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Book Review: You and Me against the World

You and Me against the World

by Steve Habrat

I must confess that I have never written a book review before. Sure, I’ve raved about certain books to friends and rolled my eyes in disgust at others as I flipped past the last page, but I’ve never attempted to give an in-depth review of one. Books have always acted as my escapist entertainment because of my fascination with film. However, a few months ago, I was asked by Raymond Esposito, the gentleman behind You and Me against the World (and who also contributed a wonderful Halloween feature post to Anti-Film School), about possibly reviewing the first book in his Creepers Saga. Honored that he valued my opinion, I quickly agreed to give it a read and I dove right in to his vision of the zombie apocalypse. I must say, as a massive zombie fan, I truly enjoyed and was consistently impressed with this non-stop thrill ride. As I dove deeper and deeper in, it became clear that Mr. Esposito was staying true to the formula that really makes the great zombie stories work. He was placing extremely likable characters in front of his hordes of undead and then unleashing the most terrifying monster of all on his protagonists–fellow man.

On his last day as an oncologist, Dr. Russell Thorn is barely moved by the overwhelming number of individuals showing up in the ER for severe flu-like symptoms. Shortly into his shift, Dr. Thorn is called in to observe a patient that is spewing black bile and suffering from hypothermia despite the boiling Florida heat outside. It doesn’t take long for the patient to pass away, but to the horror of the hospital staff, the patient doesn’t remain dead. It wakes up with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. With the hospital descending into chaos, Dr. Thorn and two young nurses, Susan and Rosa, make an escape from the panic only to be greeted by more cannibalistic terror out in the Florida sun. With nowhere to go and the streets crawling with undead ghouls, the small group makes their way to Dr. Thorn’s home to wait the situation out. After a few days of observing from an upstairs window, Dr. Thorn realizes that the roaming ghouls don’t particularly like the chilly evenings and that they appear to be showing hints of intelligence. To make things worse, it appears as if the zombies know that Dr. Thorn and the two nurses are hiding inside the home. After a very close encounter with a horde of ghouls, the small group is saved by a heavily armed band of young warriors led by the reluctant Devin. Running out of options, Dr. Thorn agrees to join the group and they begin plotting a way to distance themselves from the swarming infected, but as the group will soon learn, there are things lurking out there in the chaos that are worse than the undead.

I was told that You and Me against the World was very cinematic, and I have to agree with this description, but I would also say that Mr. Esposito’s scope is about as epic as it can be, analyzing the zombie apocalypse from nearly every single destructive angle. I’d go so far to say that he comes dangerously close to matching what Max Brooks achieved in his globe-trotting zombie epic World War Z  (hell, you could probably make the books into a double feature of sorts). There are nuclear meltdowns, war, bombings, car crashes, and more all chillingly tucked in amongst Esposito’s beefy character development. He envisions a world that is charred, scarred, and crawling with galloping cannibals his character’s dub “creepers,” who charge their prey while drooling black bile and burrowing underground when the sun goes down to stay warm. Yet Mr. Esposito isn’t content with his virus simply infecting humans. Oh no, things really take a creepy and fun turn when we are introduced to zombie kitties and in a giddy tribute to George A. Romero’s classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead.

In addition to all of the action that Mr. Esposito infuses into his zombie epic, he also presents a staggering number of protagonists for the reader to root for. It is a pretty big group and at first I feared that there may be one hero too many in You and Me against the World, but this is where Mr. Esposito truly shines. He gives each character their own mini introduction and then as the story progresses, allows us to see how each of these characters is connected to the other. While it is up to the reader to pick their favorite among the massive group, my two personal favorites were the baseball bat-wielding Austin and the deadly blue-eyed mute Goldie. And while Mr. Esposito makes all of his protagonists likable, he doesn’t forget to add a handful of vile baddies to the bunch. I don’t want to spoil too much of the fun, but his crazed cult leader is just so much fun to hate, especially when he is threatening to feed a group of terrified children to a ravenous “creeper.”

