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Night Of The Living Dead (#110 of 7)

Summer of ‘88: Waxwork

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Waxwork</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Waxwork</em>

The Cabin in the Woods ends with a deliriously apocalyptic Grand Guignol in which just about every ghoulie that’s ever appeared in a horror movie is released from a subterranean prison to wreak bloody mayhem on their captors. But Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were hardly the first to conceive of a finale of that kind, and on that kind of massive scale. The 1988 horror yarn Waxwork ends with a band of hunters—including Valley Girl’s Deborah Foreman and Gremlins star Zach Galligan—facing off against a slew of vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies, even an Audrey II-like man-eating plant in a wax museum-set battle royale over the fate of mankind. Notwithstanding a very-’80s proliferation of cheesy one-liners before the heroes dispatch the various villains, this finale exudes a similar no-holds-barred spirit that the climax of The Cabin in the Woods would tap into 23 years later, albeit with a bigger budget and even less abandon.

For me, The Cabin in the Woods was condescending in its deconstruction of horror conventions, wrapped in a smart-ass concept—a government agency presiding over the fates of a bunch of innocent cabin-dwellers, not unlike filmmakers trying to come up with an audience-savvy product—that eventually turned its contempt toward the audience, supposedly for uncritically eating up this crap without desiring more from their entertainment. Waxwork isn’t nearly as clever, to be sure, and its execution is at times clumsy, especially with its wobbly sorta-campy tone. (The broad caricatures and cheesy acting in the film’s first 15 minutes alone are cringe-inducing.) But for all its shakiness and obvious low budget, Anthony Hickox’s film does at least display a sincere love for the horror classics to which it pays tribute, even going so far as to shoot a Night of the Living Dead-inspired sequence in black and white to match its source material. In other words, Waxwork is thankfully free of Whedon and Goddard’s smugness.

Night’s Black Agents Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted

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Night’s Black Agents: Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted
Night’s Black Agents: Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted

The most recent Jean Rollin films to make their Blu-ray debut from Kino and Redemption Films mark a significant departure for the filmmaker. Forced by financial exigencies to eschew the timeless fairy-tale quality of his early-’70s vampire films, Rollin sets these more politically inflected (infected?) films squarely in the present day. Without entirely abandoning the atmosphere of off-kilter surrealism that dominated his earlier films, Rollin proves equally adroit at fashioning emotionally affecting and thematically resonant modern-day morality plays, films that bear comparison with the works of emerging genre visionaries like George A. Romero and David Cronenberg. With its high-rise setting and emphasis on sexualized violence, Night of the Hunted would provide an ideal double feature with Cronenberg’s Shivers, while The Grapes of Death is often compared to Night of the Living Dead, owing to its shambling hordes of pseudo-zombies, the Romero film it most closely resembles in theme and approach is in fact The Crazies.

Both films are linked at their most literal level. Each features a protagonist named Elisabeth, and taken together as a matched pair, the films provide a thoroughgoing critique of the dehumanizing and destructive forces unleashed by (post)industrial capitalism. The Grapes of Death opens with the mechanization of agrarian vineyards and prominently features that emblem of the Industrial Revolution: the locomotive. Night of the Hunted culminates by invoking the routinization of wholesale extermination during the Holocaust via cattle cars and incinerators. The creatures in these films aren’t Romero’s reanimated dead; they’re normal people slowly dying from an incurable disease, a fate that all too easily could befall any of us. The films derive their terrible poignancy from examining the ineluctable process by which their victim-killers’ humanity is progressively leached away.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Rob Humanick’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Rob Humanick’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Rob Humanick’s Top 10 Films of All Time

To choose only 10 films for this list was a task at once simple and impossible. Had I been given enough time to watch every film ever made, then allowed several decades to narrow down my choices, I would have still bemoaned this challenge. By the time this is published, I’ll have changed my mind. Held at gunpoint, however, the results would probably look something like this, and for my purposes here, know that the difference between “best” and “favorite” is immaterial. Every one of these represents not only a peak of the art form, but an experience I wonder whether I could truly live without. With apologies to Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Steven Spielberg, F.W. Murnau, Nicholas Ray, Fritz Lang, Abel Gance, Werner Herzog, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Roman Polanski, Terrence Malick, Chuck Jones, Ridley Scott, George A. Romero, and the 1930s, among others.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I approached this project the exact same way I expect I would’ve handled being given a ballot in the actual Sight & Sound poll: by procrastinating until the very last second and making a lot of spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment rules to dictate how I could possibly whittle down dozens of films into a list of 10. (I know, everyone else probably would’ve said “hundreds of films,” but I’ve always been a little cine-anorexic.)

