Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Night of the Living Dead

Forty Five years ago this month marks the world premiere of Night of the Living Dead

The film is significant for a variety of reasons. It marked the feature film debut of George A. Romero, who would go on to be the most critically acclaimed director of the horror genre; it was an indie movie before the term even existed, and taught future film entrepreneurs as much what to do, as not to do when getting their film into distribution.

But mostly it may be the most significant horror movie of the latter half of the 20th century -both for the social message found here, and in the rest of the films of Romero's Dead series, but also in the impact that its had on the movies and television shows that followed.

Without Night of the Living Dead there would be no Walking Dead, no World War Z no Shaun of the Dead no 28 Days Later or any of the remakes of the original Romero trilogy.

The movie was not an overnight success. Its legend built slowly on midnight showings around the country. Because the film was an indy without major studio financing, there were a limited number of prints of the film to be shown in various locations. Worse yet, because all involved were new at the motion picture business, the movie was not properly copy written, and went into the public domain much sooner than it should have, greatly reducing the profits that all involved should have seen once the VCR revolution occurred in the decades that followed.

Much has been written over the last forty-five years about this movie. Some find its poor acting ludicrous and campy to the point that it can't really be taken seriously. Some have found its being shot in black and white making it inaccessible. For myself, I've always felt that these attributes added to the film's nightmare feel. Without the polish and shine of a typical hollywood fright film, the viewer is left with a movie that looks like someone's home movie of the apocalypse. For my money, it stands up with the best of Ingmar Bergman's psychological dramas of the 50's and 60's.

So without further adieu, here is Night of the Living Dead

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The October Country

We have entered the October Country. So what is the October Country? In his short story anthology of the same name, Ray Bradbury described it thus:

“That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

Its also the month of October, where we start gearing up for Halloween! And just as there are Christmas specials in advance of that holiday to get us in the holiday spirit, what better way to get us in the spirit of All Hallow's Eve than horror stories from movies, TV and books. So for the next 31 days I intend to point out (and post when possible) stories that have left an impression on me over the years. Maybe they're stories you know, or maybe its something new to you. Hopefully you'll find something here that is worth your while.

So...I come from a family that likes scary movie and TV shows. I come by it honestly. My earliest memories are of my parents getting together with my aunts and uncles on a Friday or Saturday night, and having popcorn and coke while we all watched something scary on one of their black and white TVs. This was the early 60's. There were no DVRs, DVDs, VHS, Beta Max, Blue Rays,Cable, Internet, Satellite or even UHF. What we had here in Kansas City were three stations, 4 (WDAF/NBC) 5(KCMO/CBS) and 9(KMBC/ABC.) They showed their programs, and viewers tuned in to watch.There was no way to record anything and watch at your earliest convenience, as we have now. Then, if you wanted to see a program, you had to be there in real time -and often time that meant with lots of other people: family and friends, who made time to see it too.

Despite all the technical advances we've made in the last 50 years, its hard to think we haven't lost something in the way we view TV. What used to be weekly events for the whole family have now become private viewing sessions on laptops, cell phones, DVD players and DVRs.

In my family and in my extended family, scary movies and TV shows were must see TV, long before NBC ever coined that phrase. NO other kind of entertainment brought everyone together like a good (or even crummy) horror movie or TV show like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The Dads liked their sports; the Moms liked their variety shows and the kids liked their cartoons. But everyone grabbed a place around the old Motorola when it was a scary movie, armed with a bowl of popcorn, popped over a stove, and a glass of soda poured from a 16 ounce bottle that came in eight-packs.

I've posted these links before, but for those who haven't seen it, please don't post any spoilers. What follows are links to the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode of "The Jar" which aired February 14th, 1964 when I was 4.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

This was one of the many shows I remember viewing with my extended family when I was a little boy and it scared the crap out of me to the point that almost half a century later, I still remember it. What is striking about this is the great dramatic performances by Pat Buttram (Mr Haney of Green Acres fame) and a supporting role by George "Goober" Lindsay. Also in the cast is William Marshall, who went on to play "Blacula." I found this creepy and disturbing as a four year old -especially Lindsay's monologue about drowning kittens.

This episode, "The Jar" was based on a story of the same name by Ray Bradbury, and can be found in his book "The October Country."