March 27, 2017
“I have a gun in my hand but all I really want to do is talk.”
Sometime during this season (7) of AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead the show toppled over its own hubris and died. “Jumped the Shark” as it’s often called in popular culture. Though leaping over an apex predator would be more exciting than the demise of this once wonderful show.
Before getting into it, allow me to qualify. I loved The Walking Dead before it even came out. Devouring the source material comics and any and all related content. Without sounding like a preening fan boy, I was a zombie freak before the genre became a genre. The nihilism and terror of reanimated corpses feasting on a terrified and dwindling population spoke to me like no other type of story could, ever since I saw George Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead at a drive in movie theater(!) I was gutted. Something about people “turning” into their own worst enemy resonated, igniting my deepest fears: “They are us.” More than just ghoulish, the undead delivered the perfect allegory for our overpopulated, corrupt and polluted world.
Now zombies, like vampires before them, have become a tired trope, instead of rampaging into our nightmares they are lumbering on pub crawls and into low budget, straight-to-video oblivion. The “Dawn” has become a great yawn.
But because of its superior characters and production, The Walking Dead had largely avoided that fate. Until now.
The show has become a sequence of two-shots and medium close-ups comprising lesser characters talking endlessly to other lesser characters. In other words a soap opera. Might as well be called, “The Talking Head.” No doubt the producers feel that people are what drive the show, not zombies, that it is the living who are the real enemy -an understandable evolution but one that has, this season, gone too far. Look, we all know that in the last (or second-to-last) episode there will be a big battle with evil Negan and his Saviors. But must every episode prior be so damn talky? When I find myself trolling the Internet during the show, I know the magic is gone. Sadly, I went from riveted to mostly bored.
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Because there’s no such thing as a terrifying commercial, here are two dark and lovely films to sink your teeth into.
November 18, 2008
“Ladies, Ladies…There’s plenty of blood for everyone!”
I’ve been a devoted horror aficionado since childhood, when I regularly snuck into the Parkway Theater in Chicago (now, I believe, a Lenscrafters) to watch wildly age-inappropriate triple features with my miscreant peers. Horror, Kung Fu, and Detective were the most popular genres, with Horror being the going away favorite. In many ways, my dark side was shaped in this grind house. Here, I became a lifelong devotee of Hammer Films, the UK production company best known for Christopher Lee’s canny and lurid Dracula. Being a 12 year-old boy, imagine my (psycho)sexual awakening leering at the scantily clad brides of Dracula as they emerged, always in sheer nightgowns, from their coffins in the cellar. I swooned every time one plunged her pointy fangs into each of the gentleman lured by wanton desires –hers, theirs and mine!
As I got older, my tastes in horror evolved to include the burgeoning Zombie genre. Danny Boyle’s “28 Days/Weeks” pictures are current standards, but, to this day, nothing compares to George Romero’s blunt and terrifying Night of the Living Dead. I defy you to watch it alone, in the dark, in a basement as I did some 30 years ago.
Much has been written about the Zombie/Apocalypse genre, especially given the spate of above-average movies in the last decade. Cormac McCarthy’s upcoming “The Road” should be a jewel in this gruesome crown. Critics rightly point to society’s collective fear of imminent apocalypse (global war and warming, overpopulation and pestilence) as reasons for the genre’s growing popularity. Undead people (often our loved ones!) relentlessly trying to eat us are at the heart of our deepest, darkest fears. Mine anyway. That and focus groups.
With this segue in mind I want to talk about a movie I saw at the Chicago Film Festival, now in limited release. “Let The Right One In” is about a bullied young boy and the special bond he forms with the little girl who moves in next door, who also happens to be a vampire. At times lurid and frightening, it is the intelligence and beauty of this Swedish film that make it stand out. Sweden is grim and cold and the two unlikely characters find certain warmth together, not to mention bloodshed. A lovely film. Go see it, regardless of your age, sex or temperament.
And for those who crave a far scarier ride, pick up a DVD of “The Signal.” Imagine an LSD trip with zombie-like psychopaths. And the psychopaths are…you! No mere shock fest, this 2007 low budget film imagines all of us as killers, our sanity undone by strange undulations emitting from our televisions, computers and cell phones. That conceit is not new, but everything else about this movie is. The acting and direction are first rate. I was blown away.
Trust me on both of these films. They are that good.