Night of the Creeps (1986)
by Steve Habrat
If you happen to be a horror nostalgia nut and are looking to relive the glory days of the genre, you most certainly have heard of or seen Fred Dekker’s 1986 nod to 50s science fiction, zombie flicks, and B-movies Night of the Creeps. Basically a Heinz 57 mash-up of everything including zombies, the slasher genre, the hardboiled detective, 50s alien flicks, and Ed Wood’s schlocky classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, Night of the Creeps is a fairly satisfying, if a bit flawed, tribute to the horror genre. Wearing its influences on its bloody sleeves (the characters are all named after legendary horror directors), if you’re a diehard fan of horror (or 80s movies), you’re going to find plenty to chuckle over for 90 minutes. Night of the Creeps puts quite a bit of emphasis on its zombie angle and Dekker knows how to deliver the zombie action, but in places, the film appears to be juggling too many references and some fall flat. Still, Night of the Creeps stands as one of the stronger efforts in the zombie genre, and it also gets by on its nifty black and white opening sequences and some truly memorable performances from Steve Marshall as the handicapped J.C. and Tom Atkins as the heartbroken detective Ray Cameron who shouts “Thrill me” when he arrives at a crime scene.
Night of the Creeps begins in 1959, with a deadly alien experiment accidentally being unleashed from a UFO and crashing to earth. Meanwhile, a young college man picks up his date and the two head to a local make out spot to gaze at the stars despite warnings of an escaped homicidal maniac roaming the woods. As the two stare off into space, they spot an unusually bright shooting star that crashes into the woods. The young man dashes into the woods to investigate and leaves his date alone in the car. Naturally, the homicidal maniac stumbles upon the girl and hacks her up with an axe and the boy is exposed to strange alien-like slugs that attack him. 28 years later, nerdy college students Chris Romero (Played by Jason Lively) and James Carpenter “J.C.” Hooper (Played by Steve Marshall) are prowling Corman University’s campus searching for girls. Chris sets his sights on cool girl Cynthia Cronenberg (Played by Jill Whitlow), a sorority sister who seems to only be interested in fraternity guys. To impress Cynthia, Chris and J.C. decide to join a fraternity. As part of their pledge, Chris and J.C. are forced to steal a cadaver from the university medical center and leave it on the steps of Cynthia’s sorority house. While snooping around the medical center, Chris and J.C. stumble upon a mysterious cadaver that has been frozen and sealed off in a top-secret room. Chris and J.C. attempt to steal the body but they are scared off when the cadaver wakes up and tries to grab them. As Chris and J.C. rethink how to impress Cynthia, the mysterious cadaver begins prowling the campus and unleashing the alien worms, which infect the students and turn them into zombies. Meanwhile, Detective Ray Cameron (Played by Tom Atkins) investigates gruesome deaths around the campus, slowly realizing that he may be battling the walking dead.
As a tip of the hat to horror subgenres, Night of the Creeps is pretty solid but some of the tributes don’t gel like they should. The film attempts to work in a slasher angle that seems glaringly out of place and it is sort of left dangling at the end. However, when Dekker remains in the science fiction/zombie realm, the film is really a lot of fun. Being mostly a zombie movie, you naturally expect the violence to be cranked up to eleven but Night of the Creeps never gets too out of hand with its carnage. The zombies have some nasty wounds and there are a few glimpses of dead bodies with their heads split open, but Dekker never embraces Romero or Fulci levels of zombie violence. Still, that doesn’t mean that Dekker is soft on the viewer and doesn’t deliver the zombie mayhem. There is a fun little siege on a sorority house that finds Atkins storming in and announcing, “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.” It is morbid little gems of dialogue like this that really make up for the lack of gut munching and blood slurping. The lack of overly elaborate special effects has helped Night of the Creeps age a bit more gracefully than some 80s horror movies but the film does shoot itself in the foot when it tosses in a few zombie pets. Sure, the viewer is supposed to take them with a wink and a big slice of cheese, but they certainly are not convincing. At least Dekker uses a zombified kitty to pay respect to Lucio Fulci’s blood-soaked classic Zombie.
