(adapted from an email to Neil)

Yesterday, Katy and I went out to a VIP opening of a guitar-based art exhibit cosponsored by my company. I brushed against St. Vincent’s guitar, and the one Jack White made in that documentary and one Cobain played on the In Utero tour, and a bunch of musicians and guitar-company bigwigs who I didn’t recognize so tomorrow I’ll ask Steve who they all were.

Anyways, Jarmusch has a new movie called The Dead Don’t Die, which is a star-studded zombie comedy three weeks into its three-week run in Atlanta, so we recruited everyone we know to go see it after the museum thing, and lemme tell ya, it’s not a good movie by any criteria, but it’s surely interesting. Casting Tilda Swinton to play a sword-wielding mortician from outer space (via Scotland) is interesting, as are all the third-wall-breaking references to the movie’s script and theme song and other films the cast members have starred in, and the decision to kill all the main characters, and the constant swipes at hipsters and materialism – none of it works, but it’s interesting. Afterwards, Katy said I’ve now picked two movies in a row which sucked, but at least the Jarmusch movie sucks in unique new ways. His odd, slow pacing and his tendency to comically overemphasize things worked for the vampire movie and his very dry comedies, but fights against the wacky mayhem here.

It’s extremely typical in a zombie movie to make a joking George Romero reference, so someone is driving the same model car as in Night of the Living Dead (and the metaphorical comparison of zombies to shopping-mall consumers is swiped from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), and it’s typical in any self-aware graveyard-set auteur comedy to reference other filmmakers via gravestones, so Zombie Iggy Pop crawls out of a grave marked Samuel Fuller… and the references get more obscure from there… Jarmusch names his town after the one from Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels

Then there’s a scene near the end where Caleb Landry Jones and Danny Glover have barricaded themselves inside a hardware store. It may have been meta-humor, when the zombies finally breach the hardware store, that Jones and Glover, surrounded by weapons, continue their laconic conversation instead of properly defending themselves, and are easily killed by the consumerist swarm. But earlier, they’ve killed a couple of invading zombies whom they recognize… “That’s Dallas and Travis Good… the Good Family… those two brothers were great guitarists… it’s said they were born with guitars in their hands,” they say to each other robotically. I get the Romero and Fuller references, and the Trump joke, and Star Wars stuff, and the ultra-hipster Zappa quote, but why this extended Sadies plug?

And today, pondering all the bizarre choices made in that movie, I realized Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL and the Sadies played the same Hanukkah show in 2017.

Just another Hanukkah show that changed culture forever.

It’s a good thing Criterion is releasing the slow-moving serious-art early Dumont films on blu-ray, because I need to catch up, and this also gives me auteurist justification for absolutely loving this goony miniseries where aliens visit the town of Lil Quinquin and start duplicating the residents. The twitchy racist cop is given more screen time than ever, but I’m into it this time. Random resident Mr. Leleu gets copied, then Coincoin’s brother Dany, his ex-girl Eve, D’nis, then the captain himself. The Captain and Carpentier find out about the clones, are on the case, guns drawn, with the kids at their side, and then instead of solving the alien mystery, the “Cause I Knew” girl returns as a zombie and the series ends with a full-cast singalong.

I still want to catch up with Coyote and Buzzard, but had the chance to see this first, and like Ape, it’s about a delusional loner – and now that Relaxer is out, it looks like Potrykus is gonna make a career of cult indie films about delusional loners, not the worst idea. Or maybe the overall theme is “in Canada, you gotta make your own entertainment.”

Ty Hickson (Gimme the Loot) lives alone in the woods, is paranoid and undernourished and working through a series of occult rituals towards certain wealth. At the end it seems he’s just self-destructively off his meds.

Amari Cheatom returns as Cortez in Relaxer, hinting at a Potrykus Connected Multiverse, even though he is a zombie by the end of this movie.

