31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Waxwork”

It's a hell of a show...
It’s a hell of a show…

 

There’s nothing like a film studio logo to give any self-respecting nerd an attack of nostalgia.  Witness the 1988 monster movie mash-up, “Waxwork”.   I had only to see the Vestron Pictures logo at the beginning of the movie to be transported to a more innocent age of plastic clamshell VHS  boxes, video recorder tracking wheels and low-budget scare-fests with artwork that promised more epic terror than a poverty row budget could ever deliver.  Yes, streaming is convenient, but there’s no sense of occasion in scrolling through fuzzy cover art on your smartphone screen and then watching a film.

It’s not the movies that got small – it’s the screens.  But, I digress..

Yep, those are some 80's teens alright...
Yep, those are some 80’s teens alright…

 

The film sees a gaggle of upscale, freshly scrubbed college kids taking an ill-advised midnight tour of a new waxwork attraction which has just popped up in suburbia, as if by (spooky laugh) evil magic.  Pausing only to be spooked by in-no-way nefarious proprietor David Warner on the way in, the likes of Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman and Dana Ashbrook find their perfectly maintained 80’s hairdos well and truly messed up when they stray too far into the wax exhibits and zip through a portal into their own, personal horror movies.

If you came of age with the Eli Roth and Alexandre Aja era of horror cinema, there’s a very good chance that “Waxwork” will seem like so much fine fromage:   it boasts practical effects and matte paintings, goofy synthesised scoring and many scenes apparently shot in somebody’s very swish mansion, not to mention a climax which sees Steed himself, the glorious Patrick Macnee, having at the bad guys whilst strapped into what can only be described as a battle chariot-come-wheelchair.

Visceral, transgressive, hackles-raising terror this isn’t.  Cheery B-movie fun it definitely is.

David Warner is a splendidly hissable bad guy but he’s not really a dominant menace as he only pops up periodically to put his diabolical plan into action – the majority of the scaring and teen menacing is done by a right old cornucopia of thesps including John Rhys Davies, Miles O’ Keefe and J. Kenneth Campbell (essaying well-known fictional horror movie staple, the Marquis De Sade).  It’s this film within the film structure which really hit the spot for me – I was particularly taken by the black-and-white segment which pits hero Zach Galligan against a graveyard full of recently arisen zombies as it demonstrates amply that Hickox’s film is a love letter to classic horror.  Indeed, the director gives props to the likes of Argento, Romero, Carpenter and Hammer in the closing credits.

What better way to round out this month of cinematic terrors than to take in a film which celebrates the genre in such a fun fashion?  I can’t imagine anybody but the most woolly of wusses being scared by “Waxwork”, but it’s sheer joy in genre is infectious – it’s the sort of film which makes you want to watch more fright flicks after seeing it.  And what better film to watch on the night that the dead walk and spectres…spectate?

Have a Happy Halloween, Boils and Ghouls!

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Hatchet”

 

 

Hack/Slash or Slap/Dash?
Hack/Slash or Slap/Dash?

Sometimes, watching horror movies, you feel quite at odds with your peers.  The UK poster for writer/director Adam Green’s “Hatchet” features rapturous pull quotes which would have you believe that this unashamedly retro slasher flick is quite the big man on campus.

Arriving at a time when Jigsaw ruled supreme and every other fright-flick was feverishly grasping for a slice of the torture and humiliation pie, “Hatchet” must have seemed like a breath of (Gator) fresh air.  Full of old-school stalk-and-slash kills, yet boasting a certain genre self-awareness, this grisly tale of Louisiana mutant maniac Victor Crowley was practically made for the horror festival circuit and to inspire enthusiastic debate amongst forum posters.  Hell, Kane Hodder’s front and centre as the movie’s anti-heroic slasher – how much more cred with the grue ‘n’ gore crowd do you need?

