The Classics of Horror #6 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This is a very sad week for the world of arts and entertainment.

Two highly inspiring figures have passed away: Chester Bennington, frontman of Linkin Park, committed suicide last night and George Romero, father of the zombie sub-genre in cinema, had died in last Sunday.

I can’t stress enough how much the sudden death of a singer who accompanied me with his melodies throughout my whole life shocked me. However, I’m not entitled to talk about it in this blog, although I wish I could express my grief in a better way.

Instead, I hope to make the brilliant director justice by reviewing, unbiasedly, the film that made him famous and gave us the basis for each single zombie movie that came out from 1968 to this day.

Night of the Living Dead is one of the first independent horror flicks, which grossed more than $30 million world-wide on a budget of only £114.000.

Last black and white entrance on this list, Night of the Living Dead tells the story of a small group of people gathered in an abandoned house trying to survive the return to life of the dead. This supernatural occurrence has been caused by radiation leaks that turn on the brains of corpses, basically resuscitating and turning them into flesh eaters.

Night of 2As this brief plot summary might suggest, the flick establishes the rules for each and every zombie movie (especially those involving slow ghouls): they feed upon human and animal flesh, they can’t be killed unless their head gets smashed, their bite is contagious and so on.

Romero has set the rules basing them on centuries of literature, dark fairy tales and bonfire stories, creating a fertile ground for one of the most successful sub-genres in cinema history.

With a small budget to his disposal, the director has also been able to confine the story within a narrow location – although news reports keep showing, throughout the movie, the consequences of the phenomenon on a larger scale, the focus of action is a small house with thin walls and, virtually, a few chances of survival.

Night of 1Even though today Night of the Living Dead wouldn’t scare a child, when I came out it’s been perceived as gory and unsettling. For example, the scene where the zombies eat the flesh of their victims must have been a massive shock for the 60s audience.

The film wasn’t ballsy only in terms of gore and violence, though. It’s then-daring employment of an African-American hero as the lead and its ubiquitous availability on television and video thanks to a lack of copyright all played roles in Night’s success. The racial component was, indeed, more shocking than the bloody sequences: “Everyone was sort of noticing the film was talking about the racial issue”, Romero said in a recent interview. “To us, it wasn’t a racial message at all”, he added, “in fact, when we cast Duane Jones (as the lead) – when Duane Jones agreed to do it – we didn’t change the script” to make it more suitable for a black character.

Night of 4.jpgNevertheless, the director himself claimed his flick to be more than just a zombie movie: “Our point was more the disintegration of society, the inability to communicate, the disintegration of the family unit. That’s the stuff that we were interested in”.

However, the social commentary doesn’t quite emerge in the film.

In my honest opinion, Night of the Living Dead is a rather weak film. Regardless its historic impact and influence, the movie lacks a sense of urgency and inevitability, which is what should emerge in a good zombie flick.

Furthermore, with the exception of Jones, every cast member gives an amateur performance, often over-the-top and laughable when it’s trying to be dramatic.

Night of 3Some of them are plainly annoying, for instance the girl who loses her brother in the first sequence involving the living dead. She’s so pathetic and nerve-wracking throughout the all movie and her contribution to the survival attempts is below nil.

Overall, the main issue with Night of the Living Dead is that it doesn’t hold up anymore.

It’s probably the least watchable out of Romero’s film and, also, in comparison to Rosemary’s Baby – which was released the same year – it looks extremely dated.

In all fairness, I wouldn’t suggest to watch Night of the Living Dead, unless you are a die-hard Romero’s fan or particularly interested in the zombie sub-genre. Instead, I recommend Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Dark Half (1993) by George Romero, because in my opinion they are its best works. Cheers!

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The Classics of Horror #3 – Creature of the Black Lagoon

Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954) was released in a quirky period of time for the history of cinema.

In 1953, a few production companies attempted the 3D technology for the first time. Jack Arnold, director of many Sci-Fi movies in the 50s, decided to tag along and follow the trend.

Unfortunately, the 3D wasn’t quite appealing for the audience at the time, mostly because the filmmakers couldn’t get its and make the best of its potential. Creature of the Black Lagoon was part of this faulty experiment.

However, the film itself had much more to offer than a pure 3D gaming. As a consequence, Jack Arnold’s movie became one of the most influential motion pictures in the history of both Sci-Fi and Horror.

Creature of the Black Lagoon is clearly the product of an age of transition, where horror cinema opened the door to modern standards whilst still relying on elder modules in terms of acting and character development.

Following a quite simple storyline – scientists discover an unknown fossil in the Amazon rainforest, team up to find out more and come across an amphibious monster who won’t let them go away easily – the film develops a dreadful atmosphere which is constant throughout the 89 minutes of runtime.

The choice of not showing the monster in its entirety until half way through the film makes him scarier – probably terrifying at the time the movie was shot – than it should have if its design was unveiled straight away.

The main location – a fisherman boat sailing through the Amazon River – is also effective, since it confines our characters within a secluded place that’s not easy – or safe – to abandon.

creaturefromtheblacklagoonWhat I honestly found astounding, though, was the design and the practical effects the creature was made with. Surprisingly, they hold up and age very well: the creature of the Black Lagoon – which is a guy wearing well-made mask and costume – is more unsettling than many CGI monsters we are used to see on screen nowadays.

