When it was decided that this Zombie Appreciation Week was going ahead I was sent an email by Thea with the subject line: Ana’s Zombie Homework with a list of stuff I had to watch and read for the week. I trembled inside. I had no problems with reading the books – heck, I was really looking forward to reading Mark Henry’s books and even the Walking Dead graphic novel which I heard good things about. But the movies? Not so much. Even though I had a great time watching the Evil Dead movies for the Halloween Week marathon, I knew it was going to be different now – less laughs, more gory – and the ninny that I am, wasn’t looking forward to watching it all alone since Dear Partner wasn’t around to keep me company this time. So, I was in big trouble.
Anyways, the list starts with her asking me which classic Zombies movies had I watched ( answer: zero) and because she had already predicted that, she says and I quote:
“I’m leaning towards making you watch the Romero Classics and Remakes: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead
Go back and watch NotLD remake (1990s version), Dawn of the Dead remake (2005 I think?) and finish with Land of the Dead. Too many movies?”
she asks. HAHAHA.Yes. Thea was mental if she thought I was going to watch SIX zombie movies in one go and all by myself. So we agreed on the two first Romero Classics and one remake. 3 out of 6 – that’s a fair number. I did do a bit of extra homework – aren’t you proud of me, Thea – and read about Romero. Incredible as it may sound – you know, being the lover of all things old-cinema that I am – I had little knowledge of who he was. According to the IMDB his “thing” is that he combines horror with social commentary. Hum..all of a sudden I am much more interested so see how this plays out in the screen.
So, last Sunday morning I got the movies out, assorted crap food (crisps, cookies, Cookie Dough ice-cream) and some fresh coffee (I wasn’t in the mood for alcohol – although I do regret it now) and I press play. The recaps below are a live commentary as I went along with a wrap-up in the end.
Night of the Living Dead – 1968. (First Version)
The black and white movie opens with a couple in a car driving in a country road. It is just like the Evil dead – I already ask myself if all zombie movies start like that. Is that a trademark or something? Anyways, this couple is driving on a six hour journey to visit a grave and they are bickering with each other. Oh wait, they are brother and sister and the grave is their father’s. They get out of the car but before Johnny gets out he listens a transmission in the radio about technical problems – is that the beginning of the something sinister?
Barbra and Johnny
They go the cemetery and Johnny starts teasing Barbra because she is afraid of the place with “they are coming to get you Barbra” – oooo, goose bumps. Then this weird-looking guy comes out of nowhere and he tries to what? Eat Johnny? While Barbra just stands there and watches…. Thunder! Scary .
Barbra runs and falls (naturally), she misses a shoe! I can’t believe she left her brother behind. She gets into the car, the zombies are coming and locks herself inside, she can’t drive cause Johnny has the keys, then she releases the car, the car goes downhill, the car crashes into a tree then she runs, then she sees a house, oh my god the music is very tense….gosh. I am very tense. She gets a knife in the kitchen.
She tries to make a phone call. Phone does not seem to work. Naturally. More zombies are approaching the house. Mind you, for the past 10 minutes there wasn’t a single line of dialogue only the soundtrack which is VERY sci-fi ish and the sound of me breathing heavily. She decides to go upstairs and as she is climbing the steps she sees a half eaten head ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.
A guy shows up driving a truck. Locks himself with her in the house. Yay, dialogue. He tries to ask her questions but blondie is rather catatonic. “We’ve got to get out of here.” No shit, Sherlock.
The guy, Ben, says “ I can take care of two of them, are there more?” He kills a few of them, rather easily, while another is getting into the house. These zombies are of the slow kind of zombies, if I may say so, but many more are coming!
The house is surrounded! I look at the watch and holy crap, only 20 minutes in and I am already all holed up under the covers and tense . This guy seems to know what he is doing, he drags the body out of the house, sets it on fire in front of the other zombies, very calmly then he blocks the door. The guy is really trying and he asks for Barbra’s help in boarding up the doors and windows but me thinks Barbra is a goner. Outside crickets chirp. They start sharing the stories of how they got there.
“We got to go out and get Johnny” she says. Yeah, now you think of your brother.
“Your brother is dead”. Ben says. She freaks out and slaps him. He slaps her back. She swoons. Ay.
Ben fins the radio and listens to the broadcast. “Mass murder of unidentified assassins. Ordinary looking people in a kind of trance. All over the country. President has called for a meeting with high ranking officials” Barbra is still out, whilst Ben is boarding up the whole house with the radio for company the news are not good.