The film sees a mismatched band of New Orleans tourists heading out to the bayou on a haunted swamp tour boat and expecting to see nothing more than swamp gas, the odd reptilian river dweller and hear a spectral yarn or two from shyster tour guide Shawn (Parry Shen).  Chief amongst these tourists are nerdy college kid Ben (Joel David Moore), his utterly sceptical best friend Marcus (Deion Richmond) and mysterious local gal MaryBeth (Tamara Feldman).  When their boat breaks down and begins to sink, the tourists soon come under attack from both the swamp’s many-toothed gators and Mr Crowley himself, whose tolerance for visitors is non-existent.

Where this movie succeeds is in building a convincing back story for Crowley and in ensuring that we know just enough about the tourists before Victor’s blade begins to bite.  As well as our core trio, the film sees cameos from horror icons like Tony Todd (the charmingly disreputable Reverend Zombie) and Robert Englund (who doesn’t make it past the opening credits) and even finds room for Mercedes McNab, otherwise known as Harmony in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, who forms a winning comic partnership with Joleigh Fioravanti.  as bickering actress wannabes doffing their tops for a sleazy videographer promising fame in a regionally-themed “Girls Gone Wild” rip-off.

The major issue that I do have with “Hatchet” is that whilst it certainly passes the time quite agreeably and shows a pleasing commitment to delivering old-school horror with delightfully gross practical gore effects, it never exactly lives up to the advance billing of being a game-changing fright fest.

Rather, Adam Green’s film is, at heart, an unapologetic slasher homage and doesn’t seem to be too hung up about providing meta commentary of the “Scream”/”Cabin in the Woods” variety.  Judging it on it’s own merits, it’s a slightly rough-around-the-edges, speedy horror movie which delivers on the kill front, has the seemingly prerequisite number of topless young women, has a decent Final Girl in the form of MaryBeth and even delivers my favourite staple of the 70’s/80’s horror film, the cyclical nightmare ending.

That said, it really doesn’t offer anything new and the advance claims of Green doing something different are hard to reconcile with the enjoyable but scarcely revolutionary film he’s directed.  In comparison to the torture-driven fare on offer at the time, “Hatchet” is preferable experience in that you don’t want to have your memory scrubbed of what you’ve just watched.

More fun than an axe in the head, but not the best horror movie that I’ve watched this October.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “(Rec)”

Nightmarishly gruelling terror, Spanish-style...
Nightmarishly gruelling terror, Spanish-style…

 

If I’ve learned one thing from participating in this 31 Days of Horror blog challenge, it’s that non-Hollywood film offers the best chill for your buck.

The studios have the cash, but the indie and international films have mastered the fine art of using their limitations creatively to scare the living pants off you – witness Spain’s (Rec) from 2007.

 

 

As directed by Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza, “(Rec)” relates the story of Angela (Manuela Velasco), a local TV presenter in Barcelona fronting the show “While You’re Asleep”.  Angela’s beat is to follow people who work whilst the wider world slumbers and on this night, she’s shadowing guys from the local fire station.  She’s convinced that she’s in for a dull show until a call comes in from an apartment building.

It's all smiles until a viral zombie outbreak ruins your day...
It’s all smiles until a viral zombie outbreak ruins your day…

 

The crew are called to rescue a confused elderly woman locked in her apartment.  On closer inspection she’s covered in blood and a wee bit bitey.  Angela and her long-suffering cameraman Pablo capture everything as the elderly woman attacks the firemen, mortally wounding their supervisor.  From that point, the fit really hits the shan as the local police and military seal off the building, trapping the remaining tenants inside with an increasing complement of feral, meat-crazed, virally-created predators.  The survivors numbers drop by the minute until only Angela and Pablo are left to document the horror, culminating in a visit to the mysteriously locked and sealed-off apartment at the top of the building.

It is here in the last twenty minutes of the film that Balaguero and Plaza really get their hooks into you, with the found footage conceit working at its peak effectiveness and Velasco’s embodiment of abject terror being totally convincing. The combination of performance, staging, cinematography and direction conspire to utterly grip and even scare the viewer – the first time in this 31 Days of Halloween Hysteria that I’ve actually been on the edge of my seat and frightened by the film.

