Julie, Sweet Julie: Why Return of the Living Dead 3 Is One of the Most Inventive Sequels Ever - Dread Central
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Julie, Sweet Julie: Why Return of the Living Dead 3 Is One of the Most Inventive Sequels Ever

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Return of the Living Dead was one of the most innovative, impressive and all-around genius zombie films to not be directed by George A. Romero. It is completely and totally of its time and yet it still holds up. That movie is the perfect embodiment of ‘80s punk counter-culture. It’s one of the most nihilistic horrors ever, but it has an insane amount of fun with it. The feature essentially states, “Hey, everything is hopeless, it’s the end of the world, but we might as well go out laughing.” That’s such an ultimate, final statement that it made Return almost impossible to sequelize, by nature.

Because of that, Return of the Living Dead Part II suffered from simply rehashing the first. It really only changes the setting, and even then, only slightly. The biggest difference is one most people have serious issue with: it is an incredibly tame feature. It pulls every single punch. That stems from the fact that it was actually originally intended as a kids’ movie, but even then, doing that as a follow-up to Return of the Living Dead is an incredibly bizarre choice to begin with.

There was no reason for this to become a franchise. After the disappointing box office of the second film, especially, there was definitely no reason for a Return of the Living Dead 3. But some of the best sequels, from Aliens to Psycho II to Exorcist III, have no earthly reason to exist.

Return of the Living Dead 3 is one of those sequels that shouldn’t be even half as good as it is. But, at the same time, it’s one that cries out for a bigger audience than it has. Yes, it’s a B-Movie on a distinctly low budget and it definitely does not hide that fact, but it achieves an amazing balance that most sequels rarely maintain, even today. This is a completely different film from the first on almost every level. It’s a far more intimate story, a very Romeo & Juliet inspired tale of star-crossed lovers. On premise alone, it sounds like a terrible idea.

Return of the Living Dead is not a tragic movie. It doesn’t really spend time on any of its characters because it wants us to have fun, to not get too attached before every single one of them dies. It’s a horror comedy, through and through, so the idea of doing a teenage love story seemed to clash with the original concept on just about every level.

But here’s the thing that Return of the Living Dead 3 does incredibly well that so, so few sequels ever manage to do right: while this is a totally different kind of film, it is completely set within the same mythology. It does not negate the original at all. Our characters still uncover an instillation that leads to the discovery of the Trioxin gas. The military is actively working on a way to harness these zombies, as they’re virtually indestructible and they need a way to turn this colossal screw up into something they can actually use. Instead of an accident, the use of Trioxin in this movie is completely intentional.

Curt’s dad is leading this project. He has no idea what exactly his father does until he sneaks in to take a look. When his girlfriend accidentally dies, he intentionally makes the decision to bring her back. It’s as much of a mistake as it’s ever been in these movies, but it’s his mistake to make. Even when opening that Pandora’s Box turns out just as terribly for him as it did for Frank and Freddie in the original, it’s fundamentally different because he’s led to the gas of his own free will.

Of course, the most famous aspect of Return of the Living Dead 3, and without a doubt the best thing about the movie, is its heroine, Julie. From the moment you see that poster art, you freeze because this is a dynamic image. An image that certainly results from a post-Hellraiser landscape, which throws off as many fans as it attracts. And I get it, too. Return of the Living Dead 3 might push a few fans away because it is so different from the original. But the thing I love about it, the thing that makes Julie’s arc work so well, is that in keeping itself cemented in that mythology, it’s actually an inversion of the original.

There’s a classic moment in Return of the Living Dead that people had never seen in a zombie movie before. Whether they be voodoo zombies or Romero zombies, zombies in any film really didn’t talk. They definitely never stopped to explain their motivations. All of that changes when these frantic would-be survivors hold the half-corpse down to ask it what it wants. For a largely comedic take on zombies, what this creature explains is absolutely horrifying. They feel themselves rot. They feel everything happening to their bodies, and they eat brains to keep themselves from feeling that pain for however long.

