Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dawn of the Dead Still Packs a Wicked Undead Punch

Guest Writer: Patrick Hickey Jr.

Over 30 years after it's original release, George Romero's “Dawn of the Dead” is still a horror classic that begs to be seen.

Featuring the amazing gore effects of horror legend Tom Savini, who later went to become a pioneer in the industry, going on to work in other notable horror films like “Friday the 13th and “Creepshow,” “Dawn of the Dead” remains strongly atop the horror genre today because of Savani's masterful work, but it's ultimately the exceptional script that gives it the most staying power.

Much like Romero's other masterpiece, “Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead” keeps the viewer on a roller coaster ride from start to finish. It's far from the type of predictable horror movie that has you screaming at the screen due to the incompetence of both the actors on screen and the development of a haphazard plot. Instead, Romero's films keep the watcher guessing and maintains a realistic timbre that wasn't seen in horror films 30 years ago and isn't seen in this day and age either.

Dawn of the Dead,” especially prescribes to this due to stellar performances from the cast and a script that makes sense, something rarely seen in horror films.

The flow of the story is so viscous at times that it's almost as if you can imagine the events in the film occurring in real life. Three decades after its release, the film will still make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Because of this, many have championed Romero as a controversial entity in the genre and someone who will forever be imitated and hailed as an innovator. However, more than anything else, Romero knows how to tell a good story, creating relate-able characters and putting them in situations that bend our reality, rather than distort it and make it unbelievable.

That, my friends, is the essence of true horror.

However, without the acting performances of little-known actors David Emge, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross and Ken Foree [Halloween, The Devil's Rejects], the only actor to garner consistent work after the film, “Dawn of the Dead” may have never been in a place to enter our dreams and captivate us for decades. Over the course of the 127-minute film, the quartet is in a fight for their lives, but manage to squeeze in a few laughs and some heartfelt moments while attempting to survive seeming inescapable battles from both zombies and reckless bikers in a desolate mall. It's almost as if Romero wanted to create a bloody version of a “Scooby Doo” adventure and show what would really happen if zombies walked the earth. (Editor's Note: For a True Scooby Doo experience check out : Humongous)

In spite of all of this, the film is far from perfect, as the opening 10 or 15 minutes are a bit slow to put the story together. It is here where some impatient couch potatoes will opt out of the film, failing to see what the film is trying to project, which is the anarchy and unstableness of our society and how it is not yet ready to defend itself against a greater and misunderstood evil, death. Nevertheless, things eventually come together in a way that no horror film has been able to duplicate since.

It is because of this that “Dawn of the Dead” is still a trademark in horror cinema and will forever be etched in every fanboy's heart.

(One More Editor's Note: Dawn of the Dead was retitled "Zombie" in Italy and other countries. Italian Schlock master Lucio Fulci jumped on that bandwagon and made Zombi 2. Zombi 2 spawned three more sequels, none of which compare to the original. But let that be a credit to "Dawn of the Dead" since imitation is the highest form of flattery.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Memoirs from Kings Plaza Part One:

This is a new series I am creating on stories from my youth. I used love to hang out on Saturday afternoon at the Kings Plaza Mall. That was back when they sold books, CDs, and DVDs. Which was truly a long time ago. Not sure how often this subject matter will be updated but there are many stories to write. Today's stories will include: The Rooftop and Jamie. Feel free to let me know what you think.
The Rooftop: In the Pre-Sears days of Kings Plaza my friends and I had a secret place away from the rest of the world. It was the roof of Kings Plaza which was a desolate and cold area with no personality. No people, no cars, no intruding thoughts. The only concern was only if security would find us. Not sure how Joey and I came about finding the location. When you go to the mall each week and are not in a hurry to get home you try and find new adventures. Joey was a little dirty and always unshaven. He was the type of friend that if you met at any other stage in life besides pre-teen you would avoid. He was an agreeable guy that shared a passion for B-Movies. (So I thought. When we ended our friendship he claimed to hate watching them and only did because there was nothing else to do.)

The following week we had decided to share our discovery with the rest of the misfits that made up our group. Greg Cozzo was a self imposed hermit, with dirty skin that had green spots, and greasy hair. He was quiet. Sal Buzzetta was a bruiting ape of a man that loved to bully Greg. Sal would bully Greg everywhere we went. In school he made Greg curtsy to him. He also put a lock on Greg's schoolbag once and made him pay ten bucks to have it removed. The worst thing Sal probably did to Greg was pee on a carpet sample and slip it in Greg's PB and J sandwich in the cafeteria. Maybe some of this lead to the fact Greg has not left his house since 1998. Richard J. Lopez was also there and he was the coward of the group. After a couple of weeks when we finally got caught on the roof, Richie said, "Don't worry guys. I will handle this". Then he ran up to the guard and said, "I didn't want to do it but they made me".