That “(Rec)” is a scant 75 minutes in length is also of note –  it makes you wonder why more directors don’t just get in, scare the bejesus out of their audiences and then drop the mic in triumph.

Two follow-ups have been released to date, with a fourth due imminently – the parallel sequel “(Rec 2)”, hybrid prequel/sequel “(Rec 3: Genesis)” and final instalment “(Rec 4: Apocalypse)”.  Two American films remade the franchise for subtitle-averse audiences in the form of “Quarantine” and “Quarantine 2: Terminal”.  Whilst it would be foolish to judge a film without seeing it, the fact that the cover art for the US remake appears to give away the very last moments of the movie doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence.

Still, “(Rec)” is a cracking horror movie on it’s own and I’m going to continue to watch the rest of the series with great interest to see how this refreshingly scary take on the zombie genre develops.

 

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” trailer

The Great Lord Feige has found us worthy. And for that, may we be thankful.

Responding with lightning speed to an online leak, Marvel Studios posted the first teaser trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a week ahead of schedule.

It had been due to debut with next week’s episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”, but the Internet had other ideas. Marvel, of course, had a sense of humour about that (via Twitter):

 

I’d call the two minutes and 17 seconds above a resounding success, but then I am a wholly biased Whedon fanboy (I even think that “Dollhouse” has it’s moments).  James Spader does creepy superbly, even with his voice run through lots of filters…

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” opens in the UK on 24 April 2015 and in the US on 1 May 2015.

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Dream Home”

The body count isn't an exaggeration...
The body count isn’t an exaggeration…

Buying a house can be murder.

We’ve all been there, even before the global financial meltdown made the idea of owning your home something akin to science fiction for many people.  In Pang Ho-Cheung’s satirical horror movie, “Dream Home”, Cheng Lai-Sheung (Josie Ho) endures hardships and horrors which would dissuade most people from pursuing their dream of owning an upscale apartment with a view of Hong Kong’s harbour.

Cheng works two jobs and cares for an ailing father, having saved relentlessly since her youth to afford a flat which would give her family a better standard of living.   She has a loveless affair with a wealthy married guy and has friends who are so resigned to renting rather than buying in one of the world’s most populous and expensive cities that they’d sooner blow their cash on lavish trips to Tokyo than save for a deposit.

Our anti-heroine’s tale of property-induced madness is told in a non-linear style, with the present of 2007 juxtaposed with episodes from Cheng’s youth which show us roughly how she came to be the hammer-wielding, single-minded one-woman harbinger of death we see on screen.

And here we get to one of the issues with the movie – and it’s a biggie.  Whilst the privations and suffering which Cheng undergoes are numerous, they still seem out of proportion to the level of bludgeoning violence she metes out to the inhabitants of the apartment building she visits.  One killing – of a pregnant woman – is so particularly vile that it unbalances the film and could be a deal-breaker for some viewers.  You might say that it was for me, as it became impossible to sympathise with Cheng after this point.

Nonetheless, I watched the whole film and found “Dream Home” a confused movie.  The tone ramps between syrupy, sepia-coloured memoir, acid-tongued economic satire and bloody slasher black comedy without ever sticking the landing.  We get one particularly gruesome bloodbath in a hipster flat where a character has their intestines abruptly removed and sits enjoying a calming cigarette as friends and a pair of hookers are messily dispatched.

I get the sense that this film was swinging for the kind of horrific intensity and jet-black humour of “American Psycho”, blending commentary on the banal cruelties of climbing the career and social ladder with the over the top carnage of a prime 1980’s slasher flick (albeit with a Final Girl who’s also the murderous villain).  That’s all very well, but the literal blood & guts on display seem to override everything, becoming the focus.  And our leading character Cheng feels like a sketch, rather than a fully-realised protagonist.