As far as the acting goes, Night of the Creeps turns out to be a mixed body bag. Atkins does most of the heavy lifting as the massively entertaining Ray Cameron but his character does suffer a bit because he is linked to the slasher side story. It adds depth to his character and it allows him to connect with Lively’s Chris, but it still seemed unnecessary. Marshall is also a stand out of the sarcastic J.C., the handicapped best bud who does everything in his power to get his best buddy laid. He gets in a number of good jabs at the obnoxious fraternity brothers that torment them. Lively tries his best to hang with Marshall but his Chris is lacking the feisty personality that J.C. possesses. Still, he gets by and we do sort of root for him to pull the girl. Perhaps the worst of the main players is Whitlow’s Cynthia, a pretty girl who just can’t seem to stop flirting with beer chugging goofballs and flashing her boobs. Her character seemed a bit too whiny at times and there simply for eye candy, but she does step up in the final stretch of the film. I suppose a flamethrower can make anyone look cool. Alan Kayser also shows up as the ultimate bully douche bag, Brad, who enjoys tormenting poor Chris and J.C. He shines as the dimwitted oaf and he is even better as a cloudy-eyed zombie who shows up at Cynthia’s door.
While Night of the Creeps is never very scary, the movie does have more than enough raunchy teen comedy to go around. The exchanges between Chris and J.C. are pretty great and Atkins is hilariously over the top as the hardboiled detective. There are a few tense moments here and there, especially when Chris and Cynthia get trapped in a garden shed as zombies attempt to get in from every side. Fans of 50s science fiction will also be giddy during the marvelous black and white opening sequence. Every horror fan will also have a blast with the names of the characters and spotting references to their favorite classic horror film. Make sure you stay alert for references to George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), John Carpenter (Halloween), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), James Cameron (Aliens), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), David Cronenberg (The Fly), and Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2). Overall, Night of the Creeps is more of a big college party than an all out horror fest and there are plenty of surprises to keep you hooked, but some shaky acting and clunky tributes prevent the film from reaching a classic status. It doesn’t matter though, because you’ll keep coming back and screaming “thrill me” right along with Atkins.
Night of the Creeps is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
by Steve Habrat
While the first Resident Evil film wasn’t high art, it still managed to do the impossible and give a good name to video game movies. It was a solidly made tribute to Night of the Living Dead while coating an industrial gloss over the action. Resident Evil: Apocalypse was certainly a step down from Resident Evil but you were still willing to sit through it until the end for all the zombie mayhem at its core. Now we have arrived at 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction, a western-esque rip off of George Romero’s 1985 zombie stunner Day of the Dead, George Miller’s 1979 action thriller Mad Max, and Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds. Unlikely to win over fans of any of the films I just listed, Resident Evil: Extinction finds the massively popular franchise running on fumes, with absolutely no clue how to push the story along into territory that is worthwhile. Like any good B-movie franchise, director Russell Mulcahy spends the first ten minutes of the film rehashing plot points that we are already familiar with and then spends the rest of the time sending wave after wave of genetically altered super zombies at our heroine Alice, who now seems to have more superpowers than she knows what to do with. Oh, and did I mention that the film isn’t scary at all?
After nuking Raccoon city at the end of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the dreaded Umbrella Corporation thought the T-virus was successfully wiped off the map. They were wrong. Apparently, the entire world has been consumed by the T-virus and nearly every man, woman, and child is now a shuffling, rotting corpse with a taste for human flesh. The few Umbrella big wigs that remain hide out in an underground bunker where they sit and debate about how to domesticate the endless sea of zombies above them. They look to Dr. Sam Isaacs (Played by Iain Glen) to figure out how to tame the creatures but he is preoccupied with creating an exact clone of former Umbrella employee Alice (Played by Milla Jovovich), a one-woman army wandering the Nevada desert. Alice, meanwhile, is busy searching for uninfected when she stumbles upon Raccoon City survivors Carlos Olivera (Played by Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Played by Mike Epps), and Claire Redfield (Played by Ali Larter). The group joins forces with the immensely powerful Alice and together, they decide to head for Alaska, which is rumored to have a “safe zone.” As they set out on their journey, the Umbrella Corporation begins tracking them and they plan to unleash a few new mutant surprises on the group.
