David Fincher’s Zodiac, which debuted in March of 2007, is a perfect example of blending genres. At its core, it’s a drama built on obsession. It’s also a police and newspaper procedural, family drama, and what we’re going to be looking at, effective horror film.
Fincher is not dishing out traditional horror fare. He terrifies us early to let us know the sheer brutality of the crimes. Once that is established, the film turns not to resolution, but to process. The scenes in which he does use horror elements are a masterclass in the genre. One of the most terrifying aspects of the crimes depicted is the randomness of them. Take for example…
The Lake Scene
The scene starts with a young couple picnicking at a lake. Part of what makes this scene so effective is that it takes place in broad daylight. Most horror scenes take place in the dark, usually with the villain jumping out from behind a corner or hiding in the shadows. This is all happening right in front of them.
At this point, we’ve seen some The Zodiac’s crimes earlier in the film. We know the impending doom for this couple, and there is nothing we can do about it. After being tied up and thinking this is a routine robbery, the male looks at The Zodiac’s gun and asks, “Just because people are going to ask, is that thing even loaded?” At this point the tension is basically bursting through our skin. The Zodiac shows him that the gun is indeed loaded, and we see the victims’ faces come to the realization of what we already knew. They are in real danger. They look at one another and try to convince themselves that everything is going to be all right. Just as that happens, The Zodiac pulls out a knife and stabs the couple repeatedly.
As mentioned, the most terrifying part of this was the complete randomness of it all. There’s a great line in The Strangers (2008) where the couple that is being brutalized asks their attackers why they’re doing this. “Because you were home,” one of the attackers replies. It’s the same for the couple at the lake. They’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there’s nothing they can do to prevent it.
While the Lake Scene shows us horror through violence, there’s no better showcase of horror through suspense as…
The Basement Scene
This scene takes place towards the end of the film. Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is investigating a tip given to him that a man named Rick Marshall is The Zodiac. He meets at Bob Vaughn’s (Charles Fleischer) house to discuss the possibility. Graysmith points out that the handwriting on Marshall’s movie posters is the closest they’ve come to a match of The Zodiac’s handwriting. Vaughn’s reply is our first indication that something may be wrong. “Mr. Graysmith, I do the posters myself.”
Vaughn then invites Graysmith into his basement. Graysmith’s reply sends shivers down our spines “Not many people have basements in California.” This is playing off our knowledge that one of The Zodiac’s letters mentioned having a basement. We are now Graysmith in this situation. Our judgment says we should get out of there, but our curiosity won’t allow us. Graysmith follows him to the basement where he believes he hears noises. He finally comes to his senses and gets out of the house.
In this scene, Fincher plays to our knowledge about the case. Like Graysmith, we’re simultaneously putting clues together and experiencing the terror of the situation. There’s no violence whatsoever, and it proves to be just as terrifying as any of the scenes depicting The Zodiac’s violent crimes.
Whether it’s through the use of violence or suspense, Zodiac’s horror scenes remain some of the greatest ever put on film.
Thanksgiving Flesh Feast: A Cannibal Holocaust Retrospective
“Why ban films? If you don’t want to go watch something, don’t go. Don’t spend your money to watch it. To me it’s against your civil liberties. Censorship is against your human rights. It just takes a critic to exaggerate and say the film is over the top, it’s gruesome and full of terrible violence.” Words from legendary cinematographer Roberto Forges Davanzati on the special edition Blu-Ray of Cannibal Holocaust.
As you celebrate this holiday of stuffing your face full of delicious gooey goodies and cooked meats, let us look back at a feast for the ages that was buried in lawsuits, censorship, exploitation and even jail time for its creator. Cannibal Holocaust, one of the most infamous video nasties of all time, is not only one of the most gruesome and horrifying collection of images put to celluloid but also, in its own way, one of the most beautiful. Often times it’s notoriety as a horrid exploitation film overshadows the artistry that crafted it and the true message behind it.
