In memory of two recently-departed horror directors, who made some of the best horror films in history, I caught up with two of their worst pictures…

To begin with, a bullshit voiceover lets us know that this spaceship, created with colored lights and 1980’s computer graphics, has some inexplicable gravity technology – just trust us, we’re on a spaceship but there’s gravity. I don’t recall Star Trek worrying themselves with explaining the ship’s artificial gravity, except when it broke in the sixth movie.

Discovering nude-vampire crystals inside the space anus:

Fallada, looking like an apocalyptic preacher:

“I almost have the feeling I’ve been here before” as they fly into a giant vaginal-looking tunnel. Astronauts discover nude, crystal-encased space vampires and bring them home via a badly failed first mission plus a second rescue mission. The sole survivor of the first mission is Steve Railsback (later of Scissors and Alligator II: The Mutation), who couldn’t help but sexually harass the female alien (Mathilda May, later of some Chabrol and Demy films) and becomes psychically connected to her. Railsback works with Peter Firth (Tess, Equus) and alien-invaded doctor Patrick Stewart to track down the vampire girl, while dapper white-haired Professor Fallada (Frank Finlay, one of Richard Lester’s Musketeers) and barely-competent Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard, Oliver Reed’s executor in The Devils) try to contain the evil – and fail utterly, as most of London falls to the vampire-zombie plague.

Patrick Stewart Replica:

Return of the Living Dead Zombie Phantom Alien Vampires:

More perverted and apocalyptic than most 1980’s horror movies, at least. The movie’s pretty okay, but the concept is cool as hell, so it’s got my respect. Tobe’s follow-up to Poltergeist, produced by Cannon Films, cowritten by Dan O’Bannon, who made Return of the Living Dead the same year, which ties into our next filmmaker

Spoiler: there are zombies on the train to Busan. But there are suddenly zombies everywhere, and the train survivors aren’t sure whether it’s more dangerous in the zombie-infested train, or out in the zombie-infested world. The heart of the story, which doesn’t work nearly as well as The Host, to take another Korean family/supernatural-disaster movie as an example, is that workaholic dad Gong Yoo (The Age of Shadows) is a professional asshole and a shitty father to his daughter. During the course of the invasion, not only does he step up and learn to help people and work together, but we get a real panicky villain who needlessly kills others trying to save himself, making dad look even better in comparison.

L-R: Baseballer, Tough Guy, Hero Dad

There’s also a big tough dude and his pregnant wife, a high school baseballer and his girl Jin-Hee, the bedraggled survivor from outside, two older sisters, and one extremely dedicated train conductor. Once you get bit, the zombification escalates very quickly, so it’s all panic and chaos. The action is kinda poor, but the tension is great – especially when the group pictured above fights their way through to a car with the other survivors, then Panicky Villain Guy convinces the others that the newcomers can’t be allowed to stay.

Zombies can see better than they can hear:

The two sisters:

One train crash later, our Hero Dad finally gets zombie’d fighting off the villain, and the daughter makes it to Busan with the Tough Guy’s pregnant wife. I didn’t love the director’s animated The Fake – he bridged the two films with an animated zombie train movie called Seoul Station. He’s joined here by the cowriter of Hwayi: A Monster Boy.

I watched all the Resident Evil movies this summer… parts 1-3 here.


Resident Evil 4: Afterlife (2010)

After the Umbrellas of Cherbourg opening titles, we get the best scene in any Resident Evil movie yet – Alice storming Umbrella headquarters with an army of her clones. I was hoping for an entire Cherbourg musical installment of this horror series, but I’ll happily settle for this instead: Anderson immediately leaves behind the halfassed effects and sorry filmmaking of previous movies and crafts a loving homage to The Matrix, with better-than-usual electro music by former Low collaborators Tomandandy.

Shades-sporting Umbrella boss Wesker (crossover zombie-movie actor Shawn Roberts of a couple Romero Dead films) escapes in a chopper, nuking the Alice clones on his way out, and injects the stowaway Alice with an antivirus, removing her awesome powers, a major bummer.

After somewhat-destroying Umbrella, Alice starts a vlog and goes to Alaska in search of her buddies from the previous movie, scooping up a lone amnesiac Claire (infected by a Cronos scarab), then crash-landing in a prison surrounded by zombie hordes and meeting a new bunch of doomed friends, led by panicky movie producer Bennett (Kim Coates of Sons of Anarchy, Silent Hill) and cooler-headed Luther (Boris Kodjoe of Surrogates, Starship Troopers 3), also including a guy from The Tracey Fragments who will soon be cleaved in half by a superaxe. But before that, we’ll discover Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller of Prison Break, writer of Stoker) suspiciously located in a locked cell. He’s Claire’s brother, not that she remembers, acting kinda like movie star Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim.

