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Eager beaver, 12 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There's something charming about Jess Franco's trash flicks: aimless, chintzy and so dreamy. That's the best kind of bad movie, the inspired type that makes you feel like your brain is melting, the standard decorum for a decent film gleefully shredded before your very eyes. You start off going 'This is so crappy, why am I watching?' until the mojo gets flowing and you've totally forgotten that golden compass supplied by countless tasteful pictures. You can't tell which way is up anymore; the map is gone, you're on Mars. Some turkeys try hard to be respectable and end up boring. Others don't bother, setting off to no man's land outright with their off kilter rhythms like some sort of bargain basement art house experiment. They don't give a sh*t.

That's the kind of movie this guy seemed to specialize in with his meandering zooms and incoherent plots, the I-don't-give-a-f*ck kind. He was pleasuring himself first and foremost, audience foreplay was a distant second if it was in the running at all. Maybe I shouldn't say this having sampled only a fraction of his output, maybe I need to travel far and wide in Franco land to really get a feel for the pervy territory but it's the only way I have to explain the weird allure these masochistic experiences have. They can be frustrating as hell and I'll still keep watching (the constant barrage of sex and nudity help).

This description matches VAMPIRE JUNCTION well, the plot is incomprehensible tedium with only a few trustworthy outposts to anchor us in its hermetic z-movie universe, to let us know we are passing through Franco land: Naked lesbo vamps, naked Lina Romay, western ghost towns, graphic sex verging on hardcore porn- it's all pretty batsh*t, pretty colorful. It's got the aggressive incoherence of a dream and just like somebody else's mind matinée that means boredom of the paint drying kind. Only fanatic Francophiles would stand a ghost of chance connecting all these dots, having plowed through a sizable wad of his creative ejaculations already. The non narrative approach doesn't automatically put some off like it does others; having hacked through a bunch of William Burrough's books I'm starting to find the whole thing invigorating in a nerdy way.

All the boredom is worth wading through to get to a handful of scenes, as is often the case with some directors. The strange randomness of the experimental soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment, repetitive notes & noises trapping you in a nightmare cul-du-sac straight out of David Lynch. The vamp twins getting off underlined by this stuff is hypnotic, their slow languid movements at first sorta funny then hypnotic like a weird erotic dance. When they attack and strip Romay during the end and do all sorts of wild contortions with their bodies like trapeze artists from hell- it's just the cherry on top of the fruitcake. It's a strange contrast with the sleaze, given its porno explicitness; at one point a vagina gets lathered up, delicately shaved and sucked on for blood.

I don't know how much Franco was deliberately surreal and how much he was just plain incompetent but it's nice to be surprised just the same. The right flavor of wtf moment is a thing to cultivate.

Proper context, 3 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Another of Stanley's love letters to humanity. BARRY LYNDON is a tale of biological robots locked in a feedback loop, a period piece with its ossified guts ripped out to show us the ghost world beneath. Supercharged in that special Kubrickian way, it makes up for glacial pacing and austere remoteness with having every detail fine tuned for maximum aesthetic wattage; it's simply f*&king gorgeous, you can feel how fussed over every single square inch is. I can see why a lot can't stand this waxwork quality, even if that was kinda the whole point.

Ryan O'Neil is the perfect blank as Barry, forever out staged by the scenery, swallowed up by the vast expanse of setting his rags-to-riches story is set in; the stage outdoes the players. Through sheer luck he ascends the social ladder to high humorless society, becomes a gentlemen hob knobbing with the lizard elite only to lose it all in one fell swoop; his fortune, his title and his son. What goes up must come down, hard. It's only through tragedy, by falling that Barry-bot steps out of the storybook canvas Kubrick has entombed everyone in to act like a real boy, cutting the puppet strings and being spontaneous. Of course that's going against the no-flow and he's promptly ruined for it yet it's a triumphant moment just the same, a show of heart from a tin man.