Free of its horror confines, Resident Evil: Extinction runs rampant with video game-style action and science fiction showdowns that certainly do make good eye candy but are vacant of any intelligence or point, for that matter. Mulcahy fills out the dead spots with scenes that have been borrow for other, better horror movies while also trying to figure out where all this action is heading. The group makes it as far as Las Vegas before Umbrella comes calling and introduces Alice to a few of its new amped up zombies that all dress exactly the same. It is here that the film slams on the breaks and then scrambles to mask the lack of a climax with a messy final showdown between Alice and, yes, another lumbering mutation. I’ll admit that the film does have few interesting scenes but these interesting sequences are fleeting or recycled. There is a suspenseful sequence that finds thousands of infected crows descending upon the group with Alice marching in at the last second to fight the little terrors off. As quickly as the scene begins, the action is over and we never see those pesky crows again. At least they looked cool while they lasted! Another scene finds Alice terrorized by a crew of bloodthirsty survivors who drop her into a pit to fight a handful of those pesky infected dogs from the first two films. Once again, the scene looks cool but it seems like those snarling beasts are just being recycled.
Then there are the performances, which all appear to have been phoned in or strictly for the paycheck. Jovovich is still her one note self with little progression in her character. She can apparently do anything and easily defeat any foe thrown her way, all of which has become tedious by this point. She just does it all in a new, revealing get-up, which allows the male viewer a chance to look down her shirt. Fehr’s Olivera is still the cookie cuter tough guy who appears to have some bottled up feelings for Alice. Oh, and apparently he is really craving a cigarette. Epps returns as L.J., who is only in on the action to remind us all that he is still alive. There is another faint love connection between him and Nurse Betty, who is played by R&B singer Ashanti (Note to Ashanti: stick to singing). Much like the crows and the love spark between Olivera and Alice, their relationship is fleeting and gone before we even noticed it was there. Larter completely sucks as the scowling Claire, who does a terrible job at commanding her group of warriors. She is simply standing in for the inexplicable absent Jill Valentine, who strutted her way through the second film. Also on board is Glen as Dr. Sam Isaacs, a demented scientist who is a second rate Dr. Logan from Day of the Dead.
There was one scene that I actually really enjoyed in Resident Evil: Extinction and that is the scene with Alice and company battling an army of super zombies created by the grinning Dr. Isaacs. It was a fun, mindless sequence that descends into a shrieking bloodbath. I also really liked the look of the decaying normal zombies, something I would have loved to have seen more of but sadly, they are just there to fill up the background. The rest of the film is the same old song and dance, just dressed in a duster rather than a barely-there red dress (and even THAT is still there). I was a blank slate of emotion when multiple main characters die off even though Mulcahy tries hard for emotional responses. The end battle did virtually nothing to set itself apart from the previous two end fight sequences. The only difference was this mutation has tentacles rather than a Gatling gun or a long tongue. Overall, it was crystal clear that the Resident Evil franchise had run its course and was in dire need of a break but when Hollywood has a hit on their hands, they milk that franchise until it is bone dry of creativity. I guess that is why this Resident Evil takes place in a dusty desert.
Resident Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
It is a damn shame that the double feature ode to exploitation trash of years past Grindhouse flopped at the box office. It is an even bigger shame that most audience members didn’t even try to comprehend what it was that directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were trying to sell to the audience. The flop turned Grindhouse into a cult classic that, in a way, I’m glad avoided the mainstream and has basically been forgotten by most average moviegoers. More fun for fans of cult cinema. Grindhouse is one of the coolest movies of recent memory, a slaphappy revelry filled with blood, guts, zombies, fast cars, hot chicks, nudity, fake trailers, werewolves, Thanksgiving killers, machete wielding Federales, and more. Can you really argue with any of that? I didn’t think so. The way I see it, Rodriguez and Tarantino came up with an incredibly original idea, harkening back to the grimy double features of the 70’s and 80’s, and in the process, they tried to make going to the movies an event again. How people missed the point of having a little fun at the movies is truly beyond me.