But to backtrack to that first time as a group that we were on that roof was amazing. The five of us escaped to a world that we owned for once. No rules, no parents and no bullies. (Except Sal.) We were right next to the giant lettering. We all needed to look over the edge to realize where we were. We ran around like The Beatles in A Hard Day's Night and discussed everything from girls, movies and our home life. Greg considered jumping and Sal helped him weigh in the reasons he should. Then Joey and Sal threw some rocks at a boat that was below. The Captain got out of it and yelled up to them, "Stay right there, I'm gonna come up there and beat the shit out of you". It was time to leave. I wish I was up on that roof with those guys again.

Jamie: Jamie was my first lesson that what should happen in life isn't always what will happen. And that expecting the unexpected is something that you have to learn in life.

Joey and I used to go each week to Sam Goody to buy videos. (Yes, VHS!) When a new shuttering employee approached me. "Do--o you need any help". I could hear Joey down the other aisle mimicking her voice. To this day I don't know what attracted me to this girl. She wasn't overly cute, her voice was annoying and she had a lousy hair cut. I made some small talk and left to get on the bus with Joey.

"She has twelve year old boy tits!" Joey tells me when we got outside. His voice had the dread that I was about to pick an ugly girl to date.

The following Saturday she was there again. My heart literally went up my throat. I went up to the counter, and proceeded to check out. "Would you like to reserve any of our upcoming films?"

"No, they are always in stock". We both nervously laughed and I walked out. I wished I had reserved something, what an idiot I felt like. Within ten minutes I had went back to Sam Goody and told her that I would like to reserve something. She thought I was the sweetest guy ever. So I asked for her phone number. Her pen had dried out, as she started to write it. Then the old lady behind me gave us a pen from her purse. I felt great.

Three days later that all fell apart. I called her home phone, and her Mom answered angrily and upset that I had the number. She wasn't even sure where her daughter was. She thought maybe I would know.

The next Saturday Jamie explained to me that her mother kicked her out. I was heartbroken and confused. I didn't know this girl at all but I imagined her as a saving grace in my life. I learned that sometimes in life we wish so hard for the right person that we don't even know the truth. It was a lesson we all have to learn in life.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ode to Cinema 1

Five blocks from my home, was my favorite video store. It was on Quentin Road and East 34th street. I pass by it now and look in at what was. Memories come flooding back to me as I look into an office building with a metal gate down. It is now a tan office with two leather chairs, a desk, and a cheap ninety nine cents store portrait of flowers. My best friend Joey Smith and I used to spend our summers there. We would arrive when the store opened and take a good hour to pick our B-movies for the day out. Creating our own personal Mystery Science Theatre 3000. The wall was painted with a thousand possibilities. However, our interests were strictly in the video boxes so dusty that no one had rented them since the eighties. Movies from companies that don't exist anymore such as Media Home Entertainment, Paragon, Vestron and Lightning Home Video. Movies with titles like Flesh Gordon, Slumber Party Massacre, If You Don't Stop Soon I'll Go Blind, and the adult fairy tale classic, Alice in Wonderland. (What can you say about a movie where Humpty Dumpty can't get it up anymore?) Sometimes we would even find a movie where some punks would hassle a Chinese waiter, and at the next table would be Chuck Norris. He would try to reason with the punks first, but when that failed he would deliver a kick to their skulls. Where was Chuck Norris when my video store was closing? Why couldn't this be like one of those pointless summer camp films where Joey and I keep the place from being bought by greedy land developers. (Special Appearance by Corey Feldman.)

The video store reeked of smoke from the older lady with thick red glasses behind the glass counter. When I was thirteen she always made sure Joey and I never rented dirty movies. The dirtier movies often had a sticker on the top that read "18". Man, I couldn't wait for the day I was old enough to rent Fritz the Cat, in it's beat down Warner Brothers box. Sunday and Mondays she always had off and that is when it was time to rent the fun stuff. Of course when we rented them on Tuesday, we often would get yelled at by her. The store may have never been much but it is a place that is gone. Much like childhood. The world keeps on changing before we have time to realize how long ago the past really is.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Coming Soon from Code Red: Part 2- The 80's

Thanks to Code Red we can anticipate a lost James Coburn, two Elliot Gould movies, sexy cheerleaders, The Farmer, The Hammer, Peter O'Toole, aliens, and Jesus Christ. Sounds like the most wildest and fun dream anyone can have. Can Code Red do justice to the countless 80's film that seem stuck in the world of VHS?
Human Experiments: (1980) Geoffrey Lewis, (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) plays the evil Doctor Kline. Much like the doctors of the S.S, Kline experiments on people. His newest victim played by Linda Haynes, (Rolling Thunder) fights for her life in this heart pounding film. The trailer creates a feeling of urgency and claustrophobia that helps you sympathize with the main victim.

