Film Review: What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Written by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Music by: Plan 9
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford

Resnick Interactive Development, Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die, New Zealand Film Commission, Madman Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’.” – Viago

*written in 2014.

What We Do In the Shadows is a New Zealand horror comedy that I have wanted to see for quite some time. I saw the trailer over a year ago but the film had a hard time getting distribution in the United States, even though it stars Jemaine Clement from HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and is made by some of the same people. Since it is now on Amazon’s video on demand service, I purchased it.

The film is done as a mockumentary following four vampires who live together in a flat in urban New Zealand. It shows their lives, how they make it in the modern world, examines their long friendships with one another and how they view and interact with the rest of the world. What We Do In the Shadows not only gives us vampires but it showcases werewolves, zombies, witches and other paranormal entities and how they work through their issues in a world together.

The cast in this movie is phenomenal. Each character in any other film would be a spotlight stealer but in this movie, they all shine and they all grab onto the spotlight and don’t let go from the first frame until the last.

You have Vladislav, the vampire played by Jemaine Clement, who was once a master of supernatural seduction but lost his mojo after confronting “The Beast”. Viago is a vampire that was a Victorian dandy who still embraces that style and culture. Deacon is a vampire who believes himself to be the ultimate sex magnet while ignoring his share of the chores in the flat. The fourth vampire is Petyr who is a temperamental 8,000 year old vampire that looks like Count Orlock from Nosferatu. The cast is then rounded out by a few other great characters that challenge the vampires and their relationships with humans and other creatures.

To call this film “hilarious” is an understatement. There hasn’t been a horror comedy this good since Shaun of the Dead and to be honest, this movie may be a bit better. There isn’t a scene that goes by that doesn’t have you laughing out loud. The thing that makes it work so well, is the fact that you truly care about the characters and their struggles. No one is just fodder for comedy, they all serve a real purpose and feel like real characters despite the absurdity of their situations.

What We Do In the Shadows is a rare comedy masterpiece. I haven’t enjoyed any comedy this much in years. If you are a fan of horror that is funny, this should be right up your alley.

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.

TV Review: American Horror Story (2011- )

Original Run: October 5th, 2011 – current
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Cesar Davila-Irizarry, Charlie Clouser, James S. Levine, Mac Quayle
Cast: Evan Peters, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Cheyenne Jackson, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., André Holland, Billie Lourd, Alison Pill, Alexandra Daddario, Grace Gummer

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 78 Episodes (so far), 37-73 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I just binge watched the first three seasons of American Horror Story, as I was running out of things to watch on Netflix and this was in my queue for a few years. I have yet to see season 4, as it isn’t available yet.

I have a few friends who obsess over this show, which is probably why I put it off for so long. Usually, when a bunch of people build something up really high, I am left disappointed. I think the only time I wasn’t was when I finally sat down to watch Breaking Bad.

I wouldn’t call American Horror Story a disappointment though. It was pretty enjoyable and I’ll watch future seasons, albeit at my own leisure. But I wouldn’t call the show special or hype it up to everyone I know.

The premise of the show is horror, which is obvious by the title, but other than tapping into supernatural elements and showing something scary every now and then, it plays more like a teen drama. But that is the way of Hollywood these days. Sure, most of the characters are older than teens but this is definitely a show written for them.

The show just isn’t scary and that is why I have reservations about horror being used in a television format. Sure, you can churn up a few frights and provide creepy visuals and a dark tone but over the course of a 13 episode season, the monsters you are selling get less and less scary. When the reveals have to happen early because modern audiences can’t tolerate suspense, there is nowhere else to go other than adding in more teen drama and stretching out a resolution.

I guess the one thing that irks me about the show, is how the payoffs seem rushed, the resolution happens almost too early and the final few episodes of each season play like an epilogue that is too fleshed out. The grand evil each season is conquered around episode 11. So what you get is two more episodes that really aren’t necessary. I don’t care about any of these characters that much. It’s like the ending to the extended edition of The Return of the King – you just want it to be over.

Highlights of the show include the acting talents of Jessica Lange and Evan Peters (who was Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past). The rest of the cast, at least the actors who appear over multiple seasons are all pretty good. Although, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau was horrible. I don’t blame her, as the character of Laveau was horribly written. The writers really tarnished the well respected legacy of the New Orleans Voodoo Queen and turned her into an evil vengeful idiot. Kathy Bates was fantastic though, I do want to point that out.

I like the show more than I dislike it but it hasn’t solidified me as a fan and it is a moderately enjoyable way to waste a weekend.

Update:

After the third season, I watched two more. Each year gets worse and worse, to the point that I’ve completely stopped caring about the show. The last season I watched was Hotel and I have no more interest in the future of this anthology franchise. I think there are two more seasons after Hotel with the possibility of this going on forever… but I’m done.

Film Review: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Also known as: The Zombies
Release Date: January 9th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Peter Bryan
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: André Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, John Carson, Alexander Davion

Hammer Film Productions, Seven Arts Productions, Warner-Pathé, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I, I find all kinds of witchcraft slightly nauseating and this I find absolutely disgusting.” – Sir James Forbes

The Plague of the Zombies is truly the embodiment of a classic Hammer horror picture. Considering it is one that doesn’t star Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee makes it even more impressive. Also, it wasn’t even directed by Hammer’s top dog Terence Fisher. Yet, it somehow perfectly captures the quality, tone and vibe of a true Hammer classic.

