Tag Archives: zombies

The Veil

The Veil

Format: DVD

Release date: 4 April 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Director: Phil Joanou

Writer: Robert Ben Garant

Cast: Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe, Thomas Jane

USA 2016

89 mins

For this edition of Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman looks at a recent film from the busy Blumhouse boutique genre production label.

In 1985, the Reverend Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane in a white suit with a folksy-sinister accent) of the ‘Heaven’s Veil’ cult presides over what seems to be a mass suicide at his woodland retreat… and only a little girl survives.

In the present day, driven documentarian Maggie Price (Jessica Alba), daughter of the FBI agent who led the raid on the camp and later killed himself due to bad memories, and Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe), the grown-up sole survivor, visit the site with a crew of genially disposable techies in the hope of finding some answers… which lead them to an abandoned house the FBI never found (accessible by seemingly walking across a lake surface). The place is full of corpses, film cans (and video tapes) and other useful stuff, which prompts flashbacks that give a slightly different view of what happened on that fateful day in 1985. [SPOILER ALERT] For a start, Jacobs was given to deathtripping à la Flatliners and had an antidote prepared for his poison sugar cubes so his followers could be revived en masse, but Maggie’s dad showing up scuppered that plan, setting the charismatic loon off on his backup scheme, which involves killing the documentarians and bringing them back to life in CGI-ghostfaced semi-possessed form to perpetuate his cracked beliefs. Oh, and Sarah learns he was her dad and his faithful nurse Karen Sweetzer (Aleksa Palladino) his mom. [END OF SPOILER]

This lesser Blumhouse production is a collaboration between eclectic screenwriter Robert Ben Garant (Jessabelle, Night at the Museum) and not-that-busy-lately director Phil Joanou (State of Grace, Final Analysis), which riffs on the suicide cult theme – resurgent in the movies thanks to The Sacrament – by blending Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate, though it’s less concerned with weird beliefs and groupthink than simple creep stuff with a gang of Scooby-Doo-like kids in a van being done in and brought back in an eerie woodland setting. Alba, slipping a bit from the mainstream, and Rabe, a rising spook name thanks to varied turns on American Horror Story, are oddly given slightly thankless roles, upstaged by the decent, mostly engaging supporting stooges, who at least give the impression of being lively characters before their demon-zombification. It looks great, with blue-tinged widescreen images of ominousness, well-staged 1985 flashbacks and a couple of semi-workable scares, but it’s a predictable, pat programmer.

Kim Newman

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

Format: DVD (R1)

Release date: 28 September 2004

Distributor: Guilty Pleasures

Director: Ray Dennis Steckler

Writers: E.M. Kevke, Gene Pollock, Robert Silliphant

Cast: Ray Dennis Steckler, Carolyn Brandt, Brett O’Hara, Atlas King, Sharon Walsh

USA 1964

82 mins

From the director of The Adventures of Rat Phink a Boo Boo (1966), this is another cinematic curio that is as much a document of 1960s underground culture as an achievement in low-budget schlock. The (thin) plot sees the director doubling as lead actor, playing a ne’er-do-well called Jerry who haunts the sideshows and carnival in Long Beach, California. Behind the velvet rope, a clairvoyant keeps mutated punters who have upset her in a cage at the back of her tent, and with Jerry and his friends queuing outside to have their palms read, a clash between the two is about to take place…

A film more famous for its name than its content is never likely to be a classic, but TISCWSLaBMUZ isn’t devoid of memorable moments. As a brusque layabout, Steckler is a surprisingly engaging lead, and Brett O’Hara as the witch-like clairvoyant Madame Estrella – complete with facial warts that move position from scene to scene – is a suitably baroque villain. The movie runs at least 20 minutes too long, with most of the padding comprising scenes of burlesque dancing that occur almost every 15 minutes. This gives a Bollywood-style construction to the proceedings, as if the director felt viewers would rather be watching a TV variety show than a proper film.

