Category Archives: zombie

Halloween 2k19 :Marathon Retrospective

Introduction

I’ve loved horror movies for a long time, but I’ve always found it hard to talk about it with others because of my lack of familiarity with the western cannon. As a kid I started off with horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge and subsequently got into Asian horror. Because of this I never ended up watching common American classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street.

This challenge was my chance to play “catch-up” and improve my understanding of western horror history. I thought it’d be hard because of how many slashers I’d have to watch. I’ve never liked blood – it always makes me feel queasy – so slashers were my natural enemy. However, I did look forward to movies like The Silence of the Lambs and The House of the Devil, because I like supernatural and psychological movies and I find them easiest to get lost in.

The biggest part of the challenge I was scared about was actually forcing myself to watch a horror movie everyday and then write a review within the day. Yes, I tell my friends what I think of movies all the time but writing my thoughts out is a lot more time intensive than casually speaking them. My biggest concern was having a competent review for each movie.

Now that the challenge is done- I thought it’d be interesting to go ahead and analyze the results and experience overall. Did I meet expectations? Was it everything I wanted and more? How did my reviews compare to aggregate sites like IMDb? Tune in and find out.

General Statistics

I went to Metacritic and IMDb and found the aggregate ratings for each of the movies I saw. The Metascore on Metacritic uses a scale of 100. I scaled it back down to a scale of 10 to make comparing the numbers easier.

The sample size is only the 32 movies I saw during the challenge, so take the numbers as you will. As I get more reviews up here I can do more robust analyses. This particular retrospective might seem more trivial, but it’s a fun journey nonetheless.

NOTE: Ratings may change as more reviews are added over time so if you view this well after the posted date- keep that in mind.

Title My Rating IMDb Rating MetaCritic User Score MetaCritic Meta Score
Hour of the Wolf 8.5 7.7 N/A N/A
Scream 9.3 7.2 8.8 6.5
The Thing 10.0 8.1 8.8 5.7
Zombieland 8.8 7.6 8.6 7.3
The Shining 10.0 8.4 8.8 6.6
Poltergeist 9.0 7.3 8.5 7.9
Green Room 8.3 7.0 7.2 7.9
The House of the Devil 9.2 6.4 6.9 7.3
Night of the Living Dead 9.5 7.9 8.5 8.9
Texas Chain Saw Massacre 10.0 7.5 8.0 7.5
A Nightmare on Elm Street 9.1 7.5 8.8 7.6
The Cabin in the Woods 9.3 7.0 8.1 7.2
The Silence of the Lambs 10.0 8.6 8.8 8.5
Shaun of the Dead 9.0 7.9 8.7 7.6
In the Mouth of Madness 10.0 7.2 6.8 5.3
Saw 8.1 7.6 8.1 4.6
An American Werewolf in London 9.1 7.5 8.8 7.6
Joker 9.4 8.8 9.2 5.9
Nosferatu 9.5 7.9 N/A 7.9
Cube 9.2 7.2 7.3 6.1
Black Swan 9.4 7.5 8.1 7.9
28 Days Later 9.5 7.6 7.7 7.3
Candyman 10.0 6.6 N/A N/A
Event Horizon 7.4 6.7 7.2 3.5
Friday the 13th 7.2 6.5 5.6 2.2
The Devil’s Backbone 8.8 7.4 8.7 7.8
The Others 8.4 7.6 8.7 7.4
Jaws 10.0 8.0 8.8 8.7
The Lighthouse 10.0 8.3 8.3 8.3
Hell House LLC 8.2 6.4 N/A N/A
Zombieland: Double Tap 7.5 7.2 5.3 5.6
Ringu 9.7 7.2 N/A N/A

Personal Analysis

Based on my ratings you can tell that this month was good for me. Out of the 32 movies I saw 8 movies that I would classify as a 10. Those movies were:

  • The Shining
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
  • The Thing
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • In the Mouth of Madness
  • Candyman
  • Jaws
  • The Lighthouse

Even though I’d say I’m more willing to give 10’s than other critics, I still find it amazing how many of the movies profoundly impacted me. On top of these 8 “unicorns”, an additional 4 movies made the A+ squad meaning that 37.5% of the movies I saw were good enough for me to want to recommend then to everyone. These additions include:

  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Nosferatu
  • 28 Days Later
  • Ringu

The distribution of these movies genre-wise is also something I’m surprised by. I didn’t think that I would rank any slasher up that highly, but Candyman and Texas Chain Saw Massacre were both so nuanced that I couldn’t help but be entranced by both movies. I love supernatural and psychological movies so that part makes sense.