Director John Gilling only did a handful of pictures for Hammer. Still, he really made something that embodied their style and feels like some of their earlier, better known work such as The Curse of FrankensteinHorror of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

When singling out famous monster types, this is Hammer’s quintessential zombie movie in the same way that The Curse of the Werewolf was their quintessential werewolf picture. Hammer had vampires covered with at least a dozen movies.

This is also a zombie movie of the really old school pre-George A. Romero era. It features zombies created through the use of voodoo, which has always been the coolest type of zombie, in my opinion.

One thing that really makes this picture great is the performance of André Morell. He was really Hammer’s third biggest male star and he easily fills the void of this picture not having Cushing or Lee in it. Morell is underappreciated as a classic horror icon and this is one of his best films and performances. I wish this picture was a bit better known by horror aficionados.

In addition to Morell, John Carson puts in one of the best villainous performances in Hammer history. His evil voodoo practicing Squire is intimidating, haunting and weirdly alluring at the same time. Plus, voodoo in horror has always been a thing I’ve loved and this guy fits the part as the rich aristocratic British gentleman with his Haitian servants and horde of undead henchmen.

The Plague of the Zombies is a pretty perfect Hammer movie. It fits in perfectly with the best films in their oeuvre. Plus, it has zombies, voodoo and is a whole lot of fun.

Film Review: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Release Date: April 4th, 2003
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Jose Manuel Gomez, Brian Yuzna (uncredited)
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Xavier Capellas
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Tommy Dean Musset, Jason Barry, Barbara Elorrieta, Elsa Pataky, Santiago Segura, Simon Andreu

Castelao Producciones, Fantastic Factory, Filmax International, Lions Gate Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“She’s not getting any fresher.” – Herbert West

I really like the Re-Animator film series but this was the weakest chapter out of the three. I’m not sure why, as taking things into a prison setting should have provided some interesting developments and new territory. I think it may have fallen short because there was so much time between the second film and this one, the third and final.

That being said, this is still pretty fun and I do like the film. Re-Animator is a horror film franchise where every movie does a good job and brings something fresh without simply being a retread. Then again, the series stopped at three films. Although, I’d really be game for a fourth even though it has been a long time since the third. But Dr. Herbert West is still out there.

I guess the biggest thing about this film that sets it below the others is that the big grand finale isn’t bigger and crazier than the previous two movies. The first film’s finale was ridiculous in the best way possible. The second film upped the ante and was as visually impressive as it was completely insane. This film still has an awesome ending full of insanity, violence, gore and a lot of dark humor but it didn’t go any further than what we’ve seen before.

I feel like the prison riot scenario could have been so grander and with a lot more re-animated corpses ripping human flesh to shreds. It was cool seeing what happens when a junkie shoots up with Dr. West’s syrum but it felt like an understatement in the way the film handled it.

At the end of the day, Jeffrey Combs is still money as Dr. Herbert West and this is still a good horror film that fits within the franchise, even if though it came out after a thirteen year break.

Film Review: Psychomania (1973)

Also known as: The Death Wheelers, The Frog, The Living Dead
Release Date: January 5th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cameron
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Benmar Productions, Scotia-Barber, Scotia International, International Film Distributors, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It’s easy to kill live people.” – Jane Pettibone

When I read the premise of this film, I got massively excited. I had to see it! However, watching it was a massive disappointment.

The premise stated that the film was about a small town biker gang called The Living Dead. They are a wild bunch with skull helmets that like to hangout in cemeteries and obsess over dead stuff. The leader kills himself to actually be reborn as “the living dead”. The rest of his crew follow suit and we get an evil biker gang that is seemingly immortal, indestructible and have super strength.

This film could have been something really cool but in the end, it was mostly a bore without any real frights or scares and it was all just really nonsensical and pointless.

The biker leader is the bratty son of some rich psychic lady with ties to some ancient power or something. The biker brat gets some mysterious frog and they are able to harness its mystical powers so that the young man can become a handsome leather clad zombie biker. In fact, when the biker brat emerges from the grave on his motorcycle, he has no dirt on him and his hair looks like some model’s from a 1970s Short & Sassy shampoo commercial.

The movie suffers from the fact that there isn’t a likable person in it. Everyone is actually kind of deplorable. The one character that is supposed to be the innocent girl about to be victimized by the zombie bikers is actually a member of the gang that just doesn’t have any interest in being undead. Still, she is a part of this gang of nincompoops and the audience shouldn’t really give a shit about her.

Our biker zombies never really become zombies anyway. They just look the same but they can easily murder people with their bare hands and Incredible Hulk grip.

This is a dumb and pointless movie and the music throughout it is horrible. I don’t hate it though; it isn’t total shit. It just sort of exists in a weird limbo. It could have been something interesting but it failed to be good and it failed to be bad. Had it been atrociously bad, it could have been somewhat endearing. It was just a boring dud with no style and not a lot of substance.