However, two members of the crew give the cinematography the quality of a production 10 times the budget: assistant cameraman László Kovács and camera operator Vilmos Zsigmond. Kovács would go on to shoot Five Easy Pieces (1970), The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) and Ghostbusters (1984), while Zsigmond improbably has Deliverance (1972), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and The Deer Hunter (1978) on his CV. Needless to say, the film looks terrific, from the night-time shots of the carnival, a futuristic vision of sodium lamps and neon that seems more like Tron (1982) than 1960s California, to atmospheric shots of Jerry as he walks under the Angel Flight funicular railway in Downtown L.A.

The impressive look of the film is both aided and hampered by the editing, which varies between inspired match cuts of headlights and eyes to hamfisted jumps between scenes. As Don Schneider’s only other feature editing credit was on Eegah (1962), featuring many of the same cast and considered one of the worst films ever made, a cynic might suggest the clever edits on screen were more by accident than design.
I imagine more people have experienced TISCWSLaBMUZ on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in 1997, a TV show where comedians Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy among others watch old movies and make jokes about what they’re watching. As this is a film best appreciated for its visuals, this is no bad thing (although MST3K rarely used the best quality prints). It’s a movie made more enjoyable in the company of friends or with one finger on the fast forward button to skip the repetitive dancing scenes and interminable ending where a (look away now if you didn’t see this coming) mutated Jerry runs along the seashore chased by the police. The one scene where the variety acts and the plot intersect, as the mutants invade a stereotyped voodoo performance, is played out too long, wasting the opportunity for such a crossover.

As a scholar of the development of the modern zombie, I watched it with fascination and would love to ask Steckler about the film’s title. When his character first falls under the influence of Madame Estrella he’s a mesmerised, murderous puppet in the style of Doctor Caligari’s Cesare, before her undefined curse makes him, like his predecessors in her cage, some kind of devolved monster. For everyone else, it’s certainly a curate’s egg worth watching for fans of bad movies; actually, with the opportunity of skipping the boring bits, I’d happily give another one of the director’s films a try.

Alex Fitch

Watch the trailer:

The Returned

The Returned
The Returned

Format: DVD

Release date: 22 July 2013

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Robin Campillo

Writers: Robin Campillo, Brigitte Tijou

Cast: Géraldine Pailhas, Jonathan Zaccaï, Frédéric Pierrot

Original Title: Les Revenants

France 2004

102 mins

Those with only a fleeting interest in current TV listings would still be hard pressed not to have noticed the groundswell of interest in and (largely) glowing reviews of Channel 4’s new Sunday night supernatural series, The Returned. This slow burning, eight-episode French import posits a scenario in which random, dead ex-residents of a small, isolated town are inexplicably resurrected. With the Z word only mentioned once to date – and the resurrected showing no outward signs of their official post-mortem state – The Returned is focused more on the interpersonal and familial tensions wrought by the situation than it is by the ‘horror’ of it. To coincide with the series’ UK airing, Arrow Films are releasing the original 2004 movie by full-time editor and part-time director Robin Campillo on which the series is based. Originally released under the title Les Revenants (The Returned) in its homeland and as They Came Back on the international market, Campillo’s directorial debut is every bit as engrossing, creepy and atmospheric as its small-screen sibling.

Fans of the TV show worried that watching the movie mid-series might spoil both versions can rest easy, as only the concept of the original survived the transitional process from a feature length to long-form narrative. Though Campillo’s tale is on a wider scale – with some 70 million people worldwide having returned to life, and 13,000 alone in the town in which it is set – the tight focus on the lives (no pun intended) of the dead and those they left behind gives the film an intimate feel, making for a wholly engaging viewing experience more akin to brooding, arthouse human dramas than it is to visceral genre movies.

The Returned eschews histrionics and horror in favour of a studied look at the socio-political implications arising from the sudden return of the dead; do they still have the same rights? Are they entitled to walk back into their old jobs? How do governments – local and national – cope with the sudden extra demands on services and benefits? Issues surrounding grief, loss, love and the passage of time are addressed in an unhurried fashion, as the ‘dead’ and their loved ones try, some successfully, others not so, to adjust to the miraculous turn of events.