Genre Count
Supernatural 3
Psychological 3
Slasher 2
Monster 1
Science Fiction 1

The movie I ended up liking the least was Friday the 13th, which I gave a 7.2. After A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was hoping that one of the other great slasher series could give me something meaningful to bite into. Unfortunately, despite having a few nice moments, the movie didn’t hit me the way I wanted it to. It’s funny- before I started the marathon I didn’t want anything to do with the movie, but after being spoiled by some great ones, I started looking forward to the ones on my list. Congrats slasher movies – you got a fan in me.

Relational Analysis

Review Source Mean Median Standard Deviation
Me 9.09 9.25 0.81
IMDb 7.49 7.5 0.61
Metacritic – User 8.03 8.3 0.96
Metacritic- Meta 6.82 7.3 1.56

My friends have always said I’m a film snob, and I’ve always maintained I’m not. But everytime I end up loving a horror movie (The Witch, It Follows, The Babadook…) it ends up being one of those divisive movies that gets good “critic” reviews but not so great user reviews. That’s what made the comparison of the major statistics so surprising.

My ratings were closest to the Metacritic – User ratings and also furthest away from the Metacritic – Meta ratings. It’s also interesting that that’s the only source that had a standard deviation well above 1. It seems like “critics” are more broad compared to a more “in tune” user base. I’d be interested in finding out why that’s the case, but that’s for another time when I have more data and better codding knowledge.

I also wanted to check out just how different my A+ movies differentiated from the way my counterparts ranked them. Maybe my self perceived greats were so good that they elicited similar reactions in others. I’ve excluded Nosferatu, Candyman, and Ringu because they have missing Metacritic data.

Title IMDb Difference Metacritic Meta Difference Metacritic User Difference
The Shining 1.6 1.2 3.4
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2.5 2.0 2.5
Night of the Living Dead 1.6 1.0 0.6
The Thing 1.9 1.2 4.3
The Silence of the Lambs 1.4 1.2 1.5
In the Mouth of Madness 2.8 3.2 4.7
28 Days Later 1.9 1.8 2.2
Jaws 2.0 1.2 1.3
The Lighthouse 1.7 1.7 1.7

The differences are promising in a certain light. Though my final rating for most of the above titles is higher than my counterparts, their position comparative to other movies on the list remains similar. I may give higher ratings – but those ratings are in line with (for the most part) the trend of rating horror movies. The biggest exceptions to this rule so far are The Shining and In the Mouth of Madness. Both movies are cult classics and I appreciated their depths into darker, more Lovecraftian themes. After looking it up, I found out that they’re part of John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy”. When I found out I still had one movie, Prince of Darkness, to watch I felt tremendous jubilation.

In a more general sense, the ratings for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Lighthouse have the closest score distributions out all the movies. The Lighthouse is the most striking given that every source sans myself had given the movie an 8.3.

Review of Writing Style

When I first started writing reviews, I thought the process was overwhelming. I’ve always been someone who just focuses on plot and interpretation. I’ve always appreciated things like score and camera angles but never thought about how they impacted my viewing experience. Trying to find a way to incorporate discussion about all the elements was my first big hurdle.

My earlier reviews like , Review: The Hour of the Wolf, exhibit the issue clearly. When I mention certain things, they come off as static and feel more like statements that have to be there as opposed to streams of natural thought that followed from the previous one. This is mainly because I’m not the best at using commas, so translating my spoken thought into proper written work is… difficult to say the least. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may notice I use a lot of “-“‘s in my work. I don’t know how correct it is, but the feeling it creates feels natural.

