Starring Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Dennis Hopper
Directed by George A. Romero
Distributed by Scream Factory
The horror community was dealt a devastating blow this past July when George A. Romero passed away at the age of 77. Mere days before his death, Romero was still talking up his latest … of the Dead project, yet a further continuation of the timeline originally set-up with his 1968 debut, Night of the Living Dead. The follow-ups came during the subsequent two decades, capturing the zeitgeist and delivering gallons of gore alongside Romero’s typically shrewd social commentary. And then the ‘90s came and went, with Romero directing only one full feature – and it wasn’t set in his undead universe. Finally, in 2005 Universal ponied up the cash for Romero’s return to the subgenre he created and Land of the Dead came into being. Ironically, it took a remake of Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004) to convince Universal to hand him a bag of money. I remember being one of maybe two dozen people seated for a midnight screening of Land and the wave of excitement that hit me when the old timey Universal logo hit the screen. My opinion of the film has varied a bit over the years but, with the hindsight of knowing George is gone, I now view it as one final masterpiece(-ish) picture from a genre giant.
The zombie plague begun in 1968 persists, with humanity relegated to heavily reinforced outposts and buildings in order to survive the endless hordes of undead. In Pittsburgh, the elite have created Fiddler’s Green, a utopic high-rise replete with all the trappings of a luxury lifestyle. Everyone else, however, is left to fend for themselves on the streets, where crime runs rampant and zombie games & gambling are promoted as a potent distraction from reality. Riley (Simon Baker) is a freelance contractor (of sorts) who works for Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), owner and operator of Fiddler’s Green. Riley’s claim to fame is Dead Reckoning (which was almost the film’s title), a massive tank-like vehicle capable of laying waste to the “stenches” (zombies) and carrying massive amounts of supplies back to town. During a routine run for supplies Riley notices one zombie, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), exhibiting unexpected intelligence, calling out to his brethren and trying to protect them when gunfire erupts.
Riley has had enough of doing Kaufman’s dirty work and promptly quits after the mission. Not long after Cholo (John Leguizamo) does the same after Kaufman denies his request to buy an apartment in the skyscraper. Riley heads to the streets and over to a bar, where zombies regularly fight to entertain customers. On this night, Slack (Asia Argento) has been tossed into the ring; punishment for promoting a revolt against Kaufman. Riley and his burned-face buddy, Charlie (Robert Joy), save Slack and plan to leave town. But when Cholo steals Dead Reckoning and threatens to bomb Fiddler’s Green – which would also put the citizens at risk – Riley agrees to assist Kaufman in stopping his former co-worker. There is another growing threat, though, as Big Daddy continues to lead an army of the undead straight into the heart of the city.
Really, there are only two glaring issues with Land of the Dead, one major and one minor. On the former: casting. The quality of acting in this series has steadily depreciated since Night of the Living Dead – which is not my way of knocking the casts of Dawn or Day, because I love both – but Land feels like it dropped off a cliff in that department. Simon Baker might as well be a cardboard cutout with a speaker taped to the back. He has the personality of cold toast. Asia Argento has never impressed me with her acting; she’s passable here. Who would’ve thought John Leguizamo would be the best actor in a George A. Romero movie in 2005? Not me, but he’s probably the most interesting character of the bunch. Robert Joy always lives up to his last name. Dennis Hopper looks like he’s having fun playing a mustache twirling villain. Most of the minor supporting players are laughably bad.
The other minor issue is the use of CGI. I can understand the instances where Romero needed to show a hundred or so zombies and they simply didn’t have enough background to cover that quota, but there are some digital gore gags and blood that look terrible. 2005 terrible. 90% of the film was completed with practical effects, making these moments of CGI stand out in the worst way.
Where this film succeeds in spades is exactly where you’d think: zombies. My favorite shot in the film comes right at the beginning, when Romero glides across a town square filled with flesheaters. They slowly lumber and move with pained expressions, a firm reminder that in George’s universe zombies don’t run. The three-piece zombie band, members still attempting to play their instruments, is classic Romero. This is just one of many standout moments, including the warehouse scene wherein dozens of zombies are shown in another classic Romero scenario: eating. Not that anyone expected less, but KNB totally killed it by creating dozens of unique zombies that nearly live up to the iconic undead of their predecessors in this universe. And in the first bit of true connective tissue in the series, Tom Savini returns as the undead version of his biker character, Blades, from Dawn.
