Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Santa Claus is coming
to town
Ho,  ho, holy fuck!...... It’s taken me some time to get to this rather infamous little killer Santa title but it dropped through my post box this morning just in time for me to give it a viewing and to offer up this written review. Sorry it’s not a video review but I’m away from my computer for the next week and my humble laptop is unlikely to be able to handle video editing. But anyway.
Killer Santa movies aren’t exactly a rarity, I reviewed the very enjoyable Christmas Evil last year and this year it’s time for what is probably one of the most notorious of the slightly bizarre sub-genre.
Your insults only make me stronger!
Silent Night, Deadly Night as many will know caused a huge shit storm to be whipped up by the morally indignant in the US causing the film to be withdrawn for some time by it’s distributors and initiating a mental meltdown of several notable critics and Mickey Rooney. Yup, enough said there, I shan’t elaborate any further on the controversy here other than to note that on its return the following year the film proudly bragged about its war wounds from the battle, as well it should. I love it when the negative hype has the reverse effect on censorship. The protests and hysteria are well documented and it’s outright hilarious to hear Siskel and Ebert sticking the boot in with their usual slasher hating rhetoric. They may have been critical icons but they were just as susceptible to loosing their critical faculties as the Daily Mails film critics are when faced with something a little tasteless.
And this isn't the Mail for a change

Since tasteless is what I specialise in lets have a look at this naughty little number.....

The first thing that seems to strike home about Silent Night, Deadly Night is it does take a very much more straight faced approach than a film like this would be expected to. Don’t get me wrong it does have moments of humour, some of it very dark, other times, like the Christmas Party being opened to a cry of ‘Lets get shitfaced!’ are very lighthearted but there are occasions to indulge in a guilty snicker or two along the way however the overall tone of the film leans towards the meaner side of attitudes as is demonstrated in scenes like when Billy’s parents are murdered by an astoundingly overzealous killer Santa. This scene is pretty uncomfortable to sit through despite its slightly ludicrous circumstance. The sexual side to the violence, something that will be a fairly strong theme throughout the film, does feel somewhere between rather sleazy and Gratuitous though in some respects it does belong considering how much of a component of the killer this stuff is.
Dream on Santa boy!
And this is the thing. Silent Night, Deadly Night is not a film that should be written off as being simply another bog standard slasher and this is because it really takes time out to set up the killer. We follow the formative events such as his Granddads creepy mind games with him and the subsequent (and a little too convenient) attack by the Santa-suit clad arsehole. Then there’s Christmas in the orphanage run by the nasty disciplinarian nun who reinforces his fear of and reaction to Santa and sexual behaviour and years later his breakdown at the Christmas party after having to not only witness his crush get hit on by his piece of crap co-worker but also having had to spend his entire day traumatised by being made to dress up as his worst nightmare. While it’s all a bit episodic, propelled by extremes of convenience and a bit of a clusterfuck of circumstance, stupidity(by the characters) and paranoia (from Billy) it is quite extraordinary the length this film goes to to build a sequence of events that makes him what he is. This does build an empathy with the killer though that is very quickly dampened when he loses his shit at the office party killing the deserving and commendable along side each other. 

