Before the month is over, I wanted to share this contribution from Vanessa Vinci on Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 (aka Zombie). Thanks, Vanessa!
Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (aka Zombie, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) is probably the most obscure late 70s Italian gorefest that everyone’s heard of and generates some fantastic Abbott and Costello-style descriptions of the movie itself:
“If I haven’t seen Zombi 1 or 2, can I watch Zombi 3?”
“Zombi 2 is the first one, there is no Zombi 1.”
“So Zombi 3 is Zombi 2?”
“Zombi 2 is Zombi 2.” “Then what’s Zombi 1?” “Dawn of the Dead.”
Thanks to Italian copyright law, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, the first in the Zombie Flesh Eaters series, borrowed the popularity of Romero’s cynical allegory and used it to return audiences to the voodoo-inspired roots of White Zombie or I Walked With a Zombie. After the chilling opening scene where a seemingly abandoned sailboat drifts into the Hudson (as perfect a horror opener as ever was and used in everything from Dracula to The Strain), the action shifts to the mysterious island where interloping doctors have been tampering with local superstition to find a scientific explanation for zombie-ism. Here, though, there is no witch doctor, no grand evil mastermind puppeteering the undead for a greater scheme; the dead are rising and both science and magic are equally useless at explaining or controlling the devastation.
Plot, acting, characterization and dialog aren’t the movies strong points. The characters are the kind of stock horror movie folk where the men stick around places that are clearly unsafe far longer than self-preservation would dictate while the women are prone to things like topless scuba-diving in shark ridden waters. The zombies don’t move very fast, but with this crowd they don’t have to.
Fulci keeps the stripped down storyline of Romero’s Dead movies but without the better actors. What he does use well is atmosphere: like Night of the Living Dead’s secluded farmhouse and Dawn’s shopping mall, Zombie combines the sweltering tropical setting with the relentless drumming score to create a world where everything feels fetid. When his zombies start rising en masse from a cemetery with their worm-ridden orifices it makes total disgusting sense because of course anything buried in the dense island loam would show the worst kind of putrefaction.
In today’s zombie-saturated pop culture Zombie still deserves credit for one of the most beautiful sequences in a zombie film and one of the most brutal. Eyeball torture is a universal fear and, unlike any comparable scene in a torture-porn flick, desensitization never enters the equation. Even Un Chien Andalou doesn’t have those squishy sound effects to amp up the experience. And that zombie vs. shark sequence. What an awesome, almost balletic interaction between two apex predators, neither of whom knows what to make of the other or even how to experience the other except by taking a big ole’ bite out of it. The scene is colorful, eerie and totally mesmerizing, like the all the best moments of the film.
U.S. Release Date: July 18, 1980 (Also released that week: Cheech and Chong's Next Movie, Honeysuckle Rose, The Little Dragons)
Alas, I think it's time for me to admit defeat. I've been running month-long, Halloween-themed lists and such at Cinevistaramascope for a few years, and it's been a pleasure, especially with the polls I've run last and this year. But I have to be honest - it seems that, between writing for other sites and finishing and promoting the premiere of my movie, I've fallen way, way behind on the '70s poll this month. So, I'm faced with two options:
1. Write about 17 more movies in the next 24 hours or so and post a bunch of rushed, subpar writing.
2. Publish the full list now.
So, I've decided to breathe a little and publish the full list below. I'll still eventually write about the remaining movies, but I'll admit that allowing myself to do it at my own pace is a relief. I hope it's not too much of a disappointment for all of you. Also, I'll be running the one piece I received from a contributor later today. Hopefully I'll have the time and energy next Halloween to commit to a longer project, but as it is, being so busy with writing and making movies that I don't have much time to blog is a pretty good problem to have. Thanks again for your lists, and have a happy Halloween!
