Zombie Nightmares

Of all the genres in horror, the one that consistently offers the most rollickingly bad movies has got to be zombie cinema. Why is that, do you suppose? Well, they’re usually made on extremely low budgets; the performers in the zombie makeups could hardly be called “actors”; and they’re often Italian films hilariously dubbed into English stateside. But there are other countries to whom the bony finger can be extended as well. Let’s take a look at some of them…

1. City of the Walking Dead (1980). Neopolitan director Umberto Lenzi, who cut his teeth (ha!) with the notoriousEaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox, worked with the real living dead in this goofy flick. The plot: an unmarked aircraft roars unannounced into an airport, and security officers surround it.

Unfortunately, all the passengers have been poisoned by the trademark mysterious movie radiation and have been transformed into crazed, flesh-consuming killers. They spill out onto the tarmac, attacking and killing the cops. This film should really be called City of the Running Dead, because it was made 20 years before Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and its sprinting killers.

But “walking dead” is a misnomer, too, because these folks are still alive, just irradiated and hungry for human flesh. And something about the radiation process has caused them to go to health spas for mud packs. Or maybe they put the mud on themselves to soothe their scorching skin?

At any rate, this goofy movie is about a reporter trying to save himself and his wife as the creatures run from location to location, slaughtering all the way. And American actor Mel Ferrer (looking for a paycheck) pops up as an army general who wants to keep the apocalypse under wraps to prevent the populace from panicking. Now, how can you cover it up when the killers…er, zombies…er, whatever they are…keep racing from place to place and killing people?

As you can tell by this bare-bones plot, it really is a bare-bones film. It tries to get serious by touching on such deep subjects as governmental cover-ups and the rape of the environment, but it’s just too damn goofy to make a serious statement about either.

My favorite scene involves the creatures invading a television studio where girls are inexplicably dancing in spandex outfits, only to slab, slice and otherwise mow them down. Whoo-hoo! Down with Disco! And Lenzi doesn’t even know how to end the film—the reporter wakes up in bed with his wife safely beside him and realizes he’s dreamt everything. He heads off to the airport to get the scoop on the unmarked plane. The plane’s doors open, the creeps rush out, and hey! We’ve started over again!

Too light and disappointing on its own, I recommend that City of the Walking Dead be viewed with another goofy zombie movie for a full evening of quality trash entertainment.

2. Porno Holocaust (1981). Another prolific Italian director, Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massacessi) worked in both the horror and hardcore porn genres. He must’ve thought, “What two great tastes would taste great together?” and launched—yes—the zombie porn genre.

One of his most hilariously titled messes has got to be Porno Holocaust (1981). Just like the above-described film, the plot is super-simple: A group of scientists travel to a mysterious island where they discover a zombie king with a gigantic penis. This well-hung zombie kills all the men and rapes all of the females (also murdering them with his enormous phallus). The female lead is kidnapped by the monster, but is rescued by the last surviving male. And that’s it.

I really don’t understand what kind of audience D’Amato was hoping to attract by combining these two genres. I’m sure there are kinksters out there who get excited about the idea of zombie sex, but certainly not that many (I hope). Thanks to Google, I just watched a couple of sample sex scenes from the film featuring coupling on the beach, and they’re about as exciting as open-heart surgery. The soundtrack is a combination of cheesy sci-fi music and jungle sounds, and the actors go about their business like they’re riding the subway to work on Monday. The picture is also rather racist, since the scientists are all white and the “primitive people” they’re studying—and the zombie king himself—are darker.

Another zombie-porn combo film has an even more hilarious title—Erotic Orgasm. Not only does it not even mention zombies, it suggests something that I’d assume is a given. I mean—are there also not particularly thrilling orgasms? Maybe there are.

3. Dr. Butcher, M.D. (Medical Deviant). Originally titled Zombie Holocaust, this is the opportunistic U.S. title of another Italian mishmash of genres. Released a scant year after Fulci’s bizarrely wonderful Zombie, Dr. Butcher also stars Zombie‘s leading man, Ian McCullough. The hitch is that there are both zombies and cannibals in this schizophrenic film.

McCullough plays a New York doctor who is investigating the mysterious disappearance of limbs from corpses in the city’s morgues. His investigation leads him to an Indonesian island inhabited by a cannibal tribe. See? The plot sounded exactly like Zombie until we got to the cannibals, didn’t it? There’s also a seemingly kindly doctor (like Zombie) on the island who is actually performing sinister experiments on the natives.