The clinical, observational air of The Returned brings to mind Peter Greenaway’s The Falls (1980) and Mick Jackson’s Threads (1984), with their personal stories similarly acting as micro insights into a macrocosmic situation. The Returned drifts along for most of its running time as if in a daze, a tonal, stylistic and aesthetic decision clearly reflective of the physical and mental state of the returned dead – robbed as they are of a sense of being fully ‘in the moment’, somehow alive but ‘concussed’, as one of the doctors charged with helping their reintegration into society observes. Those with mental health issues, dementia sufferers, immigrants and ex-offenders could all be seen as being embodied by the ‘dead’, the space they occupy on the margins of society reflected in the faceless dormitories, sideways glances and openly mistrustful encounters experienced by the titular hordes. However, such is the general ambiguity of the film that whether Campillo intended any metaphoric intent is open to debate. Only in its final act does the film enter into anything resembling a conventional genre narrative, and even then it fundamentally remains an oblique mystery. Controlled, thought provoking and refreshingly elusive, The Returned is a sparse, engaging and stimulating experience.

Neil Mitchell

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Zombie Flesh Eaters

Zombie Flesh Eaters

Format: Blu-ray/DVD/Limited edition steelbook

Release date: 3 December 2012

With live piano duet accompaniment by Robin Harris and Laura Anstee

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Lucio Fulci

Writers: Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti

Original title: Zombi 2

Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay

Italy 1979

91 mins

Zombie Flesh Eaters, or ‘the one with the eyeball splinter’, as it was referred to at school. My family having arrived late to the VHS revolution, my main exposure to the video nasty boom of the early 80s was the playground descriptions of various unwholesome sequences relayed to me with relish by various classmates. By the time a VCR actually arrived in our house the hammer had come down and all those exotic goodies had disappeared from the shelves. It was the James Ferman era at the BBFC, and so it took me until well into my twenties to catch up with, say, ‘the one where the girl throws up all her guts’ (City of the Living Dead) and put it together that a good deal of the more outrageous moments of playground lore emerged from the oeuvre of one director, Lucio Fulci. Oddly enough, given the usual reliability of schoolyard chatter, the films that I finally saw were every bit as horrible as described, and a whole lot stranger.

Zombie Flesh Eaters is one of his more straightforward, pacier efforts. An unmanned ship drifts into New York harbour, bringing with it unpleasant surprises for the harbour patrol, and a mystery for Tisa Farrow. The boat belongs to her father, and the search for him leads her, a journalist (Ian McCulloch) and a couple of wary locals to a Caribbean island where Richard Johnson is the doctor understandably turning to the bottle as the night is filled with jungle drums and the dead are feeling restless. Much mayhem ensues.

ZFE was released in 1979 a couple of months after Dawn of the Dead (aka Zombi) as Zombi 2 and, while clearly indebted to the Romero film, it also harks back to the likes of White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie, in its island setting and its use of a voodoo curse as an undead motivator rather than any cod scientific explanations. Romero rules still apply, however, in the ‘shoot ’em in the head’ policy and the infectious nature of zombie bites. Anyone wondering if this makes much sense clearly hasn’t been exposed to enough Italian cinema.

Indeed, Fulci’s best horror films gain greatly from a feeling that they don’t quite make sense, that nobody on screen is acting like a human being would. As with City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetery, his people just seem to hang around waiting for the worst to happen, blind to the mounting evidence that they should flee. He has a tendency towards stately pacing, a contemptuous disregard for narrative cohesion and an eye for weird images. The net result of this is to give his films an authentic nightmare undertow, but at the cost of any human character or motivation. It remains an enigma to me how much of this oneiric freakiness is deliberate, and how much a result of the filmmaker’s shortcomings. Fulci in his pomp is several rungs above hacks like Umberto Lenzi or Astride/Aristide Massaccesi (aka Joe D’Amato): he can frame an arresting shot, create a memorable sequence and has a definite style, but seems to be indifferent to the pleasures of dialogue and performance, and often mixes effective set pieces with moments of alarming judgement, letting his camera linger endlessly over shoddy effects that any sane director would cut away from.* Zombi 2 was also known around my school as ‘the one where a zombie fights a shark’ and, indeed, that’s what happens here, witnessed by a topless Auretta Gay wearing a scuba tank. It’s a scene that seems to exemplify Fulci: it’s slow, exploitative, absolutely ridiculous and genuinely surreal. It’s also typical in that the ramifications of the moment are left murkily unexplored as the plot trundles on.**