Thankfully, my more recent reviews are more fluid, even if the difference isn’t as big as I wanted. Sentences extend for longer and there’s more voice and expression in everything. There’s probably a lot more, but I’m more interested in seeing where my writing is at in a year, so I’ll wait until then to take a deeper look.

Final Takeaway

Overall, this experience was great. Watching a movie and writing a review everyday was challenging but was also incredibly rewarding. I was forced to critically inspect each movie at multiple levels and ended up appreciating the craftsmanship at work.

The hardest part of the process was feeling like there was a constant deadline for each movie. Some of the movies hit emotional beats pretty hard and it was difficult to force myself to watch a movie the next day. Balancing a movie a day on top of work and everyday life was also challenging and something I should’ve prepared around more.

The more serious movies that were playing in theaters proved to be the hardest to review. Joker and The Lighthouse both moved me and brought up a lot of interesting points, but I couldn’t pause, write out my thoughts, and rewind to catch up with certain points like I could do back at home on my PS3.

I’m definitely planning on doing this challenge next year, but now I think I have some good changes to make the process more manageable. I definitely need more fun/cheesy movies to lighten the mood. Being scared and philosophically boomed is great but there’s a charm to less serious movies. At the very least, they would serve as a much needed change in current that would keep the experience fresh.

 

Review: Zombieland: Double Tap

Theatrical Release Poster

I’m going to be honest- when I first saw the trailer for this movie earlier on in the year, I thought it was an elaborate prank. A sequel to a movie over 10 years old? Sure, Zombieland was popular, but what would a sequel do for a story that seemed to have ended in a pleasing manner already? Thankfully, Ruben Fleischer’s directorial return in Zombieland: Double Tap, is a fun, over-the-top, and gory zom-com that doesn’t take itself too seriously and should be watched by any fan of the first movie.

The plot follows our main group and some bonus characters as they try and find Little Rock (Breslin) after she’s run off in a fit of adolescent rebellion. The story that follows is predictable for the most part and doesn’t take itself too seriously. To compensate for the lack of innovation, the movie just has fun with itself. The action scenes are bloody and entertaining. The film doubles down on the spectacle – new zombies, more deaths, and more blood. Most of the times this turns out well, and the absurdity is entertaining to watch even if it feels similar. Likewise, a lot of the comedy is based on references and parody specifically in relation to the first movie. Sometimes it comes off as forced or goes on for too long, but this is a rarer issue and didn’t derail my enjoyment too much.

For the most part the acting in this movie suits the tone and brought me back to the feeling I had in the first movie. Harrelson, Eisenberg, and Stone all come exude the characters we know and love. Harrelson still kicks ass but is a teddy bear on the inside. Eisenberg is still a nervous, awkward, rule follower trying to find stability. Stone is still smart-witted, sarcastic, and dealing with her emotions. Breslin feels less compelling as an angsty teen, but thankfully the bonus characters pick up the slack. Deutch’s portrayal of Madison stole the show for me. Almost every time her character was on screen I laughed or chuckled. Rosario Dawson also serves as a great counterbalance to Harrelson and is a fun, if somewhat gimmicky, character.

My issues from the movie stem from two places: the disjointed nature of progression, and the fact that the sequel is set 10 years later. Like I said earlier, the movie doesn’t have a lot of twists in it and feels like a rehash of story beats from the first movie. There are some changes to keep it interesting, but the progression from point to point feels forced. It almost feels like the group travels from one location to another to do a comedy bit or to have a zombie fight and then moves on. My second concern is my primary issue with the film. The ending of the original movie set in stone/pushed characters to certain developmental stages. Given that the main cast has lived with each other for 10 years, one would expect some more growth and change along these lines. Instead, the characters feel like they picked up a few months after the end of the last film. Some of their decisions, even if fun, feel lacking once put in context.

Rating

TLDR: Zombieland: Double Tap isn’t revolutionary, but what it doesn’t do in innovation, it makes up for in raunchy comedy and exciting action scenes. Some moments feel out of place from a larger narrative standpoint, but they can’t hold back the adventure at hand.

