Book Review: NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD: AN ANTHOLOGY

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Anthologies, be they in book or film form, have always been one of my favorite things when it comes to horror. So, it’s no surprise to me that I did enjoy 2017’s “Nights of The Living Dead: An Anthology” by George A. Romero and Jonathan Maberry. What did surprise me was the through and through quality of the stories gathered into this collection! Usually you’ll have one or two stories that fall a little flat or just aren’t to your taste. Well, for my taste, all nineteen tales hit the mark in evoking a response in me. Some made me laugh, other gave me chills, and one even filled me with a sense of revulsion that had me gagging at the visceral descriptions given.

The linking thread to this collection is that all of the stories take place on or very near the beginning of the living dead outbreak portrayed in the cinematic classic, Night of the Living Dead. Some are set are the same time as the film, others just before, and a select few even look at the aftermath of that night. All of the stories do hold true to the rules of the NoTLD universe as we know them and remain grounded within it.  My only real complaint is that there are some anachronistic moments in a few stories that took me out of the 1968 setting (one mentions a cell phone), but others are clearly set in a date just beyond the 60’s and 70’s, maybe even at the time of Tom Savini’s remake in 1990. I admit that it’s a minor nit to pick, but it was there. Otherwise I can’t say anything bad against this anthology.

Check out the impressive list of authors that contributed and my own blurb about each story:

  • (The introductions from George A. Romero and Jonathan Maberry are not to be skipped.)
  • “Dead Man’s Curve” by Joe R. Lansdale – Back country racing runs into the living dead.
  • “A Dead Girl Named Sue” by Craig E. Engler – Even the undead deserve justice.
  • “Fast Entry” by Jay Bonansinga – What if a psychic could see what the dead are thinking?
  • “In This Quiet Earth” by Mike Carey – True devotion doesn’t end with death.
  • “Jimmy Jay Baxter’s Last, Best Day on Earth” by John Skipp – MAGA in the apocalypse . . .
  • “John Doe” by George A. Romero – Meet the possible Patient Zero in a Philly morgue.
  • “Mercy Kill” by Ryan Brown – A soldier returns from Vietnam to fight a different battle.
  • “Orbital Decay” by David Wellington – Zombies: In Space!!!
  • “Snaggletooth” by Max Brailler – A love triangle that will make you think of The Tell-Tale Heart.
  • “The Burning Days” by Carrie Ryan – Fire is a great barricade, but how long will the fuel last?
  • “The Day After” by John A. Russo – Picks up right after the sheriff drops the torch in the film.
  • “The Girl on The Table” by Isaac Marion – Karen’s transformation from her point of view.
  • “Williamson’s Folly” by David J. Schow – “We’re from the government and here to help . . .”
  • “You Can Stay All Day” by Mira Grant – One for the animal lovers out there.
  • “Pages from A Notebook Found Inside A House in The Woods” by Brian Keene – The undead aren’t the only things that go bump in the night . . .
  • “Dead Run” by Chuck Wendig – Am I my brother’s keeper?
  • “Lone Gunman” by Jonathan Maberry – A soldier left behind … and under a mass of undead.
  • “Live and On the Scene” by Keith R. A. DeCandido – Undead outbreak! Film at Eleven!
  • “Deadliner” by Neal and Brendan Shusterman – The show must go on . . .

Now I did listen to the audiobook versus reading it (I had a 7 hour round trip car ride to take a chunk out of it), and a couple of the stories lend themselves well to the audio format, specifically “Orbital Decay” and “Live and On the Scene.” Another treat with the audiobook is having “Dead Man’s Curve” be read by Kasey Lansdale, a musician and author in her own right and Joe R. Lansdale’s daughter.

Whichever format you choose to get of the anthology, just get it! This collection is a must for any fans of the zombie genre, especially if you are a die-hard fan of the universe George A. Romero and John A. Russo created over 50 years ago. You can tell each of the authors that contributed to this have a true love of this world, too.

Best of The Year? You Decide! – Streaming Suggestions of Horror From 2018

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Chris here, Fright Fans! As you may know, I kind of have an OCD thing for making movie lists. December is always the prime time to start thinking about your “Top Ten” lists of whatever for the given year, and 2018 is no exception.

