Monday, October 20, 2008

They Know We're in Here Now


Ben (Duane Jones) delivers that line in Night of the Living Dead, directed by George Romero and released in 1968. He's referring to the zombies outside of course who will continue to move forward, never stopping, unrelenting. When Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) argues for everyone moving to the cellar Ben assures him the house is boarded up and "those things have no strength." Ah, but Cooper argues, having had his car turned over, individual strength doesn't matter when faced with overwhelming numbers. If they're enough of them, they will have strength.

So what's more frightening? The single inhumanly strong force (Vampire, Werewolf, Monster) or the weak in strength but strong in numbers pack (Zombies, Pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Borg from Star Trek)?

I vote for the pack. A single panther on the hunt is scary, like the hunter of the Predator movies, but can be defeated with a plan. A wolf pack however must be outlasted. There is no plan other than destroy, destroy some more, and keep destroying. Hopefully, before you die of exhaustion you will have destroyed them all. If not, you're dead. And that's your plan. That's one of the many reasons I believe Night of the Living Dead touched on such a nerve upon its release in 1968 (and no I'm not going to get into zeitgeist baloney about Vietnam): Because horror had for so long been based around a superhuman beast like Dracula or a mad killer like Norman Bates. But Living Dead gave us unthinking, unblinking multitudes. The fear was in the numbers. And isn't that what most of us fear the most? Do you fear a demagogic leader, or the unthinking, unblinking multitudes that will follow that demagogue and give him power? Unthinking multitudes with no plan, no strategy, just instinct. Relentless, driving instinct. It's always been a fear. It's always been a dread, deep down in those places we don't like to visit very often. And Romero was among the first to tap into it for all its horror was worth. Dracula as a character interests me and fascinates me but the living dead touch on something real. Something you can't think your way out of. You simply must outlast it. And endure.

65 comments:

bill r. said...

Yep, that about sums it up. And thank you for not getting into that zeitgeist BS. Romero, unfortunately, bought into it (after the fact), and his work has suffered since then, although he admits, when asked about the racial component that people make such a big deal about, that Duane Jones was cast as the lead only because he was the best actor from his group of friends.

Dawn of the Dead is my favorite of these films, but so many people make such a huge point about the "consumerist satire". My response is that there are two very famous lines from the film, and they are:

"This place was important to them." (Or words to that effect, regarding why the zombie are in the mall)

and

"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

Now, really, which line does a better job of summing up why the film is so effective?

Marilyn said...

Obviously from my previous comment, I agree about the mindless hordes. There are few films, even Romero's, that are content to leave the hordes mindless, however. That has opened the door for the forces of nature as the ultimate evil. I remember all the reviews of Open Water talking about shark-infested waters. My comment was that sharks don't infest water--they live there. When human beings try to enter worlds that will be dangerous to them, they need to understand that you can't reason with blizzards, sharks, Mt. Everest, floods, etc.

Pat-rocious said...

I, too, vote for the mob rather than the single pursuer. There's always that terrible feeling that, if ALL THOSE PEOPLE could not prevent themselves from turning into a zombie, monster, vampire, etc., what chance do you have? And the knowledge that, no matter how many you kill, there will always be more to take their places.

EVIL CLOWN said...

To add to Bill's point, Romero has lost it because he stopped making horror movies, and tried to start making statements. Diary of the Dead is so filled with monologue after monologue about this and that... blah, blah, blah. Just put another bullet in the brain of that dude and let me see the matter splatter already.

Last year I wrote a post about slow moving zombies or fast moving zombies. In the remake of Dawn, they took it up a notch to create running zombies. And to me that's scary and makes sense in the evolution of horror as we look to take it to the next level. There is inherent suspense in the slow moving zombie, but it is much more terrifying to see a large group of zombies heading toward you at full speed. The same is true with the remake of The Blob.

EVIL CLOWN said...

And by the way, in reference to your banner... who makes a frickin phone cord that long. They're just begging for a lawsuit.