Witness the worst Robin Hood costume ever!
This is also the point that the film goes into overdrive though this is a hefty chunk of the run-time in at near 40 minutes of a film that is only just over twice that and it’s not like its been an uneventful ride up until now. His first kill seems justifiable, after all the guy  was attempting rape and the memory was brought back to the fore, but when he turns on his crush and then his boss who have looked out for him up until this point then we can’t really be on board and he’s now become an irredeemable evil guy.  His choice of victims from this point is a random selection. Billy kills starts off with an unforgiveable crime...... He offs Linnea Quigley. This does not ingratiate me towards him. Back in the film world Billy is killing very much at random for perceived naughty behaviour and given Linnea Quigley is around then it’s not a stretch for any imagination to realise that it’s sex and nudity that flips his Santa lid this time and before we know it  Ms Quigley gets nailed... to the wall....with the horn, that’s animal horns... damn it it’s Linnea Quigley, innuendo is unavoidable, I’m sorry.
Joking aside, this is really another time when we can’t like Billy, and this is something that the film plays with quite often, juggling our sympathy with Billy with the desire to see him stopped. One minute he’s slashing up perfectly innocent folks then he’s decapitating bullies, then he’s turning up at the orphanage, he is a killer with a very unreliable compass and after dispatching the young couple he has one of those desperately uncomfortable film moments where he is in the position of menacing a young child, something that he first does when working as the store Santa.  What is more interesting though is how the other characters react to the fact that there is a killer Santa running around and paranoia kicks in when it comes to dealing with what should be a familiar and friendly character. Of course there is the inevitable near misses and friendly fire which is bizarre when you think of Santa being gunned down by the police. It’s funny in a rather dark way, the paranoia and fear that Billy has it passed on to everyone else including the policemen, to the point that they are prepared to shoot any Santa they find....
Open season on Santa!
 ...... I take it back, it’s not necessarily so funny, it’s actually unintentionally satirical on today’s  police profiling. By the end of the film there is mostly satisfaction though one character that probably should have been topped off survives, much to my annoyance.Some have seen more satire in the film than I have. For me Silent Night, Deadly Night is a pretty straight forward film in terms of what its doing but it does do it really very well. It is of course some way short of greatness but it does have conviction and is genuinely uncomfortable in all the right places, occasionally it’s even rather disturbing. For a movie that has a premise that so easily can become silly Silent Night, Deadly Night is very determined to ditch the comedy and get serious when it feels it necessary and that’s where it manages to succeed where others have failed. It spends time developing the important character to a point where he is more than simply a monster like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees is for instance but what it truly excels at is presenting the Santa myth  from a very dark point of view, after all there are many reasons why Santa can be seen to be incredibly creepy and this film keys into those ideas, such as him punishing the naughty and having his house breaking activities have a more sinister spin. With the central performance by Robert Brian Wilson there is a sense of his escalating breakdown and his threatening the squirming, crying girl at the store does feel desperately uncomfortable, as does his later crazed rampage on occasions. The occasional humourous moments such as the bullies demise do keep things from getting too heavy which makes this one of those few occasions where comic relief is pitched at just the right level, thank god.
Not all the performances are particularly strong but overall this film doesn’t exactly suffer too badly at any point from the performances which at worst get a bit shaky but not offensively bad.  It’s thoughtfully directed, playful as well as being in your face and bothers to give us insight into the murderous maniac for once. I’ve never seen the sequels and frankly given what I have read and seen of them they rather seem to divert from how this one is in many ways particularly in their tone so maybe that’s for the best. The original is a worthwhile film and deservedly has a loyal core of fans, and it’s an interesting and worthy alternative to the usual Christmas movie choice for slasher fans.
The making of a future Tory MP

Friday, 29 March 2013

S3: The Black Room

Welcome to Section 3, home to the near nasties, those trashy little gems that made the DPP squirm in anticipation. This episode I have for you a film that once again re-jigs the vampire myth as a room with an unusual view goes up for rent. Ambiguous relationships, filthy fantasies and blood draining weirdos all cram themselves into the abode of ill repute as we take an ill advised stay in... The Black Room.

Unique and exotic.... The Black Room
Larry is a family man, though his love life is being slowly killed off by a lack of passion brought on by a long marriage, a mundane life and two attention demanding kids. His solution is to spice up his sex life by renting an exotic room out of town and bringing young women there to have sex with then telling his wife about them, claiming they're just fantasies. He settles for a rather unusual room known as the Black room which is rented out by Jason who suffers from a blood disorder, and his sister Bridget. They are very accommodating to his needs, setting the room up with wine and candles, but the cost of the room is so much higher than Larry realises. To add to troubles, Larry's wife has found out that the fantasies are significantly more real than she thought and now she wants a bit of black room time. Now at risk of losing their easy supply of blood doners Jason and Bridget have some tricks up their sleeves in order to keep the supply running.

Friendly Landlords at the Black Room
The Black Room is a slightly convoluted tale. This isn't because its a particularly complicated story it's just that the story throws in a couple of things that for some reason don't quite seem to gel together at first.
Primarily there is the storyline of the cheating husband who hires the black room and then tell his wife about his activities under the pretence of them being nothing more than fantasies he's dreamt up....... and it works fantastically, until she accidentally finds out the truth and pays the room a visit herself. The other part of the story is that of the landlords of the Black Room, Jason and Bridget, an odd couple who stretch the boundaries of a brother/sister relationship while entertaining the visitors to the Black Room, right before draining them of their blood. Each side of the story is fairly nuanced particularly that of the relationship between Larry and Robin. Where it would be very easy for the writing to take the high moral ground and entirely vilify Larry for his behaviour, it actually takes time to explore the subject from a surprisingly remote stance. His behaviour is of course shown as being largely selfish and this is particularly demonstrated by his reaction to seeing his wife in the black room later but the fact still remains that he clearly loves his wife and family.
While on the surface his behaviour would be regarded as destructive it seems in his case, and his wife's as well, that the acts are actually having some beneficial effects on their lives. This is not of course to say that it's exactly something that is advocated, it's simply part of what is the overall picture the film is painting. The Black Room presents us with two very different aspects of a sex life in comparison, Larry and Robins domestic situation gives us the very mundane and any marital bliss is sabotaged by the bratty cock blocking kids who are seriously obnoxious. The film doesn't quite go so far as to condemn the kids specifically in any way but it sure as hell shows the effect kids can have in a relationship. On top of this Larry and Robin have been married a long time and familiarity has caused stagnation. Larry's remedy for this, as extreme and morally dubious as it is, certainly fires up the relationship to a high degree, possibly saving the marriage. If this was the be all of the film then it may be a rather ridiculous stance to take. This is where Jason and Bridget come in. This couple are a rather extreme couple. Not only do they have a particularly odd relationship, devoid of sex itself but none the less sexual in other regards, they have some rather exotic tastes. First off there is the voyeurism. Jason takes photo's and is clearly sexually excited by the process, particularly when it comes to seeing his sister in action. Then of course there is the contrivance of the vampirism that he goes through.