Yet, the underwater cinematography is worth praising. Made with a ground-breaking technology for the time, the camera work is convincing and spotless even for a contemporary eye. The waving and swinging of the pond weed gave an extra layer of realism to the whole underwater photography.

Nevertheless, although more enjoyable for modern audiences than Nosferatu or Frankenstein, Creature of the Black Lagoon is not flawless.

Firstly, neither the screenwriter nor the director bothered to check the differences between Spanish and Portuguese. For instance, at the very beginning of the film, there is a sign which tells us we are in front of the Instituto de Biologia Marina of Sao Paolo. However, in Portuguese it should have been spelled as Instituto de Biologia Marinha. It’s nit-picking, I know, but these lazy mistakes always annoy me for some odd reason.

creature-from-the-black-lagoon-sliceThe other thing that turned me off quite a bit was the role of the only female character in the film. I get that Julia Adams is in the movie purely because she’s good-looking, but why her only lines consist of her whining about her fiancé diving into the water and annoyingly screaming as soon as she sees the monster? Her presence in the movie was completely unnecessary and useless.

Even though, in all honesty, I guess that was the typical female role in the 50s’ cinema, where women couldn’t look after themselves nor make their own decisions – alike the patriarchal American society of the time wanted the viewers to perceive them.

All in all, though, Creature of the Black Lagoon is worth watching both for its influence in the creature-feature sub-genre and the level of entertainment it provides the viewers with. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror #2 – Frankenstein (1932)

Alongside Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931), James Whale’s Frankenstein is one of the milestones of the pre-Code, a brief era between the introduction of sound pictures in 1929 and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines.

Successful and quite faithful to the original novel, Frankenstein had a generally positive reception and, to these days, is considered among the best horror movies in cinema history.

Nevertheless, the film encountered many troubles straight after its release. The scene in which the monster throws the little girl into the lake and accidentally drowns her has long been controversial. Upon its original 1931 release, the second part of this scene was cut by state censorship boards in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.

frankenstein-theredlist.jpgThose states also objected to a line they considered blasphemous, one that occurred during Frankenstein’s exuberance when he first learns that his creature is alive. The original line – “It’s alive! It’s alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!” – has been changed in many ways by censors.

Regardless, Frankenstein presents timeless themes and food for thought that survived censorships and controversy.

Alike Nosferatu (1922), the creature represents what’s different from the society and its values. It’s scary because unknown and incomprehensible.

Yet, the relationship between science and religion is a key elements, as well as the conflict between the inevitable death and the urge for immortality.

Filled with great performances – according to the standards of that time – Frankenstein still manages to be unsettling at points, more so for the angry outburst of the commoners than for the creature itself, which is presented as both culprit and victim.

frankenstein1931eSimilarly, Henry Frankenstein (perfectly portrayed by Colin Clive) shows a contrasting nature, in precarious balance between haughtiness and scientific curiosity.

Overall, still to these days Frankenstein is a modern movie – in regards to its contents – and probably the best adaptation of the novel of the same name. Obviously, there are editing and sound design issues that most of contemporary movies don’t deal with.

frankenstein-19752070-1579-1223

Nevertheless, this is a monster movie that has more to offer than what some could think. Give it a watch, it’s definitely worth your time and attention. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror – Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu instilled in the mass audience the fear for vampires before the blood-thirsty creatures became a cult, before the story of Dracula was buried alive in clichés, jokes, marketing and more than 35 following movies.

And no, I’m not talking about that abomination against humanity known as Twilight, because even in the later – and better – performances, from Bela Lugosi to Cristopher Lee to Frank Langella to Gary Oldman, the vampire comes across like a flamboyant actor, instead of a man suffering from a dread curse.

This happens instead through the acting of Max Schreck, the actor who portrays the character of Nosferatu in such a unique, inimitable way that he’s able to convey an overall sense of dread.

Which is something exceptional, considering that Nosferatu is a silent, black and white movie, where the narration is carried by slides.

It’s, indeed, obvious to state that the movie is old and quite difficult to judge through modern standards. Some might think, for instance, that the acting is mostly laughable and over-the-top, but that’s a consequence of the strong influence theater had played on cinema in its early stages.

Copy_of_nosferatTherefore, this film must be observed as a piece of cinema history – and, in my opinion – the first, fundamental milestone of horror cinema and, thus, its value should be measured in terms of the impact it had in those years.

None was reported as fainting while the movie was playing – contrarily to what the production company claim today in their taglines about flicks that wouldn’t scare a toddler – but it nevertheless had a huge shock value among the viewers at the time.

However, Nosferatu contains the seeds of recurrent themes in the following better horror movie: the fear for what is different, the loneliness of being excluded from the society, the relationship between mortality and immortality.

nosferatu-shadowAlso, from a technical standpoint, the movie directed by the German Expressionist F. W. Murnau presents a few astoundingly modern elements, such as the use of shadows to create tension and sense of threaten.

