And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Zombie vs. Ninja (1988)
Hmmm...The Kung Fu Fighting Dead...now *there's* a show I'd actually watch.

Hmmm...The Kung Fu Fighting Dead...now *there's* a show I'd actually watch.

Sorry it’s taken me this long to talk about Godfrey Ho, but the task is somewhat daunting. Man’s got twenty-five years worth of movies on his resume, with over a hundred credited titles to chose from. Some are almost decent. Some are so bad they’ve redefined “bad Hong Kong action movie” for an entire generation. And some are so weird you’ll wonder if you ever saw them in the first place. One of those is Zombie vs. Ninja.

There are cheap bastards and then there are cheap bastards, but even the cheapest, most miserly Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ notebook would stand in awe of Godfrey Ho’s filmmaking techniques. Ho liked to take the money most people would use to shoot a movie, shoot half of a movie, and then splice that half together with incomplete films he found moldering in Hong Kong studio basements. Or foreign films bought up cheap from Thailand, the Philippines, or South Korea. This ensured Ho could make two, three, sometimes even four films for the price of one. He made no promises about their overall quality. And neither do I. Continue reading

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Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Bad news is, you're the best character in this film because you're not in it long enough for me to get bored with you.

Bad news is, Andy, you’re the best character in the film. Because you don’t have any lines. The less people speak in this movie, the fewer chances they have to piss me off.

The original Dawn of the Dead was twenty-six years old by the time this remake entered the pipeline. Its time had very much come and, in one sense, already gone. Tom Savini’s 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake celebrated its sweet sixteen by the time 28 Days Later broke out of its “low” budget genre ghetto, made it to Sundance, eventually broke out of that ghetto, too, and became a critical darling and smash hit…for whatever reason.

I try to ignore Spring horror films as much as I can because they tend to suck as a rule. (A popular example from the year in which I write – 2011 – would be the Scott Charles Stewart directed Paul Bettany vehicle, Priest.) January and February are studio dumping grounds for sub-standard, shitty movies they know no one will want to see. By March they’ve usually worked through the previous year’s back catalog and begun to ship out films designed specifically for home  markets. Christ’s sake, no one really wants to watch big budget horror movies in March…but March is only seven months away from Halloween. Time enough for a film (like this one, which “only” cost $28 million) to earn its money back in theaters, allowing ancillary sales (like seasonally-appropriate DVDs and TV broadcast rights) to count as pure profit.

Predictably, this movie became the early breakout hit of 2004. Not that anyone at Universal actually predicted that. They were convinced the complete failure of 2003’s House of the Dead meant no one really wanted to see any more zombie movies. (And as long as by “no one” they meant “me” that statement held true.) Anyone with a functional brain could’ve told them House of the Dead failed because of two key words: “Uwe” and “Boll.” Never the less, Universal cut every corner they could, going so far as to turn the cameras over to some jumped up car commercial director named Zack Snyder. Continue reading



28 Days Later…(2002)
"Would you like to see my mask?"

“Would you like to see my mask?”

This is another one of those apparently genre-redefining films that all the first-run critics praised. Most of the genre critics have since torn this film apart, the better to examine its undigested stomach contents. I was going to do that, too. But my fellow Cold Fusioneer, MonsterHunter, already did. So go read it. It’s awesome. And it leaves me free to do my own damn thing.

As my colleague noted, George Romero’s Dawn and Day of the Dead played Alex Kintner here, inspirations director Danny Boyle rightly copped to early and often. He and I share a love for Day of the Triffids, and while he’s never mentioned Geoff Murphy’s The Quiet Earth (to my knowledge), I’ll bet we both watched that at some point in the mid-to-late-80s.

Boyle was directing TV movies at that time, a job designed to make people wish for some population-flattening apocalypse. Then he hit what he must’ve considered “the big time” with Trainspotting, a movie about Scottish heroin addicts so honestly well made even American heroin addicts managed to work up some small spark of interest in it. For a moment there in the early 2000s, Trainspotting became part of a Unholy Trinity of Awesome movies every member of my small, real-world-based subculture championed, whether they liked talking about movies or not. Most didn’t, but I kept my ear to the ground and eventually rumors swirled that the guy who did Trainspotting was making a zombie movie. How could that be anything less than awesome? Continue reading



Zombi Holocaust (1980)
I get the scars and the one eye but...why the cat nose?

I get the scars and the one eye but…seriously, why the cat nose?