Viewed from the 21st century, Zombie Flesh Eaters seems to come from an age before irony: there is no self-conscious playfulness here, and very little humour. Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci‘s score is perfect in its epic, cheesy, doom-laden portentousness. This is the 1970s. Nobody is ‘empowered’ by violence here, and it’s all going to end rather badly. I think I love this terrible film.

The soundtrack of Zombie Flesh Eaters is available on limited red vinyl with artwork by Graham Humphreys from Death Waltz Records.

Mark Stafford

*The rubber spiders in the library in The Beyond, I’m looking at you.
**Are the oceans of the world now crawling with waterlogged ghouls and infected sealife? Buggered if I know, and Lucio’s not telling.

Watch the trailer:

The Plague of the Zombies

Two years before Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Hammer Studios produced this socially conscious zombie thriller set in Cornwall and directed by John Gilling. The Plague of the Zombies (1966) is released on double play by Studiocanal on 7 May and screens in selected cities across the UK on 12 June 2012.

The screening is part of the Made in Britain season organised by Studiocanal and the ICO in celebration of classic British cinema between the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend and the Olympics. The other films in the season are Passport to Pimlico (5 June), The Man Who Fell to Earth (19 June), Hobson’s Choice (26 June) and Quatermass and the Pit (3 July). For more information, please go to the ICO website.

Comic Strip Review by Chris Doherty
For more information on Chris Doherty, go to bittersweetfatkid.



Format: DVD + Download

Release date: 22 August 2011

Distributor: Bounty Films

Director: Faye Jackson

Writer: Faye Jackson

Cast: Constantin Barbulescu, Camelia Maxim, Catalin Paraschiv

UK/Romania 2009

101 mins

Dark business is afoot in an isolated Romanian village. There are inept executions in the dead of night, and the whole town seems to be in on something. All in all it’s a bad time for faint-hearted local boy Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv) to return from Italy and start poking his nose into a local drunkard’s death. The local priest (Vlad’s father) is involved somehow. The local cop seems more concerned with his marijuana supply. His grandfather is clearly barking. Vlad appears to be on his own, but any conspiracy is going to be impossible to maintain if the bodies refuse to stay buried….

Faye Jackson’s winningly offbeat vampire/zombie picture is a welcome addition to the genre, functioning more as a dry-witted magic realist mystery than a conventional horror film. The strigoi are quite chatty for the undead and seem to have a hard time grasping the ramifications of their state. They are florid of face and incessantly hungry, and the cause of some consternation among the villagers, who quibble about folklore and seem more concerned that the inconvenient buggers are upsetting the boat than anything else. Jackson foregrounds the small-town politics and the inability of anybody to get to grips with the problems that rise out of the communist past, inherited through land and blood.

Anybody demanding the kick-ass kung fu or CGI splatter scenes that have dominated the vampire flick over the last decade or so will be disappointed. But Strigoi is more interesting than all that guff, with a tone closer to Whisky Galore! than The Wicker Man. It keeps you on the back foot with eccentric characters and cat-and-mouse dialogue, odd visual flourishes and strange situations. As when a terrified woman spends the whole night feeding a ravenous strigoi all the food in the house to stop the creature from supping on her, a scene that’s weird and funny and domestic at the same time, and typical of a film that’s playing a different game to the one you might expect. It’s a UK/Romanian co-production in English, and the DVD comes with a Faye Jackson short, Lump, a queasy little medical tale. Well worth a look.