Some of you may have noticed that I've fallen a bit behind schedule this month. I do intend to finish this project by Saturday, even if it makes for a busy weekend. However, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't relieved when I remembered that I wrote about The Devils at length a few years ago for the White Elephant Blog-a-Thon, so go ahead and check out the review that prompted comments like "Such a wonderful blog i ever read. Please keep posting good blogs. Thank you very much..." (from reader "Stockmeds Viagra") and "I fully tie in with everything you have printed" (from "escortsit.es"). And while you're at it, check out the campaign to persuade Warner Bros. to give The Devils a long-overdue home video release!
U.S. Release Date: July 16, 1971 (Also released that week: The Hunting Party)
While George A. Romero is rightly celebrated for his iconic zombie movies and the influence they've had on the subgenre, an unfortunate result is that his non-zombie movies tend to be a bit overlooked. One of those is Martin, which he made just before Dawn of the Dead. The movie is anchored by John Amplas' peculiarly effective performance as the title character, a young man who believes himself to be a vampire. The twist is that there's no physical evidence that Martin is a supernatural being - he can go out during the day, isn't repelled by garlic or crucifixes and, without any fangs, relies on razorblades to bleed his (usually attractive female) victims. It's an unusually character-driven horror movie, as we follow Martin as he stalks his victims, gets involved in a sort of romance, confesses his crimes to a local talk radio show and, ultimately, is hunted by his elderly uncle, who shares his nephew's belief in vampires.
I had an opportunity, at a Q&A a few years ago, to ask Romero about the movie (if you ever have the chance to meet Romero, he loves being asked about his movies that don't have Dead in the title). I'll never forget when Romero said that "I never saw Martin as a vampire. I thought he was just a fucked-up kid." This sums up the movie's uniquely chilly atmosphere - it's an fascinatingly subtle counterpoint to the garish splatter he's better known for, with the dilapidated Pittsburgh locations contributing greatly to the film's sense of dread. And the makeup effects by Tom Savini, while not as gory as much of his later work, still have the ability to make me wince.
Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn't usually listed among the decade's best paranoid thrillers, but it's as great as any of them. Transplanting the original's McCarthy-era paranoia to the Me Decade was an inspired move on the part of screenwriter W.D. Richter, as characters who suspect there's something not quite right with their friends and family members who have been replaced by pod people are instead encouraged to regard their suspicions as a projection of their own anxieties. As the city's population is quickly replaced, Kaufman does a masterful job of heightening the movie's own sense of anxiety by carefully including background actors behaving just a little strangely and other odd details at the margins of the frame, at first mostly unnoticed by the characters (Edgar Wright surely had the movie in mind when he made Shaun of the Dead). While it's less overtly political than The Conversation, The Parallax View or other celebrated '70s thrillers, it shares the same mounting sense of unease that, not only are sinister forces secretly running the show, but they're already winning.
From the opening sequence, which follows microscopic alien organisms travelling across the universe to our planet and slowly, almost imperceptibly replicating harmless-looking flowers, it's the rare movie about aliens that feels truly otherworldly. Cinematographer Michael Chapman favors naturalistic, largely practical lighting towards the beginning, only to include more expressionistic use of light and shadow as the characters realize what's going on. Along with Douglas Stewart's jagged, disorienting editing, Ben Burtt's sound design and Danny Zeitlin's unique electronic score, the movie creates an atmosphere of subtle but insidious and growing dread that still feels not quite like any other science fiction movies, then or now. The cast also deserves a great deal of credit for the movie's success - star Donald Sutherland (the most underrated actor of his generation?) and a great supporting cast including Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy keep their characters' anxieties frighteningly grounded and credible.
The first time I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers was late at night on TV-38's Movie Loft when I was eight or nine years old; it was the perfect way to experience the movie, as the movie's peculiar atmosphere did a number on my sleepy brain until I was suddenly jolted awake by moments like the fate of the banjo player and his dog or, especially, the final scene, one of the all-time best. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is fairly well-known today, but it doesn't seem to be as much of a Halloween mainstay as a lot of late-'70s horror classics, and it deserves to be.
