Sunday, August 31, 2008

Night of the Living Dead 1968

Volumes have been written about the importance and impact of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

It remains my favorite horror film of all time, and it led me to discover my favorite book of all time, I Am Legend, which the story was inspired by.

Here we are, 40 years after the film's release, and it hasn't lost any of its potentcy. Though it was a regular feature as a midnight movie in New York, and on the drive-in circuit around the country, I'm guessing that only a handful of you have seen it on the big screen.

The trailer for Dawn of the Dead describes Night as the "classic horror film of its time." I contend that it remains the classic horror film of all time.

We hope you will join us for our prime time screening to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this classic.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Land of the Dead 2005

2005 was a busy year for us. We attended the premiere of Revenge of the Sith in San Francisco, went to the George Lucas AFI lifetime achievement presentation in Hollywood, and attended the premiere screening of Land of the Dead at the Palms in Las Vegas, with George Romero in attendance.

Once again, Romero brought us a thoughtful zombie film for a new generation. The living had become so overrun with the dead, that they had begun to ignore the problem. Separated from the living dead by bodies of water on three sides, and an electrified fence running the land based perimeter, a new human society prospers. Or do they - the haves live in luxury, the have-nots live in the gutter, working for the man - in this case played by Dennis Hopper.

Romero furthers his concept of the dead retaining some knowledge of their past existence by taking the remerging intelligence of the living dead to the next level. And he continues to populate his films with appropriate, feasible behaviors - such as the living using fireworks to distract the zombies so they can loot the formerly populated areas that are now in the land of the dead.

The film came at a time when the question kept coming up - how is it that zombies have become so popular in our culture, and yet the man responsible for the trend can get financing to make them. Well, with Universal behind him, Romero was given the chance to make his biggest budget zombie film. Unfortunately, being a major studio production brought with it all the related baggage.

As a fan who never though he'd live to see Romero produce another zombie film, I was quite disappointed to learn that the film would not be shot in Pittsburgh (where as far back as 1985 I had pledged I would go for the chance to appear as a zombie in a Romero movie). For purely financial reasons (considering the film was designed around the specific locale of Pittsburgh), it was shot in Canada.

I still find Land of the Dead to be an extremely thoughtful and entertaining addition to the series.

We hope you'll join us for George Romero's biggest budget zombie epic.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day of the Dead 1985

Day of the Dead holds a special place in my heart, as it's the first of George Romero's zombie films that I actually saw in a theater.

I recall seeing the film reviewed on Siskel and Ebert's At the Movies and then having to wait several months before it arrived in theaters locally on October 4, 1985 (exactly 23 years prior to our ADOTD screening). Siskel's dismissive comment was that Romero's latest film was all guts - no brains.

While the film has gained much respect from the fan community following the release of Romero's Land of the Dead, at the time many found it to be too talky. Frankly I think that is one of the films real strengths. While it is true that Tom Savini's practical visual effects in Day have never been surpassed, as with all of Romero's films, it's not just about another pound of flesh.

This time out, it's clear that the dead are in control, while the remnants of society have (literally) been driven underground, and are at a greater risk of destruction due to internal struggles than any external threat.

The film also features Romero's first overt indication that the mental capacity of the dead may be greater than the survivors dare realize. Bub, in fact, is not only the most interesting, but perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film, thanks to a brilliant performance by Howard Sherman.

Longtime Romero collaborator John Harrison provides an excellent score, and production designer Cletus Anderson not only did a fantastic job with the underground mine location, but made us believe that the dead in fact had overrun the world as we know it, in a masterful opening sequece shot in Fort Myers, Florida.

We hope you'll join us for my personal favorite sequel to Night of the Living Dead.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dawn of the Dead 1979

I was too young to see Dawn of the Dead in the theater when it opened. It played at the Cinema 150 not to far from the house I grew up in. As the ads read, while there is no explicit sex in this picture, it does contain scenes of violence that may be considered shocking. No one under 17 will be admitted.

I still recall seeing television advertisements for Dawn - something I thought I must have imagined until I saw several TV spots years later. The image that always stuck with me from the commercial was the zombie sitting in a fountain with fistfuls of change.

Creature Features featured an interview with Scott Reiniger (Roger) that Joe and I taped onto a long since lost audio cassette. A brief clip was featured, and because of that I've always held a special spot for the line, "Shoot it, man. Shoot it in the head!"