The first half of this bonanza belongs to Robert Rodriguez and his gooey zombie flick Planet Terror. After an opening Go-Go dance from Cherry Darling (Played by Rose McGowan), the rural Texas town that she calls home suddenly is overrun with a nasty virus that turns the citizens from normal people into “sickos”, who crave human flesh. Teaming up with her ex-boyfriend El Wray (Played by Freddy Rodriguez), the syringe shooting Dr. Dakota Block (Played by Marley Shelton), and a slew of others, the group attempts to escape the deadly outbreak but they end up stumbling upon more than safety from the “sickos”. The second half of Grindhouse belongs to Quentin Tarantino and his car chase film Death Proof, which follows a group of hip gals who are involved in the making of a movie. They soon find themselves being tormented by a deranged stunt car driver named Stuntman Mike (Played by Kurt Russell), who enjoys killing young girls with his “death proof” muscle car. Stuntman Mike meets his match when some of the girls begin to fight back against him, turning the tables on the maniac and forcing him into a fight for his own life.
Being a double feature, no portion of Grindhouse is ever a drag but the case could be made that Tarantino’s Death Proof slams on the breaks of this speed demon. The madness hits white-knuckle territory in Planet Terror, which goes for the throat right from the very beginning. It easily outshines Death Proof and is entertaining from the opening Go-Go dance right down to the melting penises at the climax. That does not mean that I dislike Death Proof. Oh no, I absolutely love Death Proof but I feel like it should have been the first film shown and followed up by Planet Terror, which cranks things up to the max. To be honest, I hate separating the two films but it is almost impossible to evaluate Grindhouse without evaluating the films as separate pieces. I do, however, view the entire film, complete with fake trailers, to be one whole movie. It drives me crazy that the films were split up upon their initial release to DVD. I don’t think they hold up well on their own and they desperately need each other for support.
Rodriguez and Tarantino go to great lengths to replicate a night in an old movie palace on 42nd Street. They both digitally went in and scratched the prints up, making them look like two films from the 70’s that were discovered in a filthy theater basement. Rodriguez throws in a gag with a missing reel, creating a massive jump in his film that is added at just the right time. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror brings to mind the Italian zombie films that were favorites among grind house theaters in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He has continuously said that he found inspiration in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and he throws in a nasty little nod to the film at the end. He also throws in nods to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Hell of the Living Dead, and more, none being left out of all the excitement. He also creates a new cult legend with Cherry, who ends up having one of her legs replaced with a machine gun. It is a nifty nod to Evil Dead’s Ash, who is also forced to replace a severed limb with a deadly weapon.
In Death Proof, things are a little more polished and clean, a bit strange when it set against the crude Planet Terror. Packing very few scratches but having chuckle worthy skips in the film; Death Proof is more of a slow build experience. It’s pure Tarantino, featuring tons of drawn out conversations while the camera circles the actors and actresses like a shark. Death Proof ends up a battlefield for Russell and costar Zoe Bell, who plays stunt girl Zoe. Bell, who was a stunt double for Uma Thruman in Kill Bill, shows off her acting skills and ends up almost stealing the show from Russell, who gets to radiate bad boy charisma every time that camera is turned on him. When Tarantino waves the checkered flags and begins the rough car chases, he proves himself to be a master when it comes to adrenaline pumping action sequences. Death Proof ends up borrowing from such films as Vanishing Point, the slasher genre, and is vaguely evocative of Faster, Pussycat… Kill! Kill! and Thriller: A Cruel Picture, allowing the film to morph into an exotic beast all its own.
