Scary Movie Review: Shaun of the Dead (2004)


I started off the month of October with the goal of watching and reviewing one horror movie each day of the month.  Today I finish the project having achieved that goal.  In fact, this will be my 34th scary movie review of the month, although you can quibble about whether or not all the movies were scary.  I’m finishing off with an old favorite of mine.

Title: Shaun of the Dead
Release Date: 29 March 2004
Director: Edgar Wright
Production Company: Studio Canal | WT² Productions | Big Talk Productions[
Summary/Review:

Shaun of the Dead masterfully combines an homage to classic zombie horror movies with a comedy spoof of zombie horror movies and actually zombie horror movie scares. I remember really wanting to see this movie back when it was first released and then be very squicked out by the gore, especially one scene towards the end (I was a lot more sensitive to movie violence in my 20 & 30s than I was in my teens or now in my 40s).  Despite that, this is a movie I’ve always loved and it remains my favorite of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy ahead of Hot Fuzz and World’s End.

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a directionless young man in a dead end job and a disappointment to his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), who breaks up with him early in the movie.  A lot of people believe that his problems stem from his lifelong friendship with deadbeat Ed (Nick Frost) dragging him down. When a zombie apocalypse breaks out, Shaun surprisingly rises to the moment as he rounds up Ed, Liz, her flatmates Diane (Lucy Davis) and David (Dylan Moran), his mother Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and his stepfather Phil (Bill Nighy). Their safe house, naturally is his local pub, The Winchester Arms.

I know a lot more horror/zombie lore now than I did in 2004, so I got more of the references on this viewing such as Ed shouting “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!” I’ve also learned in the interim that Pegg gained famed working with Jessica Stevenson Hynes on Spaced which explains the significance of her cameo as Shaun’s friend Yvonne.  I’d forgotten how many of the most memorable scenes are packed into the end of the film, so I was really wondering “When is X going to happen?” when I saw there was only 20 minutes left.  That’s not to say the early part of the film is just as good, as I especially enjoy the running gag of Shaun and Ed being completely oblivious to the zombie apocalypse.

Rating: ****1/2

Scary Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)


Title: Dawn of the Dead
Release Date:  September 1, 1978
Director: George A. Romero
Production Company: Laurel Group
Summary/Review:

Dawn of the Dead was the first sequel to Night of the Living Dead,  made ten years after the original. I’ve lived long enough for ten years to not feel like a long time, but the decade between 1968 and 1978 seems like it was full of change.  American society changed dramatically, Hollywood movie-making was revolutionized, and horror movies became a lot more horrifying.  Night of the Living Dead kicked off a new style of horror that became gorier with movies like Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  More mainstream Hollywood filmmakers showed that spending money on better special effects could make horror movies like The Exorcist and Jaws into blockbusters. And because Dawn of the Dead got funding from Italy, it was released there first, meaning American audiences saw Halloween first.

This is a long way of saying that George Romero really had to up his game, and for the most part he did.  This is still a very low-budget film but it deals with a larger perspective on the zombie apocalypse than the original.  It begins in Philadelphia where the city is in chaos as police and National Guard enforce martial law on low-income Black and Latin American communities.  A definite social statement there that picks up from the posse carelessly murdering Duane at the end of the original film.

At a local TV station, an executive Francine (Gaylen Ross), who is pregnant, and her helicopter pilot boyfriend Stephen a.k.a Flyboy (David Emge) plan to escape in the station’s weather chopper.  They are joined by two SWAT team policemen, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger).  They end up flying to a shopping mall in the suburbs of Pittsburgh which they are able to fortify and actually live a pretty good life.  They are even able to watch TV which seems to just be panels of experts shouting at one another (very dark satire). All is well until a motorcycle gang arrives.

The movie is full of action and gore (with the worst of it occurring after the 2 hr mark), but it also is hilariously funny.  I mean, how can you not laugh at zombies shuffling through the mall to the tune of piped-in Muzak?  And if the zombies represent mindless consumerism, than our four survivors have other human foibles. I thought Roger was the dumbest person in this movie until the final act where Flyboy out-stupids everyone with grave consequences.