All Return of the Living Dead 3 does is flip that concept. This is a film about someone who is desperately trying to cling to the appearance of a normal life, trying to convince herself that she can somehow go back to the way things were, so she inflicts pain on herself to suppress her growing hunger. And the hungrier she gets, the more pain she is forced to inflict, until she undergoes a dramatic, shocking and grotesquely gorgeous transformation.

When Julie finally makes that transformation into the zombie seen on the poster, it’s a fascinating sequence because it starts out as an attempt to hold back her own hunger as she has done throughout the feature, but as that montage progresses it evolves into final acceptance of what she has become. She’s not just sticking wires into her finger tips anymore, she’s creating claws. She has a spike in one hand and a rock hanging from the other, solely for the purpose of cracking open a skull. That bold new look isn’t just for show. Everything about it has a purpose.

This is still a campy flick and there are campy performances. But Melinda Clarke is just on another level. She has to play some insanely goofy stuff, on paper and she manages to do it convincingly. But the physical performance is insane. The more Julie caves in to being a zombie, the more animalistic she becomes. She doesn’t resemble almost any other movie zombie, even when she starts hissing and growling. Instead, she feels much more like Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein, if not a little more aggressive. Her eyes don’t dart around like a deer in the headlights, but rather like a lioness, picking the order of her victims. When she first steps out of that tunnel and is revealed for the first time, her movements are fluid, almost snakelike. Even if people love the look of the character, it’s the performance that truly makes Julie memorable.

For both Julie and Curt, this is fundamentally a story about accepting loss. Julie grows increasingly aware that she is different and that she needs to admit what she has become. Curt’s transformation is almost more heartbreaking and relatable, being the one who has to let her go. He refuses to admit or accept something that he himself is responsible for. He never thought about consequences and the longer he goes without dealing with those things, the more things just begin to pile up on top of one another.

Curt makes the stupidest decisions over and over, but they come from a place that’s easy to understand and relate to because nobody wants to lose the person they love most. This is a guy who has already lost his mother and it clearly destroyed his family life in a way that has never been repaired. His dad is barely present in his life, having given himself fully over to his work. Julie is all Curt has. She’s his only earthly tie and losing that is ultimately something he can’t recover from.

Given how many stories of this type we’ve seen, from “The Monkey’s Paw” to Pet Sematary, it’s refreshing to see Return of the Living Dead 3’s approach to that story arc: to see someone who legitimately tries to accept this loss, who wants to come to terms with the way things are and ultimately can’t. That’s a very tragic and ultimately pathetic character arc, but the fact that it is allowed to be pathetic is also kind of astonishing.

Return of the Living Dead 3 is the sort of sequel we almost never see. There are sequels that go in an entirely different direction, like Prom Night II or Halloween III, but they almost never try to make the attempt to set themselves within the same universe, despite the different approach. I truly feel this movie needs to be commended for this and simply doesn’t get enough credit for that aspect alone.

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Exclusive: Making Effective Low-Budget Slashers w/ Black Creek Writer-Director James Crow

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Today marks the release of writer-director James Crow’s new supernatural slasher flick Black Creek on VOD.

To celebrate the film being out there for your viewing pleasure, we wanted to catch up with the director and talk a bit of shop about just how one puts together a low-budget (effective) slasher film.

So without further ado what follows is our interview with writer-director James Crow (House of Salem). Give it a read and then let us know what you think!

***

Dread Central: The film’s central villain is very interesting. How much of the mythology/backstory is based on real legends?

James Crow: I’ve always been very fascinated and inspired by mythology and have always been very fascinated with Native American culture. I saw a very powerful film called Soldier Blue when I was younger about the Sand Creek Massacre and it has always haunted me. The skinwalker is based upon the Bayok, a shape-shifting creature that was meant to fly through the forests and Great Lakes. It eats the insides of its victims without waking them!

DC: What were some of the major challenges you faced during the shooting this particular film?

