Edition #3 looks at some great horror v. non-horror comparisons + some popular horror paralleling each other.
Ten slasher recommendations worthy of your Halloween marathons this season
The House by the Cemetery. 1981. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Lucio Fulci/Giorgio Mariuzzo/Dardano Sacchetti, from a story by Elisa Livia Briganti.
Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Anioa Pieroni, Giovannia Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Dora, Gianpaolo Saccarola and Carlo De Mejo. Fulvia Film. Rated R. 87 minutes.
I came to Lucio Fulci about ten years ago, after seeing City of the Living Dead. His classic look, the effects, an insanely nasty sense of style – how could I not enjoy his films? After that one, I found The Beyond, which is tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as my favourite of his work. So I made my way through everything by him I could find. Though his movies aren’t perfect, I find them perfect for me, for horror. They’re not full of grand metaphor, they aren’t even particularly complex in plot. What Fulci offers is a visually pleasing aesthetic, crossed with the brutal qualities of his own personal horror movie madness.
The House by the Cemetery isn’t his best, though, it’s nowhere near his worst. While many might have you believe it’s overrated, or that it’s “typical Fulci”, I say that’s nonsense. Especially those who think it’s “typical” of him – what’s wrong with typical Fulci? He’s a classic horror filmmaker, his style is all his own. Added to that, there are always solid gore effects, you can count on that. This film has all the earmarks of Fulci with a bit of inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and other sources.
Essentially, this is Fulci’s version of the haunted house horror.
Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco/Catriona MacColl), along with their young boy Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move into a home belonging to a colleague of Norman’s who committed suicide; he plans on researching the house itself, as well as the other previous owners. Soon enough, Bob sees a young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina), but only he can see her. She tries to warn him of the danger in the house. No one will believe him, certainly not his mother. Eventually a woman comes to take the position of babysitter for Bob – Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up out of nowhere for the job.
Things slowly get scarier in the old house, as Norma and Lucy discover a Dr. Freudstein once lived in their new home, around the turn of the century. He was a Victorian era doctor who performed illegal surgeries and experiments. This leads to more gruesome discoveries around the property, as the past comes alive and tears its way into the present.
When the movie’s filmed in English, yet still dubbed in post-production for some odd reason, you can’t expect it to be an outright masterpiece. Can you? No. So, when you watch The House by the Cemetery I’m not saying you’ll be blown away by all the technical aspects. Nor am I saying the story makes perfect and complete sense. Not in the slightest. What I am saying is that Fulci manages to do excitingly eerie things with atmosphere, as well as the fact he does his best to include some proper gore to wet the whistle of all those gore hounds out there.
My favourite part of this film is that atmosphere. The overall tone is grim. There’s something common to Fulci, I think. Every movie feels hopeless, not an ounce of actual happiness and figurative light manages to make its way into these stories he tells. Which is perfect for horror, and why I’m always inclined to enjoy so many of his films. The House by the Cemetery has the pretense of having those happier moments in the beginning, but the immediacy in Fulci’s presentation of the horror going on inside the house sets the tone quickly. It reminds me of how George Romero starts Day of the Dead with that neat, brief little dream sequence; sets us on edge from the start, almost like a visual manifesto. From there, Fulci works on us with his imagery alongside an unusual and exciting score from Walter Rizzati. The aesthetic of the film is, again, very Fulci.
I mean, even the scene where Norman (Paolo Malco) gets attacked by a bat becomes something intensely horrific. It latches onto his hand for what seems like ages. Finally, after a tough wrestle with it as everyone watches in horror, Norman stabs the things, blood pumping everywhere. The mark it leaves is savage. Such a normal event like finding a bat in the basement – something which happens plenty to people around the world – transforms into the stuff of nightmares. Such is the power of Fulci. He doesn’t have to be doing anything extraordinary in terms of plot or story in order to make things interesting, or in this case pretty nasty.
