“They told us there was a threat to America, but the weapons of mass destruction weren’t there.” I survived an endless difficult work day, and learned that Donald Rumsfeld had died, so this felt like the right movie to watch (though The Limits of Control was considered).

Thea Gill is a “constitutional scholar” (right-wing talking head) and Jon Tenney is a campaign reelection consultant whose boss is a conniving Robert Picardo (in his tenth Dante movie). When dead soldiers begin returning from the grave, seeking only to vote against the current administration, these three try to spin the news to their advantage, angering the soldier zombies. Our spin-artists’ buried family secrets rise along with the zombies, leading to panic and death for all. It’s all wickedly well written and blunt as hell, a quality I was attuned to having just discovered an intriguing letterboxd list called “Garish, Unpleasant &/or Heavy-Handed Movies: A Worthy 21st Century Approach.”

A really cleverly constructed movie, would be fun to watch again. Either I never read much about this, or I’d forgotten, but I assumed the first half of the movie was the entire movie, so the end credits appearing halfway through came as a surprise, and the second half was pure joy.

Starts out with a film crew making a zombie movie, which is already going badly when they’re invaded by actual zombies and have to fight to survive – all in a single take. The young leads are struggling as the director unloads on them for being inauthentic. They chill with the makeup artist (who happens to be studying self-defense) when the crew outside begins to get attacked. The director is so excited – finally, something real – and runs around in manic glee with a handheld camera. A rooftop showdown ends with the female lead killing her costar and the director with an axe. The single-take idea is cute, and it’s all timed well, but the movie has poor color and lighting…

But the second half has normal editing, and reveals that this isn’t even a horror movie… the director is really a director, taking on an assignment for a one-take zombie horror, the lead actress and makeup artist from the first half are actually his family. On shoot day for the movie, the table read goes badly, lead actress refuses to do anything gory, two actors are in a car accident and can’t come to set, and the cameraman gets uselessly drunk. So, family and crew fill in as actors, and everyone improvises new lines and situations while it’s all being filmed live. All the cameras and identity shifts (an actor plays an actor playing a zombie who becomes a zombie) must have been hard to keep straight.

This was barely even supposed to be a movie – a low-budget workshop film shot in 8 days that turned out amazing. Hardly anyone has seen Ueda’s other features, though Matt Lynch saw his follow-up Special Actors and called it disappointing. The Director followed up with a kids movie, and his daughter did a voice in that Xenoblade game I’m always playing.

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964, José Mojica Marins)

Opens with a woman talking to the audience, Elvira-style, then the screaming sfx over the opening titles make it feel like this is gonna be a campy carnival ride of a movie. It’s not really, despite the TV Batman scene transitions, must just be José “Coffin Joe” Marins having as much fun in the editing room as he appears to be having in the lead acting role. The dubbing (and everything else) isn’t technically great, but it’s an honestly eccentric movie, up there with Death Bed on the pile of horrors with justifiable cult reputations.

Joe/Ze is the most feared man in town since he has no faith, and no compunction about violence and murder. He’s also a rude, shitty guy – at the beginning his woman tells him something, he replies “you have talked enough,” and walks out. He goes to the bar, cuts off a guy’s hand, whips another guy terribly, then returns home and kills his wife with a tarantula, then a second later he’s getting all moral on a random man. Seeking an heir, he kills his friend and rapes her girl, but she commits suicide – then the doctor wants to investigate the friend’s death, so Ze pokes out his eyes and sets him on fire.

After dude has been so terrible you’d think the last ten minutes of him screaming and running from vengeful ghosts would be more rewarding, but that fact that he lives to appear in a sequel gives the impression that Marins wasn’t serious about the comeuppance, he just enjoyed being bad for ninety minutes. Even on my standard old DVD, the avenging ghost’s stop-motion granite aura looked rad.


The Unliving (2010, Hugo Lilja)

I had some extra time, checked out a nice HD copy of this half-hour Swedish short. Nice twist on the ol’ zombie apocalypse. Mark and Katrin are in love – he installs wiring in zombie brains turning them into docile workers, she goes on raids into the city and nailguns zombies to walls so they can be captured and brought to Mark’s lab. They’ve each got problems – she kills a coworker who gets bitten, which is against the rules – and he spots his own mom and brings her home instead of drilling her brains, which is definitely against the rules. I assume their bosses are corrupt and there’s a whole gov’t conspiracy going on and this would’ve been expanded had they ended up making a feature version, which it feels like this very much wants to be… I kept stopping myself from being impressed with the massive amount of work put into this short because it ends up feeling like an overpriced advertisement for something, or an extended trailer for a miniseries. Or maybe I’m just cynical – it has some good character bits, like Katrin coming home, seeing her partner’s zombie mom, and stress-eating cereal. The director and writer finally got their break into features with 2018’s space adventure Aniara.