JC: Being out in the wilderness is great… in some respects. You’re not disturbed and don’t have things like traffic and planes overhead. You can be quite secluded and it helps with the atmosphere of film – and in some ways, it focuses the cast and crew. But it can be a challenge when you need quick access to things and problems arise. When you’re on a smaller budget and have a smaller crew than normal, it’s a challenge to be that cut-off. You have to be very resourceful!

DC: In addition to directing Black Creek, you also wrote the screenplay. What inspired you to try your hand at a slasher film?

JC: I think there are elements of the slasher genre there, but it has a supernatural element. I wanted to do something different than my last two films, which were far more supernatural. It wasn’t as heavy as some of the other films, and that was quite liberating. It was fun to enjoy doing something in the vein of a more old-school slasher.

DC: How did you pull off all of the SFX contained within the film?

JC: We shot the scenes as best as we could with gritty lighting and atmosphere. My director of photography Scott Fox is a real talent. Then it was all down to the amazing skills of Jeremy. His work on the edit was brilliant and he really brought a lot to the film. The combination of him and Scott – and, of course, Pete Coleman’s score – is wonderful.

DC: What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?

JC: Keep being ambitious and aiming for new things. Don’t be afraid to go out and make movies. Don’t be constrained by people who tell you it’s impossible to do certain things.

DC: How did you go about casting this film?

JC: A lot of the cast I knew. Producer Craig spent a lot of time going back and forth with casting ideas. Robert Lowe is a fantastic actor I’ve worked with a lot, and Michael is very young but a big talent to watch for. Pierce Stevens always deliverers, and I loved his take on the sheriff. They make a brilliant double act. Chris O’flyng is a very talented guy and actually comes from Wisconsin. I think he gave the role a lovely vulnerability and played the troubled angst of an alternate teen brilliantly. I cast Leah for her wonderful warmth and beauty on camera, and she really delivers the likable girl next door and heroine. Brianna also is a real force and has some great comedic lines. Rachel Vadeer has something magical about her and Kaylee Williams and Michael Copan are really great pros, all of whom we were lucky to get.

DC: What were some of the films that inspired Black Creek?

JC: Obviously The Thing by John Carpenter, but also It Follows was a bit of an influence.

DC: What’s next?

JC: I have a Christmas horror anthology coming out in November – Nightmare on 34th Street – which feature Pierce Stevens, who plays the sheriff in Black Creek as a killer Santa. It also includes some other cast from Black Creek. We’re also in the final stages of another horror I shot with Scott Fox, A Suburban Fairytale, and we start shooting a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style comedy called Last Village on the Right next month.

DC: Are there plans for a Black Creek 2?

JC: I guess that depends on how well one does! I like the idea of a prequel though or spinoff. Hopefully, Craig Patrick and I will do something again soon, even more epic.

DC: What’s your favorite scary movie?

JC: I have too many. But my favorite horror is Suspiria. To me, it’s still totally iconic and out of this world. The soundtrack by Goblin is marvelous, but thankfully I’m doing really well with Pete Coleman on all my movies so far! And Black Creek is another treat, and I look forward to what he’s done on Ahockalypse with Craig. I’m sure it will be amazing, much like his score for Nightmare on 34th Street!

***

Thanks James for stopping by Dread Central and chatting with us about the new film!

Black Creek stars YouTuber Chris O’Flyng as well as Leah Patrick, Michael Copon, Kaylee Williams, Robert Lowe, and Michael Hill. It was directed by James Crow.

The film is now available On Demand HERE.

Synopsis:

Returning to their family’s cabin in the dark, Wisconsin woods to scatter the ashes of their father, a troubled young man and his brash sister are terrorized by signs that an ancient, Native-American spirit, awakened by a ritual murder, has marked them for death.

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Exclusive: Talking Vietnamese Ghost Stories and Gothic Horror with The Housemaid Writer-Director Derek Nguyen

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Her arrival awakes the wrath of spirits.

Writer-director Derek Nguyen’s Vietnamese Gothic romance horror film The Housemaid is hitting select theaters, VOD, and Digital platforms in the U.S. today, February 16.