Then two people come out of the cellar aeeeeeeee. And they want to take the food downstairs and hide. Our guy Ben, who is very articulate, wants to stay put, he thinks it’s safer. This other guy, Cooper thinks the cellar is safe because there is only one door to protect; on the other hand there is only one way out too. The cellar is a death trap, Ben argues. There is an instant dislike between them – maybe because Ben is black and this is America circa the 60s? maybe that is part of the social commentary I was looking forward to? Hummm. Cooper and his wife Helen decide to stay in the cellar with their daughter Karen who was bitten by one of the zombies earlier and is sick (oh-oh). And the other couple Tom and Judy remain upstairs. They find a TV and the broadcast says that the zombies – actually they say Ghouls and not zombies, they don’t even use the word zombie in the movie , not so far- are the reanimated bodies of the dead and they are eating the flesh of the people they kill. There is no clue as to why this is happening.
So to recap: they are trapped inside a house in a tense situation ,the zombies keep coming, the TV and radio officials have no clear instructions, there is a truck with no gas, and a locked gas pump and no key. What to do?
Meanwhile Cooper and his wife are arguing and he says:
“They will see when they come begging to let them in. “
“It is important isn’t it? To be right and everybody else to be wrong?” hummm.
Anyways, they find the key to the gas pump, and come up with a plan. To drive the truck to the back of the house. Ben will be the one doing the zombie shooting and Tom will be the one doing the driving while Cooper will throw Molotov Cocktails from the windows. As they are making a run from the house to the truck, Judy decides to go along for the ride and runs at the last minute to them. Seriously, I am NOT liking the portrayal of women as shit-heads imbeciles in this movie. When they get to the gas pump they realise they have the wrong key. Tom then decides it is a good idea to shoot the gas pump open which sets the whole thing on fire killing him and Judy in the process because her shirt got caught and the truck explodes before they can get away.
You see. It’s sheer human stupidity that kills people not the zombies. Then people ask me why I don’t like horror movies. Because I don’t like to be reminded how stupid we are as a species. Our guy Ben is all alone now, with one gun, one torch and one million zombies, this does not bode well. He runs back to the house and Cooper, the coward, was going to let him outside!!! Oh, humanity!
The movie goes back to the truck scene and then there is the first REAL horrific scene in the movie. Tom and Judy and zombie buffet. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww very very gory.
Ben and Cooper are fighting , Ben is punching him when Zombies attack. They fight for the gun (seriously, Zombies attacking and the two humans fighting each other) and Ben ends up shooting Cooper who dies in the Cellar. His kid Lauren has become a Zombie now and she eats him and in a truly horrific scene she kills her mother too.
I feel sick to my stomach. I wish I had some alcohol right about now. Yikes, Johnny is a zombie and he takes Barbra. Bye you useless blondie – you will not be missed.
Ben then locks himself where? In the cellar duh with the two recent made zombies whom he has to kill. He is alone now, what is he going to do?
It’s the morning after there is this documentary feel to it, as the camera goes around the countryside. Following the reports, the police, everything appears to be under control now. A group of zombie-hunters are going around killing the ones that remain shooting them in the head. Ben is alive in the cellar and he comes out to check if the coast is clear. He goes to the living room to look out the window, outside the guys are chasing zombies and OMG THEY SHOT HIM. THEY THOUGHT HE WAS A ZOMBIE. IT WAS JUST LIKE THAT. Poof. No build-up, no nothing. Holy crap. Best end ever. I stare stupefied at the TV.
Ok, on to the next one.
Dawn of the Dead – 1978
The movie opens and it’s very clear the Zombie apocalypse is already under way. It is inside a TV station and there is chaos while the presenters discuss and try to explain and understand what the heck is going on. The possible causes for the reanimation of the dead and so and so forth. This guy Stephen who seems to be in charge of the station’s helicopter goes to his girlfriend Francine who works at the station and they plan to steal the chopper and fly away. Meanwhile at an apartment building is invaded by a SWAT team because according to the TV broadcast, there are NO private residencies anymore and ALL dead bodies MUST be destroyed. There is chaos, panic. Some of the police have gone apeshit crazy and are shooting left and right. There are zombies who seem to be family members of the people still living there, things are not looking good. Actually the zombies do not look good, period. I mean, they are blue.