The vampire myth has often been equated to sexual metaphore and here is no exception, in fact its quite overt. Jason really gets off on the transfer of bodily fluids, as do the victims it seems. There is an undeniable and in fact rather perverse sexual aspect to the bad guys here. Jason and Bridgets relationship, though not sexual in the traditional sense, is very much so terms of how they interact with each other and their reactions to situations. They, as it turns out, are every bit as dysfunctional as those who visit the black room. Their sexual experiences are entirely by proxy, there is always distance. Jason gets off on the voyeuristic activity of photography, he even takes erotic pictures of his sister and enjoys it every bit as much as he does watching his tenants. This is just one of several incestuous traits they display.
But as overtly sexual as they are they are also very removed from the recognisable sexual act for the most part. When Bridget has sex with Larry she seems to realise this but for the most part their sexual experience, in whatever form, is removed from the physical aspects of the act. Even the vampire acts are done at a distance with the blood being drawn from the victim by a machine and delivered to Jason who sits a fair distance from the unwilling donor though the reactions of both the victim and Jason are quite clearly sexual. In a nod to the traditional vampire it's worth noting the twin pronged device used to penetrate the neck, it's similarity to the fangs of a vampire are rather marked.

The upshot of all this is that we have two couples that are opposite ends of the sexual spectrum. Larry and Robin are the conventional couple with a non existent sex life. Jason and Bridget on the other hand are the rather extreme in their sexual tastes however they too have no sex life. The common ground is the Black Room where both parties get to indulge their fantasies. The thing is that it's also a place where sex and its consequences become dangerously ambiguous. For Larry and Robin its the place that at first seems to save, then nearly destroys their marriage and lives. For Jason in particular his sex life, in familiar, physical terms, exists only in this room which he can only enjoy voyeuristicaly.  The penetrative and for lack of a more subtle description, the fluid exchange for him exists in the form of his murderous acts. It's no less sexual for him, it's as vital an act as sex is for anyone, and the black Room is simply the common ground, a place that provides and fuels their sexual experiences, that salvages their lives in one way or another, where the mundane and the extreme can meet and mutually benefit to a degree but ultimately sex and sexual behaviour of this kind becomes the all consuming monster in whatever guise it comes in.
The Black Room is a very surprising movie. It takes on some socially difficult positions and it's handling of the character Larry in particular is rather fascinating. The sexual politics that are explored here are done so with a unusual lack of judgement on the characters themselves and while it does draw some conclusions, some of which can seem questionable, the story does dive into the discussion with a refreshing lack of criticism of the people involved concentrating rather than the issues themselves. The device of having Jason being a vampire of sorts is a great example of how to use traditional movie monsters in a thoughtful and effective fashion. The Black Room does occasionally fall into cliché, and nearly all of the time it's related to Jason and Bridget who come across as insanely off kilter and overplayed. A slightly played down characterisation of these characters may have elevated this film further, but it is all a part of the strangely surreal world that the film puts forward and as such although I felt they were played too large, it's not entirely out of place with the films more eccentric elements.

What is particularly strong about the film though is how it separates sex from love with regards to Larry's behaviour whilst also acknowledging how important it is in a relationship as is demonstrated by the reinvigouration of their love life by the fantasies that Larry brings back.  Robins behaviour on finding out about Larry's cheating is rather interesting and the progression from that point does provide a moral stand on the situation regarding the Black Room activities, though again it's not judgemental about it.