Dread Central was lucky enough to catch up with Nguyen for some one-on-one time where we talked Gothic horror, Vietnamese ghost stories, and more. It was a great interview, and you can check out the full piece below.

After that make sure to check out the film’s poster to the right and the trailer below, and then let us know how excited you are to see The Housemaid.

Now let’s get to it!

Dread Central: First thing I would like to say is “Wow, what a movie!” I loved The Housemaid and found it to be a gorgeous Gothic horror film. Are you a big fan of the sub-genre?

Derek Nguyen: Thank you for your kind words about The Housemaid! And yes, I love Gothic horror films. But it all started for me when I read Gothic horror novels as a kid. My go-to reading list was Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, Picture of Dorian Gray, and anything from Edgar Allan Poe. One of the highlights of my career was when I received an Edgar Allan Poe nomination for a play I wrote called Monster. Dream come true.

DC: What are some of your favorite Gothic horror films?

DN: I am a big Guillermo del Toro fan. I love his dark sense of humor, his ability to create memorable offbeat characters, and the dark storylines he gravitates to. Other than the classics like Bride of Frankenstein, I really liked Let the Right One In, The Orphanage, and The Witch.

DC: The film is set in 1953 during the First Indochinese War in Vietnam. How important was this particular period to you and the film?

DN: The time period was integral to the story of The Housemaid. It’s set in a very pivotal time in Vietnam’s history, where the French [were] just about to be defeated in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. And I wanted to talk about war, Colonialism, and their effects in Vietnam. I was interested in talking about the many years of oppression, particularly by the French rubber plantation landowners. And of course, I wanted to talk about these things while being entertaining!

DC: The film features some horrific acts by French overseers on the Vietnamese workers at the film’s rubber plantation. How much of this is based on real events?

DN: In my research when writing the film, I discovered all these horrific acts by French landowners on Vietnamese workers while on a trip to Vietnam. I had no idea that these things happened and was surprised that they weren’t in the history books. There are museums in Vietnam that tell the shocking tales of the plantation workers in detail. Thousands of Vietnamese men and women toiled at the French rubber plantations under debilitating and inhuman conditions. Dysentery, malaria, malnutrition, and back-breaking labor were rife. Merciless overseers systematically beat and tortured workers—many of them to death. I wanted to tell their stories and didn’t want to shy away from what really happened.

DC: In addition to directing the film, you also penned the screenplay. Can you tell us what your initial inspiration was to tell this particular tale?

DN: The film is inspired by my grandmother, who was once a servant in a grand estate in Vietnam and ended up falling in love with the landowner. As a child, she used to love to tell me ghost stories. One of the things that stuck with me was that she believed that spirits lived in trees. Then I learned about the atrocities that the Vietnamese rubber plantation workers experienced under the French landowners and I thought about how haunted the plantations must be. If you visit the rubber plantations in Vietnam, you’ll notice that the soil is red. Many Vietnamese believe that the soil is red because of all the spilled blood of the Vietnamese workers.

DC: What are some of the films that inspired The Housemaid?

DN: Jane Eyre, The Others, Rebecca, The Shining.

DC: The Housemaid is the third-highest-grossing horror film in Vietnam’s history; did you ever expect the film to resonate to that degree?

DN: Crazy, right? And it’s been sold to 19 different territories around the world. Unbelievable! You never know how people will react to your work. As a filmmaker, you just have to do your best and make sure that you’re being true to yourself. And hopefully, people like it!

DC: Nhung Kate received a Special Jury Prize for her portrayal of Linh at the 2017 LA Film Festival. What was it like crafting such a profound performance on set?

DN: Nhung Kate is a revelation! She’s bold, gutsy, vulnerable, and mysterious. (And she rides a kickass motorcycle!) It took months for us to find the right “Linh” and I think she embodies the character so perfectly that I can’t imagine I could have found a better actress to play the part. While on set, Kate and I worked a lot on the duality of the character: her internal feelings juxtaposing her sense of duty. In a lot of ways, she’s a character who struggles between her need for love and the burdens of responsibility.