I much prefer the black and white zombies of the other movie.
It all points to the complete collapse of society – which is very interesting. The other movie shows the very start of an epidemic in a very contained environment – ie a small house in the middle of nowhere. This one is set in a big city and this opening preludes the expansion of the epidemic.
Back to the movie, one of the cops, Roger meets Peter, another cop from another unit, and together they kill a bunch of zombies that are feasting the basement of the building in an absolutely disgusting scene. Totally, totally gross and revolting. Zombies, me no likey.
They decide they had enough of this shit and they meet up with Stephen and Francine and they all escape the city in the chopper. As they fly away, we see scenes all over the country of what seem to be Zombie Hunting Parties. Rednecks and local cops going around shooting zombies and having barbecues with beer and music. It’s surreal. Oh, humanity <<< I will probably overuse this sentence , please bear with me.
They stop to get some gas and they are attacked. Francine literally just stands there, while Stephen screams for her to run and she does nothing, neither runs nor helps him. Aaaaaaaaaargh. But he gets away. There is a little bit of comic relief here as one of the cops, Roger always gets in front of Stephen and kills the zombies before Stephen can shoot them – Stephen is a lousy shot, you see.
Roger and Peter – BFF
Anyways, they fly away again and they see a shopping mall and it’s mostly free of Zombies (only a few inside) and they find a room full of food and they decide to stay there. They look outside and Francine wonders why the zombies keep coming to the mall
Francine: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.
I didn’t say it!
Brainless Zombie luurrves the Mall. So does Fran. They have something in common after all?
They find out Francine is pregnant. There is a scene where they talk about her baby like she is not even there – Peter asks Stephen if he wants help with aborting the baby. EXCUSE ME…is anyone going to ask the woman what she thinks about it?
Anyways, they concoct a plan – they go around the shopping centre to check out what is there and it’s quite a nice sequence. There is comic relief again (although the two cops seem to be having way too much fun like a duo of maniacs — they are enjoying themselves after all they have all these things at their disposal). They decide to block all the exits so that no zombies can get in and they shoot all the zombies inside. But Roger is bitten by a Zombie in the process and gets sick.
There is a great scene with Francine telling them that she is not going to be mother den and she wants to be part of the decision making process and I am all like, you tell them sista! And she wants to learn to fly the helicopter in case something happens to Stephen and I am like, OH-OH Stephen is SO going to die. But then she apologies to Stephen and I am like why are you apologising you shit-head????
There is an awesome scene next, where Roger is dying and he tells Peter that he will try not to come back , but he does of course, and the TV is on, the guy on the TV seems to be scientist is trying to say to the dismay of the reporter that we need to figure out a way to feed the zombies and that we must be LOGICAL about it, and Peter shoots Roger. It’s a very gripping scene.
Then there is only the three of them left: Stephen, Francine and Peter. They have made a life for themselves but there has been no broadcast for a few days. They are bored. Clearly they are over the allure of having the shopping centre for themselves. The mindless zombies keep trying to enter the shopping centre. Then , and get this right?
They need to arm themselves and barricade themselves inside again because they are being attacked by….a gang of humans who want to loot. Can I just repeat: oh, humanity!!!! They attack the mall and let the zombies back. Stephen ends up dead and reanimated
(A-HA, I KNEW it!).
The humans end up all dead, the zombies are led by Undead-Stephen to where Francine and Peter are hiding. Francine makes a dash to the helicopter and Peter decides to stay behind (ugh, why?) but then he changes his mind and in a very cheesy, corny heroic escape through the horde of zombies he gets to the helicopter just in time to fly away with just a little fuel. Meh. Will they make it? Do I care? No.
Not so keen on the ending of this one. Ok, toilet break and to get more coffee. Hummm, I feel like eating beans on toast. I wonder why?
Night of the Living Dead. 1990 remake.
The movie opens almost exactly like the other one (car in the road, etc) but the already famous dialogue is the first line:
“They are coming to get you Barbra.”
Barbra and Johnny are driving to their mother’s grave (it was their father’s in the original) and I jump when the first Zombie attacks in the cemetery and holy crap Barbra is kicking some ass. Here is hoping she will have some back bone this time.
