Posts Tagged ‘Romero Month’

The Dark Half

Directed By: George A Romero

Starring: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris, Robert Joy

Subgenre: Supernatural

Synopsis: When author Thad Beaumont is on the verge of success, he decides it’s time for his pseudonym George Stark to cease writing. He soon finds out that Stark is not ready to be done.

Thoughts: Hoping to recreate the success of Creepshow, George Romero was tabbed to direct another Stephen King adaptation.  The Dark Half marks Romero’s first collaboration with a major studio, something that has never gone well for him. 

The star of the movie is Timothy Hutton, who plays a duel role as the protagonist and antagonist.  When he takes his turn as Stark, he just exudes evil.  It’s pretty amazing to see an actor be able to deliver such split roles in the same movie and sell them both whole heartedly.  Michael Rooker plays a supporting role as the sheriff investigating the murders surrounding the author.  While I normally love Rooker’s work, his character was a little off in The Dark Half.  The sheriff let Beaumont get away with way too much to be realistic.  Having not read the book, I had a feeling that there was more to this relationship that didn’t come out on screen.

Romero’s work here was solid, but what really made for a successful adaption was the screenplay.  Like I mentioned, I haven’t read this particular King work, but the script and flow of the story was very good.  Out of the many Romero movies I’ve watched and rewatched over the last month or so, this one feels the least like one his.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I imagine a lot of it has to do with Romero struggling with the studio over creative control.

Even with Romero’s struggles, this is still worth checking out, even if it just for Hutton’s performance.  It isn’t one of my favorite Romero movies, but there’s  a lot of completion in that realm.

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Martin

Directed By: George A Romero

Starring: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel. Christine Forrest, Elayne Nadeau, Tom Savini

Subgenre: Vampires

Synopsis: Martin is sent to live with his Grand Uncle who suspects Martin of being a vampire.

Thoughts: There’s no doubt that when most people hear the name George Romero that they think of zombie.  The truth is that while Romero delivers on the walking dead (no, not the TV show), he has some pretty diverse movies in his history.  Martin is one of his most unique movies.  Throughout the movie, Martin has flashbacks of mobs hunting him as a vampire as he stalks his prey, but we never know for sure if Martin is a vampire.  Sure, he stalks women in his new town, drugging them and using a razor blade to cut them and drink their blood, but we never “see” anything supernatural going on.  The one person who is sure that Martin is a vampire is his Grand Uncle Tateh Cuda.  He threatens to stake Martin if he kills in his new town and goes to great measures to keep Martin in his room at night.

Martin marks the first collaboration between Romero and Tom Savini, who also played a supporting role in the movie.  While the effects were nowhere near as complex as some of the zombie movies, this marked an important milestone in Romero and Savini’s history.  John Amplas absolutely owns the screen as Martin, delivering a powerhouse performance.  I’ve never understood why Amplas didn’t go on to do more after this role.  His career consists mostly of working on Romero projects, so maybe he never bothered to pursue a Hollywood career. Anyways, he’s fantastic here.

There isn’t a wealth of dialogue here as Martin often prefers silence to trying to fit in, but Romero more than makes up for that with his wizardry behind the camera.  I never found my interest waning as I watched Martin, something I attest to Romero’s camera work and visual stimulation.  The look of Martin hasn’t held up well at all, with the fashions of the late 70s being very prevalent, but I think I prefer that than seeing this remade. 

Martin is a bit of a dark horse, but it may very well end up being one of my favorite Romero movies, although beating Night of the Living Dead will be very difficult indeed.  If you’ve never seen Martin, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Survival of the Dead

Directed By: George A Romero

Starring: Alan van Sprang, Kenneth Walsh, Kathleen Munroe, Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis, Devon Bostick

Subgenre: Zombies

Synopsis: Survivors of the zombie apocalypse attempt to make their way to an island which is rumored to be safe and free of the walking dead.

Thoughts: Survival of the Dead is the latest movie in Romero’s Dead series, and is a direct sequel to Diary of the Dead, even featuring some of the same characters from Diary. Although it is generally considered to be one of his worst movies, I think it is an improvement over Diary of the Dead.

