Survival of the Dead

I was all revved up to see GEORGE ROMERO’s new zombie burger SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD at the movie theater on Friday but I got distracted. Actually I think I was just wearing short pants and it was too hot to switch to long pants and too early in the season to expose the public to my zombie stems, so I stayed home. Later that night, at about one in the morning, I discovered that S.O.T.D. was one of those ON DEMAND “same day as theaters” specials offered up by my cable provider and I could watch it in the privacy of my own home while dressed like a deranged hillbilly. I wounded up saving some dough, having full access to my well-stocked fridge and enjoying the company of stinky cats rather than stinky humans…right on! I think I’m going to like this “same day as theaters” set-up a bunch. Will it kill movie theaters? Well movie theaters, in the words of LUNG LEG “You killed me first!”

So what is going on with this ROMERO chap anyway? SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is a pretty weird movie. Fans that envision the film delivering an expansive apocalyptic view of the further infestation of the planet by zombies will be disappointed at best. On the other hand, if you don’t mind ROMERO pulling out a magnifying glass and inspecting a strange little bubble of the mayhem, you might get a kick or two. At this point he does not seem to have neither the budget nor the inclination to keep unfolding the zombie map, so focusing on a tiny tale within his charted territory appears to suit him fine. There’s a scene in SURVIVAL that shows a zombie postal worker chained to a mail box delivering the same mail over and over again and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how ROMERO might feel. His latest movie may not eclipse any of his others but it at least it shows him pulling against that chain a bit.

I’m not going to lie to you, SURVIVAL is no great shakes but ROMERO really does deserve credit for shuffling against the herd and fooling around with a couple of game changers. This joint is so myopic and audience ambivilant that it feels like ROMERO by way of JOHN SAYLES. In fact, if you can imagine the living dead invading THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH and MATEWAN you might get an idea of how unusual the overall tone is. It should be said that some of the visuals really shine, I was taken aback by an arresting shot of some animated heads propped up on a row of sticks and a glorious/bizarre PATTI SMITH looking zombie galloping on a horse while skeletal branches wave overhead. It’s an overall crisp looking film that takes full advantage of the damp vibrant verdure that surrounds its autumnal island enviroment. It’s a nice change of pallette after a career of mostly gritty visuals (or maybe my HD TV just frickin’ rocks!!!)

The problem is that the story involving two rival families with opposing views on how to face the undead does not satisfy as much as the ones that satellite it and that the specter of death, the battery of a living dead movie really, is nowhere to be found. The zombies here may as well be robots; they’re so clean and acceptable and they seem to putter around like firecrackers waiting to be lit and nothing more. Luckily there’s an ace up ROMERO’s sleeve named ALAN VAN SPRANG who SPRANG my VAN ALAN every time he was on screen. His character Sarge Crockett (who we got glimpse of in DIARY OF THE DEAD) is a charismatic throwback to the “scoundrel with a soul” archetypes of yesteryear. He carries the film to such a degree that it wilts when he’s not present and his benching during the film’s climax leaves it kind of flat.

I don’t blame ROMERO, an older gentleman himself, for focusing on the misguided wrinkly patriarchs whose stubborn refusal to budge destroys everything that they hold dear. It’s a nifty, maybe too forced parable for the inanities of war (Happy Memorial Day!) that probably inspired the entire film to begin with. Still, it’s rather a wet blanket considering the stronger more enticing routes that he bypasses to get to his final shot. I was left feeling strangely similar to the way I did after watching THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, that I had just seen a passable “C” movie worth watching for one lone “A” performance.

It will surprise exactly nobody that SURVIVAL ends with the threat of yet another entry in the series soon to come. If VAN SPRANG is signed on then frankly, so am I. Here’s to hoping that in that next venture ROMERO will remember to invite that good old, worm-infested Grim Reaper too. A zombie movie that neglects to revel in decomposition is just begging to leave its target audience cold.

Traumafessions :: Reader Jay R. on Pet Sematary, IT, Silver Bullet & Sleepwalkers

My first traumafession was a shining example of what would ultimately lay the groundwork for my lifelong affair with the macabre and grotesque side of cinema. RAWHEAD REX was an obscure/ridiculous example of irrational fears that ultimately does not stand the test of time, however the works of STEPHEN KING namely PET SEMATARY, IT, SILVER BULLET and, to a lesser extent, SLEEPWALKERS.

Shall we begin?

First off the one thing we all must take into account is this I saw all of these movies before I hit the ripe old age of eight (it amazes me how liberal my parents were), but I still contend that for the most part these movies still retain their scare factor. The reason why I believe these movies were so effective is that in some way shape or form they all share in common either young people as heroes or villains and the fact that they flesh out the characters and how they react to the circumstances surrounding a paranormal circumstance, which adds to the believability of the events taking place. And they all share in common this; for the most part the antagonist is/was viewed as a trusted or loved pillar of the community.

