Welcome to Four Horsemen Films!

Here at Four Horsemen Films, we're dedicated to some of the very best and worst cinematic masterpieces you know, love, and despise. Think of us as Bad Movies for Bad People, or as a liaison to the inner sanctum of cinema. Or, just think of us as quick and entertaining reads. That's what Four Horsemen Films is all about.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Written By: Tommy Lee Wallace

Directed By: Tommy Lee Wallace

Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Before I begin to completely decimate and shred any piece of dignity that Halloween III: Season of the Witch possibly had left before making its dubious way to my website, I’d like to take this time to share with you a simple history lesson and perspective analysis. I, like many others, have watched the majority of “slasher” picks with waning degrees of interest, mainly because each one in the like follows along the same lines of perpetual stupidity. There’s a killer on the loose, he’s going to kill you next bitch, don’t run upstairs you dumb bastard. That’s the basics of Slasher 101 for ya. That being said, the Halloween series is a completely different (and altogether original) set of films that don’t follow this same formula nearly at all.

John Carpenter is, simply put, a genius. His masterful works in the genre include the original film as well as its sequel, Halloween II. Taking place during the same time and on the exact same evening, they are the perfect and ideal example for suspenseful chillers from the early 80’s that predate the infatuation with Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and yes, even Ashley J. Williams. The characters, whether they be scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode or even the menacing Michael Myers (really just a William Shatner/Captain Kirk mask after all this time), were simplistic enough that you could understand what their primary conflict was yet they required a minimum two films just to battle through it all. With ingenuity in both his technique and directorial skills, Carpenter crafted very intelligent writing amongst the blood and guts we expected (and were often appalled by) to see.

Carpenter’s final contribution to the series was when he determined it show go in a new direction. John had fashioned out an idea that Halloween, the name at least, should apply to a broader spectrum as an anthology series, chronicling several different eerie happenings on October 31st. The idea itself seems well and good, but when its very first script was green lighted for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the ship capsized after striking more obstructions that a silver ball inside a pinball machine on tilt.

I should have known that reviewing this movie, or simply watching it again, was a bad idea. I should have noticed the signs. What signs, you may ask? Well, how about the signs that indicated that my cheap DVD copy of the film refused to play nearly six times in three different players before finally succumbing to my shitty movie lust. By the time it finally played, I had forgotten why exactly I wanted to watch it in the first place. Within 15 minutes, I was reminded about just how this movie has changed the process of sequel making for better and worse.

The story is all about a corporation, Silver Shamrock, who is on top of the Halloween costume business with their three uniquely different masks available in stores nationwide. Each mask comes with a seal of authenticity (an important button for the plot in the future) and each is encouraged to be worn during a live Silver Shamrock broadcast on the night of Halloween. Though this all seems innocent enough, strange happenings occur and introduce us to the always lovable Tom Atkins as Dr. Dan Challis. Dr. Challis is chilled by the recent disturbances these masks are causing, and upon investigation, he learns the shocking truth: Silver Shamrock is an evil corporation set to destroy America’s youth via subliminal advertising and messages in their nighttime screening that will (and I kid you not) squish every kid’s head into a pile of bugs and, presumably, kill them. I couldn’t make that up if I tried, or even through darts at an idea board. To fully understand just how awful it all is, watch this for best results.

Apparently, everyone in the good ol’ USA has bought one of these killer masks and has no idea just what destruction they can cause, so Challis sets out to rectify the situation by eliminating Silver Shamrock and everyone behind this insidious plot. Even with the constant bewilderment such an awful, awful plot has to offer, it also presents an important sociological sidebar on how consumers are driven simply by advertising and rarely look at the harmful side effects of the products they have purchased. Granted, this line of thinking is taken several steps further with the inclusion of mass murder, but we’re not far off with the kind of materialistic society we’ve become. That Tickle Me Elmo might as well be a bomb, and you’d never know, either.

No amount of intelligent subtext can cover up for the sheer audacity that the movie presents as we reach the not-so-thrilling climax and conclusion. Dr. Challis, along with some much needed help (read: gratuitous tits) thwarts the corporation with the very technology they are using against society, but his efforts fall on deaf ears when one television station refuses his demands and plays the deadly, seizure-inducing commercial as the credits roll. So much for saving the world as a renegade on Halloween.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Today we’ll go with Dan O’Herlihy, the evil and demented creator of Silver Shamrock’s deadly masks. If for no other reason than his character is a benign tumor in the throat of life, his character’s name is Conal Cochran, and that’s a really stupid fucking name.