The list of “obstructions” ought to be familiar to anyone with any exposure to this parlor game: one per decade, one per country, one per genre, one per boyfriend. But having willfully backed myself into the corner of having no more time on hand, I am forced to use a list I’ve already built elsewhere: the list of films I previously designated as favorites on MUBI. I like using that as a starting point because my choices there seem neither too conservative nor too outré (or at least both simultaneously), and I first started ticking them off as an exercise toward building a list of my 50 favorite movies. Plus, I limited myself to one choice per director.

The number of “nominees” there now stands at a slightly lower sum than that original goal (how have I still not picked a Bresson?!), but it still seems the best middle ground I can find between favoring my, well, favorites and giving movies I consider to be among “the greatest” their due. The only major wrench in this plan is that, of the 46 movies shortlisted, all but about a dozen of them are from the U.S. And nearly half are from the span between 1966 and 1976.

Well, no point dancing around statistics. A strategy is a strategy, so onward and upward, in chronological order:

A Movie a Day, Day 13: Survival of the Dead

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A Movie a Day, Day 13: Survival of the Dead
A Movie a Day, Day 13: Survival of the Dead

I’ve always had a weak spot for zombie movies, which give me permission to wallow in guilt-free survival fantasies. I mean, how bad can it be to kill somebody who’s already dead, especially when their whole purpose in un-life is to snack on your brains?

Like a lot of people, I’m particularly fond of George A. Romero’s zombie movies. I like their lightly scruffy, homemade feel. I like how they’re always set in or near the blue-collar town of Pittsburgh, Romero’s home base for most of his adult life, and how their heroes are generally can-do types, working-class or middle-class people used to relying on themselves—just the kind of folks you want to hang out with during a zombie invasion. But most of all, I like the way Romero uses his zombie movies to say something about the cultural soup we’re all simmering in.

Romero has always made his zombie movies more for money than for love, so they’re a little hit and miss. Diary of the Dead felt dashed off and didactic, one good idea stretched way too thin. Three years before that, Romero came up with what may have been his best zombie movie of all, the ferocious Bush-era satire Land of the Dead.

5 for the Day: "Aliens Aren’t Scary, Dad"

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5 for the Day: “Aliens Aren’t Scary, Dad”
5 for the Day: “Aliens Aren’t Scary, Dad”

When District 9 came out, I was geeked to see it opening weekend. My older daughters wanted to go but my wife was busy. So, finding a babysitter for my ten-year-old twins remained the only obstacle. Unsuccessful, I would not to be deterred. Why not just take them with me? Because of its “R” rating I was nervous that it might be too intense. Of course, they balked at any such notion. After some due diligence (don’t judge me), I determined that D9 earned its rating based on violent content. I (correctly, it turns out) assumed that the carnage was of the sci-fi/video game variety as opposed to the more visceral gore (pun intended) presented in the Hostel/Saw genre. Nonetheless, as the movie unfolded, I kept a close watch on their reaction (like I said, don’t judge me). Every fifteen minutes I’d ask if they were “doing okay.” Each time, they assured me that they were. After my fifth such inquiry, one of the twins looked up a bit irritated and whispered, “Aliens aren’t scary dad…sheesh.”

And they really weren’t scared. People and “prawns” were getting blasted right and left. Yet my youngest kids were unmoved (my oldest too, for that matter). My guess is that the subject matter seemed so far removed from their own reality that it didn’t have the desired effect. That got me to thinking about what scared me as a child. As laid out in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the horror icons of my youth in the late ’60s and early ’70s were represented by Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman (both Lon Chaney Jr AND Oliver Reed) or the creature from the Black Lagoon. In their day, I suppose they had scared a lot of adults. But as a ten-year-old they left me unfazed. In fact, I thought they were kinda cool. As it turns out, MY kids think that the title character in Ridley Scott’s Alien is kinda cool too.

So WHAT did frighten me as a kid? Here’s a list of “scary” moments that stayed with me for a LONG time. The employment of a naturalistic approach seems to be a common thread running through all of these examples and may illuminate my child’s comment.