STEPHEN KING is undoubtedly a master of horror however I would say he has cornered the market on what I would call dramatic horror, wherein the protagonist are not simply meat puppets being dangled over a flame until the inevitable flame roast them for our amusement no they are much more than that and that is what makes these films stand the test of time.

These movies all scared the hell out of me as a child because of the monsters involved, but as a 23-year-old adult they unnerve me because of the realization that, for the most part, the evil often takes the form of an individual that we take great trust in (i.e., a minister, that cute guy next door, your child, or a very creepy clown.) Yes, in their true form these monstrosities are sure to turn the driest pair of pajamas into something resembling the Mississippi River after a recent down pour. These movies play on the one assumption that we all like to hold onto and that is we can trust the people who are closest to us, and they all flip that notion on its head.

The funny thing is my parents who have been the best parents ever, probably watched most of these movies with me and I thank them for that because these movies taught me that yes love the ones who are closest to us, but never forget that sometimes even they may be the ones we should watch the closest (especially if they can turn into giant demonic spiders, werewolves, cat monsters or come back to life after being buried in an Indian burial ground.)

On a final note I would say that my childhood was a blur for the most part, but these movies and other film adaptations definitely stood as pillars amongst many good and bad childhood memories.

UNK SEZ: Awesome images above were found HERE and HERE!

Name That Trauma/Traumafessions :: Reader Ashley M. on a Scary Sheep & Spencer’s Gifts

Okay, today I had a total flashback of a childhood terror. It was a commercial involving a scary, beat-up looking sheep. At first I thought it was one of those mattress commercials, but the sheep was totally different. It was (as I remember) the size of a grown man, walked on two legs, and looked really injured and beaten up (I’m not sure if it was bloody, but it may have been). All that I remember is that it terrified me to no end, and I ran crying from the room.

UPDATE: NAME THAT TRAUMA SOLVED! The sheep in question stems from this Spyro the Dragon spot:

My other great trauma came in the form of a shopping mall store. That store would be Spencer’s (a place that many in my gang of friends, including myself, refer to as “the holy land” due to the fact that you can go into the store and by a bong, facial piercings, sexual paraphernalia, and CDs without walking more than ten steps in any direction), but before it was “the holy land” it was the “area of sudden bowel evacuation.”

The Spencer’s in our mall was (and still is) located directly across from Build-a-Bear workshop. In my childhood, Spencer’s was known for one thing; the huge Crypt Keeper display in the front window. Now, this stupid statue was about a hundred times scarier than the Crypt Keeper from T.V. It had the single most pants-shittingly terrifying expression on its face. It wasn’t cartoonish or even menacing. It simply scowled at you, disgusted, as if you sickened it. It was the same look that you were given by every adult in the vicinity when you did something unacceptable. I’ve even managed to locate a picture.

I didn’t enter an entire wing of that mall with my eyes open until I was almost ten years old, when they finally decided that displaying a horror icon across from a children’s store probably wasn’t the best of ideas.

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy

I’m not going to “review” the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET uber-doc NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY so much as just shovel heaps and heaps of gushy praise upon it. I don’t think there’s any way a better, more in depth investigation of the franchise is ever going to exist. In other words, if you are an ELM STREET fan and you are sitting on the fence about whether to purchase this DVD or not, allow me to push you off of that fence via wrecking ball. I had penciled myself in for the usual and what I got was so much more.

NEVER SLEEP AGAIN amazingly gathers nearly everybody ever involved in the series (most importantly JENNIFER RUBIN) and all the no-shows have been added to my shit-list. (Careful JOHNNY DEPP, counting ALICE IN WONDERLAND, that’s two strikes against you this year. You are inching ever closer to the dartboard zone!) This fat blunt is four hours long but it never wears out its welcome. A second disc of equal length is included with outtakes and a smorgasbord of extras and mini-docs. There’s sure to be some stuff you’ve heard before but there’s plenty of eye opening new info too (Did you know that Kristen’s mom in ELM STREET 3 is the real life mother of that hand jiving punkette from FRIDAY 5? I live for such info!) I have to hand it to directors DANIEL FARRANDS and ANDREW KASCH for not being afraid to steer their ship into atypical areas. Finally the nonstop gayness that is ELM STREET 2 has been officially recognized by its creators. I could have spent four hours hearing stories about that sequel alone.

Outside of the dream universe, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN stands as an interesting portrait/eulogy to NEW LINE CINEMA itself. You might even give the later installments of the franchise a bit more slack when you learn about their intense scattershot histories. It’s all around handsomely put together with stop-motion animated inserts and title screens and you even get a peek at some special effects and gore left on the cutting room floor. If you’re a horrible, superficial person like me you’ll also get the chance to evaluate how well or poorly all the actors have aged. There are some real jaw droppers in both the yowza and yikes categories. The end credits, which spotlight the performers delivering their character’s most famous lines is pure nostalgic gold.