The Horrible Dr. Harbogast said...

That Anabelle Loren sure had nice stems.

bill r. said...

Diary of the Dead is atrocious.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Bill, I think a lot of the racial metaphors people read into it come from the closing credits and those eerie still photographs of fat, trashy white men with hooks standing around Duane Jones' lifeless body. I don't think Romero intended that to look like what it did, but it did look like that, intentionally or not. But I believe Romero when he says that wasn't his intention because nothing in the film, anywhere, calls attention to Ben's race.

And as for his acting, and everyone's, I have always been impressed by how good they all are. Usually in a low-budget affair like this one must accept third rate performances and move on (like Carnival of Souls for instance, a movie I very much like, don't get me wrong, but the acting by most of the cast leaves a lot to be desired).

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

you can't reason with blizzards, sharks, Mt. Everest, floods, etc.

The lack of even the most fundamental or rudimentary cognitive process does indeed make those things terrifying. Even a demon like Pazuzu can be tricked into leaving Regan and entering Karras but a zombie, well - kill or be killed.

One strange variation that happens more often now is provided the pack with a leader but then you've lost the pack or mob mentality, like the Borg example you brought up in the previous post. It immediately dimishes it but I suppose the directors think they're making their work more "intelligent" when it's just the opposite.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Evil Clown and Bill, I have not seen Diary of the Dead and thanks to your ringing endorsements I probably won't get around to it. I have no problem with allegory but why spoil zombie genre with it. Allegory is much better suited to things like The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. I think when horror or sci-fi filmmakers started delving too deep into allegory it's a form of self-loathing. They're saying, "We don't believe our genre is good enough to stand on its own." Let critics who don't understand them say that and you go out and prove them wrong! Don't pander. It's pathetic.

bill r. said...

Amen, Jonathan. Very well put.

Marilyn said...

I've often thought about a remake of I Walked with a Zombie that would update it. I think The Paris Hilton Story might do the trick.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Arbo, this weekend we watched The House on Haunted Hill with the little one. It was her first ever viewing of it and she LOVED IT! Especially the blind caretaker jump scare appearance in the wine cellar. We had to rewind that scene a few times for her. Anyway, as I was watching it I thought as soon as Annabelle's body is discovered, "Hey, that would make a fine banner!" And to the computer for a screengrab the DVD went.

EVIL CLOWN said...

Wait?

So no pandering at Cinema Styles?

That's how I make my money.

I put out my guitar case and I pander for a quarter here and a dime there.

Fox said...

Zombie mob scenes that creep me out are the ones where the victim becomes so deeply swarmed by them that they lose all of the fight left in them. Total horrible submission. And the fact that they move so slow in their domination of you makes in even worse.

Diary of the Dead is quality filmmaking. Bill and Evil Clown is be wrong on that. Plus, Romero has always made statements, never more with Dawn of the Dead.

bill r. said...

Fox - Romero never set out to make a statement with Night of the Living Dead. A statement was imposed upon that film after the fact. And yes, Romero makes a statement in Dawn of the Dead, but the movie is good despite that, not because of it. Who puts that film into the DVD player because they want to watch some rip-roaring consumerist satire? I'm betting no one. And if someone does watch it for that, then I don't want to know them.

Diary of the Dead is atrocious.

Fox said...

I don't think Romero intended that to look like what it did, but it did look like that, intentionally or not. But I believe Romero when he says that wasn't his intention because nothing in the film, anywhere, calls attention to Ben's race.

Lapper is right. I remember Romero saying after shooting the film that they were driving home and heard of the MLK assassination and instantly knew that the ending would resonate with the current cultural climate. So yeah, it was coincidence, but perhaps DIVINE coincidence????

Fox said...

Who puts that film into the DVD player because they want to watch some rip-roaring consumerist satire?

I do. Without that humor Dawn would not be a great film.

And if someone does watch it for that, then I don't want to know them.