Best Name in the Cast: Tom Atkins, and not just for being born on the same day as this oft-humbled reviewer. Atkins as a knack for sizing up these roles, as he often plays a washed up cop, doctor, detective, etc. against the world. The man nips from the bottle more times onscreen than Andre the Giant at a wine tasting convention.

Quote of the Film:
“The night no one came home.” -Selected from the trailer and tagline of the movie specifically for its foreshadowing connotation. The first movie featured the tagline: “The night ‘he’ came home,” referring to Michael Myers. Ironic that “no one” came home for part three, considering that he makes no appearance in the film’s plot or continuity. Marvelous.

Final Thoughts: The financial and critical flop that Halloween III: Season of the Witch became left movie producers with no other option. If they were to continue this franchise for lucrative sums, they would have to resurrect Michael Myers, something that they literally did 6 years later for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Through incredibly baffling events, he came back and ended up just as shameful as any other horror movie pioneer. At least Halloween 4 delivered what its tagline promised, instead of what we got from this movie, in which it delivered, well, I guess a third installment to a once successful and dignified series. Too bad that didn’t last, not like it ever does.

Friday, October 24, 2008

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

Written By: Peter Barsocchini

Directed By: Kenny Ortega

Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
I am anticipating hate mail for this one. Why, you may ask, would anybody voluntarily pay to see this movie, let alone review it on a sight clinging to what little credibility it has left? Well, if you haven’t found the answer to this question on your own, then you clearly don’t know me very well. I’m digging deep this time to write a different sort of review, especially since this is the first movie I’ve reviewed that is still in theaters. Years down the road, if that’s the answer to a trivia question, you’ll be just as embarrassed that you knew the answer was High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

We’re talking about the Disney phenomenon that started as a made for TV movie, and after millions of dollars made from ratings and merchandising, Disney finally made the logical decision to take their game to the big time with a full-blown cinematic debut. Bigger budget, bigger musical, bigger bank. That’s the simple philosophy we have to follow when subjecting ourselves to the uber-cool society of East High School and our six pack of leads on the home stretch. High School Musical 3: Senior Year is about to help us get our heads in the game.

Before we begin, I humbly implore you to take this review for what it is as I shameless shill for the Disney Company. If you are displeased with this entry, I encourage you to read other entries, like Bordello of Blood, Demon Knight, and if you like musicals, Shock Treatment.

Not surprisingly, our story begins with the same basic plot, following the lives of the East High Wildcats throughout the end of basketball season (as documented in the solid opening number “Now or Never,” which borrows lyrical elements from Cameo’s “Word Up”) and onward to the upcoming Spring Musical and Senior Prom. Everyone is familiar with just what goes down during their final stanza in high school, but rarely do we see it presented with such flash and pizzazz. We meet up again with Troy and Gabriella, each of whom are planning their prospective futures at separate colleges. In case you’re wondering why I single out these two (and you’ve never heard of High School Fucking Musical), its because 92% of the movie is about just what they’ll be doing after they graduate. Whether one will be taking scandalous photos of themselves for the other has yet to be determined.

Other students are eager to leave to, but each has found themselves, in their own way, more or less focused on the Spring Musical and the fate of Troy Bolton. Troy is the basketball stud with aspirations of a full athletic scholarship, but it will leave him thousands of miles away from his beloved Gabriella who plans to attend Stanford. Troy also begins to battle with the decision of going even further away when he learns that scholars from Julliard are willing to offer him a free ride if he impresses them. Tell me, who in the world is this fucking talented?

To be fair, High School Musical 3: Senior Year drags along in points that seem endless and at least five of the musical numbers are weaker than they were in the first two movies. Granted, we get to see a very revealing outfit on Ashley Tisdale during much of these proceedings, and the costuming in general is fabulous, but the movie more or less feels like, well, a made for TV movie. Maybe that’s because even with a bigger budget and all the hype of mainstream media, its still the same old movie as the first two, and that doesn’t make it very good for theaters across the country. At times, you’ll be so stifled by the onscreen antics that you’ll be spotting interesting anachronisms, like how Corbin Bleu is clearly too old to be in this role considering he has a five o’clock shadow.