Final Rating: 7.5/10 . If you liked Zombieland, check this movie out. If you didn’t you won’t find anything here to change your mind. The movie also isn’t too scary, so if you want a fun comedy flick to watch this film more than fills the role.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: 28 Days Later

Theatrical Release Poster

Zombies- check.
Misanthropy- check.
Examination of alienation – check.
Awesome music – double check.

Danny Boyle’s science-fiction zombie film, 28 Days Later, checks off all the necessities of a great movie, adds on a great deal of nuance and criticism, and wraps all of that in a beautifully shot and scored piece. The story follows Jim (Cilian Murphy) as he wakes up 28 days after a terrifying “rage” virus has spread and destroyed most of England. He eventually meets up with and forms a rag-tag team with other survivors as they struggle to find a way out of the living hell they find themselves in.

I knew I was in for a cinematic treat just based off of the parallels in the opening scene of the movie, and the opening scene on Jim. We start off looking at a monkey, tied up to a series of wires, being forced to take in violent awful media. When Jim wakes up, he’s also covered in wires on a hospital bed causing an immediate association between him and the primate. It beautifully foreshadows his journey as he’s forced to view and deal with gruesome and morbid scenes of violence. It also raises one of the films main thematic questions- what is humanity and how is it different than animality? Based on this opening scene it might be that humans and animals aren’t so different after all. The feeling never really goes away and the film constantly plays with it.

Every camera shot has a purpose in this movie and I was constantly kept off balance by their variation in use. The use of a gritty realistic recording makes the setting feel grounded and haunting. A darker color scheme is used for most of the film so when lighter ones are front and center, it feels intentional. It serves as a visual and thematic pallet cleanser, which for the most part, keeps the movie fresh and invites deeper answers to the questions being posited.

The frequent use of angled shots highlight the upturned nature of the world around them. Any semblance of the social order that they know of is gone. There are a lot of wide open shots that make the characters feel puny in comparison. They feel like ants- showcasing not only our groups’ alienation, but also questioning the general place of humanity in relation to the planet at large. The quick panicked shots when the zombies come in is also jarring and was frightening each time it was used. The zombies being as fast as they were only made the effects more pronounced.

Speaking of that, I love how fast the zombies were. They’re aggressive killing machines and present a real sense of urgency. The film ensures we know of that by having an incredibly tense and shocking zombie/reaction scene out of nowhere, highlighting the absurdity of it- a mistake at any point, even a small one could be deadly. Even a small speck of blood end our protagonists, so every zombie encounter becomes even worse- we’re constantly on the lookout for blood and cadavers because those present as much of a threat as the zombies themselves.

Because the zombies were so threatening I expected them to be the highlight of the film, driving the main source of tension. But the film spends a large chunk of time developing our group. They really do feel like a family, and some of the character moments in the second act are well realized. They help flesh out the characters without feeling out of place with what we’ve learned about everyone earlier.

John Murphy’s sound makes all of the above elements even better than they would be otherwise. He uses music to precisely accentuate the emotional undercurrent of the scene. The music is never just there for the sake of being there. For example, during one scene in the first act, a soft song plays in the background as the characters explore a certain area, but upon the discovery of a deceased couple, the music cuts out. Instead, the audience is left with silence- highlighting the somber and tragic nature of the scene, before the song comes back in- snapping us, and the character who discovered the scene back to real life. Furthermore, “In the House, In a Heartbeat”, is one of the the best horror/theme tracks I’ve ever heard and its use in the third act was chilling.

The ending of the movie feels rushed and thematically inconsistent, even if I personally thought it was a pleasant change of pace from what I expected. Certain character arcs feel like they come out of left field, but are still beautiful symbolically and thematically. The issue is that after setting up a series of expectations that would allow for the rushed characterization to feel symbolically meaningful, the film directly sidesteps what it just did in favor of something else. The end result, is a surprising ending that a lot of people might find unsatisfying. Personally, I liked it and I’ll get into that in the spoiler section, but I’m definitely going to look at the alternative endings to see if they change my view of the movie at all.