Cliché as it may sound, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN is a dream come true for NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET fans, so much so that even talking about it makes me wish I had the time to watch it again. Good golly, it turns out 2010 is not such a bad year for Freddy fanatics after all!

Name That Trauma :: Reader J.A.H., Jr. on an Invisible Woman & a Head in a Box

O.K., the first one may be easy. When I was about five, I was at my grandparent’s house and saw a black and white movie where a tights and leotard wearing invisible woman was walking up a staircase. Then the tights I think fell away and it was just a leotard walking up the steps. It freaked me out so bad. I “think” it may have been an ABBOTT & COSTELLO movie but am not sure.

The second one is very vague and I don’t expect an answer but I vaguely recall some kids had a box and in the box was a face or a head that could talk and I think its name was Chico. I could have that all wrong but that’s what I seem to recall. Wondering if it was the INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from the ‘70s… The Chico name really seems to stick with me though.

Any help???

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

“Run, human centipede run!!!” Who knew I’d find myself yelling that sentence at my television screen? So I finally broke down and watched that movie about the not exceptionally sane surgeon who sews folks together in the worst way you can think of. I’m probably not the best audience for this type of thing because as much as I love lots of blood and gore, I like pretending that people don’t poop even more. Being reminded that they do indeed do such a regrettable, albeit (allegedly) natural, thing is not my idea of a good time. I admit it, I was prepared to hate this one, but thankfully the crazy doctor keeps his modern home so immaculate that I wasn’t as nauseated as I thought I’d be. If you had to be a human centipede, you really couldn’t ask for better digs.

I can’t think of any movie that swings from downright silly to “oh, the humanity!” depressing as often as this kooky contraption does. Even more startling is the fact that it serves up a few scenes of genuine suspense. No, I’m not talking about expertly orchestrated HITCHCOCK-ian suspense; I mean that frustrating kind where you find yourself trying to mentally will the characters not do the stupidest things you’ve ever witnessed while they’re trying to escape. Take note, I don’t care who the hell you are, I‘m not going back to save you if we’re ever found in this situation and I alone break free. In fact, I expect there will be a perfect cut-out Unkle Lancifer silhouette in the wall that I’ve crashed through while exiting the premises. If THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE’s main priority is to invent and subject the viewer to the worst possible way to meet their maker, I begrudgingly have to admit it has earned the coveted slow clap.

You’re never going to get me to say that this logic mocking movie is good but I think it might be anyway. If nothing else it is a perfect “dare” watch to subject sleepover guests to. This is the type of cult atrocity that makes me wish I still worked at a video store so that I could switch its case with that of MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY. Truth told, the movie balances the line of being truly disturbing but it never really crosses it fully. As in your face as the premise may be, your imagination will really determine just how much it crawls into your psyche. In the end I felt that the constant sound of (muffled) whimpering from the centipede creation was far more upsetting (and annoying) than anything I actually saw. Maybe I’m downplaying the anguish a bit here as I do remember there were several times that I just wanted to turn the thing off and reclaim my semi-cloudy disposition. (Tellingly, 1990s SKI SCHOOL was watched as a chaser.)

I guess you can blame DIETER LASER for my not bailing before the film ended. He is so over the top and intense as the mad doctor that I couldn’t look away. The guy doesn’t even look real. There were a couple times when I thought I was being presented with a latex model only to find out a moment later that what I was seeing was his actual head. He’s really so extreme and cartoon broad that he’s able to keep things from teetering too far into the grim. There are surely moments when you’re liable to find yourself sliding into the overall awfulness of the situation but his energy and bizarreness pulls you out. Ultimately, HUMAN CENTIPEDE’s well earned, sick reputation can’t hide the fact that unlike a lot of big budget horror we’ve recently endured, there is a positively retro joy of the genre’s grotesqueries stitching this freak show together. It’s really up to the viewer to decide, you can take it in as either a hilarious, obscene joke or a soul wrenching mediation on man’s inhumanity to human centipedes (and Rottweilers.) Either way I’d say considering its mostly rubber vomit aspirations, the operation is somewhat of a shocking success.

Name That Trauma :: Reader Erczilla on Savage Seniors

I love the site and still love that you printed my FRIDAY THE 13TH trauma long ago. I have to ask if anyone can name the movie where the elderly tenants of an urban apartment complex kill their land lords, and anyone else who gets in the way of their routine lives, and bury them in cement.

I always remember the final shot of a person’s foot sticking out of the still setting fresh cement. I know that it was shown on Showtime in the early eighties because I was traumatized and aroused by the “Aerobics” program they showed between movies. Keep up the great work!