The cannibals are front and center for the most part, chowing down on the cast, and when the real undead finally do show up, they scare away the cannibals!

Huh? What the… This film is really a throwback to Make Them Die Slowly and Man from Deep River. The zombie scenes seem to have been arbitrarily added to remind viewers of Fulci’s more successful film. In fact, I’m sure that’s exactly what happened. The producers were almost finished with their ten-day shoot and the moneymen called up and said, “Hey! Fulci’s film is a goldmine! Add zombies!” And stir.

The U.S. release, with the Dr. Butcher title, confusingly adds a prologue with a completely mismatched zombie rising from a grave that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the proceedings.

4. Zombie Nightmare. Let’s head over to Canada for a Great White North slice of cheese starring Jon Mikl Thor, the bodybuilder and heavy metal rocker who fronts the imaginatively-titled band Thor and starred as the zombie in this 1986 opus.

Whether the zombie causes nightmares or is having nightmares himself is never explained, but Thor plays a hunky baseball player who is run down by a gang of teenage thugs, only to be resurrected by a handy voodoo priestess. He then lumbers off to wreak revenge on the gang.

Man, is this movie lame. It moves along at a snail’s pace, the effects are sub-par, the killings aren’t particularly interesting, and the actors are truly obnoxious. “Batman” himself, Adam West, plays a police captain who doesn’t really give a shit even as the bodies start turning up, and future director of forgettable films Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther remake, Night at the Museum, Cheaper By the Dozen, all of which I have not seen) plays the douchebag leader of the teenage gang. With his feathered hair and skintight ’80s jeans, he’s just begging to be punched.

Rightly ripped to shreds by Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s the MST-d version of Zombie Nightmare that I would recommend watching. I can’t imagine having to endure this vacuous, unimaginative cheesefest without Mike, the ‘Bots and their colorful commentary.

There’s a traumatic scene in a gym featuring a pale, skinny guy and his girlfriend. They get into a hot tub, and the guy is wearing tiny, tiny white underwear. When the zombie attacks, he jumps out of the tub and runs toward the camera in his skimpy, white, wet shorts. It still makes me shiver to think of it. And it’s one of those movies in which the zombie can catch up to—and overpower —the victims who always seem to be moving much faster than him.

It seems that lovers of ’80s metal hold the soundtrack in high regard, but not being one of them, I thought all the songs sounded the same. The following year Thor appeared in Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, which involves—what else?—heavy metal and demonic possession. The MST3K gang didn’t get around to it, but as represented by the still shown here, it looks like that movie was also ripe for the plucking.

5. I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain (1998). Let’s wrap this up with an English film that’s not a laff riot, but a really intriguing study of a poor student who has to deal with the day-to-day reality of becoming a zombie.

David (Dean Sipling) is a PhD candidate who goes into the woods to collect some samples, and comes upon a nasty-looking woman in pain in a tumbledown house. Hoping to help her, he tries to take her to hospital, but she rips into his throat. He staggers into the woods, gradually losing focus until he doesn’t comprehend what’s happening to him.

Regaining understanding, David starts to chronicle his journey into zombiehood with written journals and a tape recorder. He’d been living with his fiance, but he suddenly disappears from her life because he doesn’t want her to see what he’s becoming. As the film’s title explicitly describes, it’s a day-to-day account of his metamorphosis. And though the budget is minuscule, writer-director Andrew Parkinson did a pretty good job with both the angst and gore effects.

Armed with a bottle of chloroform, David goes out in search of victims, eating their flesh and then disposing of the remains matter-of-factly. After devouring parts of one of them, he lights up a cigarette. Isn’t that what some people do after a good meal? And the sequences showing David attempting to rebuild his deteriorating body with screws and pieces of metal—as well as a scene I won’t mention here—but will make guys groan in horror, are well-realized.

It’s such a melancholy film. Parkinson cross-cuts dream sequences, flashbacks and interview clips with David’s fiance (Ellen Softley) and her new boyfriend (Giles Aspin) to give a well-rounded portrait of who he was before he became a monster.

There are also false flashbacks and hallucinations to not only keep us guessing but also to remind us that as his exterior flesh is rotting, surely his internal organs (like his brain) are also deteriorating,

The budget, deliberate pace and (intentional) banality may be off-putting for some viewers, but it’s a really interesting approach in the cinema of the undead. And the final sequence, in which the completely rotted David lies weakly in his bed and recalls snapshots from his youth, is incredible.