First off, let’s look at the fact that this is truly the first found footage film. Its narrative is about four young documentarians who set out into the Amazon into an area dubbed “The Green Inferno” to find and document several primitive tribes of cannibals. While this narrative is the backbone of the movie opening up the film, this footage is not shown until the latter half. Professor Harold Munroe is assigned by the television studio that employed the documentarians to go into the Green Inferno himself to see if he can unravel the mystery of the youth’s disappearance or obtain the footage they filmed. Today we have found footage movies left and right but it’s rare we get a movie within a movie in this style.
Davanzati has talked about his different shooting styles for the time on the Blu-Ray for the film. Munroe’s section of the film was shot on 35MM film while the “found footage” shot by the documentarians is shot on 16MM film, giving a much grainier and dirty look to their footage. Not only that, but since the four youths within the film at all times had two 16MM cameras operating, Davanzati would often film the two camera men within the film and then switch around showing the point of view of each camera man within the found footage, which he states helped edit the movie as they shot it. The artistic decision to have two narratives wrap around each other like this are perfect antithesis to each other as Munroe’s footage shows a completely opposite depiction of the cannibals compared to the documentarian’s footage. This style informed a generation and still does, but has never been stylistically approached the same way.
Some may argue that regardless of the artistic vision and groundbreaking filmmaking style of both Davanzati and director Ruggero Deodato that it doesn’t matter, because what good is beautiful footage of despicable trash? How dare they film something so atrocious? Actor Robert Kerman can maybe answer that in a quote from an interview on the Cannibal Holocaust Blu-Ray. “What’s the difference between Cannibal Holocaust and Schindler’s List? Or the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan?” The world is full of horrible atrocious things and sometimes we don’t like to acknowledge them. To simply not acknowledge them would seem an injustice to the victims. In this case, what may offend might be the same reason audiences were offended about the Universal Monsters: the fact that perhaps we are the villains. Perhaps those victimized within Cannibal Holocaust are the titular cannibals.
Deodato opens the film with a reporter speaking about how far the world has come and how advanced we are as a civilization, that it is strange that indigenous tribes still exist in the jungles of the Green Inferno. All the while, during this news report on the savagery of those tribes, Deodato cleverly shows us the jungles of the modern world as the imagery put to this news cast foreshadows the film’s true intentions. It would be easy to assume the “Holocaust” in Cannibal Holocaust refers to the humans devoured by cannibals, when in reality, the holocaust is the devastation inflicted upon the cannibal tribes by the so-called “normal” humans. Deodato cleverly misleads the viewer showing off all-American kids as the documentarians. He quickly follows the opening with a scene of the Yacumo tribe devouring a human body as the Colombian soldiers gun them down and capture one of their tribe. It’s a brutal scene that depicts the Yacumo as monsters.
As Professor Munroe ventures into the Green Inferno with his Yacumo captive and guide, Chaco, it is discovered that the Yacumo tribe itself has had some hardship and pain. They are the more peaceful of the tribes who simply thrive and survive. Their Yacumo captive who was found devouring a human was doing so as part of a ceremonial practice to ward off evil spirits. Befriending the tribe, they venture deeper to find the two warring tribes that scare even the Yacumo: the Yanomamo (Tree People) and the Shamatari (Swamp People). While the Shamatari are depicted throughout as vile and dangerous, the Yamamomo befriend the professor and Chaco due to the pair aiding them against the former tribe.
Munroe and the Yanomamo friendship gives way to a very beautiful scene in the movie. Munroe disrobes himself completely and swims in the river naked with a group of Yanomamo women. There is nothing sexual about the scene, only curiosity and playful ignorant bliss. This sense of peace is elated by the score of Riz Ortolani, which permeates the entire film with melancholy melodies and themes of religious experiences. This scene in particular is boosted amazingly by his score.
Munroe’s journey is the audience’s point of view where we watch in horror and wonder at what these “cannibals” are capable of but, upon venturing further for ourselves with respect towards the tribes, we find perhaps there is more to these people than monstrosities. There are definitely horrible things the Yacumo and the Yamamomo commit, but our eyes are slightly opened as to why.