If you are a regular listener to the show, you may have heard us mention we will be doing a recap of 2018 for our final episode of the year at the end of December. As I began preparing for it (by making lists, of course), I found that there was a helluva lot of horror I had not seen yet this year that I meant to! In an effort to do some last minute catching up, I scoured the streaming services to see what I could set my eyeballs on. And as I complied the lists, I figured why not share this glorious undertaking with you guys, too!

In the lists below, I have found what I could through Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, and Shudder. By no means are these lists fully inclusive, but they area pretty strong start with a selection of mainstream, indie, and international films that have crossed my radar this year. I’m counting 2018 as the release date of the films based on the US release date, whether that was theatrical (not festival) or streaming. Unless indicated otherwise, all of the films are included with your subscription to the given service. Just click on the film titles and be taken to their respective IMDb pages for more information.

Ready to sink your teeth into this?

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AMAZON PRIME (* = Rental)

HULU

NETFLIX

SHUDDER

I’ve only seen ten films out this entire list, so I’ve got a bit of homework ahead of me! Two notable films from this year that aren’t listed are Suspiria and Overlord. Well, no home release date could be found for Suspiria, but Overlord is being released on DVD and blu-ray in February 2019. Until then, I’m sure you can find plenty to watch here. (UPDATE: Suspiria will be out on VOD January 15, 2019.)

Have any films you loved this year that you feel I missed? Say so in the comments section, and I will add them to the list with credit to you for suggesting it. Just get any suggestions in by Christmas 2018, please. Thanks for reading, Fright Fans. Now go watch some movies!!

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What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Tourist Trap (1978)

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For those Fright Fans familiar with my viewing habits this time of the year, you know I’m neck-deep in three different viewing challenges over on Letterboxd, most notably the fifth annual HoopTober horror viewing challenge. But this viewing is related to the Horror x52 challenge (52 horror movies in 52 weeks) that I’ve been working on since the summer.

In comparison to the other films I’ve viewed and reviewed so far in my “What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” series, 1978’s Tourist Trap is probably the most known of these random cult classics. This was my very first viewing of it, and I felt it had enough oddballness (is that a word?) going for it that it fit with the spirit of why I started writing these posts. So let’s dive into this 40-year-old film, shall we?

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The Rifleman has a rifle!

The story centers around a group of guys and girls out on a random road trip when one of the cars gets a flat. We open on Woody rolling the tire to whatever gas station he might find along this back road that saw better days before the highway came through and diverted traffic. Within the first five minutes, we witness Woody getting whacked by either a poltergeist or a telekinetic attack after getting trapped in the remote gas station! Gotta love it when a film hits the ground running, right?

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Woody, we hardly knew ya . . . .

Well, of course the rest of the gang (featuring a young and brunette Tanya Roberts) goes looking for Woody and have their own car troubles out of nowhere. It just so happens that the breakdown is on the property of Mr. Slausen, played by the legendary Chuck Connors! Friendly Mr. Slausen runs a waxworks museum that saw better days and better business before the highway came along, too. In his efforts to help the remaining four protagonists, things get more and more creepy when he talks of his brother who made the wax figures but went to the city. About this time is when we start seeing someone wearing various masks and wigs, stalking the quartet.

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Anyone else getting a Leatherface vibe here?

I don’t want to say much more about the story because there is a plot twist (which most of you will see coming) and various plot points that make this film unique and interesting enough to stand out as an early slasher that more horror fans should make an effort to see. The final 5 minutes or so had some nice “Wait. What?” moments to make you glad you took this journey to it’s totally messed up ending.

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As Al Snow use to ask: “What does everybody want?!?”

Another reason to watch this is to pick out the influences behind it and the influence it may have had on some classics that came after it in the 80’s. Beyond the obvious House Of Wax inspiration there is a strong Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe throughout this, and that’s probably due to the co-writer of the screenplay having been the editor for TCM. Tourist Trap also uses the same effects crew as TCM. The telekinetic part may have been a note from Carrie, and one of the jump scares is a straight up homage to Psycho. For the films that came after, I have a feeling that Motel Hell was heavily influenced by this. The level of dark humor, the remote roadside setting, and the use of an aged-but-known actor in the lead can’t help but make me come to that conclusion.