It’s unwise to watch more than two Italian horrors per SHOCKtober, but this caught my eye at Videodrome, and it’s been years since anything caught my eye at Videodrome since we haven’t lived close enough, so I rented it to celebrate being able to spontaneously pick movies off shelves again, rather than relying on my premeditated lists. Surprise: it’s really good. Almost seems like a parody of previous Italian horrors – “woman in a strange new house discovers gateway to hell in her basement” is the plot of half these things, and this one adds a Rosemary’s Baby element, with supernatural cultists enlisting the unwilling woman in their rituals.

If you see something suspicious in an Italian horror, always put your eyeball reeeeeal close to it:

Starts off shaky, with a mad prophet stumbling in from the desert, meeting some hippies, mis-quoting a Rolling Stones lyric to each other, making me wonder if the song was translated into Italian and back – then when night falls there’s a hippie slaughter, and I realize after Race With The Devil, I’ve accidentally programmed a satanist double-feature. In Germany years later, a balding dude follows a woman home and kills her, “why did you disobey?,” then on the subway a pickpocket pulls a human heart out of the balding dude’s jacket, and this is already crazier with more visual imagination than the other satanist movie.

A straight plot summary seems wrong for such a mad movie, but I’ll try, Kelly Curtis hits an old man with her car (Herbert Lom, Walken’s doctor in The Dead Zone), takes him home where his insects impregnate her with the devil, then he dies after a rabbit knocks over his meds, leaving behind a sentient death-shroud. Kelly is attacked by the reanimated body of her knife-murdered friend. A hot doctor helps her out, investigates the subterranean cult beneath her house, somehow ends up dying in an auto explosion, and the mom apparently survives the same fire, saved by her devil-baby. Whatever nonsense is happening, the camera is always up for filming it in bold color, with roving movements or in extreme close-up. There is bird tossing, voicemail from a dead man, a metal coffin unsealed with a can opener, a stork attack, a face transplant, and a basement with a skylight.

A high-quality movie with well-drawn characters, but it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before, as we meet a bunch of people who will be killed one by one as we learn more about their situation and the zombies’ behavior, and wounded friends conceal their bites until they suddenly turn feral at the worst possible moment.

Lotta jump scares for a movie watched on a plane while holding a ginger ale over the keyboard, but we pulled it off. The first attack is at a racetrack, which pays off wonderfully at the end.

Things learned about Canada: everyone is an excellent rifle shot, and they have a surplus of wooden chairs.

Lydia Ogwang in Cinema Scope:

As Aubert’s characters come to terms with new iterations of life under duress, class and lifestyle conflicts in tow, the film studies the fascinating emergent networks of morality and sentimentality among them which cut through the monotony of genre … The tender, humanistic focus delineates the action from run-of-the-mill Romero rehash: even amidst its faithfully rendered gore and copious jump scares, the film is committed to behavioural realism.

This has a decent reputation, and is based on an acclaimed novel, so maybe I was just in a mood – I found it weak, clunky, unconvincing in every way. Fun in theory to watch a tormented Vincent Price (same year as Masque of the Red Death) as the sole survivor in a world overrun by zombies, searching for other uninfected humans by day, trying to ignore the monsters yelling his name outside the house all night. I’m gonna blame Addams Family director Salkow and his mysterious Italian codirector for the clunkiness.

Price narrates, and shows us his lost family in flashback, eventually locates “survivor” Ruth, who turns out to be a zombie spy sent to flush him out. This is four years before Living Dead, so I shouldn’t call them zombies, but they’re ex-humans who only need to dispose of Price in order to form a completely ex-human society. This was remade with Charlton Heston (The Omega Man), then Will Smith (I Am Legend) – maybe fourth time’s the charm.

