Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Jacob’s Ladder (1990, Adrian Lyne)


For some reason psychological horror thrillers were a big thing in the late 1980s and 1990s. They were usually well made and had a higher pedigree than many lower budget horror films. Jacob’s Ladder was one of them, and it’s a great and freaky journey into the psyche of its main character, played by the famous actor Tim Robbins. Robbins does a fantastic job of conveying man on the verge of madness, haunted by his past. Adrian Lyne does a fine job of visually presenting these nightmares and giving us a window into Jacob’s shattered mind.

Dealing with his troubles are his girlfriend, Jezzie, played by Elizabeth Peña and his chiropractor, Louis (Danny Aiello). Neither though really has answers for what is going on with Jacob, and even his own old army unit fails to give him any peace. One scene where Jacob is wheeled through a hospital is quite freaky, and there are other eerie moments that make the viewer wonder what is really going on.

My only major complaint about this film is that I already knew certain major details. I wish I could have seen this in theaters back in 1990, as I’m sure that this movie surprised many movie goers. I consider this to be a well made horror drama, one that is much tragic as it is scary. Also it’s too bad that even decades later Vietnam and other war vets suffer from the traumatic events of war.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Late Phases (2014, Adrián García Bogliano)


Ever since the 1980s werewolf movies have become more improved and more interesting. Late Phases works as a slow burning and intense character study that has a fantastic last act. The rest of the film works as a look at a hard man that is paying for the choices he’s made in his life. Unfortunately for him there is a werewolf, and this beast is human the rest of the time. Don’t get too attached to that nice little old lady next door: she gets ripped to shreds. Makes me think of Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon.

Cinema screen tough guy Nick Damici plays Ambrose, a Vietnam War veteran who is haunted by the past. He is also blind, and has just moved into a retirement community. His relationship with his son, Will, played by Ethan Embry, is on the ropes due to Ambrose being kind of a grumpy asshole. In fact, this film spends more time on its characters than the actual creatures that the film is supposed to be about.

I loved the last act and I did like how the film kept me guessing about who the werewolf or werewolves were in the closed gate community. Although Late Phases doesn’t really reinvent the werewolf sub genre it is a really well made and captivating horror film. One of the aspects I enjoy about modern horror is that the best it has to offer is usually well made and very engaging. This film happens to be a good study in how to make the best out of a low budget situation. Also for a low budget film the creature effects were rather solid. Nice.

Ten Years Dead: Night of the Living Dead Essay (Warning: Spoilers)


From 2005, no less. Whoa that’s 10 years since I wrote about George A. Romero’s masterpiece Night of the Living Dead (1968). Unfortunately I was unable to discuss the film in full detail without using spoilers and mentioning key plot points, although at this point if you haven’t seen George A. Romero’s classic film then you should go fix that ASAP.

Despite the snubbing the horror movie genre receives from many critics, there are actually a good many horror films that have received substantial praise from both critics and fans. One such film is original Night of the Living Dead, made in 1968 by the famous and renowned director George A. Romero. I’ve heard it referred to as the Citizen Kane of horror movies, and while I haven’t seen enough to agree with that statement, Night is indeed a landmark in the history of horror movies, and in cinema.

Before I begin my attempt to discuss the film’s plot, stars, and the finer points of human flesh, I feel the need to say how I discovered this film in the first place. It was back in the fall of 2001, when I was a sophomore at my local high school. Being that it was Halloween, we decided to rent a couple of horror movies, thus continuing a tradition of sorts that we’ve done every year since the 8th Grade.

After walking through the door and being greeted by one of the store clerks wearing some freaky mask, we wandered into the video store aisle marked “Horror.” While my friend picked Scream 3, which was a fairly new release, I noticed a VHS cover, which I think had a zombie on it (my memory is kind of fuzzy). I read the back of the movie, which said it was about some people getting attacked by zombies, and I thought it would be gory fun. Get this: there were two copies of Night of the Living Dead, both the original and the remake. I thought I was getting the remake. But no, when my friend and I popped the tape in back at his house, I discovered to my surprise that it was an old black and white film instead.