Grindhouse would not be complete without the four spectacular fake trailers that have been tacked on and they end up surpassing the greatness of the two films. Tarantino and Rodriguez invited fellow exploitation enthusiasts Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), and Eli Roth (Hostel) to cook up some fake trailers and the results are sheer bliss for horror and exploitation fans. When I initially saw the film, my favorite was easily Roth’s Thanksgiving, which almost pushed the film into an NC-17 rating and it’s not hard to see why. It is so depraved and outrageous, it left me crossing my fingers that they would make it into an actual movie. In the multiple times that I have seen the film since seeing it at the local theater, I have grown like Wright’s Don’t the best. It is hectically comical and bizarre, actually turning out to be pretty frightening despite how weird it is. Zombie leaves his mark with the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Werewolf Women of the S.S., a nod to Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S. Zombie’s trailer does pack one hell of a big surprise so do not even think about underestimating it. Rodriguez also contributes to the madness with Machete, which opens Grindhouse with a bloody bang, letting us know that Machete “gets the women and kills the bad guys”. Keep your eyes peeled for an awesome cameo from Cheech Marin.
Grindhouse is without question one of my favorite movies of all time. It is the embodiment of why I go to the movies and why I dedicate myself to them. It was nonstop entertainment and lunacy for three fucking hours! I smiled the entire time and happily went back to the theater for seconds and heavily considered thirds. It is a shame the film flopped at the box office, poorly timed with its release (Easter weekend) and languidly marketed, many scratching their heads over the trailer. It didn’t reach a wide audience because mainstream viewers were not in on the joke, missing the point that it was a double feature and the film was purposely bad. As a whole, Grindhouse has a spark that cannot be duplicated and in its wake, there have been a lot of imitators and a minor spike in interest in cult classics and exploitation sleaze. With the spike in interest, it is hard to say that Grindhouse was a dud and hasn’t lived on past its release, rallying new fans everyday to the wonderful trash cinema of past years. The beauty doesn’t stop there, as Grindhouse can also serve as a learning tool, one that introduces viewers to a specific era in cinema and sheds light on an era that was largely forgotten when the movie palaces closed their doors and the drive-ins disappeared. Despite all the intentional mistakes and low budget cheese, Grindhouse is a rare modern film that is perfect, making it a must-see cult-classic.
Grindhouse is available of Blu-ray.
Sugar Hill (1974)
by Steve Habrat
Who doesn’t love a good revenge flick? How about some revenge served up from a bunch of voodoo zombies? If revenge at the hands of zombies sounds like a good time to you, check out Sugar Hill, one of the most unique grind house/exploitation/blaxploitation films I have ever seen. Mind you, Sugar Hill isn’t the type of zombie film where the ghouls shuffle about the swamp and chew on human flesh at random. No, Sugar Hill’s zombies suddenly appear, wearing bulging silver eyes, covered in cobwebs, and stalking their victims with machetes and what not. They also have a puppet master, two to be exact, who commands them to slay their victims. A so-so little mash up of a horror film mixed with a gangster picture, Sugar Hill doesn’t really scare you or gross you out, its just absurd and partly amusing. The problem is the film dries up about half way through and begins to be a bit wearisome.
After the murder of her affectionate boyfriend at the hands of some white gangsters, Diana ‘Sugar’ Hill (Played by Marki Bey) looks to a voodoo queen named Mama Maitresse (Played by Zara Cully), who conjures up the Baron Zamedi (Played by Don Pedro Colley), the Lord of the Dead, and his army of undead killers. Sugar asks Baron Zamedi to aid her in her quest to avenge the death of her boyfriend. He agrees and they begin tracking down the gangsters who have wronged her, each one meeting a nasty end at the hands of his undead hit men. As the bodies pile up, a local cop named Valentine (Played by Richard Lawson) begins to suspect there may be more to the murders than just a simple gang war. As he gathers more evidence, he begins to suspect Sugar and the supernatural may have something to do with the bizarre slayings.