Part one was the masterpiece that I remembered, and part two… well, it’s a sequel, it’s fine. Maybe losing Stuart Gordon (who was filming Robot Jox instead) was a real problem, or maybe it’s just sequelitis, or I should relax, since this is still quite good.

Dan has no self-respect, is still palling around with the clearly mad Herbert, who is doing gruesome experiments in an unsupervised warzone before returning to the hospital of part one, where he claims he’s doing important work but mostly fucks around reanimating whimsically-joined body parts.

Curious Dr. Graves (Mel Stewart of Shirley Clarke’s Cool World) awakens the evil psychic head of Dr. Hill. As before, emotionally fragile Dan tries to have a love life (Fabiana Udenio of the second Austin Powers) and West accidentally kills someone (this time a cop!) whom he has to resurrect to get out of trouble. And sure as shit, they go the full Frankenstein, making a Bride out of stolen body parts, causing a love-triangle problem for Dan, who chooses life, so the new creature tears her own heart out.

“West killed the corpse.”
“I see how that sounds.”

Academia Horror, an unbelievable horror-comedy that never winks. Even the music is very good, by Richard Band, little brother of Dollman vs. Demonic Toys director Charles.

We’ve got medical school dean Halsey, his student daughter Megan, and her boyfriend Dan… then there’s the boyfriend’s eccentric new roommate Herbert, and his archrival, brain surgeon Dr. Hill. Dan and the Dean (horror royalty Robert Sampson of City of the Living Dead and Netherworld) are fine, but the other three… Barbara Crampton, Jeffrey Combs, and David Gale as Hill… if I was in charge, I’d cast them in every movie.

Opens with Herbert losing his mentor, then Hill losing a patient, and the two face off in the morgue with conflicting beliefs about the nature of life, and I’d forgotten that Hill is also a hypnotist. The autistic West, not great at making friends, gets addicted to his own reagent. The first human he reanimates kills the Dean, so the Dean has to be reanimated – then locked up, since they come back fully mad. As for Hill, West just straight up kills him with a shovel (“plagiarist!”) then reanimates his severed head to prove his methods to the skeptical late doctor, but things… escalate.

“Everything’s shit. The only thing that’s not shitty is sleep”

I’ve apparently seen this before, under its Cemetery Man title, in some 90s VHS horror binge-watch, but remembered nothing of its greatness. Hard to believe that after the cool The Church, then the excellent The Sect, Soavi made a great English-language (with proper sync!) horror-comedy, as crazy as his others and just consistently high-quality in every department.

“Go away, I haven’t got time for the living.”

Gaunt Rupert Everett is our cemetery man, disaffected as he blasts the heads off the reanimated bodies of townspeople he buried the week before, living in a split shack with his assistant Nagi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro of City of Lost Children), keeping things pretty quiet and off the grid until Nagi falls for the mayor’s daughter, who goes riding with her biker boyfriend’s gang and gets into a wreck with a bus full of boyscouts, which brings public and government attention to the cemetery, along with a busload of new zombies. Rupert falls in love with a Mysterious Woman who keeps reappearing, sometimes as a zombie and sometimes as a whole new character.

An American movie might’ve kept this story going and lead to a conventional climax, but Soavi has to go bigger and weirder – after the grim reaper tells him to stop killing the dead, Rupert wheels into town and mass-murders the living – or somebody does, but even though we see him committing these crimes, the cops refuse to treat him as a suspect. “Somebody’s stolen my crimes.” Nagi digs up his beloved’s head, which can move on its own and takes up residence in his broken television. Rupert tries to make himself surgically impotent so the new mayor’s hot secretary (the Mysterious Woman again) will stay with him… he sleeps with a student then sets her on fire… then he and Nagi flee town and discover the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

Bill Pullman goes to Haiti to investigate a zombie rumor with the help of a local doctor – but he didn’t expect the DOCTOR to be a PRETTY LADY, he tells us in voiceover. Pullman has been good in comedies (Spaceballs the year before this) and dramas (or whatever Lost Highway is) but I don’t buy him for a second here. The pretty lady is Cathy Tyson of Mona Lisa, and she and Paul Winfield almost make the movie worth watching.