Enter the found footage aspect of the film, which is the core of Deodato’s message. The young documentarians headed by Alan are the true villains of the piece. While the indigenous peoples within idolize their gods and ways, this crew of documentarians only idolize the gods of entertainment and visceral mind rape. What’s worse is the discovery of the studio behind them condoning their efforts in order to get people to watch. The found footage approach descends into madness as Alan and his crew are responsible for the Yacumo’s problems that Munroe discovered when he arrived. We see them burning down the village and even having sex on the ashes of their homes in a horrifying shot that pans out to show the Yacumo watching in sorrow as they are huddled by the river for warmth. As the television executives watch this footage unfold it is stated, “The more you rape their senses, the happier they are.” It’s disgusting.
The footage goes on and gets progressively worse as Alan and his crew commit horrible acts of rape and violence that parallels the natives actions. But while the natives at least have a misguided sense of purpose, there is none for the documentarians. They set up a girl on a spike after they rape her just to have something visceral to film. “Watch it Alan, I’m shooting.” Alan has a smile on his face from the atrocity he’s committed, their excitement paralleled by Ortolani’s score. This scene plays on the typical thought of things we don’t understand being weird. As the filmmakers have no concept of what makes the Yanomamo tick or of their religious rites, they just create something ghastly. Because their audience will not understand it, they lump it in with their actual spiritual and cultural beliefs, making it all seem bereft of rhyme or reason, confusing audiences just to entertain.
“Keep rolling, we’re gonna get an Oscar for this!” The final act of found footage is more intense and more satisfying than any you can see. As one of the cameramen dies, they keep filming, that prize in their eyes with the camera lens as a separation from what’s before them. Their friend is no longer a person but a spectacle to be shot as he’s torn limb from limb and prepared to be eaten by the cannibals for their transgression. Who is worse, those that created the situation or those simply reacting to it? The Yanomamo stand triumphant over the interloper and, as stated in the beginning of the film, they eat him ceremonially in order to keep out the evil spirits of the white man. Each is taken down and each filmed. Debts paid in blood to the cannibals and
the white man’s gods of entertainment. The found footage has all been viewed as Munroe and the rest of the executives walk off, “I wonder who the real cannibals are?”
True, there are very vile things depicted in this film. Rape, animal cruelty, extreme violence. It is definitely not for the squeamish. I, myself, cannot stand the animal violence as it shouldn’t be in the film and is lingered on for far too long. However, each scene of extremism beyond those shots serves a purpose in the film, juxtaposing the actions of the protagonists and antagonists, often times blurring the lines of those roles.
Watch this film with an open mind and a filmmaker’s thought process. You’ll see the amazing direction accompanied by brilliant and, at the time, never-before-seen cinematography. The score elevates the film with its beauty against the ugliness of the visuals. While the actions of many of the characters are disgusting, you have to admit the level of excellence each actor gives in their portrayal of these characters, especially the tribes.
We must not forget in these dark times not to judge the cultures of others before we truly understand them as people.
First There Was Thanksgiving Night, Now There Is Dawn of Consumerism: Dawn of the Dead and Black Friday
Black Friday is here; and the masses hunger, flocking to their local malls and stores for comforts and trinkets. It’s what they crave every year, and nothing will get in their way. At least, that’s what George A. Romero taught us.
Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year, and while we have a perfectly-depicted view of it in the opening of Michael Dougherty’s Krampus, it’s Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead that tells us of our wanton desire to bow to the altar of consumerism.
Ten years after changing the landscape of horror with his masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, George decided to make a sequel. In his own words, he wanted to make a more adventurous, comic book-style, colorful zombie film that would continue on into more films in his series. At the base of every film George made are themes on humanity.
At the time, giant indoor malls had just become the new big thing. Imagine, all of a sudden, there was a fortress-like building in every city and within its walls were tons of different stores, each one a new world to visit to obtain different items that could fulfill your needs. George saw this monolith as the base of his new film, an impenetrable citadel to hold up against the zombie hordes that would have everything you could ever want or need to survive. What George also saw were zombies in the types of people who would spend every day at the mall in search of what they believed to be their purpose finding some sort of happiness there. These two ideas combined to become the themes of Dawn of the Dead.
Once our main characters find the mall and hole up, they have to go through and purge it of the undead before they can claim it. In the immortal words of Peter, “They’re after the place. They don’t know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.” To these zombies, items within the mall, places to go waste their time, this is what it means to be alive to them. To recapture their humanity.