It wasn't until the release on home video that I was finally able to watch the film. Back in the day of 1-day rentals, I was so excited that I watched the film after dinner the night we rented it; I got up before school and watched it again the next day; and I watched it one more time after school before we had to return it.

I still appreciate Dawn for all it offers - a rousing adventure tale set in the world of the undead; the further disintegration of society and family; and some of the finest horrific visual effects ever captured onscreen.

While the 2004 remake is an entertaining roller coaster ride of a move, it lakes the greater substance Romero injected into the original.

We hope you'll join us for what is arguably George A. Romero's greatest film.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Night of the Living Dead 1990

In the weeks leading up to All Day of the Dead, I thought I'd take some time to share my thoughts on each of the films we'll be watching.

I know several people are wondering why we're kicking off the 40th anniversary celebration with the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead. Unlike the entertaining if hollow Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake, and the reprehensible Day of the Dead (2008) remake, the 1990 version was written by George A. Romero himself, produced by the original Image Ten partners, and directed by special effects maestro Tom Savini, whose contributions to the original sequels is immeasurable.

While Savini has often expressed his disappointment with the film, as it didn't live up to his grandiose vision, and he was somewhat hampered by the then still oppressive MPAA (who have softened on horror significantly in recent years - just review the R-rated Dawn remake for numerous examples of things Savini could not get away with in his film.

That said, I would go so far as to say it's one of the best zombie films not directed by George Romero in the wake of the original Night of the Living Dead.

Romero and Savini did a brilliant job with the remake - making the appropriate nods to the original throughout, and using the viewers familiarity with the original against them. With the exception of Barbara, the cast was filled with actors who were reminiscent of the original films cast. Patty Tallman, an accomplished Hollywood stuntwoman who also acted in the television show Babylon 5 and Romero's under-rated Knightriders does a fantastic job doing what Judy O'Dea was never allowed to in the original. She changed. She doesn't spend much of the film in a catatonic state - she takes action, and ultimately sets off on her own journey.

The special effects by Optic Nerve are top notch, and another Romero collaborator, Paul McCullough, does an admirable job with the score.

By starting off the marathon with the remake of Night of the Living Dead, it also allows us the opportunity to save the annniversary screening of the original for a 'prime-time' slot, for those interested in attending, but somewhat squeamish about spending an entire day with the undead.

Hope to see you all there.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

They're Coming to Get You!

If you're asking why this special event warranted its own blog, well, pull up a chair and I'll tell you a story.

Set the wayback machine to 1992. Vonna and I ventured out to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the first time. I was taking advantage of an opportunity to participate in John Russo's Filmmaking Seminar. Not only was it an opportunity to learn a little more about the ins and outs of low budget independent filmmaking, it was an opportunity to meet and work with one of the men responsible for the greatest horror film of all time, Night of the Living Dead.

Through this opportunity, I was able to meet John, who co-wrote the screenplay and adapted it as a novel, as well as Russell Streiner, who produced the film and performed the unforgettable role of Johnny. I also kicked off a long distance friendship with a local fan who came out for this once in a lifetime event, Rick Kastan, who I still correspond with to this day.

At that event, I picked up a flyer for another event scheduled for the following year - a Zombie Jamboree celebrating the 25th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead. In addition to assembling the surviving cast and crew, there would be a tour of the Monroeville Mall where Dawn of the Dead was shot, hosted by none other than effects artist Tom Savini, and a theatrical re-premiere of Night of the Living Dead from a pristine producer's print (or so we were told).

Back at this time, I was hip deep in Deadline Press with Peter Enfantino and Bob Morrish, where we were still publishing our magazine The Scream Factory. I thought it would be cool to do a theme issue on the Night anniversary in time for the show, and Bob had the wisdom to suggest we do an entire issue devoted to Night and zombies in fiction in film in the wake of the classic.

I coordinated with the promoter of the show to swap a stack of the anniversary special for a VIP access pass, and spent the better part of the next year assembling and/or writing content for the issue. I wrote an editorial, which you can read here, as well as a detailed analysis on the variant versions of Romero's Dead trilogy (which you can read here). I contacted Joe Bob Briggs and got his permission to reprint his review of the remake of Night, as well as a transcript of a cast reunion that he had coordinated for his show Monstervision (ask me someday about my tenure on the horror committee of Joe Bob's Board of Drive-In Movie Experts). Joe (my brother, not Bob, as in Joe Bob) helped me track down a copy of Roger Ebert's infamous Reader's Digest article decrying the films effect on young children in the audience at a matinee he attended. After clearing permissions with Reader's Digest and the Chicago Sun Times, Roger himself allowed us to reproduce it along with his thoughts 25 years later. We also were able to reprint the few extant pieces of Steve Bissette artwork created for a Night comic adaptation that was ultimately completed by someone far less proficient.

