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31 Films of Halloween: Day 17

October 17, 2018

 Wednesday, October 17th

"Day of the Dead" (1985)


 George A Romero created the mythology for the modern Zombie movie with his Trilogy of films; "Night of the Living Dead", "Dawn of the Dead", and "Day of the Dead". Rewriting and revitalizing an existing sub-genre is an extremely arduous task to take on, keeping it creatively relevant and consistent over a 3 decade period should be nearly impossible. George Romero was able to achieve this with his near perfect series of films. 


The 1960's was a period of civil unrest, and change. Integration was one of the key issues of the time. Whether intentional or not, with the casting choice of Duane Jones in the lead, Romero made a strong political statement for the changing times, reflecting aspects of society that the films of the 50's and early 60's chose to either ignore, or paint with an optimistically false brush ie. "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". In the documentary "Birth of the Living Dead", they say that the casting choice wasn't made on the grounds of race, casting a black man in a very strong role that doesn't really even make mention of it in the script or film, they cast him because he was the best actor who auditioned. I think this makes an even stronger case for Romero creating the progressive horror masterpiece he did.


 In the 1970's the groundwork was being laid for the type of cultural consumerism that overtook the 80's. Continuing his saga of the dead, Romero decided that instinct and simple reasoning would exist in the minds Zombies, so setting the film in a place that is a temple for the consumerism was a great choice for the sequel/continuation. The commercial culture has taken root so deeply that the Zombies would feel the urge to return to a comfortable place with everything they could ever want to impulsively purchase, the mall. It's also a great setting for a film, many different locations and weapons to choose from. Especially since the Monroeville Mall has a Gun Store. I can't imagine one of those existing in a mall today, or even in the close proximity in the Zach Snyder remake. 


In the 1980's, all of these these issues were heightened by the age of Reagan...and cocaine. 1985's "Day of the Dead" was the perfect Zombie film for the "Me" generation. 1985 was also smack dab in the middle of the high testosterone action cycle. Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, were getting big at the box office, so the types of soldiers Romero would put into his film would be reflexive of that. Some might say that Joseph Pilato overacted his way through his commander role in the film, but I think it was the perfect turn for a soldier in the age of "Rambo" who has endured as much of the apocalypse as he has. At this point, the ratio of humans to Zombies has reached 1:400,000, so enduring all of that would waste the nerves of anyone who is put in charge of any situation. He's still the villain in this, and a damn good one, but I don't think the pergormance was overacted, I think it was damn good. 


The rest of the actors, and characters in this are also quite good. The other soldiers that are left are the most "Alpha" you could find, so their discourse and amped up attitude matches what the reality of the situation would be. It might actually be a little light. Head Scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille) seems much "safer" than I think she would be as the only woman living with a group of men in a coal mine during a Zombie apocalypse. The danger the women of "28 Days Later" are in seems closer to reality.


Aside from that, it works well, and I do love her character. Maybe the man she has partnered up with keeps the others at bay being that he is one of the scientist group that has turned half soldier, but the others don't seem to respect him very much, calling him "yellow" and insulting him at every possible turn. Part of me thinks they would just kill him, cast him aside, and take her for themselves if basically the whole world were dead. He is a good representation of PTSD, and gets to give back as good as he was given to the aggressive soldiers in the end.


The head scientist has also gone a bit mad in these end times, conducting experiments that earn him his nickname "Frankenstein". His role does bridge the best Zombie element into the film as well. His test subject "Bob" is starting to develop cognitive skills, and is Romero's best Zombie creation. So great that we have a figure of him chained to the wall of our mantle. Bob with the headphones is one of the best moments in any of the films, and it adds depth to the film's climax giving one of the Zombies a role for the audience. This also counters well with how the end of the world is represented in the series.


When there's no room left in Hell, will the one's walking the earth be the hero's. As the world goes on in the post Zombie world, the true nature of man is always revealed, and the selfishness it takes to survive a world like this always reveals the cognitive humans to be the true villains. Though this also isn't my favorite of the series, I still give it a 4 out of 5 star review. It's streaming on Shudder right now. 


"Masters of Horror: The V Word"

Eventually it had to happen, "Masters of Horror" had to put its spin on Vampire mythology, and that is where we find ourselves with "The V Word". Ernest Dickerson's a very interesting choice to direct an episode of the anthology, as his resume doesn't scream Master of Horror at first glance. It reads more  like a working television director's. A successful one, but one who is as likely to do an episode of an "ER" type show as he is to work on "The Walking Dead", which he's credited with 11 episodes of. His sole writing credit was for the Tupac starring vehicle "Juice", which he also directed, but that's not really horror either. The film that seems to have put him here is "Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight", which I was delighted to see in the theater on it's first run. "Bones" is a film that is in a blindspot for me, I'll have to change that soon.


Looking a bit deeper at Ernest's resume, I was impressed to see 31 credits as a cinematographer.  He started his career with "Brother From Another Planet", a hilarious science fiction satire from John Sayles. I was impressed again at the "Tales From the Darkside" episodes he worked on , and completely floored when I saw he shot every Spike Lee Joint (film) from "She's Gotta Have It" to "Malcom X". There are some amazing films included in there, most notably "Do the Right Thing", and I've always loved the look of "Mo' Betta Blues". Seeing all of this, I not only see why Mick made the impressive choice to tap Ernest for this episode, I can also see that he's an icon of a Cinematographer.


Ernest's chapter of the series, "The V Word" is one that is concerned with both creating an interesting spin on the Vampire myth, while also telling an emotional story. Kerry and Justin are best friends who spend hours slaying pixels in violent video games. Kerry is going through the separation of his parents, and his absentee father transitioning to a new life and family. Judging from the angry phone call that opens the story, things aren't going very well on that front. Being a good friend, Kerry wants to get them out of the house, make the night better instead of moping around, and playing more "Doom". 


This is where the story becomes a "do you want to see a dead body?" sort of story. Justin has a cousin that works at a mortuary, and he decides that if they're going to go anywhere, it's going to be to see some real life carnage instead of the video game variety. Like most of these stories, the teens get way more than they bargained for, coming in the form of iconic actor Michael Ironside in this story. 


Ironside is an amazing actor who is probably best known for being a badass in "Scanners", "Total Recall", and "Starship Troopers". He gets the best role contained in this short movie as a teacher the kids recognize who has just recently been killed in retribution for a pretty nasty scandal, but decided not to stay dead. He's a vampire, but not one with fangs that reveal themselves, or the ability to turn into any sort of animal. Instead, we get throats that are ripped out by hand in order to feed on the blood. There's a big part of me that likes this depiction better than two little puncture wounds in the victim's neck. 


While I like the story of family revenge that the story has in it, and the Ironside performance, not everything about "The V Word" was perfect. I'm not really a fan of the "vampire vision" that they use in this. Whenever they switch to how Justin sees the world, it gets a slow motion quality to it that mutes the sounds around him. Just a stylistic choice that wasn't great, and honestly neither was Branden Nadon's performance as Justin. Everyone else around him is pretty good, but he just doesn't sell his scenes as consistently as the rest. It makes sense that he's also the one with the shortest resume. 


It's still a worthy entry, though not an essential one. I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars. The Ironside performance belongs in a 4 star movie, so it's definitely worth watching for that. 

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