BARRY LYNDON is a treasure trove of painterly images from a career renowned for them. Like a novel there is constant narration that's priceless for its incongruity with the movie. It's always undercutting the scenery, deflating the pomposity of what's shown in its hilariously dry Englishness; the bored voice of an all seeing eye. As brutally honest as the end title card is though BARRY LYNDON still cuts deep, the movie dares you to give a sh*t by constantly drumming in how pointless everything is, how lifeless and devoid of intrinsic spark these pretend humans are in all their fabulous ornamentation. Their castles, their costumes, their almighty manners: everything burns.

Kubrick is as cold as Eskimo pie but not in a spiteful, thumbing his nose way. His coldness was only functional, that of G_d peering down on ants (zoom out x10,000,000). He's not pointlessly sadistic like a lot of other 'warm' filmmakers I can think of and his dearth of spontaneity matched his pet themes perfectly. There's still moments of humanity in his museum movies, especially here where the opulent surroundings outshine the bloodless characters and their soul-sucking homogenization; those moments are hard earned. I dare you to keep a dry eye through the ending even if it's only drones going about the motions. Still, strewing clockwork guts across the screen, Kubrick will have none of the typical Hollyweird myth-making reassuring the audience how precious it is. He exposes the infinite loop human bots are stuck in, that thing called 'history'.

More films should really emphasize backdrops; it's disillusioning and reassuring all at once. OK computer?

The king is dead, long live the king, 17 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Carpenter near the end of his golden 80's period: much more satisfying than his 90's slide into mediocrity. And it has Donald Pleasance! This time he's a crypto-Loomis catholic priest who, along with a cadre of college students and their professor are holed up in a deserted city church, fending off possessed vagrants attempting to infiltrate the premises. Inside a supernatural slime pulls their psychic strings, a Lovecraftian elder god trying to open the threshold and re-establish its void kingdom.

I never got why this underrated gem received so many bad reviews. It has a relentless apocalyptic dread that doesn't let up till the end credits and even then it's that rare horror flick to leave several non-gory images scarred upon the retina of your mind's eye. The acting and repartee is blah but the cosmology isn't. Hobo nation NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD/ATTACK ON PRECINCT 13 sounds pretty reactionary but it's really the mumbo-jumbo, pseudo gnostic science-philosophy behind the shlock that gives this movie its charge. Its not very coherent but you never doubt SOMETHING of epic Mordor-ian proportion is occurring, the doom is so thick you could scoop it off the walls.

The world Carpenter presents is very modern, alienated loners in a scorched earth that long ago killed God and replaced it with science's cold eyes. The rotting church where it all goes down is an anachronism, an antique surrounded by man-made mountains in the city jungle; its custodian priests self admitted 'salesmen'. Gathered round the toxic vat of Pure Evil slime in the church basement though, the congregation of student skeptics get passed the baton from the Brotherhood of Sleep. Utilizing the language of their deity science (the one eyed god, the one who claims not to be) they are violently re-born into a much larger, malevolent world. The act of re-phrasing an old myth in new lingo re-enchants the cosmos. Suddenly unfathomably ancient demons and puke spewing zombies are part of the equation; the students become true believers, scales rended from disbelieving eyes.

It's the existential dread, that feeling of teetering on the edge of a black hole that makes a mountain of this trashy b-movie molehill. This is Carpenter's blue-collar termite artistry before he sorta burned out. That he was making a movie with elements of the new paradigm (quantum physics) way back in the conservative 80's is testament to his awesomeness. Of *course* he made THEY LIVE!

It's the constant use of mirrors and nightmares though that really stick in my head and most other viewers, providing some sort of dreamy core to the exoteric shell of the movie. As a kid the idea of mirrors being doorways to other realms would've definitely won me over and indeed there are certain magickal practices involving mirrors and mirror halls. The heroes' shared dream space delivered as a fuzzy video single is indelible, striking some deep subconscious chord of primitive awe. The emergence of Catherine from the church, positioned like a martyred saint (that's what I thought anyway) with lights shining behind her is terrifying and definitely the stand out image of the film.