While it is just as fun and cheeky as the first two movies, new characters and added conflicts do little to bolster this and make it a serious strike on the big screen. Though it will get far with fans of the series and casual moviegoers alike, it hasn’t got much legs beyond that unless you look far beyond the surface to Zac Efron’s performance.

Call me crazy, but Efron’s third time around as Troy Bolton is his best. He’s in an all-too-realistic struggle to decide on a future for himself, all the while knowing that he will be letting down his father, friends, and countless others if he simply chooses what he wants. His frustrations bellow until the swan song, “Scream,” is performed. This song, in any musical in the world, is a passionately driven masterpiece that does more than just serve as passable. “Scream” is the only portion of the movie that transcends the screen and speaks directly to all of us who were torn apart by the choices our futures presented following the learning experience. I won’t spoil his final decision, but seeing as how it’s a Disney movie, you should see it coming.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Wow, I could name a lot of them, but I think I’ll go with lead writer Peter Barsocchini, who managed to neglect several side-plots that he himself created in this third installment. Granted, it is pretty late in the series to create new characters, conflicts, and even relationships, but if you’re going to do it with a hugely adjusted budget, at least you could go all out. I had questions unanswered, damn it!

Best Name in the Cast: Matt Prokop makes his debut in the franchise as a new character known for most of the movie as Rocketman, a basketball player and general burnout who, whether or not we choose to accept it, is a scene stealer every time he’s in it. Prokop clearly has the same charisma that Zac Efron stumbled into and will likely be a name to remember as Disney’s next pet project.

Quote of the Film:
“It’s the night of our nightmares.” -Ensemble during the song A Night to Remember, and I bet you couldn’t agree more.

Final Thoughts: You know, I do honestly hope this is the last one of these movies to be made, and not just because of what it is. From a purely objective viewpoint, too many times do film companies, actors, producers, directors, writers, and anyone else in showbiz create excess sequels in an effort to swindle me out of more of my hard earned money. You already got a minimum of 10 bucks out of me just because I went to theaters to see this movie. Isn’t my shame enough of a price to pay, then to have to sit through another series that should simply be a trilogy and not anything more? It doesn’t get more definitive than Senior Year, unless we have High School Musical 4: GED Equivalency on the horizon.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood (1996)

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood (1996)

Written By: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, A L Katz, Gilbert Adler

Directed By: Gilbert Adler

Starring: Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Chris Sarandon, Corey Feldman, John Kassir

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Face it: when you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re Bordello of Blood, you’re definitely not. With Tales from the Crypt on seemingly its last legs on HBO and the attention of the five pioneer executive producers being harnessed by their new project, Perversions of Science, TFTC was beginning to feel like a horror afterthought. With only a handful of episodes left in its arsenal, the show was making one last gasp at staying as hip as it had been since the late 80’s. That final shot, or better yet, stab (I’m not counting puns this time), was made with the release of Tales From the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood in 1996.

First of all, you can’t simply compare this movie to its predecessor, Demon Knight. The first flick in what was scheduled to be three was a superb effort that was entrenched with a real Tales-feeling in it. Demon Knight also performed quite well as it was released on a horror weekend for films (a Friday the 13th), often recognized as a cheap ploy by movie companies to rake in more dollars. Cheap as it may be, that ploy is pivotal to the fledgling flick we have in front of us. You see, Bordello of Blood was supposed to see a release just like that. You know, around Halloween, or on one of those mystery weekends. Yet, when Universal Pictures stepped in to produce the movie, they chose to move it to the Summer of ‘96 to fill their cinematic quota. That timing, combined with a film that was, overall, not all that good, left us with a bitter taste in our mouths while watching the second big screen attempt to keep Tales from the Crypt alive.

In another somewhat original horror plot, Bordello of Blood is all about a sect of vampires that have been resurrected by a mysterious relic (the very same key from Demon Knight) to do the bidding of their master. That bidding is actually to work for the Lord Almighty and exterminate sinners at a heavenly speed. How, exactly, will these blood-sucking vermin be doing such? Why, they’ve disguised themselves as loose women with loose inhibitions in their very own brothel. I often wonder how much better the box office take would have been for this movie if they simply titled it Vampire Whorehouse.

