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Posted on May 17, 2017

Why You Should Watch Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies

Dawn

If you haven’t watched the 1966 Hammer film, The Plague of the Zombies (John Gilling), you should. Much of it is fairly standard Hammer fare—set in the nineteenth century, stagey dialogue, filmed on artificial sets—but it has moments of real power, and it’s an important entry in the zombie tradition.

The Plague of the Zombies is a crucial link between the zombie revolution that was about to hit the screens two years later—in George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead—and the zombie films of the 1930s and 1940s, which drew up Haitian lore and in which zombies were mindless bodies under the control of an evil (white) man.

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Posted on May 5, 2017

Roadkill: Art or Exploitation?

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Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) famously opens (after the credit sequence) with what has to be one of the most famous shots of roadkill in horror—a dead armadillo on a hot Texas highway. The shot is an establishing shot, but it also predicts something of what is to come. The young and attractive main characters, speeding past the charnel houses of a forgotten part of Texas, will soon find other kinds of “animals” who have been left behind by civilization, abandoned by the side of the road of progress. And then they themselves will also become a kind of roadkill.

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Posted on April 22, 2017

Phoenix Forgotten

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PG-13                80 mins.             Justin Barber           USA         2017

I loved Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project when it first came out in 1999, and I’ve remained a staunch fan ever since. That interest has spilled over onto the found-footage subgenre of horror more generally, and I’m willing to forgive a lot (Why is she still filming what’s going on?) to see what  directors can offer in the way of innovation. Sometimes I’ve been pleasantly surprised: Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007), Paranormal Activity 2 (Tod Williams, 2010), Willow Creek (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2013), Creep (Patrick Brice, 2014), and The Break-In (Justin Doescher, 2016) are all worthy horror films. I was excited, then, to hear about Phoenix Forgotten, directed by Justin Barber and written by Barber and T. S. Nowlin and released on April 21, 2017. Found-footage horror was at the theater again—and previews looked promising. Phoenix Forgotten seemed self-consciously to recognize its famous 1999 antecedent, with the billboard prominently featuring three missing teens. Could this be the film to re-create what Myrick and Sánchez accomplished almost twenty years ago?

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Posted on April 12, 2017

Bokeh: Purposeless Beauty

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NR      92 mins.          Geoffrey Orthwein & Andrew Sullivan         USA                2017

Bokeh is a beautiful film, shot on location in a deserted Iceland. It’s worth watching solely for the landscape and the cinematography (by Joe Lindsay), yet there is more than that to Bokeh. Not least, it stars the talented Maika Monroe (The Guest [2014], It Follows [2014]) as well as Matt O’Leary, playing characters who respond in entirely different ways to the cataclysm that strikes them and without whose undeniable abilities the film would have fallen flat, left to depend only on its landscapes.

The film follows a young couple, Jenai and Riley, who are on a dream vacation (Riley’s dream) in Iceland. They wake up one day to find that everyone in the town, indeed seemingly everyone on the planet, is gone. The film is not about the event itself—there’s a flash in the sky and that’s it: the event is not dramatized and it’s not explained. Instead, the film is about what Jenai and Riley do once they’ve discovered that they are utterly alone and far from their home. The power is still on, the Internet is working, they have cell phone service. There are just no humans left besides themselves.

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Posted on April 7, 2017

Chopping Wood in The Witch and The Amityville Horror

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Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015) is a horror film, to be sure, although most critics have tended not to treat it as a genre film, focusing on its impressive innovations in production, narrative, and cinematography.

Every time I’ve watched the film, though, I’ve been struck by the scenes of Ralph Ineson’s William, the Puritan patriarch, furiously chopping wood. He does so three times (that magic number) and each time he is more disturbed. These scenes stand out not only because lumber is pretty much the only thing the struggling family has in abundance but also because it strikingly evokes The Amityville Horror, both the 1979 original (Stuart Rosenberg) and the 2005 remake (Andrew Douglas).

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