Eye of God, 26 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For such a naked Star Wars riff I think this underrated too. Murky and moody, the Cygnus spaceship where all the action takes place looks like a Gothic cathedral/industrial factory fun-house balanced on the edge of infinity, a gorgeous quantum whirlpool suspended in the heavens like the eye of God. The mad scientist story is rote and the googly eyed robots are a mismatch for the downbeat atmosphere but....the haunted house ghost ship with its huge deserted corridors & hooded monk-bots, the delicious & protracted destruction of the same and that awe inspiring conclusion with towering Mordor spires in tidal waves of fire & brimstone....there's definitely a darker, more visionary & operatic film laying underneath the generic happy meal shell. There's all sorts of exciting directions it could've gone that are only hinted at and its all pre-CGI so it has a certain weight to it, too. That last trip through the threshold could've pushed a lot further into 2001 territory. Like the critics said, it can't decide whether it wants to ape STAR WARS/STAR TREK or go off staring into the abyss. It needed to stop holding back & become the out 'n out horror movie it clearly wanted to be- in space no one can hear you scream! I've read it has a cult following & you can really see why. A very odd family flick, Di$ney could do interesting things despite itself.

First cut is the deepest, 12 March 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Childhood, the land before time? This is another of those kid's movies I remember from the 80's that seemed poised on the knife-edge of being too dark for their audience but always pulled out an amazing balance . like RETURN TO OZ, NEVERENDING STORY, SECRET OF NIHM etc. there seems to be a delicate juggling act between grownup themes of loss & suffering and the more child inflected ones that seem to mostly get fanned now- cutesy loudmouthed sprites getting up to colorful shenanigans & other juvenilia. Soulless cotton candy. It seems they don't make em like they used to. Littlefoot & his motley dinosaur crew (Ducky, Petri, Spike & lamentably, Sara) embark through a ravaged prehistoric wasteland on their way to the Great Valley, pursued by the tyrannosaur Sharptooth. I saw this movie in the theater when I was 5 & it left its mark. Between the bleak setting & the giant T Rex, the death of Littlefoot's mother is sure to serve up just the right amount of trauma to your little tater tots; what would children's' cinema be without it? Trial by fire I guess. This could've easily swung out of balance; I read they cut 10 minutes of even scarier stuff and while I mourn making a slight childhood favourite slighter, I don't see how that extra weight wouldn't have overwhelmed the exquisite bittersweet balance going on here. It seems just cute enough for its age group & just downbeat enough not to be overly cloying like most of its kind. I mean seriously, it fits the subject matter but rarely do you see such apocalyptic landscapes in an animated movie for the under 7 set. It makes sense that no father to Littlefoot is shown; this is one dreary, god forsaken dinotopia. There should more of this kind of movie, the kind that deliver premature fun but don't condescend & talk down to the audience between colorful Di$nified antics. The kind you're not ashamed to return to years later, hopefully able to finally recognize the point of it all.

Begotten (1990)
0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Jitterbug (trance state), 9 March 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

God cuts himself up with a razor & gives birth to Mother Earth who jerks off his corpse, inseminates herself & gives birth to son of the Earth, both brutally murdered by shrouded goons before being buried six feet under. The circle of life, and its moves us all! I don't know about the story or its occult significance but the scorched Earth presentation is sure something. I love when a movie can *truly* give you an Earth you've never visited before instead of re-heated CGI, the filmmakers gotta be tripping on distinct inner planes

to take you to these kind of thru-the-looking-glass destinations & that's what we get here, deep in gimmicky art film obscurity. The overly processed image is like the faint memory of a prehistoric past that never happened, a remembrance from out of time, interwoven with a dense sound-scape of ambient noise that induces this drug like stupor, this disconnect (complete unity?) between sound & image, a rorschach quality. Its going on in our heads as much as on screen, dreaming while awake. Bingo- another wormhole exposed on camera, a subconscious mindf*ck; its somehow familiar at the same time its alienating us into silent, aghast horror. I love this kind of thing, this conscious spell casting. Overlong & threadbare but these seem minor complaints for the chance to so deeply inhabit a parallel world, to gleam a midnight transmission from Mars, this sealed hermetic universe. Going by a lot of the comments here BEGOTTEN is the very definition of poser vagueness but I'd say don't over think it. In fact don't think it at all, just let it wash over like a nightmare, something about jittering humanoids and straight razors in a black & white nowhere land. Forget Susan Sontag & just bask in the sheer exhilaration of something so aggressively odd; go prospecting on Pluto. Even as just inspired noise from the abyss, burning away the calcified remnants of a million Hollyweird mediocrities & imposing its asymmetrical test pattern on our bar-coded brains, it works. A great WTF experience & the standout image HAS to be the God with Parkinson's jittering away in his chair, clumsily committing seppuku.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Dragged down by the stone, 21 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A right-brained pity parade with pop hooks. Most people aren't going to have the patience to make sense of it; you can't really blame them, it's easier to let the images wash over you (which are pretty unpleasant). Trying to really get into this is like the scene with Pink rearranging hotel room debris in schizo patterns...would you really *want* to understand? There's definitely a method to the madness, though. Its not as incoherent as it seems.