I can’t say that I enjoyed “Dream Home” at all.  Gore in place of plot, a cast of mostly detestable knife fodder and satirical underpinnings which seem like an afterthought – none of these factors add up to a compelling film for me. The final moments of the movie, which seem to offer a comeuppance for our anti-heroine, come rather too late and seem like an attempt to provide a rap across the knuckles for somebody who deserves somewhat more punishment for her crimes.

 

 

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria:”Cold Prey: Resurrection”

She's back and she's brought a friend...
She’s back and she’s brought a friend…

Life has a funny way of messing with your plans, and this weekend was no exception.

My steady progress of watching a horror flick a day during October went awry on Friday when my Mum was taken ill. What with one thing and another,  it took me until Monday the 20th to get back on the scary wagon, unless you count watching the “Strictly Come Dancing” results with Mrs Rolling Eyeballs as suitable horror fodder.

With a semblance of normality restored, I sat down to watch the sequel to “Cold Prey” – “Cold Prey – Resurrection”.  Following a model established by “Halloween 2”, this follow-up to the 2006 fright-fest is set almost entirely in a due-to-close hospital.  Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) is brought there after being found wandering in the snow, having killed the backwoods mountain man who murdered her friends in the first movie.  Traumatised by her experiences, she’s horrified to learn that police have recovered the bodies of her friends and the killer, who awakes in the hospital determined to finish what he started.

“Cold Prey” wasn’t a horror film which reinvented the genre, but it showed a commendable commitment to establishing character and location, a trait which this sequel also displays.  It’s at least half-an-hour before the mayhem truly begins, with the stories of the hospital staff, patients and local police force all having moments of character development before the Mountain Man rises from his slumber and stalks the corridors anew.

The second movie in the series – a prequel, “Fritt Vilt 3”, came out in 2010 – builds on the strong points of the first film and concentrates on delivering a series of tense set-pieces.  There’s a particularly effective police breach sequence in which the characters actually behave like sensible rational people (before getting diced six ways to Sunday).  If you’ve ever shouted at the screen whilst watching a horror flick, wondering why people going into the big scary house don’t wait for back-up, then this film will satisfy your desire for protagonists with two brain cells to rub together.

That said, there are certain inescapable tenets which the slasher sub-genre has to adhere to and the climactic showdown in “Cold Prey 2” is no exception.  Having spent the majority of the running time in civilisation, the end of the film sees the villain and our heroines – we get two Final Girls this time, Jannicke and hospital doctor Camilla (Marthe Snorresdottir Rovik) – hopping on a snowmobile and tracking the Mountain Man back to his remote hotel lair to finally vanquish their warmly-clad foe.

As a sequel, “Cold Prey 2” does a decent job of providing a briskly delivered cocktail of scares and thrills, also finding time to pencil in some of the back story hinted at by the first instalment.  Fans of Nordic Noir might even enjoy the sequence where the local chief of police pieces together how come so many skiers and snowboarders seem to disappear in the mountains – I thought that I was watching a cop procedural drama for a couple of minutes.

Overall, this is a satisfying horror movie, albeit one which seemed to ramp up the violence and gore in a way that the original movie didn’t seem to feel was necessary.  If that’s a turn-off, please feel forewarned, but don’t miss out on a decent example of the modern European horror thriller.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Amer”

What did I just watch?

After yesterday’s display of brutalist horror action, today’s pick was a completely different black-gloved, split-screened, bee-stung lipped beast entirely.

2009’s Giallo-homaging head trip, “Amer”, is the first feature film from French film-makers Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani.  It’s an impossibly hip, wonderfully shot tone poem which vividly relates key episodes in the life of Ana, played variously by Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud and Marie Bos.

Being that this is an achingly stylish, cine-literate and very French film, those key episodes relate almost entirely to sex, death or some commingling of the two.