The cast is a vast improvement over Diary of the Dead and features a good mix of bad guys and good guys.  I enjoyed the different factions within the movie, from Crockett’s group to the O’Flynns and Muldoons, plus I am a sucker for an Irish accent!  Even though I liked the cast, there were some pretty laughable lines throughout.  The script could have used a bit of polishing prior to going to production.

While Romero ditched the handheld technique and returned to his old standards, he still made heavy use of CGI.  I understand why Romero now leans heavily on CGI, as it allows for quicker shooting and trims costs, but I would love to see him work with Tom Savini on a practical FX zombie movie one last time.

Even though I think Survival is an improvement over Diary, it is still far from perfect.  The script is pretty rough and even the storyline is laughable at times.  Romero returned to his philosophy that the dead can relearn what they knew, but the angle with trying to teach zombies to eat something other than humans was a little weird.  Had he stayed away from the horse meat angle, I think this would have been a smoother movie, but still not great.  I did like the ending, which had Muldoon and O’Flynn still fighting one another as zombies.

There have been a number of very good zombie movies the last ten years or so, but sadly George Romero’s name is not attached to any of them.  Both Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead pale in comparison to the likes of Dead Snow, The Dead and The Horde.  I really hope that Romero gives it another go with a  zombie movie, but I hope he chooses to go old school and bring back the practical effects that he used so effectively in decades past.

Diary of the Dead

Directed By: George A Romero

Starring: Shawn Roberts, Josh Close, Michelle Morgan, Joe Dinicol, R.D. Reid,

Subgenre: Zombies

Synopsis: A group of film students attempt to document a zombie outbreak.

Thoughts: While Diary of the Dead is the 5th movie in Romero’s Dead Franchise, this is the first film that does not follow in the general timeline.  Instead, it goes back to the beginning of the outbreak and attempts to “rejig the myth” as Romero himself has said.

After having a star-studded cast for Land of the Dead, Romero went back to his usual ways and used a cast of virtual unknowns for Diary of the Dead.  Part of that has to do with the fact that he produced and funded Diary himself, but the story also lends itself to unknowns. 

I wasn’t a fan of the cast or the characters in Diary of the Dead.  The majority of the characters are rather unlikeable, which may be intentional, but it just led me to not care whether or not someone got eaten by a zombie.  The acting was also subpar in my opinion.

Romero tried several different techniques in Diary of the Dead.  The first was the “hand-held” camera technique that has been so popular in the horror genre the last decade or so.  The second was the almost exclusive use of CGI for the gore effects.  The use of CGI allowed the filming to be completed quickly, with the effects being added later.  I’ve enjoyed several of the handheld movies, but I didn’t really enjoy it in Diary of the Dead.  The way it was played out just didn’t work for me and the fact that one of the actors explained why there was music added was one of the worst moments of the movie.

Diary of the Dead is not only my least favorite Dead movie, but it is also my least favorite Romero movie, and it’s not really close.  Every director’s filmography contain a few pock marks and I consider Diary of the Dead to be more of a festering wound on Romero’s list of movies.  This one is for zombie fanatics or a Romero completest only.

Land of the Dead

Directed By: George A Romero

Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark

Subgenre: Zombies, Post-Apocalyptic

Synopsis: Years after the zombie outbreak, survivors attempt to recreate society in a guarded city.

Thoughts: It’s hard to imagine a more highly anticipated release in George Romero’s career than Land of the Dead.  His “original” Dead trilogy (Night, Dawn, Day) were already revered by horror fans and the expectations for his 4th installment were insanely high.

For his latest zombie outbreak, Romero had studio backing, something he did not have before.  This led to some bigger names being cast for major roles, including Simon Baker, John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper.  While the acting wasn’t bad by any means, I thought it was far from great.  Hopper just didn’t seem to have the same unhinged performance he usually does, even though it seems as if his character was written that way.  Romero also cast Asia Argento, daughter of Dario Argento, in a major role.  Simon Pegg and Nick Frost also star as zombies in one of my favorite cameos ever.

