Published at: June 22, 2005, 8:12 a.m. CST by headgeek
I’m very aware that my life isn’t like most of yours. My parents were social mad scientist experimenting on their bouncy baby boy. They’d been film students at the University of Texas. They were experimental filmmakers, Light Show Artists and Pop Culture Memorabilia dealers.
As the story goes… I apparently saw Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD somewhere around 60 times prior to the age of 5. As a result, I had a childhood fear of Graveyards and an absolute obsession with the dead returning from the grave hungering for human flesh. There’s a photo my father has of mom as a zombie showgirl, him as a zombie hippie gnawing on a hand (actually a real prop from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) and I was dressed as Dr. Strange – whom I believed through magic could control Zombies – cuz I’d seen White Zombie and that Dracula guy could control Zombies… Dr Strange was a way better magician.
In the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the scene where the little girl zombie begins stabbing in the basement… I’m told I used to applaud that scene. I wondered about this for a good deal of my life… was it hostility regarding my own mother? No. I believe it is because that was the first little kid monster I ever saw. It was evidence that I, little Harry Knowles may in fact become a zombie and feast upon the blood of my own parents… if bitten by a Zombie.
As a boy – I realized that almost all monsters were a form of Zombie… at least the really good ones. Mummies, Vampires, Frankenstein, Ghosts… All reanimated dead things. All kids at some point become fascinated by the dead. Hell, that’s a huge appeal of Dinosaurs… They’re all dead, well – till those scientist clone those red blood cells of that T-Rex and we all die of some ancient virus that the T-Rex had a natural immunity with and as we all die… The T-rex will feast on our cadavers… which hopefully will be animated by the prehistoric T-Rex virus that caused all the zombies in the first place.
I remember going to the Drive-In to see DAWN OF THE DEAD for the very first time. Still to this day – I’m just blown away by the Helicopter blade zombie gag. I just can’t imagine… no matter how many times they explained my absolute safety… I just can’t imagine climbing those boxes near active spinning Helicopter blades… Sure, I know about the wire and that the blades are nowhere near taking that guy’s head off… but, Jesus… what if a wind gust came… what if somehow the wire attached to the top of your head got sucked up into the blade and it pulled you up 2 inches into the path of the copter blades. Then… again there’s those kids in that building that get all shot up. I love it. The Mall, the music, Rog trying not to come back. That machete. The wheelbarrow. Ice Rink shooting range. Tennis balls off roofs. Flyboy getting to the roof. Getting away, but where do you go?
Then… then came DAY OF THE DEAD. Here the scientists and military begin to fall apart. Bub learning stuff… the first real zombie actor. Frankenstein teaching the zombies, doing Mengele like experiments on the dead to see how far you could go and see them still alive. Get in that ol whirlybird and finding an island mon. The nightmares, the shots of the city abandoned. I just love this film.
My fave is still NIGHT, followed by DAWN. The reason I most love NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD? It isn’t about the kill gags. It’s about exploring your options when the world goes mad. Stay in the basement, wait for help, make it to one of the safe areas. Rednecks zombie hunting. That last series of shots. No hope, no tomorrow. The end. Your brother breaking through the door wanting to eat the living flesh from your body. “They’re coming to get you Barbara!” And it isn’t about beautiful zombie makeup and the fetishry of death. It’s about the struggle to live being so desperate and uncertain and futile. I love the film. I love them all.
I love the commentary that we’ve all read into the stories. The conversations the movies spur in friends and in my case, my family.
I never intended to show my little nephew Zombie movies. That was my sister’s doing. His first Zombie movie was VERSUS. Since then, he’s seen nearly all of them. When SHAUN OF THE DEAD had it’s Austin Premiere, my nephew got made up as a zombie. Last week he shot his first film role… as a Zombie in Emily Hagin’s zombie movie, PATHOGEN, she’s shooting here in Austin. She’s 12 years old, it’s a feature film that she wrote herself. She first saw a Zombie movie at BUTT-NUMB-A-THON 5, it was UNDEAD – coming this summer. She’s since watched them all, digested them… and wrote a script at age 11 that was at least better than HOUSE OF THE DEAD and RESIDENT EVIL.
As you can see… I fucking love zombies. On average I get 3 zombie movies a month sent to me. Folks all over the world making low budget Zombie movies. Recently in theaters we’ve had a flood of them. Personally, I enjoyed the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, main faults for me was a lack of atmosphere and dread. SHAUN OF THE DEAD… so much fucking fun it hurts. Right now above my bed is the British Quad signed by Nick, Edgar and Simon. I love it.
Now – I know… I’ve written nearly a 1000 words and I haven’t gotten to talking about LAND OF THE DEAD. I’m digesting the film right before your eyes… going over my thoughts on the film, the genre and my own particular love for the genre.
I’ve been following the 4th Romero Zombie film since the creation of this site and before. Last year, thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse, I finally got to meet George Romero. It was a quasi religious experience. But I was terrified. He seemed so together, so kind, so loving of his fans. Genuine affection. He was a few weeks from starting production on LAND OF THE DEAD.
As much as I’ve been dying to see this film, I’ve been terrified of it. The meanest thing I’ve ever written on this site. The most angry, pissed off, near kamikaze mission taking fervor that I’ve ever been was when that rat bastard fucked up 30th Anniversary NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on DVD and shat it out onto stands everywhere. (Click Here To ReLive That Furor!). Romero can make a really bad movie. I’ve seen a couple of them. I just… I really didn’t want to see Romero fail.