DC: Oscar-winning screenwriter Geoffrey S. Fletcher (Precious) is currently penning the script for the American remake of The Housemaid. How do you feel about your film being remade?

DN: I feel great about the American remake because it was my idea! When I was doing research for the original script, I realized that there are so many parallels between Vietnamese plantation workers in Vietnam’s colonial period and African-American slaves in the American South. I pitched the idea to my producer Timothy Linh Bui, and he took it to CJ Entertainment, who financed the original film, and they greenlit the remake. My only condition was that I insisted that the screenwriter and director of the American version be African-American. I feel that there needs to be an authenticity to the experiences and that the new characters would be best served by filmmakers of the same cultural background. I will be executive producing the remake and will be working creatively with the American team.

DC: Awesome! Now, I always like to end with this question: What’s your favorite scary movie?

DN: Psycho. I was one of those strange ten-year-old kids who watched that film over and over and over again. Does that say something about me?

Thank you so much to The Housemaid writer-director Derek Nguyen for stopping by Dread Central and talking with us about the film.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and via digital platforms in the U.S. on February 16, 2108.

Synopsis:
A forbidden passion awakens vengeful spirits within a haunted mansion in this bloodcurdling, erotic tour-de-force. Vietnam, 1953: Linh (Nhung Kate), a poor, orphaned young woman, finds employment as a housemaid in a crumbling rubber plantation presided over by the emotionally fragile French officer Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud). Soon, a torrid love affair develops between the two – a taboo romance that rouses the ghost of Laurent’s dead wife, who won’t rest until blood flows. Submerged in moody Gothic atmosphere, this stylish supernatural saga confronts the dark shadows of Vietnam’s colonial past while delivering heart-stopping scares.

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Why Netflix and David Bruckner’s The Ritual Scared the Hell Out Of Me

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***BEWARE OF SPOILERS***
Let me start this off by saying these articles have become kind of a thing with me. I have already posted pieces about how both Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! and Brad Anderson’s Session 9 scared the hell out of me, but I’m not a wimp. Let me state that again: I am not a wimp. I swear.

Okay, I am kind of a wimp. I’ll admit it. But here’s the thing, I think too many people watch horror movies with, for lack of a better term, arms crossed daring the film to scare them. They love to finish a flick and say, “That wasn’t scary! I’m so cool.” But I like to be scared. I try to let horror movies scare me. In fact, I do everything in my power to allow them to scare me. I turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and sit close to the screen. But even then some films don’t scare me.

However, sometimes I am rewarded. Case in point: this past Friday an all-new horror film hit Netflix streaming called The Ritual. I was looking forward to checking out the movie considering it was directed by a guy named David Bruckner, who is a name some might recognize for his work in solid horror anthologies such as VHS and Southbound, and others might recognize him as the guy who almost directed the latest (abandoned) Friday the 13th film.

Either way, the man made my list of horror directors to keep an eye on long ago and so when I heard he was at the helm of this creepy looking film, I jumped at the chance to give it a watch. What did I think? Well, the title of this article should give you somewhat of a clue. But just in case you don’t grasp what I’m getting at here: David Bruckner’s The Ritual scared the everliving shit out of me – several times. In fact, I’m still freaked out as I type this the next morning. That’s some good stuff.

Let’s dive a bit deeper and uncover the actual experience of my terror watching the film.

Let’s start at the very beginning. The film opens with our group of buddies hanging out at a bar. I knew that the film was about a group of friends who venture out into the dark woods and befall an ominous evil, but as I popped the film on my TV this weekend I forgot how many friends there were that make it to the woods. Thus I was caught off guard with the opening of the flick in which one of the Wolfpack gets it good in a convenience store robbery gone wrong. This scene was real horror and it took me by surprise. I wasn’t terrified by the film (yet) but this beginning sure got my anxiety levels suitably piqued. Solid beginning.

From there it isn’t long before the film goes full Blair Witch. We get a rainstorm and a wooden house out in the middle of nowhere with strange witchcraft carvings in the trees and uber-creepy totems and statues placed here and there. I find The Blair Witch Project and (to a lesser degree) Adam Wingard’s sequel Blair Witch to be two of the scariest movies ever so I was ready to be terrified at this point. And it didn’t disappoint.