And still he’s not dead. The nightmare will never end.

Thrilling New Shows and Seasons

The new television season starts out with a bang with the welcome return of an old favorite, a stunning debut and the anxiously-awaited premiere of a new series that could bring zombies to the home screen in a big way.

Last night’s opener of Dexter (Showtime) started off where last season’s shattering finale left off—with Dexter (Michael C. Hall) coming home to discover wife Rita’s body in the bathtub and his infant son crying and sitting in a pool of blood, exactly the same way he’d been found years before. Without Rita’s warming presence to guide him, he is incapable of displaying his usual pretense of human emotion. He tells the police who arrive on the scene, “It was me,” meaning, of course, that it was his fault—but they’re quick to interpret his comment as an admission of guilt.

Even when he must deliver the shattering news to his now motherless stepchildren, Astor and Cody, all he can do is ape the words a funeral director said to him: “I’m very sorry for your loss.” Sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) is willing to cut him some slack, assuming that he’s still in shock, but when he won’t snap out of it, even she begins to lose patience.

Worst of all, the guiding spirit of his father (James Remar) seems to have abandoned him as well, and Dexter feels truly alone—and for the first time, he doesn’t want to be. He’s furious at himself for not taking care of Trinity before he could get to Rita, but he’s even more angry that he was unable to stop his Dark Passenger from spreading its poison into his family life. A flashback reveals that it started on their very first date—Rita meets Dexter at a restaurant, but he quickly excuses himself when he sees a victim he’d been stalking and hurries out to finish his business. With both the FBI and his fellow officers regarding him with suspicion, he decides to destroy the evidence of his past and take off on his beloved boat—the “Slice of Life” (I love that). I was worried that it was going to become a serial killer road trip, which would have been a shame since the characters surrounding him have been so painstakingly developed, but fortunately Dexter returns to Rita’s funeral to deliver her eulogy and face the music.

Last season, with the outrageously evil (and Emmy winning) John Lithgow as Trinity, was dynamite, but this one has all the makings to be a real zinger too. Never before has Dexter felt so exposed and unsure of himself, and Deb is coming closer than ever to finding out what he really is. Speaking of Deb, she’s quite the little tramp, having a kitchen floor quickie with partner Quinn (Desmond Harrington) after they clean up the murder scene(!). And Lieutenant LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) and Sergeant Batista (David Zayas) are now married, but it looks like their relationship is gonna be a bumpy ride, too.

Hall is playing Dexter with his usual reserve, but it’s breaking down. This season’s storyline could bring some real jolts and surprises…and perhaps finally one of those elusive golden statuettes for America’s favorite serial killer.

Speaking of Showtime, I’m delighted to see that Weeds seems to have regained its footing this season. After a couple of good years, it wandered away from its original premise (pot-dealing suburban Mom) and replaced it with unbelievable (and unbelievably boring) scenarios. Maybe it was stoned and forgot what it was doing? Fortunately, the family is working as a team again—on the run and in danger—and that’s just the way I like it.

After the “meh” season finale of True Blood, I wondered what HBO could possibly do to take its place, but when I watched the debut of Boardwalk Empire, my wishes were fulfilled…and then some. Man, this is a great show!

Based on the true story of Atlantic City official and unofficial crime boss Nucky Johnson, it’s an absolutely compelling show with lush period settings and fun modern-day sex and violence. Steve Buscemi plays Nucky, given the new surname Thompson for legal reasons, and he’s terrific. With his reedy voice, pop eyes and mouth full of miscellaneous teeth, you wouldn’t think Buscemi would be able to pull off this type of role, but he really does.

He’s supported by a wonderful cast, including Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody, Thompson’s former driver, whose ambition and grudge against his ex-boss is developing deliciously and dangerously; Michael Shannon as FBI Agent Nelson Van Alden, who wants to expose Thompson’s criminal activities and whose extremely buttoned-up demeanor seems to be concealing a secret that’s set to explode; and the charming Kelly McDonald as Margaret Schroeder, a young Irish immigrant whose abusive husband Thompson orders to be rubbed out.

Executive produced by Martin Scorcese (whose welcome hand is all over this project) and created by Terence Winter (The Sopranos), this is definitely appointment television…and if maintains this compelling pace, it’ll be another triumph for HBO.