Sugar Hill is the only feature film to be directed by Paul Maslansky, the man who acted as producer of such films as Raw Meat, Police Academy, and Return to Oz (What a variety, huh?). Maslansky directs Sugar Hill cautiously, limiting himself when it comes to the gore and butchery, ending up with a surprisingly conservative film. For a ridiculous zombie exploitation film, the film has very little carnage for the violence-hungry viewer. The film does touch on every trait that makes up the blaxploitation film including hit men, gangsters, racial slurs, white antagonists, and using the South as a backdrop. The film also explains that the undead hit men are the preserved bodies of slaves brought to America from Guinea. This is perhaps the only thought provoking aspect of Sugar Hill, undead slaves rising from the graves and knocking off vicious white men, but the film never attempts to elaborate on this aspect.
Sugar Hill does have some above average performances for such a goofy mash up of a film. Credit should go to Marki Bey and Don Pedro Colley, both who seem to be having a lot of fun playing with monsters. I did root for Bey and her I’m-not-gonna-take-it-anymore attitude. She is sometimes a bit soft for a swirling ball of fury but you can’t help but root for her when she drops a gangster into a pen with a slew of hungry pigs and bellows, “I hope they’re into white trash!” Don Pedro Colley laps up his role as Baron Zamedi, giggling through such lines of dialogue like, “Perhaps a drink on the house, sir. My particular special, a drink that I’m famous for… The ZOMBIE!” He sometimes sounds like a southern, African American version of Bela Lugosi as Dracula, especially when two ghostly brides accompany him. He’s camp wearing gold teeth and black smudges around his eyes to let the audience know he’s dead. It’s Bey and Colley that add a little bit of flavor to a mostly bland film experience.
And what about those zombies? The zombies are the coolest part of Sugar Hill, popping up like ghouls in a fun house, grinning wildly as they stare at their target. The unsettling touch of bulging silver eyes are the most terrifying part of Sugar Hill, giving the ghouls an alien-like effect. The zombies are hilariously slathered in make-up that attempts to make them look bony and emaciated, but they look like they should be in a Day of the Dead parade. Half the time, it is impossible to really see what they do to their victims and they mostly just stare at a shuddering gangster. One poor sap meets his end during a spooky massage (Death by massage! Now THAT is a first!!) while another is forced to stab himself to death when a voodoo doll catches fire, a death the zombies had barely anything to do with. You can’t help but get the feeling that sometimes the zombies are in the frame because Maslansky thought they looked cool.
Don’t look to Sugar Hill for a really deep experience. The film has fun with itself at times (A severed chicken leg trying to murder a baddie!) but is ultimately too flat too often. Sugar Hill becomes an early example that the mixing of two drastically different film genres is not always the wisest decision. Sure, it takes some confidence to really believe in your premise and I will give the filmmakers credit for attempting something different, but the zombie genre and blaxploitation genre go together like oil and water. I’m always game for a bloody revenge flick especially if it is an hour and a half of absurdly bloody retribution. Sadly, Sugar Hill never really lets loose.