The lead role of a washed-up detective (a type of character we will see often in b-grade horror) is played by Dennis Miller, who began his personal war with me (that he is as of yet unaware of) by attempting to insert a one-liner in every situation. Though the character is something of a lush, he does have the best intentions at heart: rescuing the brother of his newest (and sexiest) client Erika Eleniak while also diving deep into the darkness of the Bordello. In order to fully rid the society of this plague of blood-sucking (among other things, I’m sure) vixens, he’ll need the help of the preacher Jimmy Current (J.C., how clever) and a slew of others to destroy the head vampire, an especially nasty bit of crumpet named Lilith.

While the premise is a classic Crypt play on morals and values, it still seems a little far-fetched. What kind of ministry would employ the agents of Satan to further their own supposed “godly” agenda? No body of committee or government would ever hire their sworn enemy to exterminate another group in the name of a utilitarian decision, would they? Isn’t that unrealistic? Whoops, I’ve said too much.

Before I continue to take apart this movie, I should consider the pluses. Angie Everhart is delightful as Lilith, the queen bee in this vampire den. Though her role is often demanding of a very dry, deadpan style humor that can be overshadowed by sex appeal and yes, horrible fucking puns, she shines through it and easily steals the movie away from Miller and Eleniak, whose on-screen romance drags the film down like an anchor. Chris Sarandon is also the epitome of a saintly, evangelical minister when dawning the character of the Reverend J.C. His transformation from seedy preacher to bible bruiser is often hilarious given its satirical nature. And, as mentioned before, the plot of the movie is well done given all of the typical twists, turns, and moral questions raised from something with Tales from the Crypt stamped on the front cover.

But all of that simply isn’t enough to cover up for the glaring issues in Bordello of Blood. Maybe it had too much to live up to with Demon Knight, or maybe it just isn’t too terribly well executed. In fact, this is a disposable horror movie that, by the end of it, you find yourself rooting to see your protagonist Miller get killed. He’s seriously annoying, and his brand of humor would have been better presented had he been the first victim claimed. I don’t even want to bring up the evil little person in this movie, because if you’re going to watch a movie with evil people that aren’t too terribly tall, I recommend something like this, because they’re all going to be bad.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Despite Dennis Miller’s incredibly annoying voice, face, jokes, and character, he’s not nearly as frustrating as Corey Feldman. Feldman, who used to be suave, cute, and productive, is none of these things as he gets a big role in yet another vampire movie. Stick to The Lost Boys, for the love of Christ.

Best Name in the Cast: And for the second film in a row, the cameo made by William Sadler as the Mummy in the opening and closing scenes of this film make it all worthwhile. Skip the 85 minutes in between (you know, the actual movie) and watch his sequences with the Cryptkeeper over and over again. Never boring.

Quote of the Film:
“Two, Four, Six, Eight! You can watch me masturbate!” -Lilith, cheering in a vision to Rafe (Dennis Miller). Just another quirky seduction of the vampire’s lust.

Final Thoughts: I mentioned previously that Universal Pictures pushed up the release date of this movie for their own personal agenda to be fulfilled. That decision caused Bordello of Blood to bomb astronomically at the box office, and plans for a third Tales film, as well perhaps a revitalization of the franchise and more TV time, were scrapped. The third film was shelved indefinitely and a fourth film, Ritual, was produced and directed straight to video with a Tales logo forcefully slapped on it, despite having nothing to do with the series or this movie. The new series, Perversions of Science, was canceled during its first production run. Tales from the Crypt ended with Season 7 on television one month prior to this movie’s release. Bordello of Blood is just average enough to make some money if it were released around Halloween or on any of the aforementioned “horror weekends,” but it’s a sub-par film to be released in the Summer, and it killed the franchise for years to come. In closing: Fuck you, Universal Pictures. Fuck you hard.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995)

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995)

Written By: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, and Mark Bishop

Directed By: Ernest Dickerson

Starring: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, CCH Pounder, Thomas Haden Church

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
It isn’t hard to pinpoint the staple of my childhood bloodlust. From nearly age two, I received the honor and privilege of staying up late on the weekends to watch HBO’s original programming known as Tales from the Crypt. Somewhere during my adolescence, my parents were even kind enough to tape a six-hour Tales marathon for me that I still have in my possession. Sure, the episodes were primarily from season 3 (which explains why I know every line in that particular year of shows) and featured topics that I didn’t always understand, but I cherished them for a long, long time.

