Thursday, January 19, 2012

City of the Walking Dead (Nightmare City 1980)

Italian zombie flicks have always been a love of mine and for the longest time, back in the early days of VHS rental, this movie always seemed to elude me. Only one video store had this title on their shelves but it was ALWAYS out and then finally was transferred to one of the other sister stores in the next city over. Well at the time gas money was scarce, I was all of 17 making minimum wage in 1989, so driving over to the next city to rent a movie was not in the cards. Then one day I saw that a new video store was opening up in one of the local strip malls. Being the horror junkie that I was, and still am, I was pretty excited to see another store pop up. On the day it opened I stopped by and went straight to their horror section. Low and behold there  in all its oversized bloody box glory was City of the Walking Dead! I was finally going to see this one! This one title alone warranted signing up for a free membership. As a new customer I also got a card with two free movie rentals on it. Of course I used my first free rental right then and there! I left the store with my free movie rental of what I believed was going to be a really cool zombie flick! The front of the box promised some gore and the back featured oatmeal faced undead that rivaled the absurdity of Andrea Bianchi’s clay faced flesh eaters of Burial Ground (aka The Nights of Terror 1981).

One of the walking oatmeal face mutant!
City of the Walking Dead begins as Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz), a journalist, is heading to the airport to interview a well known scientist who is expected to be arriving soon. Miller and his cameraman are intrigued as reports come in of an unidentified military cargo plane is about to make an emergency landing. The two investigate and find the plane surrounded my military police. No one seems to be on board and then the door slowly opens. Everything is quiet and suddenly a horde of zombies leap from the plane and start attacking the military with knives, axes and machine guns and……wait, what!? Hit the pause button! You’re telling me that zombies have now learned to use complicated weaponry and are now running around like spiders hopped up on Mountain Dew? This goes against everything I had I known about zombies! They are supposed to be shambling corpses not flesh hungry Olympians! Ok press play and let’s get back to the action at hand.

The marauding horde of the living dead make their way across the Italian countryside slashing, hacking and drinking the blood of their victims. One sequence is pretty bloody where the zombies attack the television studio that Miller works for. As he is reporting the airport episode to the thousands of viewers watching the executives pull the plug on his airtime. It appears the military are trying to gain control of the situation and shutting up Miller. Meanwhile in Studio B, during the broadcast of what looks to be a dance show, the zombies burst in to attack the dancers. Lucky for them most are women and lucky for the viewer many breasts are exposed! One dancer is unlucky enough to have her nipple sliced off and eaten by one of the zombies (she can be scene on the front cover of the box).

Ok so far we have a horde of murderous zombies, who can wield weapons and sprint after their victims. And while they are killing and drinking blood we really don’t see any gut munching, which is something usually pretty prevalent in Italian zombie flicks. Enter in Mel Ferrer (of T.V.’s Falcon Crest) as General Murchison. Apparently Murchison kind of knows what is going on. It turns out these “zombies” aren’t zombies at all! They are humans infected by radiation! The radiation has polluted their blood cells and they need to replenish their blood count with fresh human blood! OOOOOOOH that’s why they can run around and shoot guns! Gotcha! But….wait…..why call the movie City of the “Walking Dead”? Meh….par for the course for Italian horror film titles that come over to the U.S. in some type of truncated form.

Well after all this excitement the movie slows down while Miller collects his wife Anna (Laura Trotter) , a doctor at the local hospital and they spend much of the movie running around trying to escape the radioactive ghouls. We are also treated to more shots of Ferrer commanding the military forces safe from his command center. The movie kind of drags along but there are some action scenes thrown in for good measure. It’s almost like Poseidon Adventure in a way where there are supporting characters here and there and they interact with some of the major players but are basically written in so we can see them meet their bloody demise.
Hello Mel? Help me outta here!