It’s hard to say whether Night or Dawn is the better movie as they both have their strengths.  I think Dawn could be judiciously trimmed to be about 30 minutes shorter.  But a lot of the “scenes of people doing ordinary things during a zombie apocalypse” is what makes this movie fun.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Book Review: The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk


Author: Eva Jurczyk 
Title: The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
Narrator: Hannah Cabell
Publication Info: Poisoned Pen Press (2022)
Summary/Review:

Liesl Weiss is no sooner named the interim director of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at a university in Toronto when things start to go wrong.  A rare Plantin Polyglot Bible is supposed to be the library’s latest prize acquisition but it is missing and the only one who had seen it is the previous director who was incapacitated by a stroke.  Liesl comes to the realization that the Plantin was stolen and it could’ve been an inside job.  Was it Miriam, a librarian who suddenly stops showing up for work just before the book went missing?  Or could it be Francis Churchill, a rare books expert who Liesl is rumored to have had a fling with?

In addition to trying to solve the mystery, Liesl has to deal with people questioning her ability to do the job as a woman.  The university president certainly doesn’t want to make the theft made public because it would frighten off donors.  Working in an academic library myself, the absolute most accurate part of the book is the university’s need for reputation management and placating wealthy donors above everything else.  But it’s also a great mystery with a very satisfying conclusion.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Scary Movie Review: Ginger Snaps (2001)


Title: Ginger Snaps
Release Date: May 11, 2001
Director: John Fawcett
Production Company: Motion International
Summary/Review:

The Fitzgerald sisters – Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) – are teenage sisters born a year apart who are also the closest friends.  Their morbid interests make them social outcasts at school. Ginger, the older sister, is the leader and they have a relationship a lot like Jennifer and Needy in the later film Jennifer’s Body.  Actually, that movie is a good comparison since they both have feminist themes, in this case with lycanthropy standing in for the changes of puberty, as well as dealing with the struggles of female friendship.

Towards the beginning of the film Ginger has her first period (several years later than is typical) which draws the attention of a werewolf who attacks her.  As Ginger slowly transforms into a werewolf, her social behavior and the way she treats Brigitte also change. The movie is interesting in that Ginger turns into a werewolf, including growing a tale, over the course of a month rather than all at once. Brigitte seeks help from the local arborist/drug dealer Sam Miller (Kris Lemche) who has experience with the plants that might cure Ginger’s lycanthropy.

The movie has some disturbing body horror but most of the worst gore occurs off-screen.  I feel the movie has some strong ideas but the execution is hit or miss.  But it’s definitely a notch above your typical teen horror film.

Rating: ***

Scary Movie Review: Carnival of Souls (1962)


Title: Carnival of Souls
Release Date: September 26, 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Production Company: Harcourt Productions
Summary/Review:

This movie begins in media res, three young women in a car at a stoplight are challenged to a drag race by young men in another car.  In the course of the contest, the men’s car pushes the women’s car over a bridge.  In the midst of the efforts to pull the car out of the deep, muddy river, one of the women, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), emerges from the water.  She seems unharmed but also unaffected by the crash.

A few days later, Mary drives to Utah where she takes a job as a church organist and lives in a rooming house.  She finds herself haunted by the vision of a corpselike man (director Herk Harvey) wherever she goes.  Mary is also inexplicably drawn to an abandoned pavilion on shore of Great Salt Lake that was once used for a carnival.  In addition to supernatural torments, Mary also has to deal with persistent come-ons from the creepy John Linden (Sidney Berger), a fellow boarder.

The movie oozes atmosphere as Mary deals with the increasing mystery and terror of her life.  The film feels a lot like a Twilight Zone episode and its style influenced directors such as George Romero and David Lynch.  One thing for sure is I’ll never hear church organ music the same way again.

Rating: ****

Scary Movie Review: Skeleton of Mrs. Morales (1960)


Title: El Esqueleto de la señora Morales
Release Date: May 26, 1960
Director: Rogelio A. González
Production Company: Alfa Film S.A.
Summary/Review:

The Morales are an unhappy couple.  At first, it appears that Pablo (Arturo de Córdova), a taxidermist by trade, ignores his disabled wife Gloria (Amparo Rivelles) to go drinking with his friends.  But its soon revealed that Pablo is actually a kind and amiable person, and Gloria is manipulative, overly pious, and downright untruthful about what she says about her husband.  Tensions build to a breaking point.  Did I mention that Pablo also mounts human skeletons for medical study?  That turns out to be important to the plot of this film.