The album is like listening to a musical suicide note & the movie is like being inside a suicide's brain, every run on thought & recollection recreated in kaleidscopic detail. Along with Gerald Scarfe's delirious cartoons it's an epic montage of misery; words can't really describe it. In the end you can forgive it's miserablism, its earned & most others on the same wavelength don't have the same sheer visual inventiveness, anyway. It's possibly the greatest music video ever made. Mental disintegration is the perfect topic for this medium.

THE WALL is about a depressed rock star, reviewing his life through a drugged out haze in every ugly detail.The kind of life summary someone hitting rock bottom makes. Everything is pain & darkness, fresh trauma waiting around every corner. It's the visual equivalent of Edvard Munch's Scream painting (which the movie poster riffs on). One long wail of despair, it's only interested in the hellish depths, the kind of flick you don't put on often. Negating everything is the first step to accepting everything, however. Here, the journey through Pink's subconscious is set to song.

It's Roger Water's MTV therapy session & would be a total waste of time if he wasn't so masochistically honest about what a f*cked up human being he/we are. It's so harsh that it denies the truth of anything except pain, sweeping up much in its wake- mothers/lovers school fascism war - the whole convoluted system that sends people into these suicidal spirals by trying to mold them from day 1. They're not separable. It's in that spirit of total negation that someone can really bare to look closely at these things...paint it black.

What stands out in this operatic fever dream? Sarcastic schoolyard anthems, masked children on conveyor belts ground to paste, cruel teachers, self mutilating rock stars laying waste to mankind, screwing flowers, towering walls, trials & talking asses, explosions, worms, dead staring eyes- Its amazing how everything gets a call-out, a big summing up. It's all here. Fatherless boys & castrating mothers, goose stepping & falling bombs...this stuff is great. Roger Waters is a d*ick but Roger Waters also has balls to be retracing his steps through the labyrinth like he does here, It's not either/or. Exposing your inner dictator isn't a walk in the park. I'm really glad for movies like this, not only does it recreate what a nervous breakdown can feel like but goes further & holistically ties it back into society with the totalitarian stuff. Pink is a microcosm.

The wall itself makes me think of Wilhelm Reich's body armor idea, the muscular shielding people build to live in emotional war zones which quickly deadens them to *any* feeling. That in turn leads to things like shooting heroin, screwing groupies & committing mass murder to feel alive again (its utterly perfect how after the wall crashes only children are left, scrounging through wreckage). Critics who complained the film lacked resolution are dead wrong.

It's great that someone made the connection for rock audiences between pop stardom & fascist demagoguery, too. It's done in a way where you're not sure whether to chuckle or quake. The hammer & sickle pageant that erupts into rioting while an exhilarating melody plays has to be the most jaw dropping moment I've seen in a musical. You feel guilty for getting into the tune with beatings & rapes on-screen, the racial slurs & skinned heads. Its blood curdling & absurd. Way to turn a cherished form inside out & shovel its steaming guts in the faces of the fans you hate, Roger. That's entertainment!

There's worse sins than trying to shovel everything & the kitchen sink in but the album/movie wants to articulate the agony of it all so completely that it gets numbing quick, a constant bludgeon of horror & despair, the ultimate bad trip flick. It can be overwhelming if you're not prepared. The music provides the characters, the story, everything else is really just a framework for an apocalyptic day dream.