Then the zombies break in and everyone dies. New zombie developments since the last movie: sometimes zombies will spawn quadropus parasites from their mouths, a familiar detail from the only Resident Evil game I’ve played. And it’s not really new since we’ve always had final-boss mega-zombies, but instead of a chain gun, this movie’s giant has a pinhead burlap mask and giant axe, with which he smashes in the prison gates. Bennett defects to the dark side, Luther goes missing, and our surviving heroes (Alice and the Redfields) escape through tunnels and head for the offshore cargo ship where Wesker has started eating people (incl. Bennett) to stave off infection. Wesker flees, our heroes free the captive humans, and all is well for about 15 seconds before a fleet of gunships led by a scarab-wearing, mind-controlled Valentine (from part two! with different hair) descends on them as a Perfect Circle song blares to complete the Matrix feeling.


Resident Evil 5: Retribution (2012)

I must have watched the opening titles ten times… starting exactly where the last movie left off, Evil Valentine’s troops wipe out the unarmed survivors on the cargo ship, an explosion throws Alice into the ocean, and it’s all running in reverse super-slow-mo.

In every movie it seems that Umbrella’s head has been destroyed, but there are always new evil leaders and massive research facilities popping up. Now we’ve got an training holodeck in Kamchatka, where multiple Alices and Rains (Michelle Rodriguez, for the first time since part one) and other clones are killed in various zombie-attack scenarios.

Evil Valentine has triggered a bunch of allegiance shifts in the script. Now Wesker, displaced from Umbrella by the still-functioning Red Queen A.I., has sent his warrior Ada Wong (Detective Dee and Snow Flower star Bingbing Li) to rescue our Alice underground, while on the surface, team leader Leon (Johann Urb of the Witches of Eastwick TV series) with Luther (from part four) and Barry (Kevin Durand of Guillermo del Toro TV series The Strain) prepare to destroy the place (a countdown timer is naturally involved).

Alice picks up a deaf girl (Aryana Engineer of Orphan) whose clone-Alice mom was killed. There are good Rains and evil Rains, multiple Michelles Rodriguez. Valentine is back, under command of the evil Queen, alongside resurrected actors from parts one and three. After a clip show near the beginning, this movie is full of callbacks to part one, but the story is also overexplained for the sake of newcomers, and dialogue is never great (it’s still better than the games). With the clones and the new/old characters in virtual environments, we’ve reached new, reality-bending heights… each of the previous movies had an older film it was imitating, from Romero to Cube to Mad Max to Hitchcock to The Matrix, and now the series has come into its own, this film’s primary influence being the previous Resident Evil movies (secondary influence: Aliens).

With Leon and Luther:

I was blissing out to the action sequences and kinda lost track of everything that happens, but here are some notes I took:

Music is good, but all rhythm and no tune.

I noticed in the last movie, but now it’s starting to bug me that one of Alice’s guns seems to shoot coins – an overly literal videogame reference?

Milla dials it down when the movies focus on survivor communities, but whenever her solo warrior awesomeness is called for, she’s happy to comply.

The zombies have guns!

Parts four and five are a total blast, with coherent action, proper lighting and hugely improved CG beasts.

Evil Michelle uses the five point palm exploding heart technique on poor Luther

We end on humanity’s last stand against the red queen’s forces, in the White House, Alice and Wesker newly allied, each with renewed mutant super-abilities.


Resident Evil 6: The Final Chapter (2016)

“I propose that we end the world, but on our terms – an orchestrated apocalypse.”

Based on the final shots of part five, we should have Alice, Wesker, Ada Wong, Valentine and Leon in a showdown against an army of undead at the White House – but that’s not what happens. Instead we get a backstory intro explaining that the Red Queen A.I. was constructed from video of the benevolent Umbrella founder’s child, after Dr. Isaacs (mad scientist killed in part three) has the founder murdered. Then the movie betrays all our hopes, having Alice awaken in the ruins of the White House, beat to hell, with no powers, narrating some shit about Wesker having betrayed them all. And thus begins this increasingly great series’s joyless finale, a color-desaturated, underlit, over-edited slog of close-shot action scenes, where I never knew what was going on or even what characters were in the movie. This is not the kind of homage to part one I was hoping for.

