Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Director's Report Card: George A. Romero (1985-1990)

9. Day of the Dead
“Day of the Dead” took a rocky road to the status of horror classic. The general response upon release, from both mainstream critics and horror fans, was disappointment. It’s understandable. “Dawn” is a hard act to follow and the movie was overshadowed by “Return of the Living Dead” and “Re-Animator,” both released the same year, whose injection of comedy and sexiness into the zombie genre seemed comparatively fresher. However, “Day of the Dead” has aged well. It’s not the easiest movie to like but becomes more accessable with repeat viewings.

The characters are both its biggest assets and most obvious weakness. The military types are all abrasive, while the rest of the cast are more personable. Sarah, played solidly by Lori Cardille, is an okay lead but Rastafarian helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander) and alcoholic radio technician William (Jarlath Conroy) are immediately likable. Dr. Logan, with his crazy eyes, frantic speech, and mother issues, proves to be too eccentric not to love, especially when brought to life by Richard Liberty. Meanwhile, the military ranges from the super-asshole Capt. Rhod
es to the obnoxiously vulgar Steel and Rickles. (Admittedly, the actors are good in these parts, Joseph Pilato in particular.)
This is intentional, of course. “Day of the Dead” is about how people can’t communicate. It’s a comment on the militaristic, jingoistic, macho attitudes that ruled the country at the time and its total disinterest in listening to anyone else’s opinions. Maybe not as powerful a metaphor as the previous “Dead” films but a valid one none the less, especially when you realize how little things have changed. I know I’m repeating myself here, but George continues to make the main point that people refuse to communicate, work together, put their nonsense aside, and actually solve the problems, even as deep into a crisis as they are here. It’s the common thread connecting all the films in the franchise.

None of the characters are as interesting or captivating as Bub, the zombie with a soul. Brought to life in a brilliant physical performance from Howard Sherman (Or is that Sherman Howard?), Bub takes everything we love about zombies and then adds another dimension of emotion. It’s amazing what giving a zombie a personality can do f
or it.
Speaking of which, the zombies are great looking, each one unique, like rotting, bloody snowflakes. By its same accord, the gore effects are hugely impressive. Tom Savini really outdid himself here. “Day of the Dead” rivals the sickest Italian cannibal flicks for some of the most intense gore sequences around. Captain Rhodes’ death sequence has got to be one of the best in horror history.

The underground bunker makes an atmospheric setting, with its cross of shadowed caves and flat concrete. The Caribbean influenced synth score is pretty decent, with an interesting main refrain, but feels somewhat flat in other parts. The movie’s plot on-folds in a somewhat predictable manner and drags a little before the big ending. I’ve heard the resolution called overly convenient. Maybe. But I sort of like it, in all of its idealistic ways. You can tell that, despite all of his pessimistic attitudes, Romero does have hope for humanity. Probably the weakest of the original 3 “Dead” films but “Day” easily stands among the other two.
[Grade: B+]

10. Monkey Shines
The biggest problem with “Monkey Shines” is, surprisingly, not its silly concept. Yeah, killer helper monkey sounds pretty dumb but the movie actually makes that work on at least two occasions. The idea is built-up throughout until being paid off during the rather suspenseful climax. At the very least, putting us in the places of an almost completely helpless individual who is then at the beset of a possibly dangerous helper, is a good idea.

It’s actually the cast
of characters that provide the biggest issue. Nobody is really likable. Our protagonist is abrasive and Jason Beghe is too broad in the role. The character pretty much treats everybody else in the movie like crap, especially his mother and his nurse, who don’t seem to deserve the abuse most of the time. The supporting cast fares no better. Dorothy Van Patton and Stanley Tucci are both over-the-top, far more annoying then endearing, while Kate McNeil is underdeveloped as the shoehorned in love interest. Christine Forrest is the most relateable performance here, probably just because I felt sorry for her.
The music is a little over the top. There is a subplot involving animal testing that goes largely nowhere. I did like the atmospheric drug scene and the steamy love scene is… Interesting. The final jump scare is very silly, though. “Monkey Shines” might seem like an easy target for ridicule but most of its unfounded. It’s a very flawed attempt at a pretty decent thriller that actually makes a ridiculous concept work but is undone but something completely unrelated. The film does have a fantastically creepy movie poster, seen to the left. [Grade: C+]

11. Two Evil Eyes (with Dario Argento)
Segment: "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemir"
The idea behind “Two Evil Eyes” is exciting. We have two of the greatest horror directors of all time getting together to adapt stories from the grandfather of the genre. Considering these expectations, the results are disappointing.

Romero’s segment, “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemir” is the weaker of the two halves. Adreine Barbeau is decent enough in the lead and Tom Atkins has a cameo. The story presents a lot of interesting angles with the discussion of hypnosis and the afterlife. Sadly, these ideas are underdeveloped and not used to their full potential.
I’ve heard some compare the overall look of the piece to Romero’s TV series, “Tales from the Dark Side.” If it wasn’t for some last minute gore effects from Tom Savini, this could easily fit into that series. When a theatrical movie has the same level of scope, feel, and general look of a half-hour television show, that’s never a good sign. “Two Evil Eyes” was a failure and a disappointment and, sadly, seem to be the turning point in both Argento and Romero’s career.
The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemir: [C] Film as a whole: [C+]

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