Land of the Dead was also the first zombie movie in which George Romero leaned heavily on the use of CGI to augment the practical effects.  While this decision was a very divisive one for fans, I thought it was well used in Land of the Dead, but I can’t say the same thing for later installments. 

Romero also furthered the idea that zombies can learn and revert back to some segment of their prior lives.  This was something else that naysayers of the movie pointed out as a weakness, even though we had seen the same philosophy presented in both Dawn and Day of the Dead. 

I have to admit that I was swayed by some of the negative opinions about Land of the Dead when it was released, but since then, I have come to really like this movie.  I do think it is a step below Romero’s original Dead movies, but not by too much. 

BruiserDirected By: George A Romero

Starring: Jason Flemyng, Nina Garbiras, Peter Stormare, Leslie Hope, Tom Atkins

Subgenre: Revenge

Synopsis: Henry Creedlow was a meek man just trying to get ahead when he woke up one morning to find his identity, and his face, gone, replaced by a white mask and a penchant for revenge.

Thoughts: Bruiser is quite possibly one of George Romero’s lesser known films.  It isn’t often mentioned when his canon is being discussed, but it should be.  It is a departure from anything he has done before and is a tale of a man who learns he must be himself, not what others want him to be. 

While the name Jason Flemyng doesn’t ring familiar to me, his face sure does, which is an ironic twist for this movie.  He’s been in quite a few genre flicks, including Deep Rising, a favorite of mine.  I really loved his work in Bruiser.  I just can’t imagine how difficult it is to convey a character’s emotion while wearing a blank mask.  Peter Stormare was ridiculously over the top, which I loved as well. To top things off, fan favorite plays a detective trying to solve the murders and track down Creedlow.  Thrill me!

I mentioned that this was a departure for Romero, but it isn’t a straight revenge movie either.  It has a supernatural tone and the trademark Romero social commentary (we all wear masks).  That being said, this felt like a more personal movie than most of Romero’s.  Creedlow was capable of extreme violence, but you couldn’t help but root for him as he smited the evil in his life. 

If Bruiser is a title that you missed, I highly suggest checking it out.  You don’t need to be a Romero fan to enjoy.  For that matter, you don’t even need to be a horror fan.

CreepshowDirected By: George A Romero

Starring: Tom Atkins, Tom Savini, Ed Harris, John Amplas, Stephen King, Leslie Nielsen, Gaylen Ross, Ted Danson, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, E.G. Marshall

Subgenre: Anthology, Zombies, Creature Feature

Synopsis: Five short stories pay homage to the horror comics of yesteryear.

Thoughts: It doesn’t always work out for the best when horror legends decide to work together, but when Stephen King and George Romero teamed up to give us Creepshow, they hit one out of the park.  King’s stories and Romero’s work behind the camera, coupled with an extremely impressive cast, made for one of the best horror anthology movies ever.  The idea to model the movie after the horror comics of the 50s allowed for easy transitions between the individual stories and gave the movie a very cool vibe. 

I can’t say enough about the acting.  There are recognizable fact man every segment, some horror icons such as Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau, Romero “regulars” John Amplis, Gaylen Ross and Tom Savini, and even some heavy Hollywood names in Ed Harris, Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook.  Stephen King stars in his very own segment, which is impressive for a writer to put himself out there, even if the acting isn’t all that great. 

This is my favorite non-Dead movie by Romero.  The stories are all different enough to keep the movie from dragging, which is both a tribute to Stephen King and Romero.  While all the stories are fairly strong, my favorite is The Crate by far.  I think the pacing makes it exciting to watch and the subject matter is different from anything Romero has done before.  The weakest story is The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, which is the segment that Stephen King starred in.  It goes by pretty quickly, but I didn’t care for King’s portrayal of Jordy. 

Creepshow is a modern classic and deserves a place in everyone’s collection.  It also appeals to a broader audience based on the strength of the cast and the brisk pace of the individual stories.  It’s also a jewel in the crown for George Romero, showing that he knows how to make more than a zombie flick.