Sugar Hill is now available on DVD.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
by Steve Habrat
Zombies go green and embrace the counterculture in the 1974 Spanish/Italian zombie movie Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. With a score that sounds like it should have been in a 50’s science fiction film and a slew of red eyed zombies that predate the ones that showed up in 28 Days Later, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is heavy on the atmospherics and light on zombie hoards. Throughout the course of it’s runtime, we only end up seeing a handful of cannibals that are risen from their eternal sleep by an experimental machine from the Department of Agriculture that supposedly gets rid of destructive insects. Made a few years before Romero unleashed his epic Dawn of the Dead, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie was made when the zombie horror genre was still discovering itself and embraced a smaller scope. Night of the Living Dead had sparked interest and fear of the zombie genre but it wasn’t aware of the terror in large numbers of ghouls. Instead, director Jorge Grau rips a page out of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead playbook and plays up the setting, landscape, our radiation fears, and the proceeds to mold them into a message that warns that if we continue to disrupt and pollute Mother Nature, she will begin fighting back.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie follows antique shop owner George (Played by Ray Lovelock) as he takes a trip from the bustling city of Manchester to the Lake District so he can meet up with some friends to work on a new house. He stops off at a gas station and while he buys a drink, a young woman named Edna (Played by Cristina Galbó) backs her Mini Cooper into his motorcycle and badly damages it. George talks Edna into giving him a ride to meet up with his friends but Edna insists that she needs to get to South Gate and meet up with her drug addicted sister first, then he can take her car and go to meet his friends. The two soon need to stop for directions at a local farm where the Department of Agriculture is experimenting with a machine that rids the soil of destructive insects by causing them to kill each other. Soon, George and Edna have a strange encounter with a red-eyed maniac who tries to attack Edna. The same man shows up at the home of Edna’s sister Katie (Played by Jeannine Mestre) and her photographer husband Martin (Played by José Lifante). The strange man kills Martin and sends George, Edna, and Katie into hysterics over what they witness. A local Inspector (Played by Arthur Kennedy) refuses to believe George and Edna and he is convinced that they are just murderous hippies, even as the zombie numbers are growing across the countryside.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie has fun toying with the fear of the counterculture in the wake of the Manson Family murders, as throughout the film, the conservative Inspector consistently accuses George and Edna of being hippie devil worshippers and any murder that he stumbles across is deemed a demonic slaying. Yet director Grau plays the rest of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie straight, making it’s message of protecting the environment stone faced. There is also the atomic age paranoia in the film, a touch that would have felt familiar in a science fiction film from the 1950’s. Grau, who I’m guessing was a part of the counterculture movement and was eager to defend it in the wake of the Manson Family, sends a plea for us to preserve Mother Nature. Grau doesn’t miss an opportunity to exploit the idyllic and serene beauty of nature, allowing the greens to pop out of the grainy camerawork. He is silently pointing out the beauty we are tarnishing.
For a zombie film, Grau knows that what made Night of the Living Dead so memorable was the unblinking feeding sequences. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie has plenty of the red stuff to go around and a few entrails as a slimy side. It grosses us out when appropriate, but the film also gives us the creeps through the sound effects of the zombies themselves. Whenever a ghoul is near, the film slow builds a pounding drum and a thick wheezing can be heard. It’s music usage and sound effects that are impossible to put into words, but is extremely effective for maximum fear. It gives the film an otherworldly vibe that crosses into the supernatural. The ghouls will pop up, terrorize a character, and then suddenly disappear, making them sometimes seem like ghostly apparitions. Grau further drives this approach by never really showing the zombies wandering the countryside in large numbers. They suddenly stumble into frame, rip someone apart, and fade away.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie does suffer from a few growing pains as the cannibalistic zombie genre was still in its infancy. Grau proves that zombies could be used for more than Cold War fears, even if there is a Cold War panic looming over it with the atomic echoes ricocheting about. The film is slowly paced, something I always acknowledge in my reviews for the people who want the action to begin immediately. This film was slightly before the explosion of action packed and gore drenched zombie films that were made in the wake of Dawn of the Dead. It’s also much more intelligent than the Dawn of the Dead copycats. Surprisingly surreal and nightmarish, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie benefits from strong acting and arresting suspense, but while the pacing is patient, sometimes it is lopsided. Grau’s film has been severely overlooked over the years and he deserves recognition for his early, brainy contribution to the subgenre. In the end, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is well worth your time, especially for the diehard horror community. I’ll leave you with this: Good lucking getting those unnerving wheezes out of your head after you have exposed yourself to this environmentalist nightmare.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is now available on Blu-ray under the title The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue.