I'll always love you.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

I admit, I can't avoid thinking of horrible racial violence whenever I see the end credits. I know it wasn't intended, but damn, those images are creepy in a very non-zombie way. Even though I know it's coincidence, it doesn't lessen the impact those stills have on me.

EVIL CLOWN said...

Is there going to be man on man love between Bill and Fox?

I'm going to get some popcorn.

bill r. said...

So yeah, it was coincidence, but perhaps DIVINE coincidence????

Yes, it was a divine coincidence that Martin Luther King could be murdered and allow people to read way too much into zombie films from that point onward. How fortunate.

I do. Without that humor Dawn would not be a great film.

Of the relatively small amount of humor in the film, maybe half of it is related to the satire. I think you're kidding yourself about why you like the movie so much, Fox.

Fox said...

Johnathan-

And the way they are edited in, as news stills, makes it seem even creepier. To be honest, I was surprised to hear it wasn't intentional, because, as you said, it FEELS so deliberate.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Oh, and Diary of the Dead is atrocious.

I haven't seen it, I'm just parroting Bill because I've known him longer.

bill r. said...

Sorry if I'm sound like a dick, by the way. My blood's been angried up.

Fox said...

Small amount of humor??? Dude, the film is practically a straight-up comedy!

Yes, and by divine coincidence exactly meant that I was glad MLK got his for the sake of critical interpretation of Night of the Living Dead. It was well worth the sacrifice of the good Rev.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

You don't sound angry to me. I think you have a point. I agree that the satire is secondary in Dawn of the Dead just as it is secondary in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I love the satire in both of those movies but that's not why I see them. I see them for the whole experience gathered from a good horror or sci-fi/horror film. The satire is a part of it with both, but by no means the most important part. In the end, with Invasion for instance, those haunting screams and that bleak ending stay with me a lot longer than the New Age satire.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

That last comment was to Bill by the way.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Diary of the Dead is atrocious.

And Sarah Silverman's a pig.

bill r. said...

And Diary of the Silverman is an atrocious pig.

Marilyn said...

I think someone already sucked Sarah Silverman's brain.

The Horrible Dr. Harbogast said...

I can't avoid thinking of horrible racial violence whenever I see the end credits. I know it wasn't intended, but damn, those images are creepy in a very non-zombie way.

I had the same reaction seeing Ketty Lester's character go through the agony of a vampire pinned between a cross and the rising sun in Blacula. Because it's a black actress, there's another level there - that suffering, her throwing her arm across her eyes, the gape of her agonized mouth... it was all stuff I'd seen in newsreels. Unintentional? Of course. Evocative? Absolutely.

bill r. said...

Small amount of humor??? Dude, the film is practically a straight-up comedy!

That's not how it plays to me. Yes, there are laughs, but they pop up here and there, and they're not what I remember most about it, between viewings.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Yes, just because something is unintentional doesn't mean it doesn't have an impact. I got that just from looking at the screengrabs on your page. Given the time those two films were made in you can't help but equate what was going on then with what is in the films. And in the case of The Living Dead, which I think Fox pointed out, the fact that they resemble old black and white newsreel footage makes it all the more haunting.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

And that last comment was to Arbo. I've got to start putting the name in front of the comment.

Krauthammer said...

Yeah, I haven't seen Diary of the Dead yet, but I've always loved Romero, everything Romero. Night is still his masterpiece on so many levels, but I also love his other Dead films (Including the divisive Land of the Dead) and think that his non-zombie stuff like The Crazies and Creepshow are still really underrated.

I'm actually not a big fan of the political horror movie, but (at least for me) he still has a wonderful technical mastery and flair for scaring me.

But that's just me.

bill r. said...

I can see that, but I have to say, had that been on Romero's mind, it wouldn't have worked. It would have been a movie about zombies in which not a word about race was uttered, and then hey audience, they shot him because he's black! It would have been too out of the blue, too much of a non-sequitor. So those shots only have that creepy, uncomfortable vibe because it never occurred to him.

bill r. said...