And I absolutely can’t wait for The Walking Dead on AMC, which is appropriately making its debut on Halloween night. Based on the Robert Kirkman comic book, it chronicles the efforts of a group of people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Any regular reader of Weird Movie Village knows I love me some undead types, and this looks look it could be a real winner. Created by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), whose adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist was admirably tense and bizarre, it’s got a good pedigree. The only question I have is how they’re going to keep it compelling over multiple episodes. Not having been a reader of the comic books, I don’t know the storyline, so I’m looking forward to a delightful surprise.

It’s funny how AMC has evolved. Beginning as a classic movie channel, it changed formats when Turner Classic Movies became the Big Dog in that department. It started running edited-for-television theatrical films, which I thought was really irrelevant in the age of pay cable, but then came roaring back with originals like Mad Men and Breaking Bad (another of my favorite shows). Will The Walking Dead be another jewel in its crown? We’ll find out soon.

When good zombies go bad

Because I am going to the Egyptian at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood tonight to see two crown jewels in the zombie pantheon—Night of the Living Dead and Zombie—it put me in the mood to write about a couple of other zombie epics, both Italian in origin, but one ridiculous and the other sublime.

Burial Ground (aka “The Nights of Terror,” or as it says on the screen, “The Nigths of Terror”), directed by Andrea Bianchi, is so wrongheaded on every level that it’s absolutely hilarious to watch. And, fortunately, it’s a snap to find on DVD in the U.S. The simple plot is this: a professor accidentally unleashes a horde of cannibal zombies from a burial ground near his countryside villa and is consumed. Later, three couples arrive, presumably to visit the missing professor but also to have sex immediately and in as many places as they can. Of course, when the zombies descend upon them, they find themselves in a battle for their lives.

Where to begin? First of all, the copulating couples are not in the least sexy. As a matter of fact, they’re rather repulsive. At the beginning of the film, as you’re being introduced to them two by two, you realize that you’re going to have to watch at least the beginnings of a sex scene, which can include a) clumsy fondling; b) the woman dressing in sleazy lingerie that she found in the house; c) the man calling the woman his whore; and d) coitus interruptus courtesy of zombies or nosy children.

I use the term children quite loosely. The only “child” in the film is Michael, the son of one of the women, played by an adult midget actor in a bad toupee who went by the stage name Peter Bark. His mere presence is creepy enough, but Bianchi amps the icks by giving him and Mama an Oedipal relationship that culminates in one of the most famously sleazy scenes in the movie.

As zombies go, these ones are a really mixed bag. The makeup looks like mudpacks with teeth added. And since the performers’ real human eyes are peering out from beneath the layers of gunk they’re wearing, it gives them an added dimension of bizarreness.

Since they’re supposed to be ancient Etruscans, their apparel is limited to shapeless blobs of dusty-looking cloth, although there is the occasional nod to fashion, as demonstrated by the rather natty ascot-wearing zombie pictured here.

They’re not fast—as a matter of fact, they’re you’re traditional shuffling lot—but fortunately their victims are patient and wait to be killed. The humans could easily outrun them, get in their cars and take off, but they stand frozen in terror in scene after scene after scene. And their lame attempts to fight the creatures (including throwing paint on them!) are hilarious.

The English dubbing is all that you want and expect from an ’80s Italian horror film—over-the-top performances and lines that don’t make any sense, plus there a shots a-plenty of the actors staring in horror—and that’s it.

Here’s a good clip of the “child,” Michael, coming on to his mother:

In 1972, Bianchi had directed an obscure little thriller also featuring a perverted kid, What the Peeper Saw (aka Night Hair Child, whatever that means), starring Oliver Twist himself, Mark Lester, as a sick little bastard tormenting his new stepmother (Britt Ekland). At least Bianchi used a real kid that time. Wait—what am I saying?

On to the sublime…

Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore), from 1994, has got to be the genre’s first art film. It’s packed with surrealistic sequences, multiple planes of awareness, and generous doses of gory silliness that fit well into the framework of the film. It also features a charismatic performance by Rupert Everett, who plays the titular character, Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of a cemetery whose residents have the nasty habit of coming back to life.

With the aid of his mentally-challenged assistant, Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro), his job is to put them back into their graves when the return seven days after burial, and he’s weary of it all—dealing with the dead on a daily basis has left him feeling like he’s become one of them. But he meets a beautiful young widow (Anna Falchi) whom he finds mourning at her recently deceased (and much older) husband’s grave, and a romance begins.