The Black Room is overall a rather good film, it takes a very different approach to its subject and subtext and while it could be seen as being a bit slow it really doesn't seem to waste any time. The characters are all rather interesting and atmosphere of the dawning horror of what's going on is built up rather effectively. It's all rather strikingly bizarre and attention grabbing, certainly a film that's worth catching however you can. Credit goes to the directors for taking an interesting idea and being able to go with some fairly juicy horror scenes without letting that element dominate over what is an interesting story with many facets. On top of this there is are the performances that although the bad guys can be a bit hammy from time to time it is all round rather well done and certainly does the characters justice. Unfortunately The Black Room doesn't have a dvd release which is a real shame considering that this is a film that really deserves an audience.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Nasties Review: Anthropophagus the Beast

The first offering I have for you is this 1981 Italian nasty called Anthropophagous the beast...or anthropophagous, or grim reaper, or savage island or man eater or one of several other titles. Directed by Joe D'Amato and released in 1981 this unpleasant little tale of cannibalism was banned as part of the 1984 video nasties scare due to a number of outrageous scenes of gore that stand as some of the great examples of low taste in Italian horror. No mean feat by any measure. At a time when even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was banned despite its singular lack of on screen gore this movie along with its mostly Italian brothers pushed the boundaries of acceptability. The story is simple, in fact its almost non existent. Tisa Farrow plays Julie who is heading towards her holiday home and after a chance meeting with a group of tourists she takes a ride on their boat with them to the island. On arrival however they find the island apparently deserted. One by one they are killed off in a variety of gory ways while they try to work out how to get back to the boat that has been set adrift, in the mean time they try to find out what has been happening on the island. Turns out
that a sailor and his family were shipwrecked and stranded in a dingy, he eventually was forced to eat his dead son and his wife was accidentally killed when she went to stop him, this drove him insane and after being washed up on the island he took to eating the entire island populace with the exception of two people. Now that new meat is on the island, the beast is on the prowl and the visitors are on the menu. As with many films of this genre the action takes place mostly as set pieces of gore and violence preceded by travelogue footage and linked by seemingly long periods of largely inane dialogue and action that serves as exposition and to deliver us to the next scene of carnage. Also, not unusually, there are scenes that echo other films, imitation and plain ripping off was not outside the norm in this area of Italian cinema, but the opening scene is particularly amusing in its almost parody of Jaws. In this scene the girl goes swimming and the is attacked from below the water by the beast in shots and cuts that echo the Spielberg classic. This time however the oblivious boyfriend on the beach also gets it in the neck for his complacency, or rather the head with a cleaver, their dog however in true Hollywood style gets away safely. Characterisation is often an
issue with exploitation movies, often due to poor dubbing and also due to the nature of exploitation films, you really don't want to care too much for the characters as that would make the whole process quite unpleasant. This film is no exception to the rule in most respects although it does spend a fair amount of time getting to know the characters before they they are put in peril. Unfortunately poor overacting in the dubbing sessions as it often does, makes each line of dialogue stilted and awkward. Add to that a clunky and cliché ridden script and you can only sit back and enjoy the ham on display in front of you.
The mad psychic, main stay of exploitation films makes her appearance here and one of my favourite moments from this film after we hear of her lifelong attachment to the Tarot cards she uses, she sees no future for herself in the cards and drops them in the sea, this is a bleak moment as she effectively gives up any hope at this point.
The beast himself (played by George Eastman) is sadly neglected in the narrative. There is a distinct lack of effort to give him character and we learn the bare minimum about how he came to be this way. He is not at all redeemed by the flashback to the shipwreck aftermath and I thought that this was wasted opportunity to garner at least some understanding of who he was and why he became this evil character. Instead he comes across as being nasty and brutish from the beginning and certainly I felt no sympathy for the him. I am sure that we are supposed to feel some sort of sorrow at least for the 'man' behind the monster but sadly this was not how it worked out. There is insufficient background to the character and we don't really know him before the point we see him kill his wife. Its all too sudden and the way its filmed makes it look like this all happened with out much reason. The throwaway back story of the beast takes away from the character and as such a lot is lost about why he would be the way he is, if for a bit of time spent on his character then he would be more interesting than the two dimensional creature he appears to be. In most respects this is a well put together film, although the pacing feels a bit laboured, almost like it gets exhausted when something happens and has it to take a rest. There are fair share of good shocks and one or two that are totally blown and don't seem worth the effort. The old trick of the fake scare real scare is employed quite effectively on a couple of occasions particularly when the blind girl jumps out of a wine barrel and slashes at one of our protagonists. The special effects are of varying quality but mostly are OK to gloriously gory. The head in a bucket however is laughable in the extreme but the finale is suitably tense and amusing in a very bloody way. For certain there is enough here to keep the gore fans happy and its worth the wait for the most part. This film is still not available in its full cut in the UK, despite what the BBFC site may say. The Grim Reaper, as the UK release is now known, is the pre cut version and the full version is not on general release. It would probably get a release now despite one of the most infamous scenes in horror history in which the beast pulls the unborn child out of the mother and eats it. The censorship of such images are related to the obscene publications act which states (and I paraphrase here) that obscenity is when the image or material has such an effect as to deprave or corrupt, this is the test that is applied to questionable film images. While these images are somewhat unpleasant I do struggle to see how it would actually deprave or corrupt someone and I remember seeing the still images in books that were not censored and they went by without so much as a murmur.
Also I have no knowledge of crimes of this nature being inspired by such movies and indeed such crimes (I.e. cannibalism) are extremely rare so how valid the argument is I'm not entirely sure. This said the BBFC have improved in leaps and bounds over the last few years since the departure of James Ferman and more movies are being allowed a second chance now, including some that have never previously stood a chance of release in any form. As most people prefer a rating I shall offer this as five zombie fingers out of ten, in my ratings system the worse a film is the more zombie fingers have been rotted off and the lower the score. So in conclusion this film is not a bad effort, it lacks certain coherence and completeness to warrant a high score but its heart is in the right place and it makes an effort to live up to the exploitation audience expectations and on many counts it does that with gusto, possibly too much for some tastes.....