Further sequels in the … of the Dead series are best forgotten. I remember the sucking void of disappointment like a vacuum in my chest while watching Diary of the Dead (2007) in theaters. I might’ve made it through about 20-ish minutes of Survival of the Dead (2009). For me, Land is going to stand as Romero’s last great hurrah in the genre he created. There’s no hyperbole in that statement; every single piece of zombie media people have loved since 1968 owes it all to him. Land is the perfect stopping point, and given the sense of cautiously optimistic closure suggested by the film’s ending it seems a fitting end for one of horror’s most iconic series.
Scream Factory has given Land a new 2K scan of the inter-positive for the theatrical cut, while the unrated cut gets the same with HD inserts of the additional footage. Unrated is the way to go and the 2.35:1 1080p image is a winner. Hard to say just how improved this is over Universal’s previous edition but this release features sharp definition, clear examples of fine detail within the frame, natural color reproduction, deep black levels, and fine film grain. Aside from bad CGI looking like bad CGI and some minor compression issues, this is a solid presentation that matches the theatrical experience.
An English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or 5.1 surround sound track is available to choose from. The multi-channel offering sounds best, delivering a full, robust experience with deep bass during explosive moments and decent impact from gunfire. Dialogue is nicely prioritized and is never lost in the frequently-active mix. The score by composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek is mostly forgettable, a stark change from Romero’s previous soundtrack collaborators. Aside from a few strong cues this is a largely boring score. Subtitles are available in English.
DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut
“Cholo’s Reckoning – An Interview with Actor John Leguizamo” – There are a handful of fond recollections made here, most involving Romero’s genial nature on set.
“Charlie’s Story – An Interview with Actor Robert Joy” – The actor shares what he remembers from his time on set, including what it was like wearing his facial appliance.
“The Pillsbury Factor – An Interview with Actor Pedro Miguel Arce” – Hear from the dude who has a line of memorable dialogue.
“Four of the Apocalypse – An Interview with Actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks, and Jasmin Geljo” – A handful of the lead zombies sit down to discuss what it was like being featured in a zombie film made by the master.
“Dream of the Dead” is a short documentary on the making of the film, with optional commentary by director Roy Frumkes.
There is also “deleted footage from Dream of the Dead”, a reel of a few deleted scenes from this film, a theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery containing 110 images.
DISC TWO: Unrated Cut
There are two audio commentary tracks; the first, a new offering with zombie performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher, and Rob Mayr; the second, with writer/director George A. Romero.
“When Shaun Met George” – Revisit the time Shaun Pegg and Edgar Wright flew to Canada to be zombies, shot in a fly-on-the-wall style.
“Bringing the Dead to Life” – Focusing on the film’s FX work, this piece showcases some of the zombies KNB created.
“Scenes of Carnage”, featuring exactly what it promises.
“Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene” – This shows off the evolution of zombies, from early CGI rendering to what wound up in the final film.
“Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call” is a bizarre little short of CGI zombies dancing “Thriller” style.
“Bringing the Storyboards to Life”- See how the early storyboards for the film were re-created for the filming.
“Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead” – This is a behind-the-scenes look at the production.
“A Day with the Living Dead” – Leguizamo takes viewers on a tour through a day on set during production.
DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut of the film
- NEW 2K Scan of an interpositive
- NEW Cholo’s Reckoning – an interview with actor John Leguizamo
- NEW Charlie’s Story – an interview with actor Robert Joy
- NEW The Pillsbury Factor – an interview with actor Pedro Miguel Arce
- NEW Four of the Apocalypse – an interview with actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks and Jasmin Geljo
- Dream of the Dead documentary: The director’s cut with optional commentary by director Roy Frumkes
- Deleted footage from Dream of the Dead
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
DISC TWO: Uncut Version of the film
- NEW 2K Scan of an interpositive with HD inserts
- NEW Audio Commentary with zombie performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher and Rob Mayr
- Audio Commentary with writer/director George A. Romero, producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty
- Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead
- Bringing The Dead To Life
- Scenes of Carnage
- Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene
- Scream Test – CGI test
- Bringing the Storyboards to Life
- A Day with the Living Dead hosted by John Leguizamo
- When Shaun Met George
Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.
Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.
Now let’s get to it.
First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.
Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.
I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.
Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.
It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!
And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.
Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.
This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.
And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.
Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!
In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?
That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.
Rockstar lighting for days.
Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.
Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.
More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.
Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcorn, and if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.
Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.
All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!
Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!
Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
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