Sunday, January 08, 2006

Return of the Night of the Living Zombi?

I really thought when I started this blog that there would be much more ranting about horror movies. I imagine there will be as time progresses. Who knows, maybe even something non-film related might be down the road. Anyway, here's a step in that direction.

For the most part I think we have come to the end or at least past the peek of the zombie revival. Perhaps that is not fair to say since there are sequels in various stages of production for House of the Dead and 28 Days Later. Also Tobe Hooper, of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, has a new film called Mortuary hitting very select theaters January 13. I should probably mention as well that Romero is working on another Dead film, but since he has almost as hard a time making a movie as Terry Gilliam, I tend to not keep my hopes up until the film has actually wrapped and is halfway through editing. Still, after seeing Undead, one can't help but feel that at least the first wave hit it's watermark.

During the revival many old fans of the zombie genre got to relish in seeing a breath of fresh air from the teen slasher wave that Wes Craven's Scream unleashed on us. There is a zombie movie being made somewhere in the world every minute, but how often can you get a decent one? They were not all perfect by any means, but most of these big zombie flicks were certainly better than what your little brother who discovered Suicide Girls and corn syrup was cooking up. It was a nice time to be an Undead Head. For the new blood though, I imagine it was tricky. For example: Shaun of the Dead was a very loose parody of a film made in the 70's that was a sequel to a film made in the late 60's, and it came out at the same time that that film from the 70's was also being remade and the third sequel in that original series was also on its way. That's almost as much homework as you have to do to be cool in your local punk scene. (Though not enough to like, totally be anything but a poser...)

As beginners try to go back and see all the roots of the genre, or at least all the films related to "The Holy Trinity," they find out it only gets more confusing. Between remakes, spin-offs, and similar titles, it's not strange even for the average horror buff to get lost. So, here's an attempt to clear this mess up for anyone trying to sink their teeth into the Living Dead films.

Romero's Holy Trinity
Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1878) and Day of the Dead (1985)

These are the three major films of the genre. They are a loose trilogy written and directed by George A. Romero. Many of the major rules and image of zombies were first defined in this series. For this reason a lot of people credit Romero for inventing the zombie genre. I disagree with this claim but will save that for another entry. Either way, any horror geek worth their salt has seen all three... or at least the first two. Land of the Dead (2005) was the fourth film in his series, though many fans have choose to look at it as seperate film. This is mostly due to it not living up to the last three in their eyes.

There have been remakes to Night (1990) and Dawn (2004) and some talk of remaking Day. Sometimes there is confusion between the original Night and its remake due to both usually featuring Romero's name on the cover. Romero produced the Night remake; it was directed by his friend and occasional effects man (he did the make-up and gore effects for Dawn and Day) Tom Savini. Additional confusion might also occur for people looking for the black and white classic, do to the colorized versions of the original that was released a while back. I recommend seeing the original in black and white one. (Oh, and you might want to avoid Dean Lachiusa's bastard edition known as Survivor's Cut LIKE A PILE OF DEAD BIRDS!) Colorizing classics is right up there with clubbing baby seals. Only baby seal clubbing can be funny and colorization cannot.

Dawn of the Dead 2?: The Zombie Flesh-Eaters Series.

When Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy it was entitled Zombi. Wanting to cash in on the film's success, an Italian zombie film (that's script had been completed prior to Dawn's release) directed by Lucio Fulci was entitled Zombi 2 (1979). Beyond the title there is little similarity between the two films. The notable similarity being that in Zombi 2 the zombies were created by voodoo, and the famous line from Dawn, "when there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth" comes from one of the main characters quoting his uncle, a voodoo priest. Though this is a weak comparison to make since real zombies originate from voodoo... it's like saying two werewolf movies are related because both use full moons. Zombi 2 does follow Romero's rules established in Night. Another recent addition to the confusion (and a nice nod to the fans I might add) is that at the end of the Dawn of the Dead remake there is a homage made to Zombi 2, linking the two series once again.

Zombi 2 is one of the all time classics of Italian horror and its Zombie sub-genre. It's infamous for its gore and immortalized by the Shark vs. Zombie scene. The film has spawned several sequels that have continued the off order of numbers. Zombi 3 was only co-directed by Lucio before leaving the series. He would make another undead film, City of the Living Dead, but it bore no relation to the Zombi series. In trying to keep up with the order of the Zombi films beyond Zombi 3... good luck. Even I can't really sort out that bag of three-headed snakes!

Night of the Living Dead 2?: The Return of the Living Dead Series.

The concept behind this film (written and directed by Dan O'Bannon) was that the film Night of the Living Dead was based on an actual event. George Romero was inspired by a top-secret military experiment that went wrong. Return rewrites Romero's rules, twisting the significance of brains from being the only way (by destroying them... "shoot 'em in the head!") to kill a zombie, into that which the zombies hunger for. As far as I can tell from conversations with other horror geeks, Return of the Living Dead was the first to have brain-eating zombies. Later sequels (there are four that exist so far) ceased to refer to Romero's classic.

It's also become popular to try and cash in on the Romero classics by titling third-rate zombie films "____ of the Living Dead." Though these may or may not imply some relation, they are not official entrees into Romero's mythology.

Ok, I hope that helps anyone lost. I'm feeling a bit of a zombie groove so I imagine there will be at least two more zombie articles not far down the road.

Peace.

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