Saturday, 21 January 2012

2001 : Analysis of the last 10 minutes

2001 a space odyssey, the iconic sci fi movie and incidentally one of the few that I recognise as a true Sci Fi. From way back in 1968 it's probably one of the most written about movies of all time, but also it's one of the most enigmatic to some. Understanding the last 10 minutes is the key to understanding the entire movie. For those who have been perplexed by Kubricks vision I offer my take on the films ending.
The trip through the wormhole takes our protagonist to a particularly ambiguous environment, adorned with luxurious furnishings but maintaining a clinical or rather detached, oddly misunderstood and superficial facsimile of luxury. Here Dave runs through his life, in fast forward until he dies and is reborn in the form of the 'Star Child'.
So what's going on? The images have had many a movie goer going in circles trying to grasp the meaning of what's happing in this two and a bit hour journey.
After Dave is transported through the wormhole to an unknown destination, possibly a laboratory, the clinical aspects of the set certainly suggest it as such, Dave's life is accelerated.
The cuts we see here have Dave observing himself in the third person, then we switch over to the other Dave and follow him. This device is an ingenious way that Kubrick elegantly side steps the use of the montage technique, simultaneously progressing time without resorting to fades, whilst furthering the artificiality of the environment (with) a deliberate manipulation of time.
In order to understand what's brought us to this point it's now necessary to consider the monolith.
It's arrival at the dawn of man spurred the next step in human development, man begins to use tools, and rapidly the balance of power shifts in his favour, even within his species. The famous moment of the bone being thrown into the air and the jump cut to the spaceship is making a parallel between the two tools, the bone and the spaceship, and this illustrates a defining moment on evolution where man begins to use tools, the rudimentary bludgeon to begin with through to the sophisticated space ship.
It's important to keep this in mind as we progress through this clip.