I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the story, like the plot is completely nonsensical. Not sure why so many complaints. There’s not much going on here to really need to comprehend. It’s a haunted house style horror movie, there are reanimated corpses in the house – chaos and supernatural terror ensue. What’s so tough to get? Not saying that everything is tied up into neat little packages and the screenplay rounds off every edge it fashions. But seriously – I don’t get the labels of incoherent other reviews have put out there. Does not make sense. There’s a surreal nature to this creepy house of Fulci’s, I feel The House by the Cemetery is like a fever dream full of haunting images. As I said earlier, this is like the past meets the present. The visceral entities of the house’s past come alive to keep taking lives, to keep Dr. Freudstein in business and corpses for experimentation, surely. Is that not the whole point? Just can’t get my head around why people feel the need to criticize Fulci here when the movie isn’t trying to be anything more than it is: a creepfest with nasty kills and a grim tone.
Despite all my love for this Lucio Fulci film, I do find a lot of the acting – aside from Catriona MacColl who is always fabulous – pretty damn bothersome, and tiring most of the time. Regardless, I still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. It’s got a nice dose of gore, the typically awesome and gnarly horror expected of Fulci. Not only that, the story is creepy enough to keep things going; no matter what people say about its supposed incoherence. Mainly, it’s just not an overly complex plot or anything. It has the goods to satisfy a haunted house movie craving, on top of that the blood and vicious bits will keep the hounds at bay. Not Fulci’s top horror, but like I said it’s light years away from being the worst. This is a good flick for Halloween and it’s a generally good one to take in if you’re getting into Fulci, or if you’re into him and have yet to see it because of Negative Nancies and Davie Downers saying this is overrated, or yadda yadda whatever else they say. Judge for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear other perspectives, as long as you’re civil – then this Dude abides.
Without going for too many of the obvious choices, I wanted to come up with another list of horror for the Halloween season.
Opting to go with anything from traditional zombies to the Romero zombie to infection films and so on, there should be something for everybody on this list. Maybe the more seasoned horror veterans out there have seen just about all of these. But I’m hoping those of you out there looking for a few good flicks to indulge during the lead-up to Halloween might get a good new scare for yourselves and find something new.
These aren’t in any kind of order, just in a list. I’m not saying these are all my favourites either, though, I’ll let you know which ones I love most.
Nightmare City (1980)
For a full review, click here.
This Umberto Lenzi classic is the genesis for fast zombies. It’s been said already – the remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? Would never have been without Lenzi. Sure, someone would have made zombies fast in a cool way, but I still think Zack Snyder owes a ton to Lenzi’s film. There’s something about this one that will get you from the star. Immediately, there’s a sense of chaos, and then the streets are flowing the undead, moving at a face past, fighting the living.
When it comes to zombie films, fast or not, Nightmare City packs the goods. This is a real great movie to put on and watch with a few people or a big group, as you’ll be hooting and hollering at some of the undead action going down under direction of a master like Lenzi.
Day of the Dead (1985)
For a full review, click here.
It’s hard to pick a favourite out of George A. Romero’s films, even considering his others outside of the Dead films; The Crazies and Martin are both pretty excellent, more so the latter, and Creepshow is a wonderful collaboration between him and Stephen King.
But honestly, even above the two previously amazing films, Day of the Dead is my favourite of Romero’s zombie work. There’s something truly dystopian for me above this one. As always, the plot keeps things claustrophobic, even worse the characters are in an underground military base. The best, though, is Bub – Romero introduces a zombie who has essentially been taught, like a primitive human or an animal, to respond and do things more than just eat brains. And if you look at the progression of Romero’s zombie series, include Land of the Dead and how active the zombies become there, I find there’s a lot to enjoy. Plus, you get cool imagery, a great colour scheme as is always the case with Romero, and lots of zombie goodness.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
For a full review, click here.
Lucio Fulci will often turn up on any horror list I make. Not because I think his films are all the best made, though some I think are fucking incredible, but mostly it’s because Fulci swings for the fences on just about horror film he’s made.
In City of the Living Dead there are a bunch of practical horror effects which are going to blow your face off. While I don’t think this is one of Fulci’s best, I do feel it has some of his wildest blood and gore.
From throwing up internal organs, priests committing suicide and dead babies, to heads being torn apart or heads being subjected to power drills, this is one zombie flick you’ll most certainly want to watch around Halloween. Any time you look out and see kids roaming the streets on the 31st, it’s always creepy in a way. After this Fulci film, it might look even creepier.