I love Pink Floyd. Along with Radiohead they made the scariest rock music I've heard. I never connected much with pop until I heard these guys. THE WALL is the last album where the group was firing even close to all cylinders, half brilliant & half awful. I don't need these kind of pitch black tunes as much now but it was sure comforting when I did.

Standout image: hard to choose just one but probably the flower devouring her mate. Best song: again hard but likely 'Comfortably Numb', which oughta be the rock anthem of the whole 20th century

Videodrome (1983)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Your reality is already half video hallucination, 20 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'The dumbing down of humanity is represented by a shift which occurs in the brain when we watch television. Activity in the higher brain regions (such as the neo-cortex) is diminished, while activity in the lower brain regions (such as the limbic system) increases. The latter, commonly referred to as the reptile brain, is associated with more primitive mental functions, such as the "fight or flight" response. The reptile brain is unable to distinguish between reality and the simulated reality of television. To the reptile brain, if it looks real, it is real.' -Alex Ansary

'It is like confusing the menu with the dinner. You can become so enchanted with the symbols that you confuse them with reality. This is the disease from which all civilized people are suffering. We are in the position of eating the menu instead of the dinner, of living in a world of words & symbols. This causes us to relate badly to our material surroundings.' -Alan Watts

Wow. Anyone taking notice of our wall-to-wall media oppression will get shivers watching this; Cronenberg the intellectual was obviously doing his late night reading (Baudrillard, McLuhan, William Burroughs) before this stuff became more obvious to the front lines. His eggheaded insight definitely separates his first movies (SHIVERS, RABID, THE BROOD) from the rest of the exploitation pack, a b-movie director that could back up his T&A with something like substance. Decades later & we know how his story turned out.

For VIDEODROME, Cronenberg made a horrific commentary on the media-scape & its myriad of prison reality tunnels foisted upon the sleeping public. The technology here is prehistoric but the penetrating insight isn't. Obsessed with mutation & transformation, Cronenberg comes at his pet themes from the media standpoint this go round: continuous exposure to graphic violence & sex causes hallucinations in the minds of unaware audiences, here small time producer Max Renn (likeable sleaze James Woods) looking for the next hot thing. This is tricky territory, even today when the virtual reality addiction reaches pandemic proportions & society continues to splinter into some strange unacknowledged hypnosis hell, courtesy of the MSM dream factory.

Slowly but surely, continuous exposure to the Videodrome show, broadcast secretly reconfigures Renn's entire inner landscape,involving him in an occult war between shadowy cabals, making him into something entirely new by erasing the previous identity, paving the way for a new borderless incarnation amongst the airwaves....esoteric stuff, real paranoia & would look totally incoherent to image junkies unaware of what substratum this freak movie transmission is coming from, a jumbled mishmash of nightmare psychedelia, pretentious philosophizing & charmingly antiquated machinery. And sex & violence. Its cold & clinical with a sparse electronic score, par for course from the director who examines humanity like a bug under his microscope.

Again I'm going to say that catching this movie at 3am, waiting for the sexy fun & instead getting a dour, doomy expose on media black magic & sorcery at 11 years old....yeah the point was wasted on me. Still, something about this kept calling me back over the years & now its one of my favourites. Look closely & you too can observe just the kind of bleed through this movie describes, a sophisticated multidimensional control apparatus that operates right beneath our noses, masquerading as cathartic entertainment. Look closer to observe how fantasy and reality overlap.The Videodrome agents manually insert a videocassette into Max's chest in one scene, 'programming' him into violent mayhem (i am the video word made flesh). He embraces the TV in another, merging with a giant pair of screen lips in creepy sexual union. This stuff is ace. People assume they are self determining when massive brainwashing is always going on in the background, eating away at them. Its satanic.

Now what I find really fascinating is that Cronenberg apparently caught the germ of what would become VIDEODROME from a viewing of infamous porn director Joe D'amato's EMANUELLE IN America, a breezy blue movie that happens to contain one scene of graphic snuff footage. Taking place as film within a film, its a cruddy silent 8mm print of tortured women in some nameless banana republic. At first it seems completely incongruous to the rest of the movie, a jarring tonal shift amid care free frolicking but on closer examination seems more like a subconscious glimpse of the hedonistic round-the-world plot, a peekaboo look of whats really lurking beneath the sunny sexy fun. Haunting.

