus, it features music from The Cramps, who were the most perfect band to feature in this film. It was tailor made for their tunes.

Film Review: I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

Release Date: April 21st, 1943 (New York City)
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Curt Siodmak, Ardel Wray
Based on: I Walked With A Zombie by Inez Wallace
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway

RKO Radio Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“I thought voodoo was something everyone was frightened of?” – Betsy Connell, “I’m afraid it’s not very frightening. They sing and dance and carry on. And then, as I understand it, one of the gods comes down and speaks through one of the people.” – Paul Holland

Hollywood producer Val Lewton had a pretty good stint at RKO, a studio that was instrumental in the development of film-noir. After Citizen Kane proved to be a financial dud for them, at least initially, RKO wanted to have a branch that focused on B-movies in the same way that Universal had done with their hugely successful monster franchises.

In came Lewton, a man that created some great horror pictures for RKO but unlike Universal, Lewton’s were more adult and more serious films. They were initially just viewed as B-horror pictures in the same vein as Universal’s work but over the years, the Lewton produced horror films at RKO started to get the recognition they deserve as something greater than just makeup and fur slapped on Lon Chaney Jr.

I Walked With A Zombie is the film that Lewton supposedly loved the most out of his horror work for RKO. The quality of this picture also has a lot to do with Lewton picking the right men for the job.

Jacques Tourneur was selected as the director and he did a few other pictures with Lewton for RKO: The Cat People and The Leopard Man, both of which were also really solid films. He would go on to do the film-noir classic Out of the Past and get back into horror with the underrated Night of the Demon and a couple Vincent Price pictures in the 1960s for American International.

The script was penned by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray. Siodmak had already written a bunch of scripts that got turned into monster movies by Universal. So Lewton grabbing him was probably a good way to try and emulate Universal’s success for RKO. Plus, Siodmak could write more mature horror features that were smarter than his work in the Universal Monsters franchise.

I Walked With A Zombie is a pretty great film for what it is. It has a sort of film-noir visual allure to it while being in a lush Caribbean setting. Also, it is a zombie movie, albeit not of the modern style, this is a subtle suspense thriller that has voodoo zombies (my favorite kind of zombie, actually) and is more of a tale about the religious island culture of the West Indies.

This is a rather short film but that was the norm with these Lewton produced horror flicks. Regardless, the story is solid, well paced and the actors do a good job with the material. Frances Dee feels like a real person in a real situation in a time when acting tended to be overly dramatic, especially in the horror genre.

I like this film a lot and it was cool discovering it now, as I got to see it without nostalgia playing a factor. Lewton, Tourneur and Siodmak turned out a very good picture that unfortunately, not a lot of people know about. But that’s probably because it doesn’t feature famous monsters and it isn’t overtly horror, despite the catchy title.

Film Review: The Black Cat (1934)

Also known as: The Vanishing Body
Release Date: May 7th, 1934
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Peter Ruric, Edgar G. Ulmer
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness. He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form. He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.” – Hjalmar Poelzig

The Black Cat is a film that fits under the Universal Monsters banner, even if it was a one-off and not apart of their bigger series like Dracula and Frankenstein. But it does feature the stars of both those franchises: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

The film was also directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a guy who wouldn’t reach superstardom in Hollywood but would direct some pretty notable pictures and make a few worthwhile film-noirs.

The best part about this film is it puts Lugosi and Karloff together and not as creatures or men in heavy makeup or prosthetics. They actually get to play off of each other as humans, Karloff being the mad man and Lugosi being a heroic doctor that still exudes his Count Dracula vibe.

The name of the film comes from an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Within the film, it is a reference to Lugosi’s character and his abnormal fear of cats.

Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a difficult name to pronounce. He is an Austrian architect. Once our heroes, a newlywed couple and Lugosi’s Dr. Werdegast meet on a train, they are stuck together for the rest of the film, most of which takes place at Poelzig’s lavish and futuristic looking home. In fact, the interiors resemble a film-noir set from the late 1940s. The cinematography is also similar and maybe this is what led to Ulmer directing film-noir a decade later.

The Black Cat isn’t a great film but it is a better than decent 1930s horror flick that stars the two biggest horror icons of the time. It is a pretty significant picture for films of the genre and the era.

Film Review: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Release Date: October 21st, 1988
Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Written by: Alan B. McElroy, Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner, John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Dennis Etchison
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Michael Pataki

Trancas International, Galaxy Releasing, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Six bodies, Sheriff! That’s what I’ve seen between here and Ridgemont! A filling station in flames! I’m telling you Michael Myers is here, in this town! He’s here to kill that little girl and anybody who gets in his way!” – Dr. Loomis

After Halloween III confused audiences for being a film completely unrelated to the Michael Myers story, the franchise returned to its big moneymaker for Halloween 4. Michael Myers was back! Dr. Sam Loomis was back! Laurie Strode was not back, however.

To keep the story alive without the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis, the plot moves ahead ten years, bringing it up to 1988, the year it was actually released.