Dead and Buried (1981)
From a screenplay by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon (particularly of Alien fame), Gary Sherman crafts a pretty unique and horrific film which you can definitely consider one of the living dead variety.
In a small New England town, Potter’s Bluff, visitors seem to be continually murdered and Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) is trying to get to the bottom of it. Unaware the other townsfolk have an idea about what’s been happening, Gillis may or may not survive the events transpiring in his own little jurisdiction.
To say a whole lot more than the simple plot synopsis would do you, the viewer, a disservice. Ultimately I’ll say only this – Dead and Buried has a wonderfully dreadful atmosphere, like a bad nightmare torn out of The Twilight Zone, and there is a classic type of feel to the film which makes it feel almost at home amongst William Castle flicks and the Hammer Horror catalogue at times. Perfect for a bunch of friends, but it does have a nice plot so it isn’t only horror-tainment; it also has some horror teeth with a solid script, full of dread and terror.
Shock Waves (1977)/ Dead Snow (2009)/ Blood Creek (2009)
This is honestly a pretty gnarly triple feature. A lot of people would tell you Dead Snow is the only real great movie out of these three. Me? Oh, I’d disagree with that.
First, Shock Waves takes us to an island where Peter Cushing plays a former SS Commander out of Nazi Germany, in charge of a troop of aquatic zombies. There’s lots of madness on the island, lots of almost gothic-like stuff going on.
You can never go wrong with Cushing in a horror, for me anyways. He is classic. Here bringing some of that class to a Nazi zombie movie, a precursor to the next film – Dead Snow.
A newer Nazi zombie flick out of Norway, this one sees a group of friends on Easter vacation in the mountains at a cabin; unfortunately, they run afoul of some buried Nazi troops who are more than happy to unfreeze, come back from the dead, and lay siege to the cabin and the unsuspecting friends.
This is a happily, unapologetically gory film, tons of splatter, blood everywhere. But it’s not one of those types of horror movies where it starts to get boring, because who doesn’t want to see Nazis die? Only Nazis, one could imagine. So get your fill here with tons of nasty horror kills.
Next up is another Nazi horror, though, in a vastly different vein. Blood Creek, also known as Town Creek, did not make an impact in theatres on a limited release, it hasn’t particularly enthused a lot of others since. But I thought it was a nice bit of fun. Featuring Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell and Superman himself Henry Cavill as brothers out for revenge, as well as an incredibly low key and make-up’d Michael Fassbender (of whom I’ve been a big fan for a while), this is mostly a good popcorn romp in the horror genre, with a nice dose of Nazis to boot. Fassbender plays a Nazi officer who was dispatched to track down ancient runes, eventually becoming a nearly immortal, terrible and undead monster whose entire being consists of consuming human blood, and other creepy, nasty, Nazi business. Don’t expect director Joel Schumacher to do anything hugely innovative, but throw this one on after the others to give a different spin on the Nazi living dead sub-genre.
I honestly recommend this as a triple feature. You would not regret it, especially if you’re looking for a group movie night!
[REC] (2007)/ [REC]2 (2009)
For a full review of [Rec], click here.
These are subtitled Spanish films, so those who don’t dig on that may want to move on. Though, I stress as I usually do: if you only watch English language movies, you’re not doing yourself as a filmgoer justice. Horror has some amazing stuff going on in other countries.
Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza take the found footage sub-genre and horrified audiences with their infection horror film [Rec] which takes us inside a fire station with a news crew, on a night when they’re called to an apartment building where all hell breaks loose; inside, an epidemic begins. The second film [Rec]2 begins straight after the events of the first, taking a GEO team inside the same apartment building in order to combat the infected humans that are beginning to swarm the entire building and threaten to turn the whole city into a massive horde of infection. But it turns out there aren’t only the interest of police and medical authorities at play, as the Vatican has their hand in things.
Both of these movies do found footage proper justice. So many of the low budget efforts in this sub-genre come out terrible, while only a small number are excellent and more importantly effective; these two movies are in the latter category. Amping up on suspense and tension, Balagueró and Plaza really grind home the terror from beginning to end. There’s a lot of scary moments and the zombies/infected are creepy as all hell! Love the blood and gore here, as well as the jump scares; I don’t often say that, but the jumps here aren’t cheap, they’re the result of good atmosphere and tension, as I mentioned before. Great movies. More for a solo viewing, or just a pair; you don’t need a crowd talking a bit here and there during these, ruins the mood. But you’d be wise to do a double feature viewing on these two movies – awesome continuity and you’ll get your fill of zombified mayhem.