For zombie fanatics, You and Me against the World is a must for your bookshelf. Make sure you place it between your Walking Dead comics and your copy of the Zombie Survival Guide. It features numerous nods to Romero’s original Dead trilogy (Night, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) as well several little tips of the hat to Richard Matheson and his classic vampire tale I Am Legend. Overall, Mr. Esposito dreams up a tense, gory, and fresh spin on the zombie genre while barely stopping to take a breath. He puts the reader through the ringer with white-knuckle suspense and leaves us all wanting to see what comes next in the massive and wildly creative trilogy.

 

If you wish to purchase a copy of Raymond Esposito’s You and Me against the World, click here. If you wish to read Mr. Esposito’s Halloween guest piece, click here.

That Old Haunted House: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

by Steve Habrat

If Robert Wise’s The Haunting is too tame for you, you’re in luck because there just happens to be a haunted house film that has plenty of gore and ghostly sex to please the edgier horror fan. That film happens to be John Hough’s 1973 film The Legend of Hell House, a film that is quite similar to The Haunting in the plot department but separates itself through the use of color and racy subject matter. While I personally do not find the film as creepy as Wise’s masterpiece, The Legend of Hell House has a suspenseful first act, one with slowly manifesting ectoplasm, supernatural intercourse, and tumbling chandeliers (those are the worst) but then collapses in its second act with corpses in hidden rooms and a seriously scrappy black cat (those are pretty bad too). Based on the novel by Richard Matheson, the man who brought us the classic vampire tale I Am Legend, The Legend of Hell House is never as understated and as slow building as The Haunting and it comes up short because of it. It can’t wait to show off a few special effects and throw a few of the snippy actors and actresses through the air. At least the film packs a hell of a séance sequence doused in vibrant red lighting and stunning exterior shots that conceal the house behind rolling walls of fog. It’s scenes like this that inject quite a bit of atmosphere and allow the film to receive higher marks.

The Legend of Hell House introduces us to physicist Lionel Barrett (Played by Clive Revill), who is sent to the legendary Belasco House, the “Mount Everest of haunted houses” to research the paranormal activity that is said to go on in the house. The Belasco House was originally owned by Emeric Belasco (Played by Michael Gough), a sadistic millionaire giant who enjoyed toying with the occult and may have even murdered people within the walls of the home. It is said that Emeric mysteriously disappeared after a brutal massacre at the lavish compound and was never heard from again. Barrett sets out for the home with his wife, Ann (Played by Gayle Hunnicutt), medium Florence Tanner (Played by Pamela Franklin), and Ben Fischer (Played by Roddy McDowall), another jumpy medium who has investigated the Belasco House before with another paranormal research team and was the only survivor of the previous investigation. As they explore the house, Lionel reveals to the team that he has created a machine that is able to rid the house of any nasty paranormal activity. Things become complicated when Florence becomes convinced that Emeric Belasco is not the one haunting the house but is actually his son, Daniel. As the group attempts to communicate with Daniel, madness begins to plague the group, possession is a daily occurrence, and repulsive horrors turn up behind doors that have been sealed many years.

Embracing more the macabre freedom that was surging through the veins of the horror film, The Legend of Hell House doesn’t settle on just telling us about the morbid back-story of the Belasco House. It dares to show us a little bit of the sleaze that took place and even enjoys some bloodletting from time to time. We hear about vampirism, orgies, alcoholism, mutilation, necrophilia, and cannibalism, just to name a few. Sounds like a kicking party, right? This is a film with plenty of sexuality boiling to the surface as characters plead with other characters for sex while even the shadowy spirits are getting busy. Most of it is unintentionally hilarious, especially when one character offers herself up sexually to a ghost (I dare you to watch that scene with a straight face). Despite some of the silliness, the film never seems to loose its grip on the gothic mood that creeps about it. The outside of the house is downright terrifying and certainly a home I would never dream of going in. The cherry on top is the black cat that waits in the fog outside, the ultimate Halloween touch. The interior of the home is crammed with shadows and hidden rooms that spit out decaying corpses and discolored skeletons. It’s all earth tones, which give the whole place a rotten feel, appropriate for what took place inside.