The first tale sees Ana in early childhood, enduring a distant father, a mother who actively despises her and the proverbial weird grandma in the room next door, whose grabby hands and black lace shroud are not likely to endear her to the young tyke.  Into this strange picture we should also consider the slowly decaying grandfather in the basement, some business with an antique pocketwatch, bedroom lighting from the firm of Argento and Fulci and Ana walking in on her parents as they reach sweaty mutual climax.

Yes, quite.

Part two sees Ana in puberty and having a sensual awakening as her still hostile mother gets her hair done in town.  Biker gangs are involved.  There’s lots of breathy sound effects, floaty summer dresses, wistful French pop and an air of elegant doom and punishment despite the picture-perfect surroundings.

Our final episode sees Ana in adulthood, back in her childhood home, indulging in more self-pleasure than a 13-year-old boy and now subject to the attentions of an initially unseen stalker with black gloves and a sharp blade.  Sex and death, man – it’s the cornerstone of cinema as we know it.

If “Amer” sounds like your particular cup of  Javanese espresso, that’s probably as much of a recommendation as you’re going to need.  This is cinema as art and I don’t know if we need to judge this film in the same way as we would a prosaic slasher or identikit found-footage thriller.   It has exceptionally pretty images, wonderful sound design, skillful use of editing, split-screen, excellent set-design and not a hint of a story beyond what you might be able to project onto it.

You could regard “Amer” as lazy film-making or refreshingly oblique, depending on what you go to the cinema for.  If you’ve ever enjoyed a Dario Argento movie from his 1970s period, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in “Amer”, although it lacks the narrative propulsion of one of his lurid, grisly horror masterworks.  If your particular scary movie jam is jump scares and inventive murdery set-pieces, you might want to give this a wide berth.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Dawn of the Dead” (2004)

Black Friday 2014
Black Friday 2014

2004 saw two contemporary zombie movies released which owed a great debt to George A. Romero’s pioneering trilogy of undead horrors.  This is the other one.

Whilst “Shaun of the Dead” won over audiences across the globe with it’s witty take on a zombie apocalypse in suburban London, Zack Snyder’s directorial debut “Dawn of the Dead” is now more a footnote to his career as an A-list director of “300”, “Watchmen”, “Sucker Punch”, “Man of Steel” and the 19 DC Comics adaptations he’s currently linked to.

Snyder’s movie sets out its stall from the get-go with nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) having a crap day at work before the world as she knows it ends.  After surviving an attack by her freshly zombiefied husband, Ana barely escapes an apocalyptic sub-division in her car before being run off the road and careening into a tree.  All this mayhem occurs before the titles kick in with a perfectly chosen Johnny Cash song  soundtracking  the end times.

Finding fellow survivors and temporary respite from the undead in a shopping mall, Ana’s group find themselves imprisoned when the Mall’s rent-a-cops start playing God and enforcing  compliance from behind a pistol.  The power struggle continues throughout the rest of the movie, with a makeshift society within the mall constantly threatened by infected newcomers and the surging horde outside.

Whereas Romero uses action in his movies, it clearly isn’t his focus.  Snyder, by contrast, is all in.  This is at least as much an edge-of-the-seat action movie as a horror film, with the scale of the set pieces elevated in accordance with the vastly increased, studio-backed budget of this version.

Snyder’s zombies are not the shuffling, tireless ghouls of Romero’s version but are sprinting, feral, and utterly lethal predators.  The tone of the film reminded me back in 2004 of James Cameron’s “Aliens”, and a decade has done little to change that view.

Whilst the film is undoubtedly a thrill ride, I do miss the underpinning sociological concerns of Romero’s film – where his zombies gravitated to the mall as it represented some kind of still extant collective memory from a time before the fall of mankind, Snyder’s zombies seem to treat the place as an all-you-can-kill buffet.

We might reasonably have expected a sequel to have followed by now, as this was quite the global hit, but Snyder’s skyrocketing career killed any chance of him returning to this material. A planned sequel was quietly shelved – perhaps sensibly, as studios wouldn’t touch an R-rated movie on this scale in these times of austere, micro-budgeted possession/paranormal PG-13 horror fare.

