Episode 46: The Dark Half (1993, George A. Romero) / Day of the Dead (1985, George A. Romero)

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Tobe Hooper. Wes Craven. John Carpenter. David Cronenberg. George Romero. There’s never quite been an all-encompassing label for these brilliant horror film directors whose bodies of work defined the genre’s standards in the 1970s and 80s. “Masters of Horror” was coined a few years ago to promote the eponymous TV series but falls short of the required gravitas. The divergent paths of these directors are as diverse as their styles: commercial failure and belittlement for Hooper, mainstream success for Craven, auteurist deification and constant reappraisal for Carpenter, art house gentility for Cronenberg – and of Romero?

George “A.” Romero, as he prefers to be credited, created the zombie film as we know it: post-voodoo, pro-cannibalism and Tom Savini splatter. That subgenre has had a lot more mainstream success than he himself. If there were a nickel licensing fee paid to Romero for every zombie film since his, he could easily afford not to cling to the public’s waning recognition with his recent Canadian cheapies that are little else but political polemics using the waking dead as decomposing strawmen. Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and now Survival of the Dead (2009) have been regarded as depressing disappointments by fans, making Romero’s long anticipated return after a long absence to his much-imitated roots somewhat the horror equivalent of George Lucas’s disastrous return to Star Wars.

The film which signaled Romero’s departure from filmmaking for almost a decade was another collaboration with Stephen King, the biggest name in 1980s horror pop culture and previous co-author with Romero of the films Creepshow and Creepshow 2. While this may have seemed like a good idea, King’s intellectual property still being a guarantor of some return on film investment and the two men being friends with mutual artistic respect for each other, Romero probably should have taken an example from Dino De Laurentiis and chosen to make a Stephen King movie™ with more raw materials for visceral entertainment, like werewolves or killer trucks.

The Dark Half is King’s story of a respected writer with an alter ego who writes horror novels, and who is then framed for murders by a mystical manifestation of his alter ego when he attempts to retire the name. This is pure solipsism compelling only to hardcore Stephen King fans who appreciate the in-joke surrounding King’s prior creation of his “Richard Bachman” pseudonym. Romero’s direction is competent. Fans of the evil twin genre – there must be some out there – can also delight in star Timothy Hutton’s dual performances as good Thad Beaumont and evil George Stark as he fails to make an impression as either. Instead of Hutton, Stephen King should’ve done another acting turn for Romero as he did in Creepshow.

Perhaps Romero should have retired with Day of the Dead. Considered a disappointment for many years for simply not being another swashbuckling action-adventure zombie film in the vein of his previous Dawn of the Dead, Day has undergone reevaluation over the years by horror fans and has come to be appreciated for what it does so remarkably well. The zombie makeup and special effects violence by Tom Savini are quite possibly his most accomplished and the peak of his 1980s golden era. The music score by John Harrison, also the composer of Creepshow, is richly layered with themes and variations that accompany nearly the entire film. The screenplay full of brilliantly terse science-fiction speculation as to the true nature of the living dead. The weakest link are the actors and some of their infamous overacting, yet the cast’s secret weapon is a gloriously over-the-top villain with wickedly bulging eyes and profanity to spare.

Day of the Dead was the perfect close to Romero’s brainchild trilogy; the crushingly fatalist conclusion to a world overpopulated by zombies while the living are unable to agree what to do about it. Then Dan O’Bannon made zombies a joke and people have been unable to be afraid of them ever since. That’s a hell of a spot to put Romero in, but he never should’ve gone back to the well the way he did. In any case, we hope this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast gives him his due.

NEXT EPISODE: THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976, JOHN CASSAVETES) & LESS THAN ZERO (1987, MAREK KANIEVSKA)

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Episode 35: Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven) / Robocop 2 (1990, Irvin Kershner) / Robocop 3 (1993, Fred Dekker)

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Hey Lewis, it’s supercop! This week on a special An Alan Smithee Podcast we look back on the Robocop trilogy. Few other trilogies of films intended as ongoing franchises ever experienced such a precipitous, virtually calculated drop in quality from one of the greatest films ever made (even Criterion agrees) to a definitively cynical rehash with official comic book credentials – Frank Miller, whose film career somehow outlasted the kid oriented director of PG-13 Part 3, Fred Dekker. Old wounds are opened as old e-hate mail from Dekker himself is disclosed for the first time!

NEXT WEEK: THE STRANGER (1946, ORSON WELLES) & JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001, KEVIN SMITH)

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Episode 20: Rooftops (1989, Robert Wise) / Matinee (1993, Joe Dante)

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This week in An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and Matt become the ninth and tenth people to have seen Robert Wise’s theatrical swan song, Rooftops. Wise sure does love New York City, and his depiction of rooftop runaways in a generic part of Brooklyn often feels like a musical about homelessness about to break out and bust a move. Lost in the big, dumb and loud Summer of 1989, people are wan to forget some of the smaller big, dumb and loud movies, one which Andrew calls the worst we’ve seen yet. Considering we just saw ’89s Tango & Cash, that’s impressive.

Then it’s on to Matinee, where Joe Dante gives us the warm enveloping American nostalgia of 1962 without all the bullshit, AND KIDS WHO CAN ACT! Where did he find them? Gremlins 2 writer Charlie S. Haas deftly and jauntily tell the story of many, many things converging at once: young monster movie fan Gene’s new friends and romances in a new Florida town, the Cuban Missile Crisis, of which Gene’s father is stationed near, Gene’s touching relationship with his younger brother, plus 1993′s big star draw: John Goodman as Lawrence Woolsey, the ultimate fictionalized caricature of William Castle the horror movie gimmick master.

Dante’s extended movie-within-a-movie of Woolsey’s bug transformation shocker MANT! is pitch perfect. One of the best and most profound comedies about the magic of movies, Matinee is like the bright and colorful counterpart to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, showing what movies mean to kids on the verge of adulthood and what the ritual of moviegoing meant to Americans of the atomic baby boom. Hence the mushroom cloud on the poster.

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NEXT WEEK: THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953, HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT) & TALK RADIO (1988, OLIVER STONE)

Show Notes: Episode 3: The Trial of the Incredible Quentin, Part 1 of 2

This episode, Matthew and Andrew start their examination of Quentin Tarantino–discussing his “original trilogy” of RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN, as well as his steady screenwriting work during the 1990s.

It surprised me we never got around to discussing Tarantino’s iconic soundtracks, but they fall under my basic rubric for the guy: he appropriated other peoples really cool stuff so that his name would forever be associated with it.

- Chip

Films discussed:
Maximum Potential (1987), Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1996), Pulp Fiction (1994), Four Rooms (1995), From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996), Curdled (1996), Girl 6 (1996), Jackie Brown (1997), Clerks (1994), Badlands (1973)

Show Notes: Episode 2: Carpenter was a Jesus, Part 2 of 2

Continuing their conversation on Carpenter, Matthew and Andrew pick up with his Christine adaptation. Following a discussion of all his theatrical releases, they touch on his recent television episodes and become wistful at thoughts of his future endeavors.

Films discussed:
Christine (1983), Starman (1984), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Maximum Overdrive (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Body Bags (1993), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Village of the Damned (1995), Escape from L.A. (1996), Vampires (1998), Halloween H2o (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), Cigarette Burns (2005), and Pro-Life (2006).