It wasn’t the headless Wicker Man statue that our main men find that scared me. Nope, I’ve seen things like that before in horror flicks. I’m good. It was when the group falls asleep that the first moment of genuine terror began for this guy. To set the scene, the dude who thought the Alien-Worm in Prometheus was cute lies down for the night while rain, lightning, and thunder pound outside. There is a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder. Rinse and repeat, until lightning strikes and…it doesn’t go out.

The bright white light shines into the windows like, well, that one quick scene in Blair Witch. But in this film, the light doesn’t move like a spaceship (or whatever). In this movie, it just stays on, and on, and on. My girlfriend’s little-ass dog is scared of lightning. And now so am I. Thanks, The Ritual.

From there I was a bit on edge but morning quickly followed and all was good I thought. The guys go off hiking and searching for safety when the injured one needs to sit down. Once firmly planted on his buttocks, the rest of the group know it’s going to be a while, so Timothy Spall’s kid decides to run up the hill to the top where it looks like the trees end and salvation begins. No such luck. Once he reaches the top he finds, you guessed it, only more trees. But then something creepy as all balls happens. He sees something on a tree trunk in the distance. It’s a hand… and it is way the holy f*ck up near the top of the tree. Another dead body? We could only be so lucky. Nope, the hand then moves around the side of the tree like the damn Wicked Witch of the West was creeping behind it. Little Spall screams and runs off. Good idea.

And speaking of nightmares hanging out in the woods, not long after that the movie springs what just might be the scariest moment from a recent horror film. To set the scene, the remaining guys are climbing up a steep hill and the camera sits far back and carelessly watches their struggle without lifting a finger. We watch them trudge up this hill for what seems like forever, and just when we think David Bruckner fell asleep at the camera, something moves. Deep in the dark woods, way in the background, something moves. Something f*cking BIG. This shot was genius. Learn your lessons, fellow filmmakers. Watch and rewatch and learn. This is how you scare people. No jump scares, please. Rip this shot off if you must. No one will fault you. It’s terrific.

From there the film became mostly a standard horror film. The guys get lost in the woods, dream sequences happen here and there, and some of the guys end up gutted and hung high up in the trees. Meh. Standard horror offerings if you ask me. But then the final two guys are captured and taken to a farmstead out in the woods. The place is run by older people (and one young blonde, of course) and there is something sinister upstairs. No, the actual ritual didn’t scare me. Big dudes getting pulled off by Jawa-Horse monsters isn’t going to send anyone running home to mama.

It was the damn church of the dead that got me good. Small Spall breaks free of his shackles and heads through the dark house. He hears muffled talking behind a door upstairs and cautiously enters. Inside he finds a congregation of dead bodies in pews facing towards the front of the room where what looks like the body from inside the walls in Deep Red holds court over the dead room. Creepy. For real. But then – ohhellnogetmethefuckoutofhere! – one of the bodies moves. Then another. Then Spall realizes they are all still alive! Nope, nope, nope. He appropriately kills them all with fire. Thank the Lords.

To touch on The Creature for a bit, no I didn’t find it that scary, but let me say that I respected the hell out of it. Most people I know are already saying, “It was scary up until the end with the Horse-Man“, and while I get that the film stops being scary once we know what was lurking in the woods, props must be given to Buckner and crew for their creature’s design. It is a shifting nightmare of horror that (evidently) is wrapped in actual Norse mythology. Got to love it.

In the end, David Bruckner’s The Ritual scared the hell out me on multiple occasions. This film will be a new (possibly mini) classic that friends recommend to friends for years to come. Sure it might not be the new The Witch or It Follows, but The Ritual is a solid horror film for 90% percent of its running time. And that other 10% is audacious, so you’ve got to give it that.

God bless David Bruckner’s The Ritual.

***

What did you think of Netflix’s The Ritual? Let us know below!

WATCH IT (AGAIN) HERE

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