I wonder how Cronenberg sees his own contributions to this insane state of affairs, being himself amongst the sorcerers. This is maybe one movie to make you swear off movies forever, if you've been lucky enough to resist the temptations of the New Flesh.

300 (2006)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
No homo, 12 December 2012

When I was a kid I couldn't get enough high octane action ... gunfire, car chases, one-liners, occasional T&A- I liked my pseudo testosterone dripping off the walls with squib hits & bloodstains,loud proud & no holds barred. It was many movie highs of stylish destruction wrought by wise cracking tough guys. I worshipped at this neon altar once upon a time; Schwarzenneger, Stallone, Van Damne- patron saints, their monosyllabic sermons preaching ultra-violence without irony to spoil the arias of bodily desecration, of wide- scale property levelling. Come all ye faithful, its time to kick ass & chew bubblegum.

300 lets me to really see what had me in thrall years ago, the same tropes blown up to IMAX proportions, every step & heave of chiseled chests like nuclear explosions on screen, super-size big gulp generation EPIC, highway to the danger-zone! Fascist homo-eroticism doesn't begin to describe this numb skull opera, retroactively making me recognize all those other youthful movies for their peaCOCKing cartoon masculinity....its soooo GAY!

Beyond that, reactionary Frankie Miller's tale of spartan strongmen fighting girly god-king Xerxe's brown skinned hordes is as cartoon gorgeous as it's retarded, hyper-real & video game perfect. Its pure spectacle, sound & fury yadda yadda, glorious while espousing the most backward iron age exploits. Its a diseased piece of work but it tickles the lizard brain something fierce with its strongman chic. SIN CITY had the same frighteningly empty, sterile charm. Both are illuminating in the worst ways.

Its a treat to see movies completely lay it out like 300 does, to stop pussy footing around & admit they're down with the sickness. It doesn't matter if its not intended as a political primer or a history lesson, that kind of defence betrays profound ignorance of how completely this communal dream-time called the movies subconsciously shapes us. More discernment helps separate meaningful self expression from superficially attractive power fantasies. Films don't just show up without connection to the wider world, even sword & sandal peplum.

Sick yes but it's hilarious lack of shame really lets the makers go all out in their fantastic exaggerations- cavorting slave girls, inbred mystics, freak berserker's that are like end level bosses, high artifice carnage- its overblown & straight faced like a camp movie, lurid & grotesque. The movie delights in xbox warfare lovingly rendered for all those CALL OF DUTY addicts out there, a manly mythic tone of gods & heroes past that even got me pumped. There's great pleasure taken in abstracted set pieces, hight-lighting chiseled Spartan ubermenschs delivering fatalities (FINISH HIM) to eastern cannon fodder; if there was a movie to make war look like porn this has to be it. These orgasmic moments are very disconnected, like pieces of framed blood art; you can practically hear the director going 'that's sick!' & 'wicked!' for every money shot. I'd really like to know what he thought he was making.

The Iranians-*ahem* PERSIANS are so clearly other, Xerxes like an 8 foot Brazilian tranny on steroids- degenerate effeminacy that the hunky Spartan manly men must put down like a rabid dog.... yeah movies like this don't really help even though they ARE a guilty blast (first you have to KNOW its a guilty blast, though). Its another sealed hermetic CGI universe, a copy of a copy. Exquisite soma. I've see enough of fan boy director Zack Snyder I think- nice depth-less imagery but nothing more (*how* did he end up with WATCHMEN?). A Tarantino media junkie, he's Hollyweird perfect. Insight spoil sexy bang bang. Go Sparta (semper fi)!

....Sometimes there's nothing left to do but LOL

Zombie (1979)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Pasta-land Chunkblower Classics 4#, 25 November 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Four intrepid westerners travel to the tropical island Matool only to find the resident doctor and staff battling a living dead epidemic that threatens to spill over into the wider world.

An obvious attempt to cash-in on Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD, standinng on its own merits Fulci's drive-in opus is still one somber cheese horror flick. I mean the movie opens on gushing head shot; you *know* what you're in for.