Mark Stafford

Two Films by Lucio Fulci

City of the Living Dead

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 24 May 2010

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Lucio Fulci

Writers: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti

Original title: Paura nella cit&#224 dei morti viventi

Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi

Italy 1980

93 mins

You’d be forgiven for assuming Lucio Zombie Flesh Eaters Fulci’s 1980 City of the Living Dead would be another Dawn of the Dead clone, but Romero’s zombies could never teleport or leap from walls like ninjas, and I don’t remember them having the power to make people cry blood. The atypical ghouls are not the focus of the action, either, just one of many manifestations of evil that are summoned by the suicide of a Christopher Lee-lookalike priest in the Lovecraftily-named town of Dunwich.

If you’ve seen The Omen, you’ll be familiar with the amorphous ‘dark powers’ at work. This free form horror appeals to Fulci’s screw-the-story-in-favour-of-tenuously-strung-together-set-pieces approach. He’d already given us The Beyond by then and would go on to paint himself into his own haunted world in Cat in the Brain (the Curb Your Enthusiasm of Euro-horror), but City of the Living Dead is surely the best of all; heads are drilled through, brains ripped out, storms of maggots burst into homes, guts are puked up literally and endlessly; all this to a Fabio Frizzi soundtrack that challenges Goblin in the zombie-prog stakes.

Arrow Video have a geek-centric attitude, heroically commissioning video nasty-style box art, with a logo animation straight outta the VHS rental days. Even without all the fanboy-friendly extras (interviews, commentaries, etc), City of the Living Dead would be a great release; the transfer quality is a far cry from the bootleg I picked up at some pikey market so long ago. The crispness thankfully doesn’t ruin the special effects; it just makes the gore more sickening than ever, hooray!

Lizard in a Woman's Skin

Format: DVD

Release date: 7 June 2010

Distributor: Optimum

Director: Lucio Fulci

Writers: Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, José Luis Martínez Mollá, André Tranché

Original title: Una lucertola con la pelle di donna

Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Stanley Baker, Silvia Monti, Jean Sorel, Anita Strindberg

Italy/Spain/France 1971

104 mins

This month also sees the release of a less well-known Fulci movie: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a well put together Rosemary’s Baby-ish mystery, which is a pleasant surprise, kinda like discovering that your favourite black metal band started out doing garage rock. Prudish Carol (Florinda Bolkan) is fascinated yet revolted by her sleazy neighbour, Julia (Anita Strindberg), and her swingin’ orgiastic love-ins. In a nightmare, she is seduced by Julia, then kills her. When Julia turns up murdered in exactly the way it happened in Carol’s dream… it’s time to tick the Hitchcockian boxes and play ‘spot the giallo cliché’! Doorknob-jiggling chase sequences, cod-psychology and hunchbacked red herrings; all on cue.

What sets A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin apart from other Italian formula thrillers is its hallucinatory dream sequences (I like the one with the Toho-style goose monster) and its acid-soaked hippy happenings, lent authenticity by an Ennio Morricone (!) score that modulates druggily enough to have been phoned in from a crack den. The film also looks great, with a babe-heavy cast and Carnaby St wardrobe, and that film stock that makes everything warm and groovy. The blood looks like red paint, but that never hurt HG Lewis. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin doesn’t approach the bloodiness of City of the Living Dead, but Lucio the Butcher does rear his dripping entrails… always when you least expect it.

This one is an Optimum release, and the only special features you get are a grainy trailer that makes it look like it’s going to be The Trip, and the option to watch in Italian.

To gore hounds considering one of these, I recommend City of the Living Dead. If you’re a Fulci fan wanting to check out his early work, then A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin will show you what he’s capable of when he’s not being gory and/or confusing. Each offers a glimpse into the bottomless Gothic toolkit of a horror master.

Doc Horror

audio Listen to the podcast of Alex Fitch’s interview with Dario Argento + Goblin Q&A at the Supersonic music festival in Birmingham.