Being young and wanting quick scares, my friend didn’t like the film and I found it to be alright at best, with the ending quite shocking and the famous “girl zombie” scene to be gruesome. Turning to the fun of Scream 3, which I found scary at the time (I only saw the rest of the trilogy two Halloweens ago), we both forgot about the other film. That was roughly four years and four viewings ago. Multiple viewings quickly changed my thoughts and views on the flick, but one could say that about a number of movies. I could go on all about me, but I’d rather focus on the film itself.

As the movie opens, we see Johnny boy and his sister Barbara on their way to place flowers on some dead person’s grave. Who that person is isn’t relevant to the story, but instead it serves as an ample plot device, since Johnny is reminded of how he used to scare Barbra, going on to say “They coming to get you Barbara,” with a stupid look on his face. He should have kept his mouth shut, because one of them comes alright. He’s defiantly not human, looks like Lurch’s long lost cousin, and he proceeds to bash Johnny’s head into a tomb stone. Lurch attempts to grab Barbara, but she ditches her car (“Johnny has the keys” is what she says later on), and runs like hell, finally reaching an abandoned farmhouse. This scene marks the change in the movie from quiet and relaxed to a freaky, heavy sense of dread, and I find the zombie attack to be somewhat surreal and almost out of place, which is why it works. Rising from the grave, clearly awakened by gongs being banged by crazed Buddhist monks, dozens of zombies slowly converge upon the farmhouse. All hope seems lost for poor Barbara, who by this point has become a buddle of fried nerves, scared out of her bloody mind, and clearly in no shape to battle the undead hordes.

That’s when the protagonist of our film comes in out of nowhere, riding in an old broke down car and wielding what looks like a tire iron. His name is Ben, and he is her knight in shinning armor, or, in actual reality, an African-American male completely surrounded by whitey. Seriously, Ben is the only black man we see in the entire flick-even the zombies are white! While Romero claims that his decision to cast Duane Jones in the role wasn’t motivated by race, the film’s events (which I will get to later) make me wonder. Completely unfazed by the fact that he’s surrounded by flesh eaters, he walks out on the front porch and sets some of the creatures on fire, and also quickly boards up the house. The guy even finds a lever action shotgun, and starts loading the weapon; Ben is a man of action, and here we witness what has become a common cliché in many movies: the quick thinking man of action, who stays calm, knows what to do, and isn’t afraid to act.

The movie wouldn’t be complete without some drama within the house itself, and this is supplied by Harry, a racist, his wife and child, and the young couple Tom and Judy. Harry doesn’t trust Ben’s decisions and wants to be in charge, providing the film with an added and interesting dimension: Harry feels that he is the bigger man, that he’s right, that he has to be the alpha male of the group. It’s not just a matter of race, but also a matter of serious pride; this pride ends up leading to the destruction of the group, and a bitter irony: that Harry was right about the basement of the house being the safest place to hide. Well at least in the end for the most part; although at the same time staying up in the main house, where there are multiple escape routes makes sense too.

At its core, Night of the Living Dead is many things. It’s clear that the movie is a horror version of those old westerns where the cowboys are holed up in a small cabin or fort, with the savage Indians attacking it, trying to break in and scalp everyone inside. Of course the Indians never ate the cowboys (last time I checked), but that seems to be the main reason why most of the movie takes place inside an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. The claustrophobic feeling of the house has a clear effect upon the inhabitants, and this only ups the film’s slowly building sense of tension. I also feel that the movie in a way mirrors the social and political upheavals that were taking place at that time in America. Ben and Harry’s struggles for control certainly reflect upon the racial conflicts that had exploded in many American cities, along with the film’s ending, which caught me completely off guard. Also, the movie’s few extremely violent scenes are perhaps references to the Vietnam War; in that American troops mowed down countless, nameless Vietnamese communists-only replace the communists with flesh eating zombies. I also have to note that many of the zombies had the look of dirty, druggy hippies, which makes me wonder if Romero was commenting on the country’s counterculture as well.

A final theme I think the movie touches on is the horrifying thought that mankind at its worst reverts to its most primitive, primal and gruesome instincts, and I think the zombies reflect this. That at any time, any place, and your loved one may go berserk and decide to either gnaw on your flesh, or stab you to death with a garden trowel. They are no longer human, and reasoning with them won’t save you. Which is to me a very scary thought indeed.