Since we’ve established that anyone can be a clone, Dr. Isaacs is back, now leading a fanatic tank convoy to Raccoon City. Even without mutant virus powers, Alice is still a badass soldier, but she’s knocked out and captured more than once along the way (and Isaacs has super-speed and can dodge bullets, but can’t dodge the computer keyboard she whacks him with).

In another doomed Last Human Settlement, Alice finds Claire, traitor Doc (Eoin Macken of TV’s The Night Shift) and a bunch of newcomers with colorful names who will be killed one by one. An actor from John Wick 2 gets sucked into a turbine, a Cuban TV star is savaged by dogs, and so on.

Here are some of them, maybe:

Finally back in The Hive from part one, Alice encounters the Original Dr. Isaacs, who is soon killed by Fanatic Warlord Dr. Isaacs, who is soon killed by Alice inside the Cube chamber, which turns out to have glass walls so I guess people in earlier movies could’ve just slammed against a side wall with all their might to escape. Alice also meets her former self (the Red Queen, now played by Anderson and Jovovich’s daughter) and future self: a convincingly makeup-aged Milla, playing “Alicia,” from whom all Alices were cloned. Alicia and Wesker are the remaining leadership of Umbrella until she pulls out an excellent Robocop reference (“Albert Wesker, you’re fired”) and security chops his legs off. Alice hands him a Terminator 2 killswitch attached to a massive bomb, downloads her childhood memories from dying Alicia, and heads out to cure the entire world with the airborne antivirus in a tiny capsule, which I don’t think is how airborne antiviruses work, but at least the movie admits it will take a few years to spread globally and in the meantime Milla Jovovich is gonna ride the country in a motorcycle blasting hellbeasts with shotguns, a comforting thought.

Final Series Ranking: 5 > 4 > 3 > 2 > 1 > 6

Best reviews: Neil Bahadur on Letterboxd: parts four, five, and, featuring a Dr. Isaacs/Steve Bannon comparison, six. And Christoph Huber wrote the Cinema Scope story in issue 70 that convinced me to watch this series in the first place (thanks).

Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Paul W.S. Anderson is beloved by Cinema Scope writers, who have grown increasingly excited since he returned to directing parts 4-6 of this series. I saw part one in theaters and thought it was quite bad, skipping the sequels even though the first ends with a killer setup for future installments. So, rewatching it now looking for glimmers of auteurist excellence, then we’ll see how many more Resident Evils I can get through. But first, let’s hear from the termite-art critics on letterboxd:

Autumn Faust:

Genuinely Romeroesque, Anderson sifts his formal preoccupations through immediate objective… and economic allegory … Anderson’s penchant for repeating shapes and patterns lends itself to depicting an environment of conformity for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to attempt to recover her identity within.

Silent Dawn:

With this first installment, Anderson is not only focused on the classicist nature of the narrative but also developing a deceiving signature, paying attention to movements within spacing while observing how the main characters are affected. However, even “character” is a strong word for Anderson’s world. Besides Alice, stock feelings and conversations are the norm, highlighting a top-down observatory creation that is constantly being manipulated, shifted, and flipped on its head. It’s an evident theme from the beginning sequence – an escaped viral infection and an AI’s deliberately inhumane attempt to control the issue – and it’s pushed further and further through each immaculate scene, an array of delicious, pulpy construction rampaging against abstract, controlled motion.

And now the reality – it’s still a pretty bad movie. The characters have almost no traits, the Prodigy-esque music and ugly CG creatures badly date the film, and the middle half is underlit action with a too-close camera and an occasional Cube-ripoff setpiece or cool-blue flashback. Plotting is weak from the start… I don’t believe for a second that a team of super-soldiers responding to an extreme emergency would take along two amnesiacs and a suspicious rookie cop. But I guess it’s faithful in spirit and visuals to the video game series, and Anderson makes his future wife Milla look rad most of the time.

Our heroes:

I like that instead of CG, they just put gore-sweaters on real dobermans:

Milla Jovovich (Fifth Element) lives in the mansion gateway to an underground Umbrella research lab with her fake husband James Purefoy (High-Rise, John Carter), wakes up with amnesia then is interrupted first by cop Eric Mabius (IMDB trivia: “Eric loves mustard and puts it on everything”) then a team of troops led by Colin Salmon (two James Bond movies in the 90’s, Alien vs. Predator). Colin gets Cube’d early on, then Michelle Rodriguez (Machete, Fast & Furious) takes over as team leader, maintaining her head-down/eyes-up badass pose long after it gets tiring. They’re investigating why the lab’s AI killed everyone – turns out this was to contain a zombie-virus unleashed by Purefoy. It also turns out Milla and Eric were working together to take down Umbrella, but given the apocalyptic wasteland that Milla finds after escaping, the company’s not their biggest problem anymore.