The Legend of Hell House does feature some pretty good performances, especially from Roddy McDowall as the spooked medium who refuses to help out. Only there for the large some of cash he was promised, McDowall’s Fischer is an irritating and prickly geek with oversized glasses who has to man up in the final moments of the film. I would never expect his character to suddenly become as brave as he does but that is part of the fun of his character. Revill plays Lionel much like every other head of a paranormal research team. He is deadly serious and always just a tad bit dry as he drones on about scientific theories. His wife Ann, however, suffers from a severe case of ennui and sexual repression, something the spirits of the Belasco House prey upon instantly. Wait for the scene where she tries to seduce Fischer. Rounding out the main players is Franklin as Florence, who seems vaguely similar to The Haunting’s Eleanor but also drastically different. She appears to be connected to the house and also a bit reluctant to leave. She is really put through the ringer as a nasty demonic kitty claws at her bare skin and a ghostly presence wishes to get busy with her. Franklin does get the film’s creepiest moment, a séance sequence that is lit entirely by harsh red lights. And keep a look out for Michael Gough as a very still Emeric Belasco.

While there are plenty of flashy moments strewn about The Legend of Hell House, it does take a page out of The Haunting’s playbook and does spend a good chunk of time allowing its character to really develop. They argue and fight much like they did in The Haunting but they are never allowed the depth that Wise’s characters were. There is no question that Edgar Wright’s fake trailer Don’t, which appeared in 2007’s Grindhouse, was inspired by the film. All it will take is a quick glimpse of the outside of the Belasco House and you will see what I am talking about. The second half of The Legend of Hell House is what really derails the film. The last act twist is sort of silly and doesn’t shock us nearly as much as it wants to. Despite how cheesy it may get, you can’t take your eyes of McDowall and his suddenly tough medium who was such a pain in the ass before. Overall, The Legend of Hell House is a fun little erotic spin on The Haunting and visually it is something to behold. The heavier use of special effects have caused the film to age poorly but as a lesser-known horror film of the 1970s, it actually manages to be a fun little ghost party. There is no doubt that you can do better but for those on the search for something they haven’t seen before on Halloween night, The Legend of Hell House may be just what the goth doctor ordered.

Grade: B

The Legend of Hell House is available on DVD.

The Omega Man (1971)

by Steve Habrat

There has been three attempts to bring Richard Matheson’s vampire tale I Am Legend to the big screen and two of them have been fairly decent and one has been absolutely wretched. Boris Sagal’s 1971 adaptation The Omega Man is one of the fairly decent attempts. Starring Charlton Heston as the last man on earth going up against a troupe of albino mutants with poor fashion sense, The Omega Man is tripped up by lousy pacing, uncomplimentary music, and bursts of melodramatics that never quite resonate like they should. The Omega Man does strike gold when the film focuses on Heston exploring deserted Los Angeles. The Omega Man is actually a science fiction film but it is also interested in being a horror film even if it is not very effective at scaring us. Furthermore, the film lacks a creepy monster that never really makes us cower in fear. Despite the numerous flaws, The Omega Man is still a dreary vision of a world succumbing to violence and destruction, all while still flirting heavily with Cold War paranoia.

In March 1975, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union wage biological war on each other, wiping out most of the world’s population. The few survivors that remain have been exposed to a lingering virus and turned into robe-wearing albino mutants who are sensitive to sunlight. Two years later, the last man on earth seems to be U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D. (Played by Charlton Heston), who spends his sunny days driving around deserted Los Angeles looking for mutants to dispatch. These mutants, who find a leader in Matthias (Played by Anthony Zerbe), a former news anchor who has organized the mutants into a “Family”, spend their nights prowling the streets and attempting to lure Robert from his heavily fortified penthouse. While out looking for supplies, Robert spots a female survivor who quickly flees from him. After the mutants capture Robert, he is about to be put to death when the survivor he stumbled across earlier narrowly saves him along with another heavily armed survivor. These two fresh faces are the street-smart Lisa (Played by Rosalind Cash) and former medical student Dutch (Played by Paul Koslo), who is also familiar with Robert. It turns out that Lisa and Robert are protecting a small group of survivors that mostly consists of children. When Lisa’s brother comes down with the deadly virus, Robert begins racing to find a cure that could save mankind.

