I’ve just heard the terrible news that the Godfather of zombies, George A Romero, has passed away at the age of 77 after a short battle with lung cancer. This is awful, awful news. I’m hard pushed to think of a filmmaker who had such an influence on the horror genre. For me, I can trace my fascination with zombies to a particular dark and storm-filled afternoon when, with my brother and a bunch of friends, we sat down to watch the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on laserdisc (yes, it was that long ago). That movie was revelatory, as was DAWN OF THE DEAD, and then DAY OF THE DEAD. Landmark. Without Mr Romero’s movies, myself and scores of other writers and filmmakers would have had to find something else to do for a living. His films – particularly the original DEAD trilogy and other classics like THE CRAZIES and MARTIN – struck a chord in a way very few movies did. The series which kickstarted my career – AUTUMN – would never have been written had it not been for Romero’s films.
George Romero is survived by his wife and three children. My sincere condolences go out to them at this very sad time.
A couple of weeks ago I kicked off a retrospective look at I AM LEGEND by looking at Richard Matheson’s landmark book and promising to re-watch the three film adaptations which have been produced to date.
To my mind, this first adaptation – the Vincent Price starring LAST MAN ON EARTH from 1964 – is the best by a long shot, and that’s surprising given the increasing budgets and advances in technology used to make movies in the fifty-or-so years since it was made.
Or maybe it’s not surprising at all?
Maybe it makes perfect sense that a small, low-budget movie like this should come closest to matching the claustrophobic tone of Matheson’s book. Without the distraction of summer blockbuster state-of-the-art special effects, all we’re left to focus on is Vincent Price’s intense portrayal of Robert Morgan (confusingly re-named from Neville in this version of the story). When the world outside has shrunk to one man’s area of reach, why would we want to look any wider?
At this point I’d usually include a trailer, but LAST MAN ON EARTH is in the public domain (according to some sources), so I’ve embedded the entire movie below care of the Internet Archive.
Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND is a remarkable book. Do a straw poll of a hundred horror authors and ask them to name the single piece of fiction which most influenced them, and I’ll wager that a good number will cite I AM LEGEND. It’s not just authors – the same is probably true of film-makers too. You can’t read the book without having scenes from George Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD play out in your head.
There’s no question, therefore, that this is an hugely influential novel, and the fact it’s been filmed on no less than three occasions is further proof of that. Interestingly, though, it’s also a remarkably slight book, coming in at less than 200 pages. So how does Matheson cram so much into so little? I decided to try and find out. There will unavoidably be spoilers ahead.
As I type I’ve literally just finished re-reading the book for the umpteenth time. I thought it would be interesting to give you my thoughts on the novel and then, over the next few weeks, to look at each of the film adaptations in turn (and if you’re not aware of the movies, they are as follows: LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE OMEGA MAN and I AM LEGEND).
I’m sure you know the basic plot by now but, just in case, here’s the back cover blurb: Robert Neville may well be the only survivor of an incurable plague that has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.
By day, he scavenges for food and supplies, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. But all the while the infected lurk in the shadows, watching his every move, waiting for him to make a mistake…
A couple of times recently I’ve talked about remakes of classic horror movies. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. I maintain that in order for a remake to be a critical success, it has to have a point. It might be that the original fell short in some way, or that film-making technology has advanced sufficiently to benefit the telling of a particular story. Or maybe a sociological, environmental or political change or similar has given the premise a new lease of life.
Unfortunately, the George Romero scripted, Tom Savini directed 1990 remake of Romero’s classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has very little reason to exist. I caught the remake on it’s opening weekend twenty-five years ago (twenty-five years… how did that happen?) and I took the opportunity to watch it again recently. I really enjoyed it when I was twenty, and I wondered how it would hold up today. The short answer – it didn’t. Not particularly well, anyway.
It’s a new night for terror – and a new dawn in horror movie-making when special-effects genius Tom Savini (creator of the spectacularly gruesome make-up in FRIDAY THE 13TH and CREEPSHOW) brings modern technology to this colourful remake of George A. Romero‘s 1968 cult classic. Seven strangers are trapped in an isolated farmhouse while cannibalistic zombies – awakened from death by the return of a radioactive space probe – wage a relentless attack, killing (and eating) everyone in their path. The classic for the 90s: graphic, gruesome and more terrifying than ever!
Over a decade ago, while I was a film journalist, I got to interview producer Jeffrey Katzenberg as part of the the press junket for Shrek 2. At one point I asked him if he thought the Shrek franchise was subverting the fairytale/family entertainment genre, so beloved of Disney? Katzenberg rolled his eyes and shook his head at my question.