The commentary is great, the actors hanging out and talking shit about movies and video games and getting drunk while Anderson tries in vain to focus on what’s happening onscreen. Milla to Michelle: “Yo-va-vich! How difficult is it, for god’s sake? We made a movie together.”


Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse (2004, Alexander Witt)

When this originally opened (and I skipped it, having not enjoyed the first movie) I didn’t realize the ambition of the full series – you don’t usually use the Apocalypse subtitle in your first sequel. We’re now in the hands of director Witt, who has worked on 50 major movies, getting his start with Bergman and Fassbinder in the late 1970’s. Anderson’s still around as writer and producer, but he was off directing the detestable Alien vs. Predator. This movie looks a hundred times better than the first. There’s sometimes a low-framerate blur-cam on the zombies, making me think they’re compensating for makeup shortcomings, and fights are shot like garbage, but everything else is slick looking with less-horrendous music. Not saying I’m yet convinced of the masterpiece status of the Resident Evil series, but it’s a step in the right direction and I’m actually looking forward to the next episode. The critics disagree: “a disastrous step down”… “atrocious direction”… “mostly incomprehensible.”

Picking up right where we left off, Alice walks out into the ruins of the zombie-infested city. She meets badass supercop Valentine (Sienna Guillory of High-Rise) after Alice drives a motorcycle through a stained-glass window, blows it up in midair and kills the beasts that were terrorizing Valentine’s squad with an array of guns. So, Alice has been upgraded since the first movie, and so has her sidekick (Valentine > Michelle Rodriguez). The two of them will soon team up with Umbrella troop Carlos (Oded Fehr of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies) and comic relief act LJ (Mike Epps, star of the Uncle Buck TV series).

Carlos and LJ:

Meanwhile, with the city overrun, Umbrella is trying to rescue lead viral scientist Dr. Ashford (Benmont in Dead Man, Lord Portley-Rind in The Boxtrolls), who refuses to comply unless they also rescue his missing daughter, so Alice, still technically an employee, is put on that task. And Umbrella is happily using the chaos to test their new mega-mutant (formerly Eric from part one, now a bazooka/chaingun-wielding guy in a rubber cenobite suit, which is a huuuge step up from the CGI in part one), having him target city police for some reason.

Very videogamey – check out the ammo count in the corner:

Dudes hide their zombie bites then turn on their friends at inopportune times – this is gonna happen in all the movies, isn’t it? We’ve got a cowboy sniper cop, a corporate baddie named Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann of Argento’s Dracula 3D), a reporter who gets eaten by children and a nuclear blast. Milla now has super-rabbit jump skills, and once she runs straight down the side of a building – it’s cable-assisted, but still great.

The movie ends even more cynically than the first – after the company destroys the entire city to contain the outbreak, a reporter’s tape documenting the truth behind the infections gets out, but it’s dismissed as fake news. Alice is captured again in a new city/lab, might now be a clone and has obtained Scanner powers, and after her friends break her out, her eyes flash with the Umbrella logo.


Resident Evil 3: Extinction (2007, Russell Mulcahy)

So this is when the series gets good. An early action scene is shot like hot garbage, with the action shot way too close and disorienting edits, but things improve later on. The look and plot are now ripping off Mad Max since the t-virus has turned the planet into a desert shithole, while in the subterranean Umbrella labs they’re ripping off Day of the Dead, trying to domesticate captured zombies. I love how the tech in futuristic movies work – they use Ericsson flip phones and point-and-shoot cameras, but they also hologram-teleconference into meetings. I guess Anderson was busy prepping his dumb Death Race remake, so now we’ve got music-video vet Mulcahy with the first feature of his I’ve watched since Highlander 2: The Quickening.