UNK SEZ:: Erczilla, I know this one! That has got to be 1974’s HOMEBODIES, a crafty little sleeper that enjoyed an extended lifespan thanks to frequent cable showings! As you said, HOMEBODIES is about a group of elderly folks who protect their home by murdering the developers that threaten it and it’s a bit more grisly than one would expect. This is yet another film that needs to be rescued from obscurity as soon as possible. I think a remake starring the red hot BETTY WHITE is in order!

Traumafessions :: Reader George N. on Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s Judge Doom


When someone mentions childhood trauma I immediately think of E.T. That film terrified me and shaped me in ways I can’t describe. Thanks to the Internet however, I now know there are countless others who feel the same and so writing about it would be kind of pointless, because now it is acknowledged as a scary film by thousands.

So instead I will write about what is perhaps a more obscure fear, and one that remains creepy even to type about to this day.

I speak of course of Judge Doom from WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.

After BACK TO THE FUTURE, I loved CHRISTOPHER LLOYD. As Doc Brown he was hilarious, crazy and exactly the kind of guy you’d want as a ‘fun uncle’ type relative. Not responsible enough for kids, but manic and exciting enough to spend a summer on holiday with him (the metaphor is weak but you get my drift). So you can imagine how fricking horrible it was to see an actor who’d been entertaining and lovable in one of my favourite films to appear as THIS:

Christ, look at him.

The whole movie, Judge Doom is little more than a menacing, icy presence. Dressed in all in black with those dark, emotionless glasses, he was indeed scary, but nothing more than a relatively basic villain.
Then, as we approach the end of the film and he gets flattened by a steamroller, his true colours show. In classic Michael Myers style, his flattened, paper-thin body gets up from the ground with a new, high-pitched voice and he’s revealed to be a ‘Toon. He re-inflates himself and it’s all pretty intense, but not all that scary. The he turns around with those big, popping red eyes and screams and half the world’s children (including me) piss themselves.

The next scene is him using his ‘Toon powers to attempt to brutally slaughter Eddie, and eventually he is killed by the Dip and melts, screaming all the while.

It’s not just the eyes and the voice. It’s the face. And the laughter. And the idea that a cartoon, something that’s meant to be funny and entertaining could be so evil and murderous. And it’s the fact that there is no explanation given as to why he killed Eddie’s brother, you just get the idea he’s a batshit insane killer. It’s also the idea of an authority figure (he’s the Judge of Toontown or something) going rogue, which is still a fairly common horror device.

Overall, that reveal traumatised me to no end, so I felt I should share it with your site.

Honourable mentions also to WATERSHIP DOWN, PLAGUE DOGS, WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. Also the scene in THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER when the NICHOLSON-esque Air Conditioner goes crazy and just explodes. Its little burnt face at the end is almost sympathetic.

So yeah. I had a fun childhood.

George N.

Traumafessions :: Reader Harley A. on G.L.O.W. & the Skeleton Dance

I love the site and it’s become one of my favorite spots to pop in every few weeks during a lull at work. I always get hours of enjoyment reading about everyone’s creepy childhood scares and thought I would share my own vivid memory. I almost sent this in as a “Name That Trauma” but after 25 years of wondering I was able to figure it out a few months back.

My twin brother and I were fairly insulated as children and didn’t interact much with anyone other than our parents. Mom and Dad only had one or two “date nights” for the entirety of my childhood, so the simple fact of being left home alone with a babysitter I didn’t know was traumatic enough. I vividly remember that my parents went to see KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN during their night out, so that places the event squarely in 1985 when I was four years old (the film always sounded scary and became amalgamated with my trauma and stuck in my memory.)

The babysitter, as they often do, plopped my brother and I down in front of the T.V. but didn’t turn on any lights in the house once it got dark. This created a very weird, alien atmosphere in my house that was entirely different than the way my parents kept things. Then it happened, the babysitter changed the channel to G.L.O.WTHE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING and I saw something that absolutely scared the hell out of me.

It was a ladies tag team match and one of the women proceeded to hypnotize a member of the other team and force her to attack her own partner. She had some sort of black magic gimmick, and I was positive someone was going to do the same thing to my parents and make them violently beat me when they came home. To a four year old, this scene, both the wrestling and the hypnotism, were unquestioningly real.

Thanks to the powers of the internet, I was able to find out recently that the woman in question was a masked wrestler known as “The Princess of Darkness.” Not only that, but I found the actual match (The Princess of Darkness and Palistina versus Olympia and California Doll, obviously not dubbed into Spanish when I saw it). It’s strange to revisit it now, and I can see how it could be pretty unsettling to a four year old.

Another very vivid memory from around the same time period was that during Halloween my teachers would inevitably pop in the THE SKELETON DANCE video from Disney, you guys know the one right? The old black and white cartoon from 1929… I’m sure a lot of kids have been horrified by this thing over the decades.

-Harley A.