Snyder’s cast is more than solid, with the always excellent Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Jake Weber registering particularly in the leads – a pre-“Modern Family” Ty Burrell is also good value as an eminently slappable rich guy and Mekhi Phifer is particularly tragic as a petty criminal and expectant father.

A muscular, loud, brash blockbuster with many of Snyder’s stylistic touchstones – slo-mo violence, graphic sex and underpinning nihilism – present and correct, “Dawn of the Dead” isn’t particularly frightening but it is a gripping and expertly staged film.

It’s best described as a cover version of a classic horror movie, content to do it’s own thing.  Just be glad that Michael Bay didn’t get his mitts on it.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Scream 4”

 

New decade, old school?
New decade, old school?

What’s your favourite scary movie?

2011’s “Scream 4” revived everybody’s favourite post-modern slasher, Ghostface, after a decade’s absence, pitting the raspy-voiced, horror movie trivia-obsessed maniac against an entirely new horror – the Twitter generation.

Beginning with a dizzying series of movies-within-movies, as we find out that the faux “Stab” franchise is up to entry number seven, “Scream 4” follows series heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) back to Woodsboro on the fifteenth anniversary of the killings to promote her new book.

As inevitably as night following day, Sidney’s appearance encourages a new crazed slasher to take up the cloak and Ghostface mask, putting a younger, wiser and equally doomed generations of teens to the knife.  Only Sidney, Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and a writers-blocked Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) can discover the identity of the new killer before he gets his black-clad hands on Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts).

 

 

A lot of people really hated the third movie – I wasn’t amongst them at the time (Jay and Silent Bob FTW), but it has been a hell of a long time since I’ve seen it. The reviews of this film put me off seeing it back in 2011, and only the prospect of taking on this Halloween movie challenge made me take a chance on it.  And, you know, I’m mostly glad that I did.

The sense of fun and arcane nerdery employed by Craven and Williamson in the original trilogy is still evident here,despite the dread hands of “Transformers” scribe Ehren Kruger being on the shooting script.  The kaleidoscopic opening sequence pulls the proverbial rug from under the audience’s feet multiple times, showing confidence in said crowd’s ability to determine flashbacks-within-flashbacks (we even find out that the fifth(?) movie featured time travel!).

It’s intriguing that the movie doesn’t comment too much on recent genre tropes beyond an aside about Asian ghost girls and torture porn – in an age of found-footage, possession and zombie flicks, we get precious little acknowledgement of how the horror movie has altered since the last movie opened.  Okay, the main plot features a character who streams every moment of his daily life via a head-mounted camera and mic, but that’s about the extent of things (well, until the ending, but I won’t spoil that).

The non-supernatural slasher does seem rather quaint in an era where Blumhouse flicks are tearing up the box office and you’re more likely to see 19,000 identikit demonic possession potboilers in Netflix’s horror section than an axe-wielding maniac chasing plastic teens around the woods.  But, to his credit, Craven is a master of staging and elegantly crafts several set-pieces which are the equal of the party scene from the first movie or the cinema opening of the first sequel.

This picture is utterly crucial to a discussion of the film.  Or something.
This picture is utterly crucial to a discussion of the film. Or something.

Campbell, Arquette and Cox are as good as you would hope them to be, and new cast members like Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts and – sigh – Alison Brie do good work in supporting roles.  If I have a problem with the film, the ultimate motivation of the new Ghostface killer seemed a little opaque, as for it to work, it indicates a rather epic level of cynicism about modern society and the blurring line between news coverage and scripted entertainment.  Cynicism which may be well-earned in this era of indistinguishable reality tv shows and the popularity of people who seem to do nothing more complicated than breathe oxygen on a regular basis.