Carlos and Claire:

A band of survivors led by Claire (Ali Larter of the Final Destination movies) and including Carlos and LJ from the previous movie (but not Valentine – the actress was in Eragon around this time) search for gasoline and survivors in a truck convoy, avoiding the zombie-filled larger cities. There’s also a cowboy sniper in the group – wasn’t there just a cowboy sniper in the last movie? In a probable reference to the video game series, whenever these guys need some item, it’s located in a creepy dark passageway full of hidden zombies. Superpsychic Alice roams alone, traveling by night to avoid Umbrella detection. When they team up, she’s visited by the AI girl from part one, making a welcome return, and the crew fights off a cloud of zombie crows. Carlos gets bit and kamikazes a zombie horde… LJ gets bit too, but he’s the guy in this movie who will hide it until too late.

Firestarter Alice, taking care of the killer crows situation:

Underground, Alice’s evil-scientist father-figure Iain Glen (Tomb Raider, Game of Thrones) is using Alice’s blood to transform other zombies, and also cloning new Alices and running them through fatal tests. When the higher-ups get tired of Glen abusing his authority (using Sneakers tactics) and murder him, he arises as a super-mutant with hentai-tentacle powers and goes on a spree until Alice breaks in and lures him into the Cube chamber. Claire and the few convoy survivors are helicoptering to the last outpost of humanity in Alaska, while Alice has got herself an empty facility, hundreds of Alice clones, and the locations of the other Umbrella bases.

Autumn again:

Eschewing the comparatively innocent side characters, the film ends by reaffirming the overarching series conflict between Alice and Umbrella, only this time, discerning the moral high ground between the two is much more complex task. If Umbrella wins, they’ll exert even more control over the new world they rebuild. If Alice wins, “the cure” isn’t found … it’s possible an organization dedicating itself to the restoration of mankind will have been destroyed by a peeved rogue.

More consistently great than part one, with higher high points (Robert Morgan!). I’m tempted to make a playlist of ABCs highlights and edit myself a super-anthology but I’ll wait until part three comes out next year.


Amateur
Imagined scenario of cool, efficient sniper in the air vents taking out his target, then reality of tight insect-infested ducts full of nails. Great ending. Director EL Katz also made Cheap Thrills.


Badger
Directed by and starring Julian “Howard Moon” Barratt. Asshole nature-doc spokesman (Barratt) is abusive to his crew, gets eaten by badgers.


Capital Punishment
Local gang of vigilantes take a dude suspected of killing a girl out to the woods and clumsily behead him. Meanwhile the girl turns out to have run away, is fine. Director Julian Gilbey made A Lonely Place To Die, which is probably better than Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die.


Deloused
I probably would’ve skipped ABCs of Death 2 had I not heard that Robert Morgan was involved. This was… inexplicable… and amazing, and ultimately makes the entire anthology worthwhile. Involves insects and beheadings and knife-arms.

Equilibrium
Funny and well put-together, with single long takes simulating time passing. Couple of idiots stranded on a beach are unexpectedly joined by a pretty girl. Jealousy ensues, then they return to bliss by killing the girl. Alejandro Brugués made the Cuban Juan of the Dead.

Falling
Israel/Palestine, woman whose parachute is stuck in a tree convinces a rifle-toting kid to cut her down, he accidentally shoots himself in the head. Nicely shot, anyway. Directors Keshales and Papushado made Israeli horrors Rabies and Big Bad Wolves (a Tarantino fave).


Grandad
Grandad is tired of his disrespectful grandson living with him. Jim Hosking is working on something called The Greasy Strangler next. Grandad Nicholas Amer has been around, worked with Peter Greenaway, Jacques Demy and Terence Davies.


Head Games
During a makeout session, a couple’s facial features go to war with each other in classic Plympton style. One of two Bill Plympton anthology segments from this year – we missed The Prophet.


Invincible
Old woman will not die, siblings want her inheritance and try everything to kill her. Stylishly shot (as are most of these, so it’s maybe not worth writing that anymore). Erik Matti (Philippines) got awards for crime flick On The Job last year.


Jesus
I think it’s supposed to be payback on a couple of dudes who torture and murder homosexuals, but when the kidnapped gay guy displays his demonic powers I’m not sure what’s going on anymore. Dennison Ramalho wrote latter-day Coffin Joe sequel Embodiment of Evil and actor Francisco Barreiro is showing up everywhere this month.


Knell
Initial scene where girl witnesses supernatural globe over the building across the street followed by people in every apartment turning violent was like Rear Window meets The Screwfly Solution, then it continues in the direction of total doom. Directors Buozyte and Samper are apparently Lithuanian, also made a surreal sci-fi thing called Vanishing Waves.


Legacy
Guy to be sacrificed is being set free and is arguing with this decision, and I lose the plot after that, but there are groovy, cheap Metalocalypse-looking gore effects. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is Nigerian, has made a million movies so far since 2003.