In 1988, Laurie is nowhere to be found but her young daughter similarly lives with a foster family. While she knows the dark family secret and knows who her mother is, she and her new family have to contend with the return of Michael Myers, her killer uncle.

Halloween 4 is a pretty standard slasher movie. The slasher shows up, bodies get stabbed and the young heroine has to try and survive the night. This one has a nice twist at the end, however.

It was great seeing Donald Pleasence return to the role of Dr. Loomis. He was still a madman but he wasn’t as batshit crazy as he was in Halloween II.

I like the tone of this picture and Danielle Harris was absolutely dynamite as the young and terrified Jamie Lloyd, the daughter of Laurie Strode. In fact, I like the duology of Halloween 4 and 5 almost as much as I like the duology that was parts 1 and 2. The people behind these two films did a pretty decent job, overall.

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Video Game Review: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (PlayStation)

*I played the PlayStation version. The game is also available on Windows and Sega Dreamcast.

Man, this game is almost twenty years-old but boy did it feel pretty sweet playing it again. In fact, in 1999, this was probably my favorite game. Although, I was still playing through the first Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on an almost monthly basis. What set this apart from those great games however, was just how massive this game felt in scope. It felt like the most epic video game since I played the first Zelda, as a kid about twelve years prior.

The world in this game is huge and meant to be explored. There is a sequence that you are supposed to play the game in but truthfully, you can skip around if you want and it makes this one of the first games ever to have that sort of freedom. There are several kingdoms to save throughout the game and every one of them is pretty simple to get to and explore. Sure, some are much more challenging and for the true gaming experience and to properly follow the story, they should be done in a specific sequence (similar to a MegaMan game) but the freedom does exist.

The graphics for the time were great. It is blocky and primitive looking today but despite that, it is still a beautiful game to look at and not hard on the eyes at all.

The really cool thing about this game is not just the great story but the entire mythos. Certain things were established in this games predecessor Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen. However, this game expands on that greatly. It takes vampires and presents them in a cool new way. They have evolved and become world-ruling super beings. As the main character Raziel evolves further than his master Kain, he is punished for it and destroyed. He awakens centuries later to see the horrid results of further evolution by his vampiric brethren.

Each vampire brother is a boss in the game and each has evolved in an unusual way that makes each kingdom, each vampire army and each boss a refreshingly new experience. There is nothing repetitive about this game and it has some of the best boss battles in video game history. This, along with Metal Gear Solid, were standard-bearers on the PlayStation One platform for what boss battles could and should be.

I feel like this game and this series has been somewhat forgotten over the years but it is a classic and is still fun almost two decades later.

Film Review: House (1977)

Also known as: Hausu (Japan)
Release Date: July 30th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Written by: Chiho Katsura, Chigumi Obayashi
Music by: Asei Kobayashi, Mickie Yoshino
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yōko Minamida

Toho Co. Ltd., 88 Minutes

Review:

“She eats unmarried young girls. It is the only time she can wear her wedding gown.” – Gari

I don’t think that anyone can argue that House is not one of the most bizarre motion pictures ever made. It’s certifiably insane but I mean that in the best way possible. Frankly, it is one of the most unique film experiences I have ever had. It’s so unique that I’m not surprised it hasn’t reached a larger cult status.

It is hard to describe what the film is. It’s like someone strung together a couple old Japanese folktales of yōkai, handed the directorial reigns over to Dario Argento and told him he had to take a bunch of LSD before rolling the camera.

The story itself is fairly simple. We follow seven Japanese schoolgirls who go into the country to stay at the house of an auntie of one of the girls. Except when they get there, things start to get weird and girls start going missing.

The cool thing that sets all the girls apart, is that each one is a stereotype of some kind with a nickname that fits the stereotype. Kung Fu is a badass martial arts chick, Prof is a brainy girl, Fantasy tells stories with lots of embellishments, Melody plays the piano, etc.

The film also utilizes trippy animation and physical environments constructed of very obvious matte painting backdrops. While this may look cheap at first, it creates a true fantasy world that doesn’t even scratch the surface with how weird this film will get as it continues to roll on.

The special effects for a lower budget Japanese film in the 1970s aren’t much to write home about but this film makes the most out of its limitations and because of the strange environment, the effects are easy to accept. This is a film that you just have to roll with but rolling with it is actually quite easy. It has this endearing hokiness that is infectious.

The acting is on par with a 1970s Japanese tokusatsu program. If you’re a fan of the UltramanKamen Rider or Super Sentai franchises, you know what I’m talking about. It isn’t great acting but it is comedic, physical, overstated and fun. Most of the actors are amateurs but they handled the material well and felt like authentic girls being themselves.

There is some really artistic gore in this but nothing too disturbing. A lot of it is mixed with animation or as a part of a visual collage. Also, the colors are vibrant and the gore is reminiscent of what you would see at the height of the Italian giallo movement. The film could even be described as a Japanese folktale mixed with Alice In Wonderland and some vivid blood splatter.

Trying to quantify what the entirety of this picture is with words isn’t an easy task. Maybe the trailer below will help. Regardless, this is a film worth experiencing at least once in your lifetime.