The day after our guy makes sweet love to the pretty doctor, the government declares martial law and to show him they’re serious the local badman (S African Zakes Mokae of Dust Devil and Dilemma) pounds a nail through Pullman’s scrotum, but Pullman persists, and gets Mozart (Lodge 49 star Brent Jennings, I didn’t recognize him!) to mix him up some zombie powder to bring home. Everybody either dies, or dreams they’ve died, or comes back to life, and the silly explanatory titles at the beginning and end trying to frame this buncha nonsense as news/science don’t help anything.

Haiti, 1962: a guy dies after walking in shoes cursed with ashes of puffer-fish- innards, becomes part of an army of twilight zombies cutting cane, but awakens from his half-life and returns home.

Decades later, a rich white girl comes along with her petty problems and lack of belief or understanding, causing someone to ruin their life. The white girl is boarding-school Fanny, who befriends Haitian zombi child Melissa. Heartbroken after being dumped, Fanny visits Melissa’s mambo aunt Katy, paying an absurd amount for an improper ritual which accidentally summons the demon god Baron Samedi from that Goldeneye game.

Child (with killer phone case):

Zombi:

Violet Lucca in Reverse Shot:

The Baron taunts Katy for disrespecting her father, and, to use a Lynchian expression, something really bad happens to the girl and the woman. (What, exactly, we do not know, except that they are both being punished.) In the final shot, Mélissa emerges from an endless darkness wearing a white dress, the color of Dambala; for the rest of the West, it will likely read a symbol of purity. It’s perhaps the only image that could make sense at that point, unsatisfying as it may be. Receiving closure from relationships, stories, or life isn’t universally guaranteed.

Nocturama reference:

Mambo X-fade:

Opens with a shaky walking cam, some zooms and shock edits, brief gore and nudity, but feels like its own thing, distinct from the Argento and Fulci movies I usually end up watching. Since discovering the great Michele Soavi last year, I’ve been optimistic about expanding my Italian horror canon. Ferroni was a familiar name because of his Brigade, and this, his penultimate film, was quite good.

I don’t think this was the intention, but I’m going to think of this as one of those stories where someone shows themself to be a real asshole, then they get severely punished by paranormal forces. Nicola is an entitled city dude, played by Gianni Garko (star of the Sartana series, Fulci’s The Psychic, and Dracula Blows His Cool) who busts up his car then intrudes on a rural family as they’re returning from father’s funeral, claiming he doesn’t want to be a burden, but also insisting everyone listen to his problems and give him immediate assistance.

Until the car can be fixed, Nicola is stuck with the seven remaining family members, who are worriedly whispering about ending a curse, so he gets gradually clued in. It’s not long before the hot daughter Sdenka falls in love with the stranger, and also the dead man’s brother goes out to fight the witch in the woods, returns cursed, and after being stabbed in the heart his face melts nice and slowly, and the movie just chills out and watches it go.

Mouseover to melt Uncle’s face:
image

The second half ends up like so many horrors, with family members in the dark outside yelling someone’s name over and over. The curse catches them quickly, since it causes the afflicted to seek to turn the one they love most, a detail reminiscent of It Follows. “The terror of loneliness – they kill others primarily because they want company, and those victims search for their own company… a neverending chain of death, unless one can break a link,” says the organist in town after Nicola gets his damned car fixed. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the youngest wanders off, comes back bloodthirsty and kills her mom, then all hell breaks loose and our dude returns to a total zombietown. He flees his loving Sdenka, arrives crazed and nonverbal at a hospital, where Sdenka tracks him down, he stabs her and… she doesn’t melt, so he’s just a lunatic murderer.

The same Tolstoy story (here adapted by the writer of Kill, Baby… Kill! and at least two others) was also filmed as the Boris Karloff section of Black Sabbath a decade earlier, The Vampire Family in Russia two decades later, and a Fear Itself episode by Larry Fessenden. Damn good music – the composer also did La Notte and Deep Red, and died before having to hear one of his songs in Gaspar Noé’s Love. The DP shot The House That Screamed, which I’d hoped to catch this SHOCKtober but the month wasn’t long enough. Sdenka is Agostina Belli of a Richard Burton Bluebeard and Fulci’s The Eroticist, and her family members include Roberto Maldera (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), Cinzia De Carolis (Cannibals in the Streets), and the Deneuve-looking Teresa Gimpera (Spirit of the Beehive).