The early scenes of The Omega Man are the ones that really grab the viewer. In these stage-setting moments, Robert wanders around a sprawling wasteland clinging to what is left of his sanity. He drives around like a maniac, shooting at fast moving shadows that may just be figments of his imagination. After he totals one car, he sets out to find another all while carrying on conversations with himself. He attempts to suppress his sex drive, ripping a racy calendar off a wall in a rage. He spends his evenings playing chess against a statue, sipping scotch, and dressing up fancy for easy meals that are interrupted by attacks from the cloaked mutants taunting him outside. You can’t help but wonder when this guy gets any sleep! Heston does a fantastic job in this one man opening and he keeps us fascinated by his every step. After about thirty minutes in, The Omega Man can’t keep up its one-man show and it introduces us to the less interesting Lisa and Dutch. The film then busies itself with establishing an odd love story that we want to celebrate considering how lonely Robert is but it comes off a bit far fetched and faintly creepy considering Heston seems a hell of a lot older than Cash.

While The Omega Man has its roots in science fiction, it tries to extend them to the realm of horror even though the film wouldn’t scare a three year old. It certainly is bloody and gory, but it never once gave me the creeps. The ghouls that terrorize Robert all look like Regan from The Exorcist sporting black cloaks and sunglasses, making them all look like demonic monks who are getting ready for a trip to the beach. Their leader, Matthias, tells Robert that he wishes to do away with Robert because he is the last remnant of an old culture. The creepiest member of the “Family” is brother Zachary (Played by Lincoln Kilpatrick), who appears to be the most deadly of all the mutants. He should have been the leader over the Matthias, who is a rather dull antagonist. The wandering packs of mutants do have a few moments where they work (the wine cellar scene comes to mind as does the scene where they reveal their eyes), but they are all so skittish that when Robert fires one shot from his machine gun, they scatter in all directions rather than continuing to charge. Are you shaking in your boots yet?

As far as the acting is concerned, The Omega Man features some mediocre performances, the best being Heston as Robert. Cash seems a bit forced and far from convincing as a pistol packing bad ass who is capable of slapping Robert around. For such a terrifying lioness, she is easily tamed into a purring kitty. Koslo’s Dutch is a pretty crafty fighter when he is let loose on the howling mutants but he isn’t really given much to do except walk around shirtless and babble on about cures and whatnot. Heston goes a bit overboard at certain times, falling victim to over dramatics, sometimes seeming like he has forgotten he is acting an a B-movie that is more interested in gore rather than bellowing emotion. Still, he wins us over in those fantastic opening moments and I was willing to stick it out with him until the very end. I also enjoyed seeing what weapon he would whip out and use on the ghouls next.

There are multiple moments when The Omega Man is unintentionally hilarious, especially when a serious moment is thrown off by wildly upbeat music that seems like it was borrowed from a blaxploitation film. You will also have a ball spotting dated make-up work, especially a scene in which one character is beginning to transform and he obviously has powder sprinkled in his hair. Director Sagal is infatuated with filling The Omega Man with religious symbolism to further drive the point home that Robert is a savior and he will deliver the last remnants of mankind from evil. Every time that Robert is tied up, Sagal contorts him to look like Jesus hanging on the cross. Even though there is much to laugh at, The Omega Man still features several moments that are sharply executed, especially the sequences that show off abandoned Los Angeles and some bloody clashes between Robert and the mutants. It may be a huge hunk of smelly apocalyptic B-movie cheese, but The Omega Man is filled with enough morbid surprises to keep things interesting, transforming this film into a fun guilty pleasure.

Grade: B-

The Omega Man is available on Blu-ray and DVD.