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Now in our sixth calendar year
PCR #280  (Vol. 6, No. 31)  This edition is for the week of August 1--7, 2005.
"The Dukes of Hazzard"
 by Mike Smith
In Theaters Now: "Land of the Dead", "The Devil's Rejects"....Coming Soon
 by Drew Reiber
Get Current With Bored White Kids....Cluttered Desktop Begone!...Fall TV Sneak Preview
 by Vinnie Blesi
Northeast High School (NEHI) Class of 1985 Reunion....'90s-Bashing Part 1,006: "Whatever" Boxed CD Set....Newsflash!
 by Andy Lalino
"Sky High"
 by John Lewis
Raffy....27%....See This Movie Now!...Happy Birthday....Passing On....One Man's Trash....Jaws: The Story, Part 28
 by Mike Smith
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Chiller Cinema by Drew Reiber

In Theaters Now...

Land of the Dead – 3 ½ Stars (out of 4)
I really don’t know what to say about George Romero coming back to his “Dead” series other than, “FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK! FINALLY! WHY DID IT TAKE PEOPLE SO LONG TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN FOR GEORGE! RRRRRRRAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! DREW SMASH!” There, I said it, let’s move on…

George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, as Fandango told me is the correct title (many times), is one of the most important horror films of the last 5 years. This is the real deal, unlike 28 Days Later, which exists solely to rework previous films – the Dead trilogy, The Crazies, Day of the Triffids – into a more comfortable, fashionable design, emptied of any disconcerting *contemporary* commentary for the unconcerned MTV generation and their shortened attention spans. Just about every character, plot point or action is a thoroughly weighed reflection upon national and international concerns in America that would be impossible to respond to in any direct manner today. Perhaps it’s because we’re still too close to release, but those of you who see this as another “Eat the rich” parable are completely missing the rest of the Picasso because you’re only using the most obvious of details as navigational devices.

Here you have one of the most subversive and potentially revolutionary statements to come through the gates of Hollywood, most likely unrecognized due to its complex layering of the message or because people just don’t look at film that hard anymore. Whatever the case may be, let’s boil it down. It’s about a civilization that overthrows its government when the collateral damage of its political actions result in a cause-and-effect national catastrophe involving the destruction of a tower representative of the economic wealth of those thinking themselves too distant and powerful to be affected by their actions. Who are the zombies if not zombies? Why is the zombie leader of ethnic descent? What was with the camera emphasis on money and fuel? Hmmm…

Now leaving all that analysis to those who will inevitably come to their own conclusions, how about the film itself as a straight-up horror movie? Well, it’s more complex than Day of the Dead, but still limited by the realities of time, money and other resources far outside the reaches of an independent filmmaker like Romero. The film is on high-speed from the beginning to end of its scant 93 minutes, further impacted by an ending that feels disjointed. This is partially attributed to budget concerns, making it a little more difficult to paint a clear picture as to the resolution, but also somewhat of a cheat as it becomes clear that our heroes are destined for yet another feature films. Now, I loved the Dennis Hopper/John Leguizamo story and this film, but I will be the first to criticize anyone who resorts to a half-finished story in order to prompt the audience to support a sequel. Whether the feint comes from the best (Bryan Singer’s X-Men films) or the worst (Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies), it’s a cheat to expect your audience to back you up when you didn’t complete the experience they came to see. This took the film down a solid ½ star for me. However, Romero does acknowledge that the sequel is just the final chapter of a two-part, single film, so at least there is a stated reason for it.

The characterization was very fast and the scale of the film was the biggest since Dawn of the Dead, expanding quite heavily on both his zombie mythology and the world of the living since the apocalypse. There are quite a few subplots and basically two story tracks to follow, with plenty of characterization. However, it all moves so fast and comes on more subtle wavelengths, so you might not get it all the first time. Aside from a great script from Romero, his new cinematographer did a fantastic job helping to supply the compositions that will stick out in the overall Dead series. The soundtrack was great, with an actual scoring job for once as opposed to the repetitive garbage that guys like Hans Zimmer puke out for studios to place wherever or whenever. The acting was superb, with obvious high marks from John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper. Hopper decided to play his villain role a bit more realistically, downplaying his over-the-top cartoonish style for a more solemn, devilishly charming approach. He definitely came off as a much colder and inhumane person, a far cry from the unbelievable, yet highly entertaining monster that was Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead. Simon Baker and Robert Joy turned in some remarkably real and sympathetic performances, portraying two wandering western archetypes (the reluctant hero and his sidekick). The zombie leads did a great job as well.