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
More Dan O’Bannon, this time he’s directing.
Honestly, if you’re a horror-comedy fan (I’m actually not a huge one) and you don’t know or enjoy Return of the Living Dead, I don’t know what’s going on with you. I mean, this is just about the perfect marriage of zombie horror and hilariously foolish comedy. On top of all that, it’s slightly meta-fictional in a way.
After two bumbling meatballs end up releasing toxins from the government, which inspired Night of the Living Dead, the living dead begin to rise once more and the world is threatened by zombies walking the earth, tearing and eating human flesh, consuming all which stand in their way!
A classic entry in the zombie sub-genre of horror, this is not one to be missed. Great for a pair or a crew of people, you can never go wrong with this one. There is plenty of goofball comedy and lots of zombie nastiness to boot, not many as great as this out there.
The House by the Cemetery (1981)
For a full review, click here.
Lucio Fulci returns on the list! This time with a different take on the living dead horror movie.
When a new family movies into a house and begins discovering a bunch of unsettling, the house’s past lurches forward from the darkness and into the present.
Victorian era illegal surgery, zombified and rotten corpses, neck stabbings, slashed throats and decapitated heads – Fulci is in fine style here, a (pardon the pun) full-blooded horror.
This is a nasty one with plenty of the director’s signature style. You could also say this fulfills the haunted house quota, even though it’s more of a living dead horror, but still – lots to take in for an October evening, better yet on Halloween night.
Mutants (2009)/ Open Grave (2013)
Another double feature, slightly different; these aren’t exactly the same type of zombie/infected horror movies, though, I think a certain vein runs through the both of these gnarly flicks.
Mutants is a French film about an epidemic turning human beings into mutant-like creatures, basically zombies. The plot concerns a young couple, Marco and Sonia (who is pregnant), attempting to find refuge in a military base. But when Marco contracts the virus, Sonia has to defend herself against her husband, best friend and lover in order to try and survive; for herself and for their baby. So you get a mix of zombie horror, emotional and personal drama, as well as a good deal of horror-action throughout the film. A high intensity and at times downright scary epidemic film.
In a similar more personal sense, Open Grave starring Sharlto Copley examines the epidemic sub-genre of horror through the eyes of a man who wakes up, with no memory, in a pit of corpses, only to eventually come across a group of others who woke under similar circumstances.
I can’t say much else about the plot, and honestly saying that it’s an epidemic/zombie type movie is saying too much, but just know Open Grave packs a real good punch. Copley adds lots of authenticity to the film playing a very believable, real type character. But the screenplay itself is the strongest bit of the movie and drives everything, making this one of those horror films that’s really going to draw you and keep you interested, riveted from the top until the impressively tense finale.
These two movies would fit together in a great way for a double bill, I highly suggest you try these out even if on their own, though. Both a good and terrifying ride.
Night of the Comet (1984)
If you want an interesting, tongue-in-cheek style horror with comedy, then look no further: Night of the Comet is the film you’re searching out!
When a strange astral event involving a comet happens, much of humanity is devastated leaving two young ladies to deal with the few humans, madness, and zombies which remain.
A true classic ’80s movie, this one will satisfy a ton of criteria depending on what you want – there are zombie types, there is throwback music, there are funny women, and there is science fiction abound.
This is a lot of fun and I think it’s definitely a zombie movie, just in its own way. You’re not going to find a ton of gore or anything like that. This is first and foremost a retro comedy with horror and science fiction thrown in, but the post-apocalyptic landscape of Los Angeles and the living dead roaming the streets makes this a proper entry on this list.
The Signal (2007)
Honestly I don’t know how this movie hasn’t gotten huge. That’s all right, though. Some movies are meant for a cult classic status, in another 20 years this will find the proper appreciation, the kind it deserves.