“Y’know,” he said. “I get about ten young writers coming into my office every week telling me they’ve got a script that reinvents some genre or other. But you know what – I wish they’d just learn to write the freaking genre, before trying to remake it!” I remember being a bit abashed at the time, not just because he’d brushed off my question, but I probably had some work tucked away in a drawer that aspired to reinvent a genre or two. With hindsight however, I can’t help thinking how spot on his comment was.
Every genre has to reinvent itself over time if it’s to remain relevant and fresh to successive generations. However, so many attempts end up falling flat, or missing the mark. So, what I’d like to look at in this guest post, is the ways in which writers, directors and other genre practitioners have successfully subverted the horror genre throughout its long history, to get an idea of what really works.
This week’s selection for my Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club is a film I did all I could to avoid watching for a long time. I mean, another Night of the Living Dead remake? Made on a shoestring budget… in Wales? A recipe for disaster, right? Wrong.
The director of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION, James Plumb, and a number of his sidekicks from Mad Science Films were at last October’s SCARDIFF event, though I didn’t get chance to speak to them. I got talking to Wayne Simmons after the event (who, as you’ll probably remember, is one of the good folks behind Scardiff). Wayne recommended I watch NOTLD:R. He said he thought I’d be surprised by it, and I was.
Watch the trailer below then click the link for my thoughts and some words from James Plumb.
I’m guessing that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve almost certainly seen Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, probably many times. And if you’ve seen NOTLD, you’ll no doubt recall the classic opening scene featuring Barbara and Johnny encountering the first ghoul in a cemetery: ‘They’re coming to get you Barbara…’
The Evans City Cemetery, where that iconic movie moment was filmed, has fallen into disrepair. A group of dedicated horror fans have started a campaign to save the chapel, and I urge you to support them. You can learn more about the campaign, make donations to the cause, and buy official ‘save the chapel’ merchandise at www.fixthechapel.com. I have a cracking T-shirt (courtesy of Jami Sroka – thank you Jami!) which I’m doing my best to wear to as many horror events as I can this year.
I was also asked to write the forward to a new Kindle book – STORIES FROM THE CHAPEL – which was coordinated by Alfredo Torres. The book’s a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it immensely. Each tale takes the cemetery and the zombie apocalypse as its inspiration, and each writer’s passion for the project really shines through. All profits go to saving the chapel.
I’ve got a few book recommendations to share with you over the coming weeks, and today it’s the turn of Adam Baker’s wonderful OUTPOST. A few months back I saw the cover popping up with increasingly regularity online and I was intrigued. Several people recommended the book to me and when I discovered that Adam himself was a member of Moody’s Survivors, I immediately got hold of a copy. For anyone who hasn’t yet read it, here’s the blurb:
“They took the job to escape the world. They didn’t expect the world to end.
Kasker Rampart: a derelict refinery platform moored in the Arctic Ocean. A skeleton crew of fifteen fight boredom and despair as they wait for a relief ship to take them home.
But the world beyond their frozen wasteland has gone to hell. Cities lie ravaged by a global pandemic. One by one TV channels die, replaced by silent wavebands.
The Rampart crew are marooned. They must survive the long Arctic winter, then make their way home alone. They battle starvation and hypothermia, unaware that the deadly contagion that has devastated the world is heading their way…”
OUTPOST is a great, fast read. Baker presents a truly nightmarish scenario (on many levels) which twists and turns like you wouldn’t believe. Considering the isolation and inaccessibility of the refinery location, he manages to spin the tale off in several unexpected directions whilst still maintaining an air of claustrophobic hopelessness. I really enjoyed the book, and I contacted Adam to ask a few questions about the novel and his career in general.
I’ve just posted my first entry over at Babel Clash – the Borders Scifi blog. It’s about zombies (wouldn’t you know) and why they scare me as much today as they did 25+ years ago when I first watched Night of the Living Dead. Please click here to check it out, and feel free to add to the conversation – it would be great to hear what you think it is about zombies that scares the heck out of so many of us. While you’re there, check out Jonathan Maberry’s post from yesterday about the horror books and movies which have inspired him.
It’s been a busy day today. I’m working flat out on AUTUMN: AFTERMATH right now, but I took time out this afternoon to speak to Ian Berriman from SFX magazine. Ian interviewed me for their forthcoming zombie special (on sale in September). I’ll tell you more about that nearer the time. I think you’ll like what they’ve got planned…
And in other news, the postman delivered issue #5 of SCREAM magazine (with some great features including interviews with Doug Bradley – Pin Head from Hellraiser, and Frank Henenlotter – director of Basket Case, Frankenhooker and various other cult movies I loved watching on VHS back in the day).
And finally, this morning I was asked to blurb the final volume in a hugely popular trilogy of zombie novels. It’s a book many of us thought might never see the light of day, and one I know many of you are looking forward to. Can’t wait to get into that!
Please check out the Babel Clash blog, and come back here tomorrow when another free AUTUMN short will be going online.