After years of sneering contempt, Lucio Fulci’s zombie flicks are just now gaining some traction among the mass critical community. Nostalgia goggles allow everyone to view things like Zombi 2 or The Gates of Hell as artifacts of a bygone age now that we’re slumming amongst remakes and sequels. Not so with Fulci’s contemporaries in the Italian movie business, many of whom enjoyed long and critically acclaimed careers. Careers Western critics have studiously ignored, because the only people watching Italian movies that don’t feature zombies are art snobs who sneer at the zombie films.

Not that there isn’t good reason to sneer at Zombi Holocaust; it’s nobody’s prize pony, despite being arguably the most famous thing in director Marino Girolami’s oeuvre. Girolami’s one of those guys you’ve never heard of with a filmography stretching all the way back to the 40s. By the time Zombi 2 debuted, Girolami enjoyed the kind of reputation you need to have if you’re going to direct films without Hollywood’s Power Elite. He was quick, but not sloppy-quick in the Herschell Gordon Lewis, Ed Wood style. More a professional, practiced quickness, recalling Roger Corman’s directorial heyday in the 50s.

Like Corman, Girolami found himself directing/writing/producing/whatevering a wider variety of genre pictures as the 70s slowly died around him. Spaghetti westerns, cheap action romps, what we now call “softcore erotic thrillers”; legend has it he was so prolific, distributors asked him to credit some films to pseudonyms, lest the market grow over saturated. Continue reading



City of the Living Dead (1980)
If only those were the entrails of the last politician...

If only those were the entrails of the proverbial Last Politician…

During the Dark Ages of VHS we relied on our memories and the word of mouth they helped shape. Tales of key scenes from key movies whose titles we could barely recall, chosen exclusively for their shock value, became a kind of fan short hand. If you struck up a conversation with some random convention-goer, you wouldn’t get, “Hey, did you see Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead?” No. You’d get, “Hey, did you see that one where the priest hangs himself?”

Yes. Yes I have. It’s Lucio Fulci’s follow-up to Zombi 2, also known as The Gates of Hell or Paura nella città dei morti viventi (Fear in the City of the Dead). And despite being filmed on location…in America…and retitled with an eye toward the desperate Romero fan’s money, City has arguably even less to do with the Dead Mythos than George Romero’s last three Dead films. And I couldn’t be happier.

Because, you see, it’s a Lovecraftian film more than anything else (though old H.P. goes uncredited) and surprisingly effective for what it is…and what it is isn’t very nice. Straight adaptions of Lovecraft’s stories often run themselves aground searching for the right tone: a combination of existential dread and visceral revulsion that seems to occur to Fulci and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti naturally. But like many a Lovecraft story, City bites off more than it can chew and ends on a somewhat unfulfilling note that just might ruin the whole damn thing for you. Continue reading



Zombi 2 (1979)
"I want to eat the heart of it...New York, New York...yes, sir..."

“I want to eat the heart of it…New York, New York…yes, sir…”

It’s an old story but I’ll tell it again: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead premiered in April, 1978. By September, it reached Italy under the title Zombi, because alteration doesn’t translate well and, hey, at least the title’s illustrative. I might’ve gone with Zombis myself, but nobody asked. Instead, hoping to cash in on Dawn of the Dead/Zombi‘s international success, Italian action/Western/thriller/giallo director Lucio Fulci gave us Zombi 2 the very next year.

Released in America in the summer of 1980 under the title Zombie, Fulci’s film (which I’ll refer to as “Zombi 2” from now on just for the sake of clarity) became a matinee and drive-in sensation. It’s another case of the right film in the right place at the right time, finding its natural audience in the English-speaking world’s teenagers. Between Night and Dawn, Romero managed to raise a whole generation of horror fans who didn’t want to wait ten years for the next zombie movies, damnit. We wanted them now. So what if half the cast have their lines dubbed? Some of us put up with way worse just to get our giant monster movie fix. Continue reading



Resident Evil (2002)
September 24, 2010, 1:00 am
Filed under: Movies, Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

"I got cocaine...runnin' around my brain..."Someone really should write an informal study of the aesthetic dialectic between Japanese survival horror video games and early-twenty-first century American action movies written and directed by Paul Anderson.

Resident Evil was one of the first truly bad games of the PlayStation era, an inexplicably overrated hit that would’ve been a movie back in 1998…if the effort to get George Romero to write and direct it hadn’t miserably failed. “Differences over the script.” So what did they do? Hire the director of Mortal KombatEvent Horizon and Soldier.

With a filmography like that, Anderson really should go down as either one of the last truly Bad directors of twentieth century Hollywood, or one of the first of the twenty-first. Not just your garden variety hack, this one: I’m talking “Bad” in the Woodian sense of an artist whose ambitions far exceed his talents, resulting in muddled, half-crazy films that nevertheless bowl you over with their over-the-top ineptness. {More}