This movie is wickedly funny and deeply uncomfortable, witnessing the bad blood between a long married couple.  Córdova does a good job making Pablo a likable character even when his actions are beyond the pale.  Will he find justice on earth, or  in heaven?

Rating: ****

Scary Movie Review: A Bucket of Blood (1959)


Title: A Bucket of Blood
Release Date: October 21, 1959
Director: Roger Corman
Production Company: Alta Vista Productions
Summary/Review:

Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a socially awkward and dimwitted busboy at The Yellow Door Cafe where Bohemians and artists socialize and share their art.  Wanting to become an artist to impress his co-worker Carla (Barboura Morris), Walter starts working with clay at home.  After accidentally killing his landlady’s cat, Walter encases its body in clay and presents it as his sculpture to the denizens of The Yellow Door.

When his art is well-received by the beat poet Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton) and others, Walter decides he needs to create more large scale works of … humans.  You can see where this is going. Cafe owner Leonard (Antony Carbone) cottons on to how Walter is making his “art” early on, but plays mum when he realizes how much money Walter is bringing in.

This movie is a wickedly funny satire of Beatniks and scenesters of the 1950s. A lot of the jokes still apply to hipsters six decades later.  Plus ça change …! Miller does a great job of making Walter sympathetic even when he becomes a killer.  He kind of reminds me of Lenny from Of Mice and Men in that he doesn’t seem fully cognizant of the enormity of his actions.  Overall the movie looks pretty impressive for a low budget film shot in only five days!

Rating: ***1/2

Scary Movie Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)


Title: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Release Date: November 21, 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Production Company:Logan Pictures | SpectreVision
Summary/Review:

A girl walks home alone at night, but she’s a vampire on a skateboard so she’s quite alright (and looks so very cool!).  Described as “The first Iranian vampire Western,” the movie is set in an industrial region of Iran known as “Bad City.”  The movie was actually filmed in California so it gets past the Iranian censors and can depict romance and sexuality as well as drug abuse, prostitution, and other unsavory activities.

The Girl (Sheila Vand) appears to be a feminist figure as she seems to only feast on bad men, including Bad City’s pimp/drug dealer, and warns a young boy to behave.  But this is more than a revenge fantasy, and is a movie of how two people can form a connection despite dealing with their past and facets of their identity they don’t want to acknowledge.  The Girl forms a bond with Arash (Arash Marandi) a young man struggling with his father Hossein’s (Marshall Manesh) heroin addiction and the general malaise of living in a dead end town.

There’s also a cat (Masuka).  The cat is very important.  The highly-stylized movie draws on German Expression and spaghetti western influences, with a little French New Wave thrown in.  The  movie is visually striking and conveys a lot of emotion with very little dialogue.  The soundtrack which mixes Western indie rock with Iranian artists is also quite good.

Rating: ***1/2

Album of the Week: Dirt Femme by Tove Lo


Album: Dirt Femme
Artist: Tove Lo
Release Date: 14 October 2022
Label: Pretty Swede Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • No One Dies From Love
  • Suburbia
  • True Romance
  • Call On Me (with S.G. Lewis)
  • I’m To Blame

Thoughts:

Swedish singer/songwriter Tove Lo performs an exuberant dance pop with a dark edge reminiscent of Dua Lipa and fellow Swede Robyn.  It’s got some great tracks for getting down on the dance floor, but you might find yourself pausing if you take the time to listen to her confessional lyrics.

Rating: ***

 

Album of the Week:  2022

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Song of the Week: “Look Away, Look Away” by The Go! Team feat. The Star Feminine Band


The Go! Team feat. The Star Feminine Band – “Look Away, Look Away”

The Go! Team and The Star Feminine Band have both been featured in the Song of the Week series before so this team-up is a natural fit!

Song of the Week 2022

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