U.S. Release Date: December 20, 1978 (Also released that week: Every Which Way But Loose, King of the Gypsies, The Last Wave)
Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, titled Nosferatu the Vampyre in the U.S. and Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht in Europe, is one of the handful of remakes I prefer to the original. Measuring a silent film against a movie made five decades later is unfair, and Murnau's original is a great film that remains creepily effective nearly a century later. But while Herzog intended to honor Murnau and his film with his own, recreating iconic images from the original, his Nosferatu stands on its own as a uniquely poetic and haunting experience.
Klaus Kinski's performance as the cursed Count Dracula - unlike Murnau's film, Herzog was free to use the character names from Bram Stoker's novel - is my favorite of his and Herzog's legendary five-film collaboration. His Dracula is neither as purely monstrous as Max Schreck's Count Orlok nor the tragic, sexy version played by Frank Langella in the big-budget production of Dracula that was also released in 1979. Kinski's count is truly alien, an otherworldly presence that inspires our pity if not empathy. In his scenes with the perfectly cast Isabella Adjani - the movie would be the ideal center of an Adjani triple feature bookended by The Story of Adele H. and Possession - Kinski is less menacing than chilling, as Herzog is less interested in the romantic readings of the story than in what would be the pitiful reality of a vampire's existence.
Like the ghoul in Fuseli's The Nightmare, the vampire bound to destroy any object of his affections and literally bring death wherever he goes. As in Murnau's version, Dracula spreads a literal plague, which gives Herzog the opportunity to stage an eerily silent apocalypse that ends on a more unsettling note than the original. Along with the movie's hallucinatory images of bats filmed in slow motion, real, rotting mummies and other characteristically Herzogian images of nature as threatening and ominous, Nosferatu is subtly but thoroughly frightening. Herzog isn't interested in big scares, and I know this one makes some horror fans sleepy, but viewed in the right frame of mind, Nosferatu is quite freaky in its own peculiar way.
U.S. Release Date: October 5, 1979 (Also released that week: 10, Starting Over)
At first glance, Messiah of Evil could be mistaken for one of the many forgettable, generic horror movies that played at grindhouses and drive-ins before fading into obscurity and an afterlife spent as a public domain DVD on dollar store shelves. If one were to just describe its murky narrative - about a young woman searching for her father who ends up in a town full of possessed, vampire-like townsfolk controlled by a mysterious character known as "the dark stranger" - it doesn't sound like anything special. And yet, like Carnival of Souls before it, Messiah of Evil is a case where a simple story is elevated by the movie's surreal unsettling atmosphere, which is equal parts Lovecraft and post-'60s psychedelia. As lead character Arletty (Marianna Hill) and the group of unafflicted people she meets in the town are preyed upon by the stranger and his minions, the movie delivers a couple of spectacularly frightening setpieces, and director Willard Huyck sustains the movie's nightmarish tone through its eerily unresolved ending.
Messiah of Evil is also notable for being one of those low-budget movies from the period that would prove to be a nexus of important figures in '70s American film. Huyck and his co-writer, producer and wife Gloria Katz would go on to co-write American Graffiti (released the same year), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and, er, the Huyck-directed Howard the Duck. Walter Hill appears in the movie's opening scene, and one of the production designers was Jack Fisk, whose subsequent credits include Mulholland Drive, There Will Be Blood and all of Terrence Malick's films. Fisk and Joan Marcoe's contributions to Messiah of Evil are key to the movie's success; the giant, trippy, vaguely threatening murals contribute greatly to the movie's atmosphere. Cinematographer Stephen Katz also deserves a lot of credit, particularly for the movie's best-known scene, as he uses the harsh flourescent lighting of a supermarket to turn the familiar suddenly threatening. The best compliment I can give Messiah of Evil is that I watched a fullscreen version of the movie with washed-out colors to write this, and yet its images got under my skin anyway; I'm looking forward to eventually checking out Code Red's widescreen release of the movie, as I suspect I'll grow to love it.