Rating

TLDR: 28 Days Later, is a rich and tense zombie film that’ll have you asking questions about the depraved extents we go to survive. Thought it falters in the ending, it is tense and filled with a sense of isolation that lasts until the very last scene.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. This is the scariest zombie movie I’ve seen. Watch if you enjoy tense and well-paced action scenes, examinations/criticisms of anthropocentrism, or want to watch a beautifully shot and scored work of art.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Shaun of the Dead

Theatrical Release Poster

Though Edgar Wright’s, Shaun of the Dead, has zombies and gore, it works much more as a comedy movie than as a horror movie. This movie is more of a comedic satire that wants to poke fun at zombie movies, and invites the audience to laugh along as the chaos ensues. The movie follows Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his motley crew of friends/acquaintances as they attempt to survive a zombie infestation.

The best way I could describe the movie is if you took the cast of a sitcom and then put them in a feature length movie where a zombie attack was just breaking out. Most of the times the juxtaposition of the terrifying reality of zombies with the over-the-top and almost dismissive behavior of the main cast to the same creates a subtle comedy. The excellent sound design, and more importantly song choices for most scenes was amazing and highlighted the absurdity of the whole movie. I chuckled for most of the run time, because the movie makes fun of the tropes and genre cliches of zombie movies. It’s as if the writers, Wright and Pegg, want us to join in on the “joke” with them. All the jokes are carefully woven through nuanced direction and great writing.

The film is overhanded in it’s foreshadowing deliberately. We know the characters are in for a bad time, but because we have an idea of how bad, we can let loose and just enjoy the absurd reactions to the events by the characters. There’s also heaps of subtle bits of foreshadowing and calls I already know I’ll have to re-watch the movie because upon finishing it, a lot of the earlier segments feel even more fleshed out, and I know I’ll pick up more Easter eggs.

The abundance of humor does cause some slight issues in terms of overall tone. Some of the more serious and heartfelt moments felt less impactful than I felt they could have been. At times the inclusion of jokes in these moments causes this weird disconnect which made the impact of those moments less poignant.

Rating

TLDR: Shaun of the Dead is a satire posing as a zombie movie that relishes in fun and absurdity and invites the audience to do the same. The tone is uneven at times, but that’s a small price to pay for a movie that’ll have you chuckling for most of its run-time.

Final Rating: 9.0/10. If you’re a fan of zombie movies or enjoy clever satires give this movie a go. Anyone who wants to laugh, and kind mind a small bit of gore, should also see this when they can. It’s a great time.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Night of the Living Dead

Theatrical Release Poster

George Romero’s 1968 piece of art, Night of the Living Dead, tells a gripping tale of a group of survivors fighting against a horde of “living dead” zombies encroaching the house they’re hiding in. However, the real, more insidious enemy plaguing the group are their ideological divides. The film feels so much like a social commentary and, surprisingly, seems incredibly pertinent to the status quo.

The first scene into the bait-and-switch into the lead character was unexpected and genuinely surprising. We start off with a view of Barbra (played by Judith O’Dea) and her brother walking towards the cemetery to pay respects to their father. From there we go on an almost absurd journey, as Barbra tries to escape an undead chasing her. As she finds shelter, we get introduced to the real main character, Ben, played by Duane Jones. I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, and I can only count on one hand how many black leads I’ve ever seen. Especially thinking about the fact that this movie was released in 1968, Duane’s portrayal of a strong, steady, calm, and resourceful black man taking charge and holding off the undead is incredibly subversive.

Eventually as we’re introduced to the rest of the cast, we see the signs of ideological fracture among the group. Harry, played by Karl Hardman, serves as the chief foil to Ben and they both represent different outlooks on relation and responsibility. The clashes between them serve as a kind of commentary on the costs of survival and the extent of our obligation to our fellow people.

Romero is phenomenal at showing and not telling. Yes, there are exposition dumps woven throughout the movie, but the a lot of the information describes events that we, as the audience, have already seen. This helps create a really dynamic viewing experience which is only amplified by the use of slanted camera angles and amazing lighting choices. The shadows are really accentuated which ramps up the tension, but more importantly the constant use of fire and flames through the movies really pops and creates an impact. Special effect design is also great – the gore effects are visually disturbing and accentuate the depravity of the creatures enough to make them scary even now. However, despite using so many of the above to create a scary spectacle, never once, does the focus of the movie feel like it’s too “away” from the protagonists. The monsters are there – but they’re there to highlight issues and serve as catalysts – the focus is always clearly on the characters.