She does have shorter red hair and red does that equals more intelligent? As a long haired blond, I feel particularly insulted by my own theory. I am stressed though. The opening is a play by play of the other movie, the cemetery, the car,
the running to the house. Even though Barbra is terrified she tries to find a weapon. Good girl. She kills one. Ben shows up and he kills a zombie and he goes:
Ok this one is the most terrifying of them all. The zombies jump out of nowhere.
I feel sick to my stomach. Maybe the beans on toast were not such a good idea after all.
This Ben blesses himself after the kills some of the zombies. He feels these deaths more than the other Ben, which makes him a bit more human to me. Night falls.
There is a high sense of isolation. I digress thinking about how would it feel to be trapped in a house with no one around and undead people coming to eat me. I look outside and there is no around and I am alone and I decide to stop digressing.
Barbra is looking outside and she is THINKING: they are slow. We can outrun them. We have guns. We can get away. FINALLY someone says it. Good lord, it took 3 movies and 4 hours and a half!
They find the people hiding in the cellar. Cooper is even more violent this time. He even slaps his wife when she disagrees about staying downstairs. Pig.
Barbra who was wearing skirt changes into trousers. I am really digging this chick this time.
Then zombies come and they are boarding up the house, Barbra is unhappy about the situation. She thinks they should leave. Ben and Cooper are still in the outs.
Ben: You are losing it girl, you are losing it.
Barbara: You think so?
[Barbara shoots an approaching zombie in the face]
Barbara: Whatever I lost, I lost a long time ago and I do not plan on losing anything else. You can talk to me about losing it when you stop screaming at each other like a bunch of two-year-olds.
Cooper tries to smuggle the tv that Ben had found upstairs, downstairs. They fight over the TV and they break it. Way to go. Can you see it coming: Oh, humanity!
Judy, the other girl is much smarter too, when the time comes to put the plan to get the gas in motion she wants to go so that one can drive the truck while the other can shoot and the other can pump the gas, instead of being a last minute desperate stupid move to be close to her sweetheart. The boy still thinks it’s a good idea to shoot the gas pump though and they die. Ben has to make his way back again but this time Barbra fights Cooper and she lets him in. Cooper’s daughter comes out of the basement, undead. Barbra and Ben want to kill her, Cooper doesn’t. All of a sudden the movie is like a freaking western.
The zombies are approaching and the stupid humans are shooting each other. Wait didn’t I write the same thing about the other movie? Yes, I did, I guess some things did not change. This one takes it a step further. Cooper does not die goes into the attic and Ben into the cellar. And Barbra leaves alone with a gun. She goes around the countryside and has close encounters with several zombies and it’s pretty heavy. But she survives and is found by a group of vigilantes and is taken to their camp. There they are having another one of those zombie parties. Barbra at one point stops and look at one group who is making shouting practice out of hanging zombies and she says:
“They’re us. We’re them and they’re us.”
BRILLIANT – I absolutely love this incarnation of Barbra. Then they go back to the house and Ben is now a zombie. They kill him. Cooper is still alive though and he comes out of the attic and he says to Barbra: you came back. You came back. And she.shoots.him.
Just like that. Oh My God. How horrible. I don’t think I love her anymore. I mean Cooper was a horrible person but she did not have to kill him. She just became one of them. But then again, I guess that is the point of all of these movies right? To show the complete collapse of the human civilization.
I realize now these movies are hardly about the zombies. In fact the zombies get little screen time in most of them. This is about what happen to people when they are faced with an apocalypse to which they are not prepared to. In the end, it is clear that they have become as mindless as the zombies they so fear. And they do not have the excuse of being undead corpses.
As for the movies themselves: which one did I like best? The first Night of the Living Dead. Purely for its cinematographic qualities: I love the black and white photography and the sci-fi soundtrack. I thought the contained environment was more effective in showing the decay of society especially with the radio and TV broadcasting in the back-ground (I sorely missed that in the remake) and the tension between Ben and Cooper was better played in the original. Lauren, the zombie girl was absolutely terrifying. Not that the movie is perfect – the portrayal of women as helpless creatures was completely abhorrent and at least this was changed in the remake. Both Dawn of the Dead and the remake of Night of the Living Dead are enjoyable movies though. The former being more of cool-fun variety and the latter having the kick-ass heroine and the memorable quotes to carry on. But still, Night of the Living Dead, the original is as classic as it can get, and if you have to watch one I would recommend you to watch it.
All in all, a very good marathon. It was not what I expected to find and I stand corrected: Thea, zombies CAN be awesome.