The environment that Dave has arrived in is rather suggestive, we cannot be very sure of exactly what it is but it does carry something of the laboratory to it, or more likely a holding tank from where is prepared to move onto the next stage. The apparent calmness that he achieves, while initially he seems understandably anxious, is helped by the luxurious if somewhat sterile surroundings that have been provided for him.
As the camera pans around the doorway we once again see Dave in the third person, that third person surrealy being Dave himself, through who we see the next step of his rapid ageing. Kubrick makes a seamless and flowing depiction of Dave's lifespan with no crossfades or apparent gaps in time as he's hurtled to his bodily death. This ingenious use of the camera and editing to avoid the use of standard transitions takes the events outside of normality or indeed natural progression, lending them an air of oddness that doesn't require verbal exposition to project its meaning.
This moment fortifies the sensation that the process is unnatural and quite alien at least within the human sphere of experience. As Dave turns to look at his past self observing only to find nothing
we move into his perspective and the progression continues. Dave, despite his passive acceptance of
the situation seems at least in part aware of the process that we see.
Whatever is providing this space for him it seems to be concerned with his well being to a great extent, he's provided with physical comfort, food and a degree of luxury. Stylistically there is a jarring conflict between the old and new. The antique furniture and art clashes with the stark illumination and clinical feel of the containment in which Dave is confined.
An interesting thing to consider is why this is happening, what is the reason for this to be happening now. The point at which the aliens have interacted with humans again coincides with the point that artificial intelligence, in the form of HAL, has arrived. HAL is the tool that becomes a threat to humanity, it's sophistication approaching and reflecting, possibly fully achieving, the emotional capabilities and immaturities of humans, becoming sophisticated to the point where it almost becomes more human than the rather unemotional creators. This is to the point of resorting to murder and becoming defensive and to a great extent paranoid regarding its existence and also to the being fearful at the point of its demise. All very human emotional displays in contrast to the crews almost robotic stoicism in the face of the most extreme circumstances. This ability to create a sentient being may well be the reason for the need, or at least the catalyst for the aliens to progress mankind beyond its current evolutionary stage.
As Dave's journey approaches its end we see him observing the final stage of life as we know it, that of death. Once again the transition is seamless as we move into the dying moments of the current stage of human existence, an existence that must end to make way for the next step.
The Monolith reappears again at the time of Dave's impending death, when he dies the Star Child is born, the transcendent being that exists literally and in every way above humanity. The monolith then returns Dave back to Earth. The cycle of his trip and the cycle of the films arc is completed as we see the beginning of a new phase of humanity again.
The process that Dave has gone through in this sequence is one of evolution, albeit not by natural means. His accelerated lifespan is a journey passing on to the next stage of human existence. The driving force of the major jumps in evolution seems almost god like but is physically tangible in a way that theistic ideas are not. The alien element uses technology that seems magical but is simply ahead of our experience, another thematic echo of the bone to spaceship cut. Once again the difference in the tools is being highlighted only the monolith is as advanced as it is multipurpose as it is elegant.
The starchild has now returned to earth and has a certain godlike aspect to it, an ethereal being that resides above earth, it's comparative sophistication evoking our awe of the unknown, almost making a deity of what is simply an advanced life form, indeed a progression of us. The choice of an image of a child is perfect as it represents a new stage, a new beginning, not an ending or an arrival at the pinnacle of existence, it suggests a humble progression and a continuing journey, the new leg of which has just begun.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Section 3: Night of the living dead

Section 3: Night of the living dead

Welcome to section 3, home to the near nasties, the movies that the police would happily pilfer from your local video store. This episode I have for you a bit of a classic, well okay a lot of a classic. Zombies roam the earth with a taste for human flesh as we take a look at the god father of zombie films, the one that wrote the rules and set the benchmark. Lets have a look at George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

When Barbara and her brother go to visit their grandfathers grave they are inexplicably and brutally attacked by a strange looking man. Escaping the scene Barbara manages to make to a farm house that's abandoned with the exception of a brutalised body only to run into Ben, another person on the run and together they barricade the house against the gathering ghouls. Discovering that the house is not as empty as they thought, a struggle for authority quickly becomes a bigger issue than the apocalyptic events outside. It's clear it's not just the zombies that are going to claim lives before this long night is through.

Night of the living dead is of course one of the most well known films I'm likely to critique, it's one of the most clearly genre defining films ever and its influence is still felt today. George Romero and his crew put this film together for the kind of budget that would make any Hollywood studio laugh you out of the office but what resulted was a work that resonated throughout the horror world.

When watching this film these days it's easy to feel a high degree of cliché loaded in to this film. Much of this is down to the fact that this of course this is where most of the clichés came from as Nights influence

The story works in part in because not too much is explained, as so often is the case the atmosphere is generated by what you don't know as much as what you do. Fear of the unknown is almost always so much more potent and there are only snippets of vague information that we learn along with the protagonists. It's the utter sense of claustrophobic paranoia that pervades this film that pushes the focus towards the people and not the monsters that are outside. If ever anything was going to metaphorise the monsters of a movie it's this kind of approach. The zombies are not the defining feature of the film, it's the interactions and responses of the human characters that is the primary focus. The result of this is that we actually have more of a study of society in a crisis, it's a miniature version but all the parallels can be seen with more clarity because we can see the bigger picture in this small situation.