The Millers do finally try to take refuge in a church, because after all these ghouls are like vampires. They need blood to survive so that also qualifies them to be afraid of places of worship. Not really a good train of thought being that you have been chased all over the countryside in the DAYLIGHT and they haven’t burst into flames or weakened in any sense. But this does let us encounter a radiation poisoned priest who attacks them. Hooray another arbitrary action scene! Finally the Millers make their way to an amusement park where they are finding dead ghouls, apparently dying of a lack of blood. They are chased up a roller coaster track by a pack of blood thirsty ghouls but are able to signal a passing military helicopter to rescue them. They both climb up the rescue rope (they were fresh out of ladder rope) but Anna loses her grip and plummets to her death, hitting several steel beams on the way down. An unintentionally funny scene since they use a dummy that looks like a dummy as its arms flail wildly and folds itself over one of the steel beams. Dean screams in agony seeing his wife fall to her death and wakes himself up from a …..NIGHTMARE!! Oh you gotta be kidding me!? It was all a dream? Man what a let down! It almost makes you want to punch Lenzi in the face for this type of “twist ending” but the movie really was going nowhere so thank you Umberto for ending the pain. As Miller collects himself he realizes he is late for his interview. An interview that is being conducted at the airport……with a prominent scientist……Uh oh. Yep you guess it! The ole circular ending trick! We are treated to a rehash of basically the first 10 minutes of the film but when the door opens to the airplane containing the ghouls, the frame freezes and the credits roll……….ohhhh thank heaven it’s over!

Sorry Hugo, you're I have Falcon Crest.
Now you might think I don’t like this movie. Well I didn’t at first but after about the third time seeing it, this one has grown on me and I like it for all the wrong reasons. I would still like to lay my hands on the Continental Video big box release that is pictured at the top of this entry but for right now I am content with the Blue Underground DVD release under the title Nightmare City, which is uncut by the way. If you like action, bloodletting, bouncing boobies and general silliness then I highly recommend this one!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let The Right One In (2008)

Greetings one and all! I have been on hiatus for awhile but hopefully I can divert some more attention to the coffin. I apologize for not updating my blog for such a long time and hope that all my readers (all 5 of them) will stick around for my ramblings!

Let the Right One In (2008) is a very interesting tale of a young boy named Oskar and his newly found friend, a young girl named Eli. Oskar is a quiet kid who is bullied at school. He tends to be a loner and seemingly has no friends. Oskar spends a lot of his time outside in the courtyard of the apartment complex where he lives with his single mother. Oskar spends time pretending to take revenge on the bullies at his school. One night, while playing outside, he meets the new tenant Eli. Eli is about the same age as Oskar but is rather peculiar. She spends her time outside, in the snow with no shoes and only dressed in a pair of pants and shirt. Hardly the type of clothing to be wearing in the cold weather of Norway!

Eventually we learn that Eli is a vampire. She lives in the complex with her “father”. I’m not even sure if it is really her father but he is her guardian. Her father helps her feed by finding victims, draining them of blood and bringing it back to give to Eli. Eventually this task goes awry and Eli is forced to feed on her own to survive. Oskar and Eli become friends. It takes Oskar some time to figure things out but is very accepting of what Eli is. With Eli’s help, Oskar is able to over come his fear of bullies and stand up for himself. He takes revenge into his own hands but in the end it comes back to bite him (no pun intended).  The final confrontation with the main bully’s older brother is quietly shocking as is the entire film to be honest. 

Oskar the troubled loner

The film is shot with little to no musical score and there are music “shock stabs” to make the viewer jump. This lack of musical accompaniment mixed with the film being shot in the dead of winter gives the movie an incredibly eerie mood. The movie transfixes you to the development of Oskar and Eli but also the story line that is unfolding.

There are several scenes which depict Eli for what she really is, a rather old vampire. Several times she mentions that she is old but she either doesn’t want to let on how old she is or she honestly doesn’t pay attention to the passing of time. In a scene in which she hungrily laps up blood from the floor, we get a glimpse of what might be a long tongue scouring the floor for every last drop of satiating crimson. Her facial features change as well almost revealing that she is older or either unearthly. This example and several other scenes are more suggestive than point blank. This again adds to the incredibly thick atmosphere created throughout the entire film. 

Eli the cute innocent
Director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriters John Ajvide Linqvist (who wrote the original novel), weave an interesting mix of childhood nostalgia and fantasy with vampire mythology in a modern world. There are no stakings or vampire hunters but sunlight does pose pretty potent in the movie in several scenes. So there is a bit of vampire mythos that is still held onto but blatantly trotted out like an old Universal or Hammer film. 

Hmmm....need to retract that innocent statement.
In 2010 the movie was remade into an American version with director Matt Reeves () and screenwriter Linqvist. I have not seen the remake so I cannot comment on how it holds up to the original. The original is so well done that I actually have no desire to check out the remake! I would hope it is as good if not better than the original but normally remakes can never quite catch what the original has to offer. Maybe one day I will check it out.