With a warm embrace, the show made the jump to the big screen in January of 1995 with the following movie, titled Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, or just Demon Knight for short. Little did I know that at age 7, I was experiencing my favorite horror movie of all time. That’s right, I put no others in front of Demon Knight as being top of the pops in the gory genre that I review most often. In fact, it seems almost a misprint when I discuss films that don’t feature some sort of blood and guts appeal. So, in order to keep pace, I present to you one of the finest B-grade horror films ever (and also one of the most original), and not just because it was based on one of the best television shows known to man.

The place is New Mexico, and the plot is rather simplistic at first glance. Brayker, a rebel on the run, is protecting a mysterious relic that contains the power to bind and constrict the demons of the night from overtaking the realm of Earth and destroying mankind. He is pursued furiously by The Collector, a nasty minion of Satan that is (mind the pun, it is a TFTC Review) hell-bent on stealing the relic, or “key” back for the dark side. Short on time, options, and now, innocence (Brayker has caused quite an accident for the local police to clean up), our fleeting protagonist shacks up inside a rundown roach motel with several others who are typical residents. Turns out Brayker is going to get these folks into more trouble than they bargained for as the Collector shows up and all hell (Pun #2) breaks loose, beginning with a fist through the face of the Sherriff of this crummy little town.

Put your mind at ease, Dear Reader, because if all of these shenanigans seem to be too far fetched, then you’re in for a real surprise. While most of the early scenes in this movie are used to build characters and side-plots (a rarity in the horror business), they also mount the tension behind the whereabouts of this key and the protection Brayker is trying to provide. Yes, this is a story about death and demons, but its also a story about everyday people allowing their defenses to be lowered and their vulnerability to consume and corrupt them. We’ll get to that in more detail in a little bit.

For now, we return to the basics, as a fed up Collector takes out his rage by unleashing demons to take the house from the humans. While the characters survive the initial onslaught, the Collector is a crafty veteran that utilizes the art of seduction to get what he wants. Played aptly by Billy Zane, he uses a soft whisper to indulge in carnal desire with the characters inside the building, and though he himself cannot enter (due to a blood seal placed around the complex), he manages to find a way in by stealing the souls of the enchanted. This is where things take a turn for the worst, as some of the characters begin to die off in nasty ways, and others find themselves risking (and losing) life and limb to escape the clutches of the demons that are now polluting the house. While Wally, a former mail clerk is the first to be eliminated, Irene, the desk assistant for this rented out apartment complex takes it the worst. She has her arm ripped right out of socket and proceeds to go the remainder of the film with half an arm. Let’s give her a hand for that (Pun #3).

As Demon Knight continues, so does an ongoing story about the origin of the key, demons, and conflict taking place in real time. Turns out, this isn’t your typical demon possession movie (take that Night of the Demons). These demons have been scouring the Earth since Genesis in search of seven keys that, when formed in a circle, bring back the darkness of the universe and their reign of evil. While we learn of the descendants of this, the last remaining heavenly key, we are also exposed to more religious allegory than most films, not just horror, will ever provide.

This is where Demon Knight really excels, by providing the audience with an easy to follow yet incredibly immersive back story that, while a bit far-fetched, fit’s the story perfectly. While very few people will point to this film as a prime example of what a truly creepy horror movie should be, I’ll stand up and proudly exclaim that your movie is only as good as the history behind it. When I encourage you to watch a movie, I attempt to avoid the spoilage of the climax and ending. Trust that I will again be doing that for this movie, as I don’t want to lose my head (Pun #4, related to the Cryptkeeper) by going overboard in this review.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: I previously mentioned a character named Wally in this review. Well, if you’re unfamiliar with the work of Charles Fleischer before his portrayal of Wally Enfield, failed postal worker in this movie, then listen up. He voiced Roger Rabbit and Benny the Cab in Who Framed Roger Rabbit less than a decade earlier. While most people would call that versatile, I feel that Fleischer sold himself short by accepting the role of a bumbling fool who you are happy to see bite it early on.