I would go into more but I don’t want to risk spoiling anything so I’ll end the spoiler free section here.

Rating

TLDR: Night of the Living Dead is a dark take on humanity’s response to an terrifying threat. Although it’s a zombie movie on the outside, on the inside it’s a fascinating journey through the darker canals of the human mind.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. If you’re someone who keeps up a lot with social issues and the news, watch this movie. It’s surprisingly though provoking now, five decades later. Anyone who likes psychological films or zombie films should also give this a go.


Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Zombieland

Theatrical Release Poster

“Without other people, you might as well be a zombie.” Thought one might expect a film called Zombieland, to be primarily about zombies, Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 horror-comedy movie, merely uses them as as a backdrop to the main story at hand- a story about humanity and the paradox of trust. Like Schopenhauer’s porcupine, each of the four main characters wants to trust and open up to each other, but their respective traumas and previous misgivings serve as the real antagonists of the film, and represent the real final bosses they have to overcome.

The decision to refer to each character by a code-name exemplifies this conundrum. When Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) first meets Tallahasee (Woody Harrelson), the latter explicitly rejects formal names, instead using places that relate to their background. The names serve as the most obvious signal that people in this world no longer trust one another- in a world over run by the un- dead, unknown people could just bring you down and/or ruin your chances of survival. Their paths soon cross with Wichita (Emma Stone) and her little sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and from there, the real story begins.

One thing the film does really well to develop the characters in lieu of names and paltry introductions is to constantly group and re-group certain characters, to help define their individual relations to their group relations and so on. These groupings help to create a more fulfilled and nuanced picture of each character ,making their personal journeys and attempts to overcome their self-defense mechanisms more fulfilling and well-deserved.

I love how the backdrop of the movie feels so much like a video-game. The opening shot does a great job of emphasizing the chaos and destruction the zombies wreak on the planet. From the early shaky cam, to the immediate on screen death, to the imploding and devastated planet- we’re all aware that the Earth has immediately gone through something graphic, but it almost feels like an intro cut scene to a game, before the player gets control of their character. The presentation of Columbus’s “rules” also helps sell the gamey feel of everything. They become part of the environment like on-screen instructions in a game.

There are also plenty of slow-motion shots used during action sequences- like when zombies run into a weapon or experience impact. These help the moments they’re used in feel more hype and comedic. All together, the elements help us enjoy the spectacle but invest into the characters and their personal struggles, creating a more rich viewing experience.

The humor in the movie was great and felt natural. A lot if it just felt like the characters expending loose emotions and felt like a transgressive laugh, in the face of an uncaring and cruel universe. Honestly, there were a lot of moments where I wanted to go and check up if the director had read any of Georges Bataille’s works given the way the characters interact with death and tension. All the effort spent in building up the characters and situations, really helps sell some of the funnier punches the movie has to offer.

My biggest issue with the movie is with one of the movie’s strengths- Jesse Eisenberg’s constant self-narration. The movie often takes the point of view of Columbus, who often monologues or reveals his insights as certain scenes progress. But a few of these revelations felt like they took away from some of the more emotional moments of the movie. I counted at least two moments, where a series of events played out on scene, and as a viewer I could “see” the point of it and emotionally resonated with the same. But then, immediately following it, I’d hear Columbus’s voice trying to explain the significance of what I saw and try and add in a funny or wise quip. It didn’t happen enough to derail the movie or its messages, but it definitely made certain scenes less effective.

Rating

TLDR: Zombieland is a beautiful character-driven movie about trust and human relations masquerading as a zombie-comedy movie. The overall aesthetic and attention to character development really help hit some great character moments and keeps the viewer engaged, despite some distracting narrative issues.

Final Rating: 8.5/10. I enjoyed the journey through Zombieland, and would highly reccomend to anyone who needs a laugh or wants their faith in humanity to heal a bit. If you like it – Zombieland: Double Tap is coming out on the 18th of this month. I don’t know why they waited 10 years for a sequel, but better late than never.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!