Much of the Italian exploitation industry was based on copying American trends and ZOMBIE was no different. That's where the similarity pretty much ends. It reaches its own pinnacle of nihilistic greatness in several scenes (side-by-side some undeniable movie ham). Romero's film was satirical, Fulci's living dead quartet (THE BEYOND, GATES OF HELL and to a lesser extent HOUSE BY THE Cemetery) is grand guignol. Strictly as a fright flick, it works way better than DAWN (the better film). It's got atmosphere to burn, not brains. The story is nothing, a necessary evil for setting up a brutal & eerie finale where the audience gets what it came for: a zombie apocalypse, one of the best because it predates 'zombie apocalypse' as common parlance. It's still classical monster movie territory, just updated with 70's ennui & grind-house guts. It's not a metaphor for global capitalism and the legions of brainless sheeple. It's not a snarky potshot. It's very easy to make fun of; despite the gore, it's still romantic about its pessimism. Now we got torture porn.

Pacing wasn't one of this director's strong points but endure the tedious beginning half (to about the shark scene) and enjoy his real strengths. What has plot got to do with it? That's a clothesline for this notorious hack to hang his peculiar set-pieces, to go bat-sh*t crazy with blood & zooms & pulsing electric noises that hurt your head. None of that loopy fleapit surrealism; ZOMBIE is the most earth-bound of his cadaver quartet, its actually coherent. The plot is on auto-pilot, something to get out of the way so Fulci can focus on the grotesque, flexing his muscles without burdens like character development and naturalistic dialogue. That's all rote; Fulci just aches to tear off the funeral veil and glimpse the maggots already. As a ringleader of gruesome and dreamy images he was ace (and obviously knew his limitations if the aggressively nonsensical BEYOND is any indication). Several of his films make for very strange viewing, like arty gore flicks. Concentrating on violence and decay it finds its groove and proceeds right through to the end. It screams the 70's and the entire burnt out, worn down mood. That's always spoke to me as a kid, personally. It showed openly the all-pervasive taint that movies in the 80's seem to go back to hiding. Horror flicks don't do that (that's why they're horror flicks).

European horror valued style over plot and adhering to this dictum Fulci batters us with unrepentant doom. The atmosphere, simmering like a miasma of death is great for such a small comic book b-movie. The heat and funk of rotting bodies is vivid; dirt and decay are prevalent, the feel of cloying sand and spoiled, gore encrusted earth. The beat of voodoo drums frequently hovers off screen, always heard never seen. The cheesy synthesizer gets more unnerving as the film goes on, emphasizing the delicious feeling of inevitable death surrounding us with its oppressive monotony. From ridiculous to stark. The small cast of zombies is also a plus; it lets Fulci realize his vision of the undead: shuffling, moaning, graceless creatures melting under the tropical sun, way more ghastly than Romero's blue-tinted hordes. They're hideous. The memorable movie poster is a hypno-putrid snapshot; it made me seriously ache to see this as a kid. Less is more.

The cemetery scene particularly is a tour-de-force, the point where plodding turns into a breathless rush towards oblivion. A rising corpse towers over a petrified victim with worms crawling out eye sockets. A loathsome close-up before its lunges toward the screen, biting out the girl's throat, a blood geyser pouring out with ridiculously gross clogged drain noises on the soundtrack- the biggest baddest looking cadaver you've ever seen. The mournful score breaks in after, rendered epic now, an electronic Gothic hymn playing over collapsing graves, hands & arms & heads rising up from a dreamless sleep. Still one of the finest scenes of any zombie film, period.

Fulci's zoom-happy cam is here too: rubbing our faces in gleeful man-eating, he displays the characteristic lack of restraint that's earned him his cult. The gore flows plentiful so fan boys should be pleased on that gut level. The army of stiffs advancing on our cardboard heroes at the climax, engulfed in flames as the main theme pounds on is indelible. These zombies are slooooow, not today's berserkers. The pace of life in 1979 was a lot different.

Rotten, tacky, glorious. Standout image here: corpses shuffling down the Brooklyn bridge as rush hour traffic drives on below along a NY skyline, credits crawling past.

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