Best Name in the Cast: Not surprisingly, the winner is William Sadler, who, as of press time, has appeared in more episodes of Tales from the Crypt than any other player that was not a regular (John Kassir). He was in the very first episode, The Man Who Was Death, as well as an appearance as Death (of Bill & Ted fame) in a later season. Talk about a guy who’s dying to stay with the show (Pun #5). Sadler narrowly won the category of the Patron Saint of B-Movies, Dick Miller.

Quote of the Film:
“God Damn it, get that pussy off the table! …I meant the cat.” -Irene, mistakenly addressing the neighborhood bicycle Cordelia.

Final Thoughts: I’ve been pretty generous to my favorite horror movie of all time, which is not surprising in the least. Demon Knight is not without its flaws, but it doesn’t have too many for the standard horror film made in 1995. In fact, if you ever want a thought-provoking original story that has just enough gore, violence, and yes, that tricky bastard religion spliced in, then you should look no further than this Tales-produced gem. The finished product might seem corny in hindsight, but that won’t stop you from keeping your own pun count with all the deadpan delivery that Demon Knight distributes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Zombi: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Zombi: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Written By: George A. Romero

Directed By: George A. Romero

Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross

Country of Origin: United States of America (as presented to an Italian audience)

The Idea:
Now hold on just one minute. How can someone claiming to be an enthusiast of b-movie schlock possibly review a movie like Dawn of the Dead? After all, it is the second in the line of quintessential living dead films from George A. Romero, and furthermore, it remains one of the most popular horror films of all time amongst critics and fans. It also happens to be the masterpiece of special effects cinema as present by King of Gore Tom Savini, so again, we must ask, how can you do this film justice by reviewing it, or even discussing it in the same disappointed breath as movies like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things?

Well, folks, the truth of the matter is that I can’t review Dawn of the Dead. Nothing I could say about the movie would give you any new insight that you didn’t discover on your own. But, as a technical loophole, I am at liberty to discuss with you the Italian cut of the film, as presented internationally by Dario Argento. You see, by all logic, even though the characters and plot are the same, the film Zombi: Dawn of the Dead (English translation) is far different from the 1978 masterpiece of Romero.

Let’s start with the important things first: when the original Dawn premiered in the United States, it was a critical success and George Romero had himself another winner for the genre. The movie quickly gained cult status, and why wouldn’t it? It is outstanding, and frankly speaking, in a league of its own in regards to zombie pictures. What the original Dawn of the Dead offers to audiences is more than just gore and brutality. Oh sure, there is plenty of that to go around as Tom Savini could show you (and did) on the screen. After all, Savini was quickly hired to work on Friday the 13th following his triumph in Romeroland. But the movie was so much more than that. It was an epic work of art that provoked the cerebral cortex almost as much as the gag reflex. George A. Romero challenged audiences to think about a post-apocalyptic society with commentary leaps and bounds ahead of its time. Romero set the standard for films after this by doing one incredibly important thing: he created a zombie movie that wasn’t about zombies.

Fast forward to nearly nine months later, and we have the Italian (and pretty much every foreign country) release of Zombi: Dawn of the Dead from Dario Argento. Argento was no stranger to horror himself. Having mastered his craft in films like the ever-so-creepy Suspiria and lesser-known Tenebre, Argento understood how to get to the international audience. When he took the helm for this project, he would revolutionize Euro Horror (or EuroShock) in ways that no one could ever have anticipated. It is for this reason that we are documenting this movie and showing up all film students around the world. So now, without further ado, we stop all this flogging and make with a review.

Zombi: Dawn of the Dead is essentially the same story you’ve heard about before. As a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn picks up in a world of chaos. Local TV stations (centralized this time in the Northeast) are running low on both time and resources as the plague spreads further and faster. Francine is our first major player, and she’s attempting to flee the town just as quickly as everyone else. She’ll meet up with her helicopter pilot (how fortunate) of a boyfriend Steven quite soon. Meanwhile, just across town, military reinforcements have been sent to break up a complex of militant immigrants and have been given orders to destroy any in their paths. That train is quickly derailed when many of the illegal residents are themselves already among the dead. Here we are introduced to SWAT team members Roger and Peter, each of which worked for different units on the building and are now more or less “all alone.” They decide to join forces and know of a plot to leave town using the air as their playground. That’s right, they’ll be meeting up with Francine and Steven as soon as possible.