“Night,” like most horror movies isn’t well known for its actors, or good acting in general. That seems to be an extra bonus, especially if you take a look at the slasher films of the 1980s. But even on a shoe string budget Romero manages to get some pretty good acting out of some of the movie’s cast, especially Duane Jones. Jones as Ben is really the film’s strongest character, and while it’s not an entirely fleshed out role, Jones does a wonderful job portraying a man surrounded by what one could call a surrealistic nightmare. What makes Ben so damn cool is that he takes no prisoners, refuses to surrender, uses everything at his disposal to kill the zombies, and until the second half of the film, he has a plan. What also makes his character so fascinating is how Ben slowly comes to realize that even he is human, and that despite all his planning everything goes terribly wrong. This feeling is further explored in a scene where Ben is trapped in the basement, haunted by the fact that he is now all alone, and that the bastard hippie people eaters have finally broken into the house. Ben has been defeated, and he knows it.

As for the other actors, Karl Hardman as Harry, we see a man who is the complete opposite of Ben. Harry seems to be nervous, racist, (one could say that Ben was racists at times also), and paranoid. His struggles with Ben and the distrust that exists between them do indeed add the needed dynamic to the film, and his demise is equal parts gory, tragic, and horrifying, and showcase’s the film’s third theme about lack of true humanity. Judith O’Dea, who as Barbara is stuck in the role of the woman in need of rescue, is the film’s truly realistic side, in that she’s scared out of her mind. While most of us think that we’d act like Ben in such a situation, more than likely many of us would be frightened, and wondering whether or not we would survive. Oh, and what happens to poor Barb is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and is horribly ironic.

The film in itself has plenty of irony, some people who get their just deserts, and others who were unlucky enough to be caught of the middle of two angry men and the horde of the undead. Romero by the way smartly only has a few scenes of gore, and so their shock value and the effect of disgust they aim to project are seared onto the audience’s mind; this is in sharp contrast to the rest of his zombie series. Although the part where the zombie girl stabs her mother to death with a garden tool is a clear homage (or rip off if that’s your opinion) of the famous shower scene in “Psycho,” with the blood splattering, the screams of the dying, and the sharp musical notes in the background. That scene gets me every time, simply because the image of a woman’s spawn butchering her is to me quite cringe worthy, and somewhat shocking.

Stamped with Romero’s unique vision, driven by tension, gore, a cast of realistic characters, and a thoughtful commentary on humanity that may or may not have been intentional, Night of the Living Dead is a movie experience every horror fan should have. The movie proves that not all horror films are mindless, gory thrill machines, and that the genre has contributed more to the world of cinema than is generally acknowledge.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: The Blob (1988, Chuck Russell)


In the 1980s there were a surprisingly high number of quality remakes: John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and Chuck Russell’s The Blob. The Blob was a sharp contrast to its 1950s original, a cheesy sci-fi/horror movie that launched the career of Steve McQueen. In the original the government aids the town in fighting the alien menace, showing that government could be helpful and protective. By the 1980s the government was seen as the problem, and not just because of Reagan America: Watergate, the Vietnam War and the Kennedy murders had soured the American public’s opinion of their public officials. The military that once helped the people in the old film now posed a big threat in the 1980s remake, choosing to cover up the deaths caused by a monster from beyond.

The creature effects are pretty good in this movie too, and of course the death toll gets drastically upped as well. When the Blob gets you it horribly eats you in the grossest, nastiest way possible. This is creepy and ups the tension, adding to the film’s modern take on sci-fi and horror. One of my favorite parts is when a pair of kids become trapped down in the sewers as they attempt to flee from the Blob. For some reason kids being put in serious and terrifying danger has been a staple of modern horror, although in older films such as Night of the Hunter children being threatened was prominent as well. I’m also reminded of Jurassic Park’s kitchen scene, with the dreaded raptors hunting the two kids as they desperately tried to avoid becoming lunch.

Although at times the movie is really cheesy, I still like the film’s cast and how the movie plays out. Its an entertaining thrill ride, a dated 80s movie where Kevin Dillion’s street tough motor bike riding outcast is the hero and Shawnee Smith is the pretty heroine in distress who proves more to be more than just that. I loved the ending despite it being the type of ending that we see in horror movies these days, and how they defeat the Blob is just as great as it was in the 1950s original. We need more good, solid horror remakes like this (or great horror remakes such as The Thing and The Fly), ones that build upon the original and do something different, offering up their own twist on previous material. I would rather have those than another bland sequel.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