The Silent Scream: (1980) Featured in 42nd Street Forever Volume 4. The poster for this film is a throwback to the days of good old fashioned horror films. The poster shows a woman's mouth with a scream that actually is silent. The tagline is simply perfect, "Terror so sudden there is no time to scream". The film is about Mrs. Engels, who runs a seaside mansion that is a boardinghouse for three college students. When students start missing the cops discover Mrs Engels may have a dark secret. Yvonne De Carlo (Lilly Munster) plays Mrs Engels and Cameron Mitchell, (The Klansman) plays Lt. Sandy McGiver.

Scream (1981) Courtesy of Media Blasters this will soon be available. This is supposedly one of the most poorly directed horror films ever made. Fans of this genre will basically want to see it for that very reason. The plot is pretty standard for a slasher film of the 80's. A group of friends who go rafting down a river and they stop to rest for the night at an old ghost town. Soon their rafts vanish, and then they begin to be eliminated one by one by a mysterious killer. One major curiosity of this film would be see Woody Strode, (Vigilante) in a very small role as Charlie Winters.

Nightmare in a Damaged Brain: (1981) This is one film that fans of Code Red have been eagerly awaiting. This film has been released in a XXX version and a standard "R" rated version. Tom Savani was forced to sue the director of this film for misuse of his name in the trailer. Romano Scavolini, (The director) claimed that Savani did the gore effects for the film, when he didn't. The main character of this film is a mental-patient, who is troubled with terrifying nightmares. Recently having escaped from a mental hospital he has nothing better to do then kill innocent people. The film is close to being released but Code Red needs a translator for the Italian subtitles of Romano Scavolini's interview. Code Red is considering releasing a bare-bone version of the film in October.

Trapped: (1982) This will be released on DVD on 8/4. A group of college students accidentally see a local psychotic redneck kill (Henry Silva) his wife. In the redneck's mind the college students have seen enough and must be killed. The students fight for their life in this backwoods thriller from cult director William Fruet. This film is loaded with enough sex and violence for fans of exploitation.

Spasms: (1983) William Fruet directs this film about a gigantic serpent that is captured on a remote island and shipped to an American college for experimentation. A British millionaire and an American scientist must try and stop the serpent when it escapes and starts to kill. Peter Fonda, (High Ballin') plays the American scientist and Oliver Reed, (Gladiator) plays the British millionaire. This is a pretty impressive cast for a gigantic serpent film. Tagline: "You scream, you expand, you explode. A new source of evil is discovered and is out of control". Code Red, please release this soon.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker: (1983) Billy Lynch has lived with his aunt for fourteen years and he feels it is time to move on. He is in love with the pretty girl next door, and his Aunt Cheryl is not happy about any of this. The bodies start to pile up around Billy and the detective sent to investigate has a strong hatred for homosexuals. The film also has a homosexual love triange which is very strange. The film's plot is very unusual but is helped by a strong cast. Jimmy McNichol, (Kristi's Brother.) plays Billy, Susan Tyrrell, (Angel) plays Aunt Cheryl, and Bo Svenson, (Inglorious Bastards) plays the psychotic detective. The film also features a very young Bill Paxton. The DVD was about to be released but put on hold so that Jimmy McNichol may record a commentary or interview for the special features.

The Strangeness: (1985) Much like Messiah of Evil, The Strangeness is also featured in Stephen Thrower's Nightmare U.S.A. This film provides one of the best clay stop-motion creatures ever created. The film is said to be a slow moving tale of a few explorers trapped in an abandoned goldmine. Once the creature makes the first appearance the film will have you hooked. (Coming Very Soon.)

The Mutilator from 1985 was acquired by Code Red but prints have been so lousy that this film may never see the light of day.

Choke Canyon (1986) featuring the dad from 7th Heaven as a cowboy scientist. Look for the review on this site. Bo Svenson and Lance Henriksen are the supporting cast of this no brainer thriller from the late 80's. Action films like this and the ones that starred Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson were so much fun. Bo Svenson has recorded an on camera interview for Code Red.

Riot on 42nd St.: (1987) This features an appearance by Sgt Kabukiman N.Y.P.D's Rick Gianasi. This film also marks the return of "The Black Dragon". The real thrill of this film will be seeing the footage of the old 42nd Street, which I was too young to ever visit. Those movie theatres back then seemed like a real treat. Three horror movies at an ultra low price. (Of course the junkies, crooks, and rats are a turn-off.)
The Undertaker: (1988) This is one of character actor Joe Spinell's last films. Similar to Spinell's Manaic, this film is the story of a very deranged human being. The film is about a man that kills people so that they can be his new friends. This horror film really has been lost and I look forward to seeing this eventually released.

Code Red is also working on Night of the Dribbler. A film that is about a killer with a basketball head chasing after teens. The film has never been released anywhere.