Masticate
Drugged-out flesh-eating fat man goes on rampage before he’s killed by cop, all in slow-motion and set to a jangly pop song. Robert Boocheck made a short that apparently played in an anthology called Seven Hells.


Nexus
Cleverly timed and editing, goes for tension instead of twist ending since we figure out early on that the distracted cabbie is gonna hit the guy dressed as Frankenstein. Larry Fessenden made Habit and Wendigo and The Last Winter, all of which have been on my to-watch list forever and just came out on blu-ray.


Ohlocracy (mob rule)
After the cure for zombiesm is found, human zombie-killers are sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Hajime Ohata made the non-Kafka movie called Metamorphosis.


P-P-P-P Scary!
Poppy, Kirby and Bart look like escaped convicts, have big noses, meet a face-morphing guy who does a jig, blows out their candles and murders them inexplicably. Todd Rohal made The Catechism Cataclysm, and I might’ve guessed this was him.


Questionnaire
While a guy correctly answers questions on an intelligence test, we see flash-forwards to the “career opportunities” the interviewer has in mind for him (brain transplant with gorilla). I watched Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare just last week.


Roulette
German game of Russian Roulette ends with the sixth-chamber guy shooting his beloved instead of himself, as some unknown evil approaches. Marvin Kren made Rammbock and Blood Glacier.


Split
Like a remake of Suspense but with more baby murdering. Hammer-wielding intruder destroys family of cheating husband(s) during a phone call.
Juan Martinez Moreno made horror-comedy Game of Werewolves.


Torture Porn
Girl in porn audition turns out to be Cthulhu, I guess. Jen and Sylvia Soska are identical twins who made American Mary and Dead Hooker in a Trunk.


Utopia
Self-driving incineration machines deal with non-beautiful people. Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Splice.


Vacation
Dude is on phone with girlfriend when dude’s friend reveals they’ve been doing drugs and prostitutes while on vacation. The friend is disrespectful, and one prostitute stabs him many times with a screwdriver. Jerome Sable made last year’s Meat Loaf-starring Stage Fright.


Wish
Kids go inside their off-brand Masters of the Universe playset, discover it’s horrible in there. Steven Kostanski made Manborg, which looks similarly wonderful.


Xylophone
Kid won’t stop playing her damned toy xylophone while babysitter Beatrice Dalle (of Inside, the first actor I’ve recognized since Julian Barratt in letter B) is trying to listen to opera records. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo made Inside, of course. Credits say Beatrice is the grandmother not the babysitter, which makes sense since babysitters should leave antique record players alone.


Youth
Miyuki hates her mom and stepdad, imagines them dying in tremendous ways. Soichi Umezawa is a longtime makeup artist who worked on Bright Future and Dr. Akagi.


Zygote
Dad abandons pregnant mom with a 13-year supply of a root that delays labor. Horribleness ensues. Chris Nash has made a bunch of shorts.

Or Don’t Speak Ill of the Dead, or The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue – all good titles, but I’m going with the name on the Anchor Bay box that used to stare at me from the shelves, unenticing with its generic cover art. Turns out it’s quite a good zombie movie, tense and well-photographed. It’s just like Night of the Living Dead but with a couple extra locations (incl. Manchester Morgue), but the hidden social message in this one is that cops are just the worst. They’re bad at their jobs, abusive, intolerant, and finally cold-blooded murderers.

Zombie Prime:

They stay at The Owl Hotel. Pet owl:

Shaky start as George (Ray Lovelock of Queens of Evil and Oh, Grandmother’s Dead) meets Edna (Cristina Galbo of The House That Screamed and The School That Couldn’t Scream) when she runs over his motorcycle, then they squabble over where she’s going to drive them. Good enough dubbing, better than any Italian movie. But these two aren’t very exciting. Fortunately, they agree to visit her sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre of Jesus Franco’s Dracula) and Katie’s husband Martin (Jose Lifante, a desk clerk in Dagon), who hate each other and live near the field where some jerk scientists are pumping radiation into the ground to keep pests away from crops, which also turns babies and the recently-deceased into violent killers.