Unfortunately, the guy chooses to come back from the dead just as they’re making love atop his tomb, and he tears a sizable chunk of flesh out of her before Dellamorte can kill him…again. Thus begins an hallucinatory odyssey of lust, longing and the living developing emotional attachments to the undead.

In one scene, a girl comes to the cemetery to welcome back her lover, who’d been killed in a motorcycle accident, and happily allows him to consume her flesh. “Leave us alone!” she cries to Dellamorte. “He’s only eating me!” Even Gnaghi finds love with the reanimated head of the local mayor’s daughter, keeping it housed in the shell of a broken television set and dressing it in a wedding veil.

Dellamorte’s love returns as a full-fledged zombie, whom he must kill again, and this drives him over the edge. When he receives a visit from Death himself, who warns him: “Don’t kill the dead. They’re mine. Kill the living instead,” he drives wildly through town, randomly shooting people walking along the street.

Then he meets a college student who’s the spitting image of his lost love, but she turns out to be a prostitute who’s just looking for money, and he furiously immolates her in her apartment building. Talk about flames of passion.

All of this sounds insane, I know, but Soavi and his writer, Gianni Romoli, keep the story comprehensible and engaging. The visuals are rapturous and dreamlike, and the conclusion is a real mind-blower.

Everett has never been better. As a matter of fact, he was cast in the role thanks to his resemblance of an Italian graphic novel character, Dylan Dog, on whose stories this film is loosely based. Falci is voluptuous (and makes a fun zombie) and Hadji-Lazaro is hilarious. Only a few performances and Italian-to-English translations are a little shaky, and Americans might find some of the humor a little broad, but for the most part, it’s exquisite. Ricardo Biseo and Manuel DeSica’s score is excellent, as is the cinematography by Mauro Marchetti.

Soavi worked for many of the big names of Italian horror cinema in the 1980s, including Dario Argento, Aristide Massaccesi, Lamberto Bava and Lucio Fulci, and Massaccesi gave him his first chance to direct in 1987 with the film Stagefright. Cemetery Man is head-and-shoulders above his other horrors (and, indeed, most of the Italian horrors of the period), and the work he’s done since has been in other genres. I don’t suppose a sequel is in the offing, but I wish he’d work this kind of magic again.

And now only half an hour to go before I leave for the Cinematheque. I can’t wait…I haven’t seen Night or Zombie on the big screen for ages. I hope the prints are good.

CINEMATHEQUE UPDATE

Night of the Living Dead was a digital projection from a nice-looking print, but it still looked and sounded like film, not video, thank God. Zombie was an original theatrical 35mm print that had turned pink but was still a joy to watch. How else are you going to see these gems on the big screen these days?

"Crazy" Weekend

MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS DEPENDING ON YOUR LEVEL OF INTEREST.
Saturday night I caught a showing of L.A. Law‘s Corbin Bernsen’s Dead Air on Showtime. It’s about terrorists setting off a number of coordinated biological explosions at sporting events in key cities across America, transforming the people who inhale the deadly fumes into enraged, bloodthirsty killers. Bernsen’s former costars Susan Ruttan and Larry Drake pop in for small but amusing roles.

Made on an extremely conservative budget, it has some tense moments and reunites Patricia Tallman and Bill Moseley, who played Barbara and Johnny in the 1990 remake of George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead (which director Tom Savini hates but I think is great). Moseley plays a confrontational talk radio host and Tallman is his producer, struggling to stay on the air in a Los Angeles high-rise as mayhem ensues in the streets below. I thought it’d be good preparation for Sunday’s viewing of The Crazies, coincidentally a remake of another Romero film from 1973.

Before the screening was a trailer for yet another remake, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, which opened with a title informing us that it was “from producer Michael Bay.” Normally that proclamation would make any sane person scream in horror (and not the pleasurable kind), but the Texas Chainsaw remake he produced wasn’t too bad, so who knows?

It looks like the new film gives you a bit more backstory about how Freddy Kreuger came to be, but the glimpse you get of Jackie Earle Haley post-barbecue looks like he’s still wearing his Watchmen Rorschach mask. Another problem I foresee is that the original Elm Street is a relatively recent film and part of the “home video generation,” by which I mean it’s always been easy to see since its release in 1984 and even young horror lovers know it well as opposed to being obscure or more than 30 years old. And some movies just don’t need remaking—the original is just fine. Remember last year’s Friday the 13th? I’m certainly not implying that the 1980 version was a classic by any standard, but the remake was unnecessary and ridiculous.