And my comment was to Jonathan...

Krauthammer said...

And I think that trying to connect Night to the Vietnam war is really, really stupid, but there is a definite angry and nihilistic undercurrent that seems to fit very well.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Krauthammer, I think Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are the two best. After that I don't care much for them. I like parts Creepshow but overall it pushes too hard for intentional camp and the comic book frames inserted at the beginning, ending and sometimes middle of the stories bugs me. Those scare rays are used in comics because it's NOT film, so inserting them into the movie works only as intentional camp for me, which doesn't work for me at all. But I like some of the stuff in it, most notably Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau in The Crate.

Fox said...

I think the social probing works in Dawn because it doesn't take itself too seriously (giving it, in my mind, an air of comedy). Where as in Day of the Dead, Romero seems to be too overly concerned with wanting to be political. It gets a tad irritating, but I think there is still some good stuff in it.

Now, with Diary, I think it works because it's an older man connecting with the eyes-and-ears technology of a generation he is 40 years separated from. Had this commentary come from someone like Danny Boyle (talk about your irritaing social commentator...), it would grate. But Romero sees YouTube and MySpace in a totally different context b/c he didn't "grow up" with it or, "grow into" it. Because of that I think Diary really works. It continues Romero's fascination with our media and power structures in a much more interesting way than Day and especially Land (which I think is atrocious) did.

bill r. said...

I don't think Land is that bad, actually. I think it works best as a zombie movie, and Romero can roll up his social commentary in that film and stick it, but it still has its moments.

You know what's atrocious? Diary of the Dead. I'm not really interested in what Romero thinks of Myspace. And that dialogue! Good Christ!

EVIL CLOWN said...

I think Creepshow is - execution-wise - the best comic-book movie made. I didn't feel it was too campy. If the last story involving the cockroaches hadn't seemed to fake, this would be tops on my list. It's good, scary, fun.

I do think that these comments are evolving to a bigger commentary on horror. One which Eli Roth (spit, spit) brings up quite a bit and uses as a guard to put out dreck like Hostel I and II. And that is that horror is some outlet to the violent world around us. The violence in horror movies have less to do with the creators and more to do with the current state of things. And I say bullshit to that.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

EC - Creepshow has too much winking going on for me. At the end of Something to Tide You Over, you see Leslie Nielsen saying "I can hold my breath a loooonnngggg time" only to put on a "d'oh!" face as the tide rolls in and the music goes into "wah, wah, wah, waaaaahhh" mode. I don't know, I like my horror anthologies to take their horror seriously, like Tales from the Crypt or Twice Told Tales. Maybe that's just more my speed.

Fox said...

Good lord, Bill... do you have a catheter in your penis today or something????

bill r. said...

And the thing is, the EC comics Creepshow was emulating never winked (unless the story was supposed to be funny). So Creepshow has a certain feeling of self-loathing, too.

bill r. said...

Fox - No.

Fox said...

Since we're talking Creepshow... please don't tell me I was the only who got "excited" by the Creepshow 2 raft/cop-a-feel scene.

Gimme a break! I was a young dude discovering love for the first time!

bill r. said...

Ha ha, but seriously. I did apologize if I sounded like a dick earlier, and I don't think I've sounded like one since. I was just stating reasons why I find Sarah Silverman's Diary of the Dead atrociously pig-like.

bill r. said...

Really, Fox, sorry if I'm being a jerk...that was not my intention.

Fox said...

Don't sweat it man. Seriously, no apology needed. (I'm not Lapper!!) Just passionate disagreement, that's all. It's good for the soul, just like chicken soup.

And since we've been talking about what's "great" and what isn't, it's timely that the Boston Globe just put out there 50 Scariest Films HERE. Quite a few weird picks if you ask me.

EVIL CLOWN said...

Jeez,

Fox and Bill are playing friendly friendly and no one even considered for a second if Evil Clown was offended by any of this.