Oh dear, it’s almost Christmas and I’m still catching up with SHOCKtober movies…

I watched this near the beginning of the First Videodrome Era and thought I remembered only a couple things about it, but I think I was getting it mixed-up with Tenebrae and actually remember nothing about it. So here again, for the first time, The Beyond:

Louisiana 1927 (at least it’s not Maryland), two rowboats full of Southern white men bearing torches – this won’t be good. They accuse a dude of being a warlock, whup him with a chain, nail him to a wall then throw shovelfuls of boiling grits in his face.

54 years later, Liza (Catriona MacColl, screamer star of City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery) just bought the building where the grits murder took place, is having people fix it up when a painter falls to his near-death after spotting a dead-eyed woman. Liza is fond of the dreamy attending doctor David Warbeck (Fulci’s Black Cat), and unaware of the gate to hell in her new building’s basement. Joe The Plumber (who looks just like Chris Meloni in Wet Hot American Summer) is the first to dig around down there and get his face clawed off, then his whole family goes to the hospital to identify the body and is murdered by the undead.

Martha The Maid:

I thought Martha The Maid (baddie of Inferno) was acting suspicious and would turn out to be the hotel’s demonic caretaker, but nope, Undead Joe shoves her head into a large nail (Fulci’s signature eyeball trauma). There is however a psychic blind girl (Cinzia Monreale of Beyond the Darkness: “We blind see things more clearly”) who knows the history of the place, but she might be a ghost. A dude investigating at the library gets his face chewed off by tarantulas, a doctor is killed by very much broken glass, and eventually dreamy Dr. Warbeck is defending the survivors against hospital zombies by shooting them all in the shirt pocket. Movie ends in an inexplicable surrealist hellscape, and would’ve ended a half hour sooner if all the characters didn’t keep repeating everything they say. Cool movie though – one of the better Italian horrors I’ve seen.

I guess the title refers to the ultimate horror, that in darkest Haiti, not only the deceased natives are being resurrected as workhorse zombie slaves but… white people, too! Good evocative opening, the clueless foreigners arriving to encounter a burial in the middle of the road (to avoid grave robbing) then asking directions from local zombiemaster Bela Lugosi. Of course the Christian missionary has been here 30 years and insists all this zombie nonsense is primitive superstition, but even he comes around by the end.

How are hipsters not waxing their eyebrows like this?

Since all 1930’s movies are about two white people wanting to be married, we’ve got Neil (John Harron of Satan in Sables, Karloff’s The Invisible Menace): simple, impulsive, a very slow learner… and Madeline (Madge Bellamy, star of Lazybones, who would later become infamous for shooting her millionaire ex-lover)… who is also desired by local fancyman Beaumont (Robert Frazer of The Vampire Bat), who has hired Neil in order to get closer to Mads. Beau fails to woo her from Neil, so he poisons her at the wedding, then has Lugosi resurrect her to marry.

“Surely you don’t think she’s alive in the hands of natives? Oh no, better dead than that!”

Even dense Neil figures out what has happened, teaming up with the pipe-smoking missionary (Joseph Cawthorn, William Powell’s dad in The Great Ziegfeld) to meet Haitian Witch Doctor Pierre (played by a Brit) for advice, learning that houses of the living dead can be identified by nearby vultures (played by hawks or falcons). Meanwhile Beau is bummed that Zombie Mads has no facial expressions or speech or emotions (but can still play piano), gets zombified himself for daring to complain to Lugosi about it. After a couple of attempted murders and a slow-motion shove-fight atop a cliff, Lugosi falls dead and Mads awakens (so her resurrection was permanent, but her stupor-state was maintained by Lugosi’s will?). Mostly the movie seems important for its historical place as the first zombie film, and for its wealth of Bela Lugosi poses and expressions, silently controlling zombies with hand gestures like he’s playing a Wii game.

Beau and Mads:

Nice pose… but not a vulture:

Produced by Victor’s brother Edward, the two Halperins also made a loose sequel set in Cambodia, gangster KKK drama Nation Aflame, and the Carole Lombard ghost thriller Supernatural.

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