I suppose that it’s quite plausible in the meta-hothouse reality of these movies, but the planning and – no pun intended – execution required to carry out the murders in the film suggests that the killers would be better remunerated writing these kinds of movies rather than taking out half of the graduating class of 2011.  Indeed, the staging of a climactic crime scene and actions carried out by the murderer stretch plausibility beyond credulity somewhat – it’s like some awesome hybrid of Sam Raimi violence, Looney Tunes and performance art.  Points for style, but the level of diabolical genius at play suggests a mind so twisted and brilliant that it makes Hannibal Lecter look like a Kardishian in comparison.

One last thing, if I may?  How come people don’t seem to have guns in Woodsboro?  Of all the places that one might expect to find surburban families packing heat, this blighted community would be it.  Oh, the possibilities of Ghostface bringing a knife to a shotgun fight…

Certainly worth a look if you like the previous films – if they left you cold and you found their layered pop cultural snark aesthetic utterly wearing, then avoid this movie as the clever-cleverness within might cause your head to explode, Tom Savini in “Maniac”-style.

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Day of the Dead”

Now that's what I call a classic movie poster...
Now that’s what I call a classic movie poster…

Third entries in horror franchises can be divisive.  Witness the initial furore over “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch”, which boldly divested itself of The Shape and then suffered the wrath of a fanbase not getting what they expected. George A. Romero’s trilogy-capping “Day of the Dead” enjoyed similar slings and arrows from critics and fans alike expecting the satirical underpinnings of “Dawn…”, only to get a dour and claustrophobic drama which is a slog even at 97 minutes.

Whereas “Halloween 3” has latterly been privy to critical and fan reappraisal, the third instalment of the “…Dead” series hasn’t been welcomed with open arms.  Perhaps this is due to Romero’s latter zombie films – “Land of the Dead”, “Diary of the Dead” and “Survival of the Dead” – enjoying progressively poorer reviews and box office returns in a pop culture space where “The Walking Dead” on TV and “World War Z” in cinemas have captured contemporary attention.

Romero’s film is set largely in a Floridian military base, with a small band of soldiers and scientists working at cross-purposes  in a world now overrun by the undead.  As the soldiers hold back the barbarians at the gates, scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille) and her colleagues are experimenting on zombies captives to determine whether or not the effects of the plague can be reversed and the undead pacified.

When the base commander dies, a power struggle simmers between the two camps, as an untiring army of zombies hammers at the gates and threatens to overrun this small pocket of what passes for humanity.

A major issue with this sequel is the decision to explore a comparitively small conflict amongst a group of broadly-drawn archetypes.  The characters are largely uninvolving as they represent philosophical positions rather than convincing as people. The conflict is very clear-cut and we’re in no doubt about whose side we’re supposed to be on – the military are itchy trigger-fingered racists and everybody else isn’t waving M16s and threatening rape at regular intervals.

The film really becomes involving in it’s last half-hour when the perculating tension boils over and the two sides come to blows.  It’s here that the undead finally breach the base and Tom Savini’s still excellent make-up effects come into play. The best CGI can’t really hold a candle to what Savini and his crew accomplished here – Romero’s zombies are still genuinely ghoulish and the stuff of nightmare fuel, some 29 years later.

The performances are, shall we say, varied?  Cardille does good, understated work as Sarah, one of the few characters in the film holding it together as the world comes apart – her dream sequences provide some of the bigger jolts in the film. Pilato is gloriously over-the-top as Rhodes but the real honours in the film, for me, go to Sherman Howard as the increasingly domesticated zombie Bub.  He’s a memorable horror protagonist, with a uniquely expressive performance that ranks amongst the greatest movie monsters.  The showdown between Howard and Pilato results in one of my defining horror climaxes – the ‘choke on ’em’ moment giving us some of Savini’s most grotesque and convincing effects work.

Not the best Romero zombie movie but it still has moments of real power and bleakness amidst the hand-wringing, petty power-struggles and truly inexplicable synth pop on the soundtrack (what is that end-credits music doing here?).