The Signal takes place in several sections, taking place in a city after an epidemic occurs spurred on by the signals transmitting through radio waves and television sets, et cetera. One woman tries to make her way to meet a lover after her husband and everyone seem to go crazy from the signal. For her, it becomes an absolute struggle for survival. As her lover does his best to track her down across the devastated city, they both encounter their own trials and tribulations.
When I first saw this one I was blown away. The acting is solid, which helps put the plot over; notably, a favourite actor of mine A.J. Bowen does a spectacular job with a menacing character. Most of all it’s the mix of science fiction and horror I find real interesting. Lots of weird infected-zombie-like action happening, as the citizens of the city all start to just revert into animalistic, primitive men and women only concerned with fighting and killing the next person before they themselves are fought or killed. Scary stuff, but also there’s a good, organic love story built in which I enjoy – when the love stories are forced into horrors or thrillers, I find it so tiring, this one is primarily a romance honestly yet the horror/sci-fi becomes a huge part of it and makes this an epidemic sub-genre film, absolutely. You could do a lot worse than this one, it’s going to find a bigger audience as time goes by. Good one for two partners who want to watch something creepy while also wanting to watching something together: ideal for the pair who’ve got different tastes slightly. Something for everyone here with this romance-horror-science fiction hybrid.
Splinter (2008)/ The Battery (2012)
One last double feature for the horror hounds. This one is the ultimate indie horror tag team, two vastly different movies but very much innovative and lots of fun in their own respect.
To start is the 2008 Splinter – a couple find themselves trapped in a gas station with an escaping criminal, all trying to find off a virus which splinters the bones and insides of its victims, contorting them into awful, terrifying shapes.
This one is nasty and also has great drama going on. The splinter parasite/virus was so intriguing, adding something fresh to the zombie/living dead sub-genre. A fantastic indie film you really have to see.
Then, you’ll need to throw on The Battery, another hugely satisfying indie horror with a premise not always tackled. While still in a zombie apocalypse, this film goes for a much more microcosmic view of the dystopian-horror landscape: two former baseball players try and make their way through the living dead infested countryside of New England, each with their own grating personality to test the other’s patience. This one also has tons of nice drama, while it continually pushes into the zombie sub-genre with good use of the deadheads in the background. First and foremost, you find yourself interested immensely with the relationship between these two men trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic, zombie world. Second, the zombies, the death and the loneliness of the epidemic stricken world all makes this a worthwhile horror.
Two awesome indie horror movies which fit together real nice! A good double bill, fit for a solo viewing or with a friend. These will suck you in and keep you interested with that indie screenwriting, but you’re going to get a nice swift helping of horror to ring in Halloween right here!
Pet Sematary (1989)
Not all of Stephen King’s wonderful stories end up translated onto the screen appropriately. I’m a huge fan of his writing, yet there’s always problems with the films adapted into film from his work.
Pet Sematary, for me, does not fall into the category of problem films. Some others say differently, I’m pretty sure even King himself isn’t a real fan at all, but this one did a number on me, still does each time I see it again. Of course there are parts that could’ve obviously been better executed (maybe this would be fitting for a remake nowadays other than the endless films being remade which don’t need to be). Still, bottom line is that this horror is actually horrific; its tension is there, the atmosphere of dread pervades almost each solitary scene to which we’re treated, and some of the imagery is truly scary.
One scene in particular, involving the wife’s now dead sister, still scars me to this day. Even when I think about it (she’s in the bed forgotten in a room of their house calling out for help; she looks hideous like a person twisted into a monster), the hair raises on the back of my neck. And the rest of the film is pretty chilling, to say the least. Ignore a few of the flaws and you’ll find yourself taken away into a land of terror. The living dead angle of Pet Sematary is another much more personal, intimate take on the whole sub-genre, in a way only Stephen King can tap into so emotionally. Not all of his original novel makes it through in translation, though, I can’t say there’s any missing horror.
Here’s to hoping you’ve enjoyed some of these films before, or that you discovered them here/somewhere else similar and now have come to love them the way I do!
Cheers to a good October and I’m going to have myself an epic movie marathon over the last week leading up to Halloween. Check back for more lists and movie reviews as we get closer to that beloved devilish night of candy, fun, horror and mayhem.
A classic zombie flick if there ever were one! All hail Fulci!