And part two of today’s double weekly roundup: movies! For the past two weeks, I’ve enjoyed the old school b&w’s and a hearty helping of Romero.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde  (1941) The Spencer Tracy/Ingrid Bergman version of this oft-remade classic. I think Bergman’s performance as Hyde’s prisoner and victim really sets this one apart, more so than the latex, hairy eyebrows, and surreal dream sequences. She transforms from a bright, confident woman of the working class to a tortured, nervous wretch who has suffered the absolute worst of human nature.

House on Haunted Hill (1959) Part mystery, part ghost story, House is a power struggle between eccentric millionaire Frederic Loren (Vincent Price) and his clever young wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). Proves that the worst part about being locked in a haunted house for the night is always the other people.

Nosferatu It never fails to horrify me that this gem of the silent film era was almost lost forever due to, of all things, an intellectual property dispute. F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of the novel Dracula features unearthly Max Shreck in the titular role and locates most of the story’s action in a small town in Germany. Whereas Lugosi’s performance in 1931 is a masterpiece of gothic grandeur, Nosferatu is a story of creeping terror, even ninety years after its release.

Dracula (1931) Speaking of Lugosi, I’d like to pit Edward Cullen against this Count any day. The film shifts the focus away from the novel’s erstwhile heroes (honestly, they were never that interesting anyway) and lets the Count steal the show. Also features Dwight Frye — who also portrays Fritz the lab assistant in Frankenstein — as the skulking lackey Renfield in a wonderfully deranged performance.

Frankenstein (1931) Shifting from vampires back to mad scientists, here we have Mary Shelley’s experiment gone wrong (well, part one anyway). Colin Clive is iconic as our dear doctor and who can forget Karloff’s Monster?

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Bride loosely covers the second half of the original novel (introduced, hilariously, by Elsa Lanchester playing Shelley), in which the Monster develops speech and eventually demands a wife from Frankenstein. Of course, Hollywood took a number of liberties with the storyline, not in the least by introducing the nefarious Dr. Pretorious.

Young Frankenstein Yes, technically this is a comedy and not a horror movie, but who better to manipulate silver screen tropes than Mel Brooks? From the blind hermit to the Bride’s famous white streaks, Brooks leaves not the slightest detail un-mocked. Also, Gene Wilder. Also, also, Marty Feldman. Also, also, also, Madeline Kahn.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) I have to say, watching a movie every day makes for some fascinating juxtapositions. For example, I’ve never felt the shift from 1930s Creature Features to Cold War Era horror quite so strongly. We begin to fear less what we might unleash or create (as with FrankensteinInvisible ManDr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and a whole slew of others) and more what lurks in the unknown (especially mutations). Consider one of the most unnerving scenes of the film in which Kay (Julie Lawrence) swims unknowingly in the same water as the Creature.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Ah, the little indie film which started it all. This one’s in the public domain so there’s no excuse not to have seen it. Really, no excuse. We’re talking about the film that launched an entire genre, the first apocalyptic zombie movie. And it holds up, partly because the b&w film hides the worst of your low-budget SNAFUs, partly because the performances are so damn good. Not to mention Ben, the first African American horror hero. Oh and favorite zombie? Graveyard Zombie. They’re definitely coming to get you, Barbara.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) So, Night  is damn good, but Dawn is great. Dawn takes what Night built and throws it onto a global scale. We’re not in an isolated farmhouse anymore. We’re in a TV station and in the projects and eventually in a shopping mall, that breathtaking symbol of American commercialism. But Dawn reveals what Romero accomplishes in these movies that nearly every other zombie movie fails to do: create sympathetic, complex characters. Yes, zombie movies are about entrails and the dissolution of society as we know it. But they’re also about people and the ways people change to survive. I don’t always love Stephen, Franny, Peter, and Roger, but I believe them and I want them to survive. Peter/Roger is one of my absolute favorite horror movie bromances, and I am always genuinely upset when Roger turns, especially after the “I’m going to try not to” scene. Favorite Zombie: Hare Krishna zombie!

Day of the Dead (1985) The last of the original trilogy, Day tackles more of the long game in the apocalypse. It’s also the only of Romero’s movies that focuses on scientists and the military trying to figure out what’s going on. Day‘s real strength is less the undead hordes trying to get in the complex and more the way it examines the decomposition (harhar) of human communication. It’s a quieter, more claustrophobic look at the apocalypse. Meanwhile, we have the first  human-zombie communication between Dr. Frankenstein and, my favorite zombie of the film, Bub (Sherman Howard).

Land of the Dead (2005) After a twenty-year hiatus, Romero came out with Land, which is — I’ll admit it — my least favorite of the franchise. In terms of the movies’ timeline, it occurs the latest out of all of them,in an era when humans have built isolated strongholds to protect them from the undead threat. The social criticism here is significantly less nuanced than the other Dead movies and our ragtag band of heroes isn’t nearly as compelling as their predecessors. For me, the real protagonists in Land are the zombies, particularly Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), who is the best example of a leader in the whole damn film. He leads his undead friends by example, mourns their re-deaths, and safely gets most of them home again.

Diary of the Dead (2007) Diary returns us to the night of the event. Our heroes are a group of film students from University of Pittsburgh, who were trying to shoot a horror movie before the world ended. It’s not as lackluster as Land and does manage to ask some interesting questions about journalistic ethics and the need for documentation. For me, though, the highlight of the film will always be Samuel the mute Amish farmer.

Survival of the Dead (2009) While, Survival is the worst received of the Dead series, I still find it pretty entertaining (the last scene, in particular, is hilarious). I think one of the difficulties with it is the larger cast — we have the soldiers and the islanders — and there’s not as much room to develop sympathies. Romero does pose an important question in the film: why shouldn’t we try to save/cure our loved ones? Or if we can’t cure them, teach them how to be more like people?

  1. bnpqoe says:

    Make sure you round out your Halloween viewing experience with Mommie Dearest. That’s how I roll every October 31st.

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