Martin’s hobby is taking photographs of his naked, afraid, drugged-out wife and hanging them around the house:

Our heroes, trapped in the morgue with the only decent cop, PC Craig:

Martin is crushed to death by a wandering zombie, and enter Sgt. Aldo Massasso (of The Suspicious Death of a Minor), who immediately blames the wife because she’s a heroin addict and has her locked up in hospital. The movie’s zombie mythology gets weird, as we’re told zombies can’t be photographed, and “they transmit life to each other through the blood of the living.” Martin eventually resurrects and kills his wife, but the movie is mostly focused on biker George’s attempts to escape zombies and tell the damned scientists to turn off their machine, and the Sarge’s attempts to arrest George and Edna, who he’s now telling everyone are satanists. In the end George is screaming towards a zombie-infested hospital in a stolen police car pursued by bigot cops to rescue the woman who wrecked his motorcycle and ruined his weekend, and I’m wondering why he bothers. Then Katie is infected and set aflame, and George is shot by the cops (have I mentioned Night of the Living Dead lately?).

Things don’t end well for PC Craig:

Nor for Edna:

Jorge Grau previously made Violent Blood Bath and The Legend of Blood Castle. Cinematographer Francisco Sempere also shot Blind Man’s Bluff and Death Will Have Your Eyes. Cowritten by Sandro Continenza (Crimes of the Black Cat, Hercules and the Captive Women) and Marcello Coscia (Virgin Killer, Tex and the Lord of the Deep).

Nice intro to the upcoming Alamo Drafthouse, a free outdoor double-feature at the nearby Sokol Ampitheater. I’ve seen these a bunch of times, but not lately.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Still more horror than comedy, but some over-the-top punishment and gore got chuckles from the crowd. Screened in its original 4:3 (I hadn’t realized there’s aspect-ratio controversy, but apparently Raimi advocates a cropped widescreen version). Don’t think I’d noticed before how great the music and sound is on this movie.

Cheryl is attacked by trees then possessed by demons and locked in the cellar. Shelly’s possessed next, dismembered by Scott. Linda gets possessed and finally she and Scott and Cheryl are all tormenting Ash, who takes no meaningful action until about the last 15 minutes when he beheads one of them and tosses the Necronomicon in the fire, causing the rest to decompose.

Evil Dead II (1987)

I love how ten minutes into the movie there’s only one living character and he’s possessed by demons. Fortunately two archaeologists and two local rednecks soon show up in order to get possessed and torment Ash some more… and of course Henrietta is discovered in the cellar. I wish this hadn’t been screened with singalong subtitles over the scenes that somebody found quotable, but it wasn’t too distracting. Bobbie Jo starred in the recent We Are What We Are remake and Ash’s girlfriend Linda married Steve Guttenberg.

The first Evil Dead came out the same year as The Howling, Scanners and Possession, though sequel-mania had already hit the genre, with Friday the 13th 2 and Omen 3 and Halloween 2. Raimi made the disappointing Crimewave before joining the sequel craze with Evil Dead II in 1987, which was my Year Zero of horror, with Hellraiser, The Gate, House II, Elm Street 3 and The Lost Boys.

Cowriter Scott Spiegel later made Intruder (“gore galore” says the IMDB review). Appropriately, Evil Dead II cinematographer Peter Deming shot Cabin in the Woods (and Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway!). Looks like Raimi hasn’t made anything since Drag Me to Hell, and those rumors of an Evil Dead remake and TV series never came to pass.

Anton Yelchin (Ian in Only Lovers Left Alive) likes ice cream girl Olivia (Alexandra Daddario of Texas Chainsaw 3D), is tired of his vegan environmentalist girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene of Butter) but before he can break up with Evelyn she’s killed by a truck (unconvincing death scene weirdly scored by a Phosphorescent song) and later comes back as a bitchy zombie.

Full of easy horror references, out-of-date gender politics and default-sounding movie-dialogue. Anton’s half-brother, the Ed to his Shaun, is Oliver Cooper (Project X) who I think gets nearly killed by Evelyn but comes back at the end, or wait, does he come back as a zombie? I’m trying not to give this too much thought and pretend it’s not by the same Joe Dante who made Gremlins and Matinee. Also: it’s another movie where someone is keeping a secret for no reason other than plot contrivance, and Anton is a massive horror movie fan but doesn’t know how to dispatch a zombie.

Men In Black 2 (2002, Barry Sonnenfeld)

Hey, I never saw this, always wanted to, but heard it was bad. Just the thing The Last Ten Minutes was invented for. The two mismatched partners are joined by Rosario Dawson with nuclear jewelry and pursued by Evil Lara Flynn Boyle till she’s eaten by a subway monster. Jones tells Dawson she’s the fifth element, Smith is attacked by shockingly subpar effects. Did you know there was a part 3? Neither did I.