Night of the Living dead is certainly very much indicative of the darker aspects of the era of its creation, with cold war paranoia and the threat of nuclear destruction hanging over the world, information was scarce as to what was going on. It was a rather fearful and in many respects and politically a tumultuous time in the US itself. The brutality of the horror certainly resonates with the events and fears of the time and particularly, if incidentally, the conflict between Harry and Ben has parallels with the politics of race relations at the time. The characters themselves are almost a parody of society in their own right. Barbara, the girl from the beginning of the film is a rather, though understandably, hysterical figure, and while she does appear to be a rather traditional, slightly misogynistic portrayal, straight from a 1950's b movie in many ways, she's also one of the most humane as she is the one who is concerned not with the escalating power struggle within the house but with the welfare of her brother. She is though too helpless to do anything about it, this for me feels like the most real character trait of any of the characters in this film. The most notable characters in this film are really those of Harry and Ben. Ben is a strong, almost robotic man in terms of emotion, though his feelings are betrayed on several significant moments. The fact that he's black it seems was incidental, the actor Duane Jones was simply the best actor for the role according to Romero123 and that was the extent of the reason for his casting originally and this kind of thing is something I think happens more often than Romero would admit however it does add a incredibly significant dimension to the story.
[ text quote ]
"It never occurred to me that I was hired because I was black. But it did occur to me that because I was black it would give a different historic element to the film." (on being cast as Ben in "Night of the Living Dead")

The story, quite aside from the incidental racial dimension, portrays a microcosm of society as the protagonists adopt the familiar Romero formula of creating more problems for themselves than need exist. This is the archetypal slow zombie scenario. The zombies are the threat, but they are of course slow and ineffective should the potential victims keep their eyes on the real problem and work together instead of indulging in petty arguments about who's in charge. [clip] “you're in charge down there, I'm in charge up here”.
It's the tensions between these characters that makes the film. The zombies are very much in the background for the majority of the film but while the bitching and fighting is going on inside, taking the attention of those trapped inside, the fact is they could easily have walked off into the sunset, possibly to safety, if indeed it even exists. Instead the unattended problem of the massing undead outside the house is allowed to go unchecked until it's way too late. The overall feel of the film is one of deep frustration with the protagonists. Not one of them is particularly likeable, even the character regarded as the hero by most, Ben, is frankly as petty in many respects as Harry, his rival. The pig headedness of both these characters is what ultimately brings them down of course, whether this was always meant to mirror the way society was or is supposedly going is not important. It does however present a frustrating and illuminating mirror image of the world around us. Of course the interaction between Ben and Harry takes on a different, if incidental, spin because of Duane Jones's ethnicity and Romero apparently regrets to a degree the unsympathetic approach to the character who is frankly very often as abrasive as anyone in this movie. Given the time this was released it is very easy to read more political subtext into the film than necessarily it warrants, though this doesn't make those observations invalid, it does strike me in some ways as being tribute to the richness of the films narrative and aesthetic as much as intent on the behalf of the director. Romero has often struck me as being the kind of director that has a knack for leaving an open narrative, ambiguous enough in content but consistent enough in structure and writing to allow a lot to be attached to it.

His later works had a more thought out social thread to them in many respects, maybe Romero picked up on that element of the critical response and went with it, Night doesn't feel to me to be that deliberate or rather direct in political intent, at best it feels to me to be more a solidly made film that has enough openings for political readings to seep in and take root. Partly this is down in my opinion to the use of a very familiar theme of taking a bigger picture and compressing it into a small place. The conflict between the characters is a very recognisable thing and can be applied to many aspects of real life, the same can said of the casting of Jones as Ben and the conflict between him and Harry. Where there does seem to be some political leanings it strikes to a large degree to be less of a deliberate act on behalf of Romero than it was the product of the time this was made. Romero did seem, particularly for this, to manage to somehow capture certain elements of the social tensions around him, but oddly much of it seems to have worked its way in on an almost unconscious level and critical responses seem to have built upon that, adding to what in many ways was a straight up, though very effective, horror film.

The story and its implications have been well explored in other writings so I won't dwell any more on this well explored subject. Night of the living dead, apart from being fascinatingly reflective story of its time is a low budget masterpiece of film making, it's a masterclass in how to put a film together. While in many respects it is rather retro even for its time, it certainly has an air of the classic horrors of the 40's and 50's, it builds itself up slowly to heights that were rather unexplored at the time. This really isn't necessarily in terms of on screen gore though. Herchel Gordon Lewis for instance was making much more visually explicit stuff before this, but what Romero brought to the table however was a very dark edge. The violence and horrific acts are portrayed with a complete lack of humour and despite the relative lack of explicitness it's certainly a lot more visceral in tone. It's this marked overtone of utter nihilism that makes Night such an effective film. The violence may be of a lower explicitness but its impact is rather vicious with scenes of zombies eating the bodies of the young couple newly barbecued by the exploding truck, main characters being dragged off to their inevitable and violent deaths and even a child zombie murdering her mother with a trowel. What it lacks in on screen detail it certainly makes up for in the brutality of the event and the tragedy of consequences.

