Day of the Dead -1985-

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Directed by George A. Romero. 96 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on Blu-ray)

The conclusion of the Night of the Living Dead trilogy (the later movies in the series aren’t worth the time) is just as effective as its predecessors. The film manages to out-bleak even the original. This time around, the end of the world isn’t near – it’s already come and gone. And while the film ends with more survivors than any of the previous installments, the final shot is pretty devastating.

The movie’s most glaring flaw is Captain Rhodes (played by Joseph Pilato). The dude’s such a cartoon villain that he may as well have a Jon Polito pencil mustache. While Romero’s zombie films contain some lousy people, Rhodes has no depth as a character. Even NotLD’s Harry Cooper, despite being nasty and selfish, exhibited plausible motivations such as panic, internalized bigotry, and sincere concern for his daughter’s wellbeing. Rhodes is just a dick, and it doesn’t make for very compelling drama.

Tom Savini returns for the makeup effects, and damn, they’re fantastic. From the very first moment a zombie walks onscreen (its tongue hanging from what little face it still has), you know these aren’t going to be the meek, blue zombies of Dawn. These things are ugly and far more pissed than in the other films and are responsible for some of the best death scenes in all of American horror.

Aside: I get a kick out of John Harrison’s score. The tropical flourished may seem out of place, but I think they’re meant to clue the viewers into the characters’ dreams and fantasies á la Badlands.

(Seen on 2013-11-12, written on 2013-11-15)

Maniac -2013-

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Directed by Franck Khalfoun. 89 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Seen with a friend at the Arena Theater in Hollywood)

 If nothing else, Franck Khalfoun’s take on William Lustig’s 1980 slatterhouse flick Maniac demonstrates that the more interesting horror re-makes are based on films that weren’t all that good in the first place. For instance, Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks’ 1951 production of The Thing was decent enough, but it doesn’t stand out from its contemporaries in the genre. Its first remake in 1982, John Carpenter’s The Thing, improved the formula and is my favorite horror movie of all time. However, Matthijs van Heijningen’s 2011 prequel/reboot was a boring haunted house flick. It had no aspirations to improve or reinterpret the material, and it suffered immensely as a result.

 Don’t even get me started on Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.

 Anyhow, my point is that Lustig’s Maniac is filthy fun, but it’s no classic. And while this update isn’t all too great either, it doesn’t desecrate its namesake. Plus, in spite of its flimsy plot, it’s a very technically impressive film.

 Elijah Wood’s performance as Kevin in Sin City showed that the meek Hobbit / kid who dies in The Ice Storm could play a psychopath something fierce. Luckily, he also brings the goods to this film. Wood is seldom onscreen (as most of the movie takes plays from his point of view), but his voice and delivery is spot-on. Nora Arnezeder, a relative newcomer from France, plays the ill-fated (or is she?) artist whom Wood assists with an art project while he’s not busy with his own project of scalping ladies all around Los Angeles.

 Why would anyone want to make friends with the owner of a mannequin store? Creeps, eew.

 Two tips of a hypothetical hat go to cinematographer Maxime Alexandre and editor “Baxter” (that’s his full credit) for keeping the viewer squarely in the head of a, well, maniac. The off-the-beaten-path take on LA feels a lot like Drive, as does the soundtrack by “Rob” (what’s with these fucking credits?). Plus, making Wood show up in reflections and mirrors without seeing the camera must have been a pain in the ass.

 Again, nothing groundbreaking in the story or character department, but I think Lustig and the late Joe Spinell would approve.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-06-28)