So we ambled back to Pittsburgh for the Zombie Jamboree in 1993 and had a great time meeting cast and crew alike, giving out copies of our tribute magazine to one and all. Meeting George Romero was a thrill I will never forget - he signed anything and everything brought before him for free, took pictures with fans, and I doubt got up for more than a quick bathroom break for the bulk of the convention. He said in so many words that he was not about to let down anyone who had come out just to meet him. Awesome guy. It was great to reconnect with John Russo and Russ Streiner, and meet several other cast members for the first time. Judith O'Dea was a sweetheart, very gracious and appreciative of her fans. Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman were great, too - they had taken advantage of the opportunity to make some props available to the fans, and in one of my greatest regrets, I didn't purchase a scrapbook that they put together with photos, notes and other production ephemera. Keith Wayne was a kick - he actually wouldn't sign anything for me unless I agreed to sign the copy of the tribute magazine for him. I was honestly shocked and saddened to hear he took his own life a few years later, as he seemed genuinely excited to be remembered for something he had all but forgotten. Kyra Schon was also wonderful, and I'm honored to have had the pleasure of seeing her again through the years, when in Pittsburgh visiting another good friend and Romero aficionado, Christian Stavrakis. Bill Hinzman, who portrayed the film's first zombie, was also great fun. Unfortunately Judith Ridley was unable to attend the event, and of course the late Duane Jones was present in spirit. It was a weekend of memories that I will never forget.

Tom Savini toured us around the Monroeville Mall, starting in the food court that had previously been the ice rink seen in the film. It was a great way to be introduced to the location. While much had changed in the 15 years since Dawn of the Dead had been shot there, there were still telltale signs that were immediately recognizable to fans of the film. The theatrical re-premiere was a major disappointment, and I'm sure an embarrassment to the cast and crew in attendance, as it was far from a pristine print, with a hole burned in it for the first several minutes. My original 16mm print back home looked better by comparison. That said, just the fact that I was watching the film within a row of little Karen Cooper and the man who brought the film to life was more than worth it. And this show would lead to Elite Entertainment's once and for all confirming that this was no grainy 16mm film shot in Pittsburgh as they negotiated the rights to restore and ultimately release the film in laserdisc in all it's 35mm unblemished black and white glory. It was a great show - and I've got the bottled zombie dirt to prove I was there.

But what the heck does this have to do with yet another blog, you ask? We're getting there.

So back to 1993. The show is over. Vonna and I are in the Pittsburgh airport ready to come home. I'm flying high over having experienced a dream, meeting so many people I had admired and idolized since I was very young. I wasn't ready to end the festivities. I wanted to bring a bit of the celebration back home. I described for Vonna an idea for a party - a movie party where we'd get all of our friends together to watch a series of movies. What better way to kick things off than a screening of Romero's zombie trilogy. She thankfully agreed in spirit. When we got home, we sent out invitations, I worked up a viewer's guide to tie it all together. And that day, though I didn't realize it at the time, the Mad Movie Party was born.

15 years later, despite a few lean years, and the MMP is stonger than ever before, particularly now that we have a new home in the Slaughtered Lamb Cinema. Since I'm dealing out bits of history here, might as well mention where the MMP name came from. One of my early childhood influences was the Rankin-Bass puppet classic Mad Monster Party (if you're unfamiliar, shame on you - it's like the classic Rudolph Christmas specials with monsters instead of Santa and reindeer). Since 1987, my friend Joey and I had held an annual Roll Back the Tombstone Halloween party. Before Joey moved to Southern California, we had our last Roll Back the Tombstone party in collaboration with brother Joe and his friends' annual Dead Man's Party. The next year we re-christened the Halloween party the Mad Monster Party, and when we decided to do a monthly movie party, the Mad Movie Party just seemed to be a perfect fit.

We hope you'll join us as we celebrate 15 years of movies with friends, and 40 years of the living dead. This is why the ALL DAY OF THE DEAD event is a very special one for us, and this is why it warranted it's very own blog.

I sincerely hope to see you all on October 4th, when the dead will rise again.