The Dead (2011)
by Steve Habrat
How I was unaware a zombie film like The Dead snuck out without me knowing about it baffles me. The zombie horror genre has been overshadowed by the recent rise of teen vampires and “found footage” ghost flicks, the only life being found in AMC’s top-notch The Walking Dead. Basically, if you are a fan of George Romero’s original zombie trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (or basically any Italian ziti zombie film), then you need to rush out right now and pick up The Dead. You are going to be blown away by this thing. Certainly not a perfect movie but featuring an unmatched beauty, The Dead is for those who long for the days of the shuffling ghouls, not the sprinting, shrieking zombies that were made popular by 28 Days Later. For a fan of this kind of stuff, it was a blast to sit back and spot all the references and nods to Romero and Fulci all while directors Jonathan and Howard J. Ford carve out their own zombie classic. In all honesty, I haven’t been this excited about a zombie flick since 28 Days Later.
The Dead picks up in Africa, where the dead have risen from their graves and started feeding on the living. Everyman Lt. Brian Murphy (Played by Rob Freeman) is on the last plane out of Africa and just shortly after getting airborne, the plane plunges from the sky. Washing up on zombie-infested shores, Brian begins making his way through the beautiful landscape that has been desecrated with death, eager to find a way back to his family in America. He soon meets up with Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Played by Prince David Oseia), who is on a quest to find his son after his village is overrun by the creeping ghouls, and together they set out to protect and aid each other in their quest.
The Dead is simple and straight to the point, picking up in all the chaos that is tearing Africa apart. There is no lead in, explanation to be found, or an abundance of characters that we need to get to know. We just have Brian and Daniel, both men who have to set aside differences to band together and protect each other. There is not much said between the two men and when they do speak, it’s mostly because they have to. They reveal bits and pieces about their lives, enough for us to really pull for them when they get corned by a group of shuffling zombies. There has been much to do over the slow moving cannibals but the Ford brothers understand that if you always have at least two zombies in the frame, you’re implying that there isn’t much hope for refuge and salvation. These zombies are fairly basic, a little dirt smudged on their faces, a few wounds, dead eyes, and torn clothes. It adds a chilling layer of realism to The Dead. They make us think back to the original terrors that pounded their way into the farmhouse in 1968. They reminded me of the ghouls who forced their way into the Monroeville Mall in 1978. They were eerily similar to the cannibals who shuffled around the tropical island in 1979.
It may retain a traditional style, but The Dead also packs plenty of smarts to compliment the old fashioned approach. The film presents multiple moral situations that would be gut wrenching to face. The worst one we see is an injured African woman trying to flee a group of zombies who are closing in on her. She calls for help to Brian, who is reluctant to assist her, but his reluctance is tried even further when the woman hands him an infant whose cries attract the zombies. The woman forces Brian to take the child, and then forces him to put his gun to her head and begs him to shoot her. It’s scenes like this that makes The Dead such a force to be reckon with. It also mirrors our unwillingness to help those in need, those who are poverty stricken. It was never easy to watch Brian and Daniel put the ghouls down, especially in a place where disease and conflict are consistently present. Surely controversial and upsetting to some who watch it, The Dead understands that there has to be more than just gore to get under our skin, something that Romero certainly understands.
The Dead doesn’t reinvent the wheel and I didn’t really expect it to. That credit falls on the shoulders of Danny Boyle and 28 Days Later. There are a few moments where continuity issues are glaring and a few editing choices that may make you scratch your head. One scene in particular reeks of a tight budget, which seemed to force the Ford brothers to sacrifice clarity. At times, the acting from Rob Freeman is a bit hammy and a little too macho for a man in his situation. Prince David Oseia out acts Freeman in almost every scene and his character is infinitely more interesting. In a way, I sort of liked Freeman’s old-fashioned macho hero because he reminded me of Peter or Rodger in Dawn of the Dead. The Dead never lets up on the viewer; constantly keeping your stomach twisted in knots and you’ll find yourself keeping an eye out for the two heroes. With Romero grasping at rotten entrails and hitting rock bottom with Survival of the Dead, it’s reassuring–and terrifying–to know that there is a stripped down, straightforward, and smart zombie flick out there to satisfy the zombie fans.
The Dead is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.