Right about now, I could speak to you at great length about the importance of Peter, an African-American character played aptly by Ken Foree. Though Foree is best known nowadays for cameos in numerous horror films (including this remake), he helped to redefine film schema by playing a black protagonist, as was common from George Romero at the time. Though he claims it was unintentional to cause such a splash in Night, Romero more than likely made Peter the strongest character in this movie as another subtext of the overall plot. Black or white, Peter is the most intelligent and relatable character in the whole movie.

As time passes, our heroes find themselves low on fuel and patience until they stumble upon a seemingly deserted shopping mall. Left with little options elsewhere, they decide to overtake the complex and stowaway until they can formulate a bigger plan (or until our fantastic government finally makes a breakthrough). While they do find serenity for a long while in the mall, all good things must come to an end, and they do. One by one, the characters find themselves in hardly favorable situations and motorcycle renegades, along with ever multiplying hoards of the living dead take back the city. Eventually, the surviving protagonists (which I will attempt to save so as not to spoil anything) must decide whether or not they should stay or seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, its time to understand just what makes this a different movie. Well, from the very start, Argento removes much of the playful banter and dialogue amongst characters in order to build a faster-paced, action-oriented flick. Character progression and background is sacrificed in short order for balls-to-the-wall action and suspense. In fact, by handling many of these situations in the film like this, any and all societal conflict that Romero intentionally wrote into his script has been erased. In its place is a movie that shoots from the hip at all times.

The movie is also bolstered (as most media is) by additional music from the band Goblin, and while this soundtrack is hailed to be one of the greatest of all time, it is often far too righteous for the events on the screen and can be overwhelming or even inappropriate in certain areas (not to mention it has dated horribly after 30 years). Gone is much of the dark, cheeky humor that kept Dawn of the Dead at the top of the political food chain for its message and statement. In its place is, well, really nothing replaced those elements of the story. There are a few extra scenes of gore (that were not passable in the US) that help to showcase what a master magician Tom Savini is, but nothing concrete past that.

Perhaps the most glaring evidence of these omissions from the film occurs after it is all over. Rather than see the US ending, in which the zombies skitter about the mall to the hilariously understated song “The Gonk,” we get nothing but a black screen with blaring rock music and the closing credits. What a jip.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Though its hard to pick just one name out of the hat for such a masterpiece, the winner, without a doubt, is the editor of this version, Dario Argento. Several times writer and director George A. Romero stated that he believed Argento just “didn’t get” the concept of the movie, hence all of the re-cuts that eliminated any message the film was trying to send other than “here ya go, zombies eat people’s insides. Much fun.”

Best Name in the Cast: Not only was Tom Savini the incredible wizard behind makeup and special effects, he also managed to cast himself as a machete-wielding biker on a tear to make the civilian’s (most notably Peter’s) lives a living hell. And hey, if that isn’t enough supremacy for you, he even reappears over 20 years later in Land of the Dead as the same guy!

Quote of the Film:
“This isn't the Republicans versus the Democrats, where we're in a hole economically or... or we're in another war. This is more crucial than that. This is down to the line, folks, this is down to the line. There can be no more divisions among the living!” -Dr. Millard Rausch, establishing a fundamental assessment that everyone can certainly understand. Though this line was on the cutting room floor in different versions, it holds too much pertinence for me to look away.

Final Thoughts: When Dawn of the Dead came out it was a masterpiece of modern horror and managed to stand the test of time years later. It was revolutionary to American cinema from both a filmmaking and a film watching perspective. However, when Zombi: Dawn of the Dead was released to the international market, it created a completely different kind of revolution. Up until its release, European horror directors, particularly those in Italy, were virtually unaware of the zombie genre and would never stab at a quick buck for one of these films. Though it broke the mold for European horror as well, this “re-imaging” of Dawn served as an unattainable prototype for years to come as wave after wave of terrible Italian horror schlock followed its release. Nobody ever came close to recapturing the original charm or action of Dawn, but damn it all to hell if that didn’t stop them from trying year after year. In the future, I’ll be discussing several of these European flicks for their downright awfulness, and its all because they were created by students of the game who admired what they saw in Zombi: Dawn of the Dead, even if what they saw was a complete misinterpretation. So for all you film students out there now, think twice (or three times) before you get on your soapboxes and act as almighty priests. You may want to be a household name, but so is shit, and it stinks when you don’t flush it either.