I for one am terribly offended by the Sarah Silverman Diary Of The Dead combination by Bill and the Catheter in the Penis comment by Fox.

I think someone owes Evil Clown an apology.

Rick Olson said...

I love Sara Silverman, I want to have her baby, but can't stand that damn Diary of the Dead.

Unless of course I'm talking to Fox, and then I love Diary of the Dead and hate Sarah Silverman.

bill r. said...

Re: Boston Globe

I stopped at Arachnaphobia.

Okay, I'll go back. But that's a really bad start.

Evil Clown - I'll apologize to you...in hell!

Fox said...

Evil Clown-

I never considered that you would be offended, b/c, well... YOU'RE AN EVIL CLOWN!

You need to go do something evil b/c you are going soft as we approach Devil's Week! Shape up!

EVIL CLOWN said...

Don't listen to what you've heard about Evil Clown going soft. Thanks to modern advancements in medicine Evil Clown can stay hard for hours, despite his age.

Rick Olson said...

Must be that catheter in Evil Clown's penis.

Fox said...

Rick... you were close.

I like Diary of the Dead, but am indifferent to Sarah Silverman.

Marilyn hates Sarah Silverman.

Bill hates Diary of the Dead but secretly likes Sarah Silverman.

Evil Clown hates himself, Arbogast hates us all, and Jonathan loves us all.

p.s. Arachnophobia is Pat's favorite movie of all time.

Fox said...

Johnathan -

I take responsibility for the last two comments by Evil Clown and Rick. I am sorry, and will take whatever punishment you see fit.

Forgive me,
Fox

bill r. said...

Okay, back to the Boston Globe list:

I hate you, the Boston Globe. That is one of the worst lists I've ever seen. You're not even smart about the movies I like. Take this statement about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:

What is certain is that this is an extremely scary movie — especially Leather's happy-dance at the end of the movie.

Never mind that using the word "movie" twice makes the sentence extremely awkward, but that was not a "happy-dance" that Leatherface was doing.

And I don't believe anyone who would put the Blair Witch sequel on such a list has even seen The Innocents. Liar! LIAR!! J'accuse!

And, as a PS - The Boston Globe, you're not funny. At all. Stop trying.

Krauthammer said...

Okay, just watched Night again, and love it as much as ever. The first thought that pops into my mind is that Romero should make another movie in Black and White. There are so many places where the compositions and great (which I believe is par for the course for Romero) and the LIGHTING is also great. With all the Zeitgeist talk and importance in the genre, I think a lot of people forget how good it is on a strictly formal level, they assume that it's meant to be watched on beat up prints or something.

bill r. said...

I haven't just sat down and watched Night of the Living Dead in a really long time. I'm going to pick up that nice new DVD, and do that before the month's up.

Arbogast Karnstein said...

Arbogast hates us all

My catheter makes me irritable.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

I stopped at Arachnaphobia.

That's funny, I did the same thing. I clicked the link, saw that and closed it. I mean really, Arachnaphobia itself isn't trying to be scary so it has nothing to do with the quality of the movie, it's just a poor choice to put on the list. Like listing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home or something. Boston Globe, you are inane.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

krauthammer, I agree. I watched it again recently and had the same reaction. It's not afraid to stream shadows across the faces of its actors, much like old noirs did.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Okay, I just clicked through the whole list. I think the problem is the use of the word "scary" as in "the scariest movies of all time." Many of the films chosen are personal favorites but not scary. I love the original War of the Worlds, but scary? Not to me at least. And then on to my non-favorites. Has anyone ever found Pinhead or Freddy Krueger scary? I'm serious. They're over the top jokes. Norman Bates is scary but not Freddy Krueger. Which is why I'm glad Psycho made the list because I... oh no, wait a minute - Psycho's NOWHERE TO BE FOUND!!! And The Exorcist and The Shining aren't in the top ten. And yes, Bill, they are ABSOLUTELY, COMPLETELY AND UNDENIABLY UNFUNNY.

Someone make The Boston Globe go away.