The sfx was good, but suffered due to MPAA issues. Eyes Wide Shut-style figures are placed via CGI in every other second of gore to tone down the intensity. The illogical dimensions of the figures contrasted to the frame made it difficult for me to pay attention during those sequences without getting a little nauseous. A definite disappointment, but one that will be corrected when those composites are removed for the director’s cut on the DVD. As the additional six minutes or so also include more dialogue and a whole new scene, I eagerly anticipate the true version of the film that I’ll be able to enjoy for years to come. Until then, we’ve got another solid, true-to-form art house zombie epic that graced our screens on a weekend while we were bombarded by remakes of Bewitched and Herbie. I just hope that they understood it was never going to pull in blockbuster numbers and instead look to the growing support for the film in foreign markets and DVD to find a reason to complete the sequel and this franchise. Otherwise, Romero is back stronger than ever and I look forward to whatever he has in store for the future, zombies or not.

The Devil’s Rejects – 3 ½ Stars (out of 4)
Rob Zombie finally nailed it. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy what he did with House of 1,000 Corpses, but with this film he completely refined and achieved what he was always aiming for.

It’s a hard-hitting throwback to the Satan-worshipping serial killers horror sub-genre, mixed with the road movie and a dash of western formula. Gone are the irrelevant, intercut video sequences that resided more on shock value than any relationship to Zombie’s narrative, atmosphere or consistent style, replaced by video cutaways that are television broadcasts set to contrast previous moments of extreme violence or to build characterization or tension. These are the marks of a maturing filmmaker who may be well on his way to marking the genre with an understanding of technique to match his nostalgic obsession with the horror days of old.

From his gritty, hand-held close-ups to his capturing of stark, country landscapes, Zombie proves that he can use a combination of camera work, editing, music and even production design to put together a completely unified and nearly perfect piece of art. The script itself, at least as presented by this cut of the movie (submitted to the MPAA 8 times for an "R"!), holds a few plot holes and character contradictions that drag down a few scenes, but overall this movie is very close to getting 4 stars. The dialogue is superb and while containing wonderfully thought out monologues and humor, never feels forced or too smart for its characters. The remaining stars from Corpses – Sid Haig, Bill Moseley & Sheri Moon Zombie – show that they can improve and layer their performances with complex subtlety as well as the over-the-top delivery. They are joined by the ever-brilliant William Forsythe and Leslie Easterbrook, replacing Karen Black’s Mother Firefly in a brief but standout role.

There simply isn’t any reason someone shouldn’t see this film short of an aversion to the subject material and/or tone, which is admittedly extreme beyond today’s so-called standards. This is a film that works on so many levels, I would have no problem watching it along with what would otherwise be a marathon of celebrated films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left. And if this is the impression it has on me now, I can’t imagine what will happen when Rob Zombie releases his original, pre-MPAA cut on DVD sometime before the end of the year (hopefully!). And if that isn’t exciting enough, just remember that this film made its production budget back on the first weekend of release, thereby ensuring its financial success (along with critical). That means, rating it proportionately by cost/return, it beat the living shit out of Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay’s The Island. Suck on that, Hollywood!

Coming Soon:
The UK’s Neil Marshall and Canada’s John Fawcett stand out as two of the few filmmakers who have done something special with the werewolf sub-genre in the last decade. Making a decent movie about lycanthropy is a task that seems impossible to achieve within the confines of Hollywood genre houses like Bob “I love CGI werewolves!” Weinstein’s Dimension Films, producing dreck like An American Werewolf in Paris and Cursed. Breaking away from the need for big American studio support, Marshall’s Dog Soldiers and Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps proved popular on video and have since gained enough notoriety to further both of their careers and spawn separate franchises. The unique traits of these films clearly separated them from being forgotten along with the literal legion of bland non-entities coming from the likes of Dimension and Sony Screen Gems on the shelves at Best Buy and Walmart.

With Dog Soldiers, Marshall redesigned the horror siege formula, last significantly toyed with by Robert Rodriguez, Robert Kurtzman and Tarantino with From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996. Starting with the basic skeleton of Night of the Living Dead, he built one of the most competent horror action entries since John Carpenter’s heyday. The effects team decided to rely more upon state-of-the-art animatronics and makeup, rather than animation, providing for some of the most intense werewolf visuals in recent memory. Just released in the UK to critical acclaim was his latest feature, The Descent, now slated for release sometime in the states by horror studio extraordinare, Lion’s Gate Films. Yet another action horror film, this story follow an all- female crew exploring an underground cavern and discovering, you guessed it, monsters. Unfortunately, Screen Gems latest crap The Cave will undoubtedly ruin the market for similarly designed horror films, so The Descent will probably be discovered on home video just as Soldiers was. Too bad.

After a 5-year absence from doing horror features, John Fawcett’s The Dark will debut in Europe throughout the fall. The film concerns a family mourning the death of their daughter, who then discover a ghost with a remarkable similarity to their child who claims to have died 60 years hence. The plot sounds a bit too revealing, but then we don’t know much else about the film and won’t for sometime. You see, those idiots at Miramax already hold the rights to the movie, pretty much assuring that if it ever even gets a release (years from now?), it will be butchered beyond comprehension. Oh well, patience is a virtue and my waiting for better horror filmmaking to surface while the industry burns is starting to pay off, so who knows?

"Chiller Cinema" is ©2005 by Drew Reiber.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.