[Rec] 3: Genesis (2012, Paco Plaza)

Previously watched [Rec] 1 and remake-sequel (remaquel?) Quarantine 2. Can’t find [Rec] 2 on netflix because their search is ridiculous, so let’s pick up here. Loving couple is trapped in kitchen by encroaching zombies until loudspeaker bible recitation stops them. Dude has a sword, which actually seems like a smart zombie weapon. Girl is bitten by an elderly fellow (bad hearing, immune to loudspeaker), guy cuts off her arm but he’s stupid and slow, and they both die. From one of the directors of the first one, but not shot first-person, so the title doesn’t make sense anymore. The girl was in Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart.

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse (2014, Jaume Balagueró)

Oh, this is from the other director of the first one, and looks a lot worse. Stars Angela from parts 1 & 2. A guy with bad hair helps Angela kill zombie monkeys with a boat motor. Why does the bad guy have a snake-tongue? A boat explodes!

The Interview (2014, Goldberg & Rogen)

Those two guys are trying to escape N. Korea. Cue the loud action scenes. Katy Perry soundtracks the fiery death of President Randall Park (Danny Chung in Veep), then we get an anticlimactic escape from the country. One of the directors wrote for Da Ali G Show.

Horns (2013, Alexandre Aja)

The one where Harry Potter is a demon, from the director of the great Hills Have Eyes Remake. Dang, no horns, Harry must’ve had them cut off already (a la Hellboy?). His brother (Joe Anderson of Across the Universe) is sad, so Harry goes walkies with Max Minghella, and there are guns, and wow, Harry sprouts wings then turns into a full flaming demon and has homicidal maniac Max brutalized by snakes. I think Harry’s dead girlfriend is alive again but I stopped watching because my roomie locked his keys in his car. Is this Wolf Parade over the ending?

The Sacrament (2013, Ti West)

Sorry Ti, but after two-and-a-quarter disappointments you join Aja in Last Ten Minutes purgatory. Joe Swanberg in death cult compound is running from gunmen, everyone is dying, and it’s shot first-person a la [Rec] 1. Isn’t this the same plot as one of the V/H/S/2 segments from the same year, which West and Swanberg were also heavily involved with? Joe semi-rescues AJ Bowen (of every Adam Wingard movie) with the shakiest shaky-cam I’ve ever witnessed. Ends with unnecessary solemn title cards. Boo.

Maniac (2012, Franck Khalfoun)

Fuuuck, this is also shot first-person – and out-of-focus, no less. Co-written by Alexandre Aja. Khalfoun made P2 and acted in Aja’s Haute Tension – they’re as close as the West-Swanberg-Wingard crew. I think Elijah Wood kidnaps Nora Arnezeder then she stabs him with a mannequin arm and runs him over. Then she dies, so he marries a mannequin. Most of these movies are very bad, but this one looks unusually, especially, very very bad.

The Conspiracy (2012, Christopher MacBride)

Grainy first-person pinhole camera with blurred-out faces. Why do all these movies hate cinema? Dude wakes up in the ritual sacrifice room, then is chased through the dark woods while wearing an animal head. Finally a series of talking heads dismiss whatever conspiracy theory the hunted/murdered cameraman presumably uncovered. MacBride has made no other movies and hopefully it’ll stay that way.

Automata (2014, Gabe Ibáñez)

It’s balding trenchcoat dudes with shotguns vs. slow, clunky robots. The robots are talking wise, getting themselves shot, when a fully bald Antonio Banderas arrives. His plan of action is poor but he still kills two guys and the third is dispatched by a Short Circuit lizard. Weird/nice to see a robot-future movie where some of the robots (not the lizard) are actual props, not people or digital effects.

I, Frankenstein (2014, Stuart Beattie)

From the trailer this looked like epic nonsense, but it’s actually more coherent than most of the others I just watched. Bill Nighy! The final battle: Frankenstein Eckhart vs. angels, gargoyles, a merman, lots of fire, men in suits, poor digital effects and Bill Nighy! Meanwhile there’s a bunch of computer progress bars and “access denied” messages. Progress bars are always a great source of tension in movies, eh? A massive Matrix-like chamber full of bodies begins to self-destruct. Eckhart (is he the monster or the doctor?) defeats demon-Nighy, saves some lady from a fiery apocalypse and collapsing castle. Beattie wrote the Pirates of the Carribean movies (and Collateral), his cowriter was an actor in Men In Black 2.