Once the mall is secured, our heroes go through taking anything and everything they’ve ever wanted in life. Now that they can just take the items they want and need, Peter and Stephen still go and rob the bank within the mall, taking all the money. In these scenes, Romero asks, are we so different? We all flock to things of our past we no longer need yet still want.
What makes us better than the undead if both zombie and human have a basic drive to want something we don’t need?
Romero loves to show how far humanity can sink in the eye of the apocalypse. The final act of Dawn of the Dead is pure chaos, and is honestly the perfect representation of Black Friday. Our heroes have been living in the mall for so long with everything they could ever desire or need that they are completely bored. They dine on exquisite foods and alcohol, play with diamonds and fine clothes, and even gamble with the riches of the mall, but what do you do when you have everything?
When you have it all, of course, people want to take it. A biker gang, led by none other than Tom Savini himself, assaults the mall, breaking through all the barriers our heroes have created, unleashing the zombies back into the mall. Savini has the look in his eye of a man ready to slay for anything in that mall, a look you can often see in real life on Black Friday.
Just as Savini brandishes his machete, so too do shoppers brandish their canes, purses, and other blunt objects ready to fight. The gang knocks over everything in their path, taking anything they want while killing the zombies in their way. Bikes mowing down zombies, engines revved. Just as shoppers rev the handles of their shopping carts ready to mow down others in their path. Our heroes must defend what’s theirs and fight the onslaught of the bikers. It’s pure chaos that cannot be stopped! If you’ve been in line for a sale on Black Friday, you know it’s every man for himself as people push to get the prize you came for. You will steamroll over another human to save those few dollars.
On this holiest of sales days, once you’ve fought the onslaught of zombie and human alike, perhaps you can take a seat and remember the themes and satire Romero gave us in his life with a viewing of Dawn of the Dead. More than anything you can learn from the mistakes of the living and undead within the film as people everywhere race to their local malls to purchase items that mean just as much to them in death as they did in life.
When there’s no more room in your gut for Thanksgiving…the consumers will walk Black Friday…
My Neighbors Are Dead: The Best Horror Podcast You’re Not Listening To
Halloween has come and gone, but Dread Central readers know that our horror lovin’ doesn’t end once the trick or treaters have gone to bed. Sure, we do go back to being the dastardly death-loving heathens looked down upon by polite society rather than the valuable fountains of horror movie knowledge sought after throughout October, but horror fans are an interesting bunch.
Our fandom is not centered around one specific world like Whovians, Potterheads, or Trekkies but rather a love of a genre that is varied and vast. And if the comments section of any of our articles has taught us anything, it’s that horror fans know just about everything there is to know about horror films. We all know of the heavy hitters like Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, but what about the other characters that we weren’t privy to meet?
Enter: MY NEIGHBORS ARE DEAD.
My Neighbors Are Dead is a weekly improvised podcast in which host Adam Peacock interviews the lesser-known characters from your favorite horror films. The caterer from Damien’s party in The Omen couldn’t have had great business after serving food at the birthday of the Antichrist. And if you thought the theories in Room 237 were insane, just imagine what the directors pitched that weren’t accepted for the documentary!
Each week host Adam Peacock interviews some of the most skilled improv comics to tell “their side of the story” as unseen characters in our favorite horror films. This podcast is still relatively new, but it’s already been recommended by AV Club, Splitsider, Threadless, and now us. Meaning, if you start listening now, you’ll be able to show off your hipster street cred by knowing them “before they got famous.”
Adam Peacock co-produces the show with fellow Chicago “Second City” alum Nate DuFort, and the two have brought along hours of entertainment that speaks directly to the hearts of horror fans everywhere. Each episode is around a half-hour, allowing the perfect time for binge-listening or a great distraction during your morning commute.
In no particular order, here are my Top 5 favorite episodes:
1) The Blair Witch Project with TJ Jagodowski (Listen Here!)
2) The Omen with Alan Linic (Listen Here!)
3) Poltergeist with Paul F. Tompkins and Tawny Newsome (Listen Here!)
4) Room 237 with Marty DeRosa and Sarah Shockey (Listen Here!)
5) It Follows with Jeff Murdoch (Listen Here!)
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