Which brings us to The Crazies. After the epoch-making Night of the Living Dead, Romero tried to break out in other directions (There’s Always Vanilla—a romantic comedy?!?) but soon returned to horror. The Crazies retained the zombie idea (of sorts—the killers weren’t dead but just driven insane by biological contamination) and he enlarged the sheriff’s posse from Night into a full-on military assault.

The Crazies was barely released and was hard to find for years, apart from occasional television airings and on videocassette from one of the smaller distributors back in the ’80s. I don’t recall being particularly taken by it, except for the memory of a scene in which a sweet little old lady gets up from her rocking chair and stabs a soldier in the neck with a knitting needle. Someone seems to have been been influenced by it—Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is a direct descendant in that the antagonists are victims of a biological mutation rather than undead, flesh-eating zombies. Finally, The Crazies re-emerged during the DVD revolution, with Anchor Bay releasing it in 1998 and Blue Underground providing a remastered version in 2003, but it has still never reached the heights of popularity that Night or Dawn of the Dead have achieved.

The remake, directed by Michael Eisner’s son, Breck, was warmly received by the filmgoing community and got a pretty good 72% (better than Shutter Island!) on Rotten Tomatoes. It boasts a good cast headed by Timothy Olyphant (Go) as David Dutton, the sheriff of a tiny Iowa town, and Radha Mitchell (Finding Neverland) as his wife, Judy, who is also the town’s doctor.

The film begins promisingly enough as a high school baseball game is interrupted by a shotgun-toting local who refuses to obey David’s orders to put the gun down, forcing him to shoot the man dead in front of a stadium of horrified fans. Soon, concerned townsfolk are bringing their loved ones to Judy for examination, complaining that “they just aren’t acting like themselves.” One patient traps and incinerates his wife and young son in their home. More acts of violence ensue and a gang of redneck hunters discover the body of a soldier in the river, prompting David and his deputy, Russell Clark (Joe Anderson) to search for more clues. They discover a large airplane submerged in the water and are puzzled that it hasn’t been reported and that no authorities have appeared to recover the wreckage.

David gradually begins to realize that the water supply has been contaminated by whatever the downed plane was carrying, and before you can say “government cover-up” the military arrives to shut the town down. Testing the citizens, they shove people with high body temperatures into quarantine and send the uncontaminated to a kind of concentration camp of their own. Judy is pregnant, and therefore has a naturally higher body temperature, so she is shipped off to the crazy ward. David escapes to rescue her, joined by Russell, who has also managed to slip through the military dragnet.

The first hour of the film, while nothing new, is exciting and well-paced. But after David and Russell retrieve Judy and their young friend, Becca (Danielle Panabaker), it loses its way. Initially offering dramatic promise as the protagonists find themselves trapped between the shoot-to-kill soldiers and the nutzoid townsfolk, there’s simply not enough of either and the narrative goes slack. Then the filmmakers seem to wake up and realize the deficiency, so they start throwing in scenes that are neither suspenseful or surprising, with the unfortunate effect that the film has decided to start over again and correct its mistakes. The Crazies are also inconsistent—some are verbal and coherent (except that they want to stab you) and others are standard-issue, bloody-eyed shriekers.

The film becomes unintentionally humorous, too. While David is searching the barn for intruders, he can hear Judy faintly calling his name from inside their house, but he can’t hear the huge all-terrain vehicles and schoolbuses driving up at the same time. When the escapees drive into one of those gas station car washes to hide from a military helicopter passing menacingly overhead, they are attacked by ravening townsfolk—and one of them appears to be cleaning the windows! And when Becca is lynched with a hose by the fiends at the car wash and the guys quickly bring her down, Doctor Judy merely weeps over her body and doesn’t even attempt CPR, even though she’d only been hanging for about a minute!

Efficiency experts may also want to note that the policemen here practice Just In Time shooting. What I mean is that it’s nail-biting and and suspenseful when the killer is slo-o-o-owly approaching his victim and suddenly has his head ventilated by a well-placed bullet, but when this occurs three or four times in the same film, the effect becomes absurd. After Russell sacrifices himself for David and Judy (naturally), they continue on their desperate effort to escape…and it just goes on…and on…and on. Shots of incinerated bodies and pop-up Crazies cannot restart the thrills once they’ve stalled. And the ending is laughably ludicrous.

I think it’s time to put the zombies down for a while. They’re getting crabby.