Nevertheless, other techniques look obviously ridiculous nowadays. For example, the editing doesn’t hold up anymore and seems very sloppy.

All in all, though, Nosferatu is the first, great horror movie in cinema history and, although quite aged, it’s still inspiring numerous directors working today. Give it a take if you’re passionate of cinema. Cheers!

A dark fairy tale that will make you grip your chair. The Eyes of my Mother – movie review

Me: Baby, why don’t we watch a random horror movie? Let’s just google some lists of recent films and see what appeals to us.

A: Yeah, sure thing… there’s shitload of crappy movies, though.

Me: Fine, let’s just watch Moana or Safe Heaven then… wait, what’s this one?

A: What is it?

Me: The Eyes of My Mother, a low-budget indie horror which looks quite appreciated on IMDb… plus, it’s only 76 mins long, it won’t be too boring. Wanna watch the trailer?

A: Yup, play it… oh wow, it’s in black and white and looks creepy. I’m down for watching it.

Me: Me too, let’s do this!

 

Eyes of my motherMe: The cinematography looks really cool, there’s barely any dialogue and the atmosphere is indeed unsettling.

A: I love the camera work! Every shot is neat and immaculate… It looks like an artsy-fartsy movie, which I don’t mind like at all.

Me: What language are they speaking?

A: Portuguese

Me: Alright. It sounded familiar. Hey, some words are actually the same in Italian and Spanish, how cool is…

A: What’s that creepy dude doing? What’s he staring at?

Me: No idea, but so far it’s the most dreadful part of the film! Oh, fuck! What’s he gonna do now? This is making me feel sick… Why isn’t she reacting? Oh, the dad just got home and… oh shit! Did he use a hammer?

EyesofMyMother_Trailer2A: Nope, it was the pistol he threatened them with… look, the motherfucker is alive! Wow, she cut his vocal chords and ripped off his eyes.

Me: Gross!

 

Me: The relationship between Francisca and her dad is sick! And look, the psycho is still alive… they keep him alive, making him live like a freaking animal. Which he deserved, by the way.

A: Yeah, I don’t even know if he’s her real dad. Also, I think she has no idea whatsoever about human relationships… she’s been raised with no other contacts than her mentally ill parents – or whatever they are.

Me: Definitely… oh, what’s she doing with her dad?

A: I think he’s dead. She’s keeping the body and pretending he’s alive.

Me: She went out. So now she hooks up with this Asian lady… right?

A: Yeah, I don’t think she has any idea about sexuality, though. She’s just trying not to remain alone.

eomm2Me: This dialogue is so surreal. She’s so calm and threatening at the same time… what a great, subtle performance by this… Kika Magalhaes. Oh, she’s actually Portuguese. Great performance, no jokes.

A: She won’t let the other girl leave…

Me: No chance! Here it comes… that was very clever. I love when horror movies understand that sometimes less means more and not showing too much could make a scene more effective.

A: Where’s she going now?

Me: She’s going to visit the murderer.

A: Why’s she untying him? Oh, please tell me she’s not gonna do that! It’s disgusting!

Me: She’s sick in the head. Oh, boy, he’s trying to run away from her… that’s not gonna work, buddy.

A: That was brutal! And she shows no emotions on her face…

Me: Brutal, indeed! Hey, Francisca, I guess he was already dead at the 10th stab, the other 20 or so weren’t necessary!

 

A: Where’s she going now?

Me: No idea. But this shot is astounding. The photography is brilliant.

A: Oh, no! Why did you pick her up?

Me: Exactly, why would you do that with your baby in the car?

A: Because everybody will trust a seemingly fragile, young and quite pretty girl.

Me: Alright, now she’s screwed! Poor baby… and poor mom! She’s done the same procedure she did to the murder.

A: Her soundless scream gave chills to my spine.

Me: Agreed. This film is so cleverly unsettling and it gets creepier scene by scene.

A: Look, years have passed now. The boy grew up and the mom… for Christ’s sake, she’s still chained and imprisoned!

Me: I think Francisca’s doing with the boy what her “mom” has done with her before. She’s basically trying to build a new messed up family.

A: Good boy! There must be some good in him, he’s not been fully intoxicated by cruelty.

Me: Do you think she’ll be able to call the police?

A: Yup, can you hear the sirens?

Me: Yes! Finally!

A: Good ending, but this is one of those movies where I’d have liked to know more, go more in-depth…

Me: Which is good, this film surprised me beyond every expectation! I’m gonna review and praise it asap.

 

The Eyes of My Mother is an artsy-fartsy horror drama/ dark fairy tale which tells the story of Francisca, a young girl who will haunt your dreams. I decided to write a different review – which isn’t really a review, it’s the experience my girlfriend and I had watching this film – because this motion picture is so unique that deserves something more.

 

Shot entirely in black and white, this indie movie is an amalgamation between great acting, astounding cinematography, immaculate editing, amazing sounds design and a gripping story told in a highly unconventional way.

 

I’m not going to give anything else away. Just check The Eyes of my Mother out. You won’t regret it. Cheers!