I’ve been a fan of his longer than I’ve been a fan of any other filmmaker. To see him make a half-assed Zombie film… I knew he had been given a fraction of the budgets that others were making their Zombie films for. He put together a very weird cast… one that piqued my curiosity, but they were all actors with the capacity for massive suckage, as well as coolness. The one rock-solid aspect that I had complete faith in was Greg Nicotero and the folks at KNB. And… then there was this hope. This hope that Romero was going to take this opportunity and show the modern horror filmmakers that they were children playing in their sandbox… and nobody makes sand castles like he could.
I’m friends with most of the modern age horror filmmaking lot and the level of respect and admiration they have for the godfathers of horror, you can’t begin to imagine it. Filmmakers like Wes Craven, John Landis, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, Joe Dante, John Carpenter and George Romero. They were the guys we grew up with. The entire modern generation of Horror filmmakers were taught the language of Horror film from these guys. The grand action filmmakers also heavily influenced the new group of horror filmmakers – and unfortunately MTV too.
Watching LAND OF THE DEAD… you’re watching a Master revisiting his most successful subject matter. Zombies, Horror. Before the film, I asked my nephew which zombie he’d rather have to fight, walking or running zombies. He wisely answered, “walking!” Then, knowing a bit about this movie I asked him… Ok which would you rather fight – Running Zombies – or Zombies that could learn and use weapons? His eyes grew big. “Zombies can use weapons?” I told him, not as well as he could, but they’d learn. He said, “I’d fight running zombies!”
This film is in the continuity of the original trilogy. It seems that some time in the 1970’s Zombies happened. This film takes place now. Mankind has adjusted. Just as Carpenter’s future world walled up Manhattan and made it a prison. Here – they’ve done the opposite. The city has social stratus. There’s regular scavenging groups that secure food, medicine and what not from the surrounding areas. They’ve got an incredible vehicle called “The Dead Reckoning” It distracts and eliminates Zombies while being a completely safe all-terrain military Mutherfucker of a vehicle. It reminds me of the Damnation Alley vehicle. But ya know what. I think it’d stomp a mud hole in the new Batmobile…. If it could catch it. Heh. Wonder if Lucius had a part in designing it.
The film focuses on the working class warriors that go out into the dangerous world to bring back supplies for the fat cats to live their spoilt lifestyles.
Then there’s the other lead characters. The zombies. With DAY OF THE DEAD – Romero showed a predilection to explore the curiosities of the dead, their learning capacity.
In this month’s DVD column, I recommend a French Zombie film called THEY CAME BACK. In it, the “reanimated” dead… they’re back, they want their jobs, their lives, their loves, their pensions. They want it all back. They’ve got something sneaky they’re up to, but it isn’t really malicious.
In LAND OF THE DEAD, the zombies seem to be tired of the plundering of their homes and lives. After the initial feasting on the living, the zombies have settled into a form of normalcy of their own. The opening scenes of the film show this. It’s with these scenes that Romero instantly and clearly pulls down his pants and moons the rest of the would be Zombie filmmakers. The imagery is utterly magnificent. It’s Romero as Posada, Zombies instead of Skeletons. It’s peaceful… almost like George Pal’s TULIPS SHALL GROW, before the arrival of the Screwballs – making noise, disturbing even the tranquility of the sky. The urbanites come into the Zombies’ rural lives with violence, destruction and mayhem. They put bullets in the heads of their neighbor zombies. These pests are not just food, but annoying food, annoying food that just won’t leave them be. Big Daddy does his impression of Howard Beale and strikes out in the general direction of the hive of scum and villainy. That decadent brightly lit tower in the distance. It bothers him.
Now here’s the thing. These zombies. Seems these zombies have been zombies for a while. A long time. If the zombies in DAWN were already flocking to the mall, just a day or two after the initial incident. What would they do after they found nothing at the mall? They’d go home. They’re not smart, they’re just deceptive. Their intelligence is built on Cause & Effect. Like the hammer to the knee. They don’t kick like they’re used to, but they’ll get to it.
Romero has never made a Zombie film with this sort of scope or furor. What George did… oh god, how do I say this? He fucking did it! Ol Romero made me go nutz in love with a new zombie film. This wasn’t a regurgitation of either of the 3 previous films. He didn’t copy any of the derivatives. He made a starkly imaginative, thrillingly exhilarating and entertaining and fucking SCARY film that made me giddy as hell. I just.. I can’t express how utterly happy I am with this movie. To see one of my childhood heroes fucking nail it, when we all hoped he would. My nephew began clapping as the end credits ran, and just kept clapping till they ended. Then he said, “Let’s watch it again!” with this beady look in his eyes. Afterwards we talked about zombies, and how they’re getting smarter, but he insists he’s smarter than they are.
I can not wait to see this again. I’m so pleased. The gore had me flinching. The scares had me leaping And some of the imagery even made feel for the zombies, the people and the whole world we were looking at. After all, they’re all looking for a place to live, and they have it… in a horror fans dreams and nightmares.
Bravo to all involved. Starting with Romero and KNB and Nicotero – to the man-god Bernie Wrightson! Just wonderful George. Now, let’s see ROAD OF THE DEAD! Sorry if this sounds more like a jubilant meandering bit of celebration... In coming days - I'll have give the film more thought, but for now, I'm just awash with happiness. Romero did it! He really really did it! God Bless Him!