The entirely depressing and shocking ending is something that would have rattled a few people at the time and even to this day is something that mainstream studio works tend to shy away from. I've never really considered Ben to be much more of a hero than Harry is, he's more capable, certainly braver but not really that much more noble. If there are any heroic characters here then Johnny counts as one and Tom is another, both put themselves in danger with mortal consequences for the sake of others. Ben kinda loses points for being a rather pig headed character who makes no effort to keep the peace, in other words he is as much a part of the problem as Harry, and Harry at least had the bonus of being right in his assessment of the situation. Not a noble position by any stretch but the fact remains that they would have all been alive and with a TV for information had Ben not been so ready to fight. His frustrations are understandable and my criticisms of the character and his flaws do not diminish from what a great portrayal of an interesting and textured character he is.
The acting is well known to be a bit patchy in the film though, Judith O'Dea in particular is often criticised for her performance and while it's clearly the performance by a novice it does occasionally hit convincing note. For me she was not the irritant that some found and some of the faults in her performance maybe could have been avoided with some more supportive direction. To some extent the characters faults it seems were partly created by allowing O'Dea to be comfortable with what she was doing, the character was allowed to be more passive and less strong than the original intent. Possibly Romero could have pushed her a little to be more confident in herself as she does display some moments that demonstrate that she can be convincing in her role.
For me though this is a minor fault, Barbara is a old school horror damsel in distress at the end of the day though she does come through at the end for a moment.

The beauty of the script is that it is very simple, it's almost entirely uncluttered and is focused into the world of these people and these people alone. We never travel outside their world other than via the TV, there are no flashbacks and no detours from the situation other than to briefly see the deteriorating situation outside. For the entire movie we are in spitting distance of what's going on. The characters relate their stories and Ben has a rather major arsehole moment when he almost breaks down telling his story, then gets annoyed when Barbara relates her own. Perhaps budgetary constraints prevented the visual depiction of these stories but they work rather well for being related. Interestingly Barbara does alter her story somewhat from the reality, maybe this is a comment in its own right.
Romero's camera work and choice of shot is integral to how this film manages to build tension. He gets right in the middle of the action when there is any, the editing is tight and fast, the use of framing is imaginative and focuses the action right at the audience and virtually makes us a part of the action. In the absence of.3D this movie is surprisingly effective at making the viewer feel involved in what's going on. One of the most celebrated shots really provides both a three dimensional aspect to the flat image demonstrating the threats growing scale, it's a shot that not only gives us an elegant reveal of the terrifying escalation of the problem, it is an example of how Romero uses even the depth of the framing to its best advantage. All this without the need for pointless glasses and poking stuff at the camera. Even the aftermath of the truck explosion has us right in with the living dead as they claw and gnaw at the roasted remains of two characters that by normal standards would have been spared. Here though, Romero has no mercy for the innocent. They are cooked by the only means of escape and duly eaten like BBQ chicken. It's a grim world, there is no comfort, there is no happy ending.

Night of the Living Dead still stands as one of the most influential films of the horror genre, it wrote the book on what a zombie was and delivered a grim, downbeat story along with it. While the following sequels upped the game significantly, Dawn being probably the favourite of the lot for most fans, Night not only rebooted the zombie genre and infused the horror genre in general with a more serious and grown up attitude and reception, it demonstrated that the genre was capable of being smart. It utterly defined what zombies were until the recent batch of fast zombies came along, something which has created a lot of arguments amongst horror fans. Night, and indeed the dead series overall, is the most clear demonstration of the difference between the two, in many ways it has a deeply traditional approach to monsters, that they play most effectively when they are not just mere monsters but a way to mirror our shortcomings, fears and failings. Fast zombies will always be monsters, this is how they function. Howard Ford put it most simply when he said that a fast zombie forces the scene to become an action scene, and action is all very well, all rather fun, but essentially empty and meaningless. The Night of the Living Dead will endure much longer than the likes of 28 days later and resident evil, and spare me the comments of how they are NOT zombies, they're infected, just because the infected are not called zombies doesn't make them any less zombies than Nights zombies which also are not referred to as zombies and the living opposed to dead thing, well just check out the serpent and the rainbow for my response to that. A zombie by any other name is still a zombie. The point is that as a piece of film making it's always the ones that have more content, more going on under the surface, or as with the Nasties, have been immortalised by circumstance or are infamous by association , that will tend to last the distance. Night of the Living Dead will always be the definitive zombie film, even Tom Savini couldn't topple it with his version. It's simply low budget film making at its finest and the breakout of a director that would shape not only the zombie film genre but Horror films overall.