I must note at this time that there is essentially a remake of this film that was an utter waste of my viewing time: 2005’s House Of Wax. Yes, they try to claim it was a remake/reboot of the 1953 classic, but come on! The 2005 film has far more in common storywise with Tourist Trap than with the true House Of Wax with Vincent Price. I mean, the only good things about the 2005 film is seeing Jared Padalecki pre-Supernatural and that Paris Hilton gets killed. Seriously.

Anywho, if you want to watch this, I strongly suggest watching it how I did. Watch it on Shudder with the “Last Drive-In” commentary from the legendary Joe Bob Briggs. The nuggets of truth and trivia and just plain ol’ fun he drops elevates any movie.

Now to get back to my movie challenges . . . . .

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Keep watching, Fright Fans!!!

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Belladonna Of Sadness (1973)

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A couple of years back, I started doing the “HoopTober Challenge” created by user Cinemonster over on Letterboxd because I love horror (obviously), making film lists, and being challenged to watch new stuff. During that time, there was one film that popped up on numerous lists in the category of “Films From Another Country”: 1973’s Belladonna Of Sadness. Given the fact that I’m also doing the “Horror x52 Challenge” and the “Birth Year Challenge”, both created by user kynky, waiting until now to watch it helped me kill two birds with one screening.

Belladonna Of Sadness (aka Kanashimi no Belladonna; La Sorciere, Tragedy of Belladonna, or Belladonna) is an animated Japanese production written by Yoshiyuki Fukuda and
Eiichi Yamamoto, and directed by Yamamoto, based on Satanism and Witchcraft by Jules Michelet. It tells the tale of young Jeanne and Jean, lovers preparing to wed in medieval France. Seeking the approval of the local Baron on their wedding night, the Baron instead demands a tax from Jean that he knows cannot be paid. Going beyond claiming “prima nocta”, the Baroness encourages her husband to share Jeanne with the entire court.

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Follow this, Jeanne vows her revenge, and in doing so sows the seeds to allow the devil in. Jeanne rises within stature and wealth within the village only to be struck down by the envious villagers and the wicked Baroness. When she has hit rock bottom after being cast out of the village, the devil manifests in his full power and seals the pact with Jeanne that brings her into her full powers as well.

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For the rest of the story, I encourage you to go watch this for yourselves, Fright Fans. This film is visually stunning and quite beautiful at times with the primary use of water colors for the animation. Most of the animation is actually camera pans across still paintings, but you let that go as the story draws you in as you cheer for Jeanne to gain her vengeance. The score by Masahiko Satoh is dead-on jazzy 70’s but not to the point of being obnoxious and fits perfectly.

The obscurity of this film is one of the reasons I picked it for this post, but there are some definite WTF?!? moments within it as well, dear readers. The animation depicting Jeanne’s rape is visually shocking in the way that it combines symbolism with the literalness of this violent assault. There is also nudity and fairly graphic sex many times throughout the film, including the devil looking (and acting) very phallic whenever he appears, growing larger with each appearance. And at about the 19 minute mark, I think I witnessed the birth of tentacle hentai when Jeanne’s torn dress kind comes to life.

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But the capper for the sex scenes? Well the orgiastic magical rites that Jeanne enacts with the villagers, of course. I’ve been mulling over how to best describe these scenes for the last day or so, and here’s the best I can come up with: Picture Yellow Submarine and The Electric Company (yes, the 70’s kids show with Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno) dropped acid with shrooms and formed the largest gang-bang daisy chain you’ve ever seen. … You want to go watch it now, don’tcha? Wait! I left out the bit that looked like someone giving a shocker to a greyhound. Don’t worry. You can’t miss it.

The witchcraft, possession, murder, and devils make this an amazing Asian art-house entry into the sub-genre of animated horror, and I highly recommend watching this wherever you can. It’s currently up on Shudder and has been played on Turner Classic Movies “Underground” block on Saturday nights in the past. Let me know what you think when you do. It does cast quite the spell on a viewer.

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What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Alien Contamination (1980)

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Pop quiz: What do you get when you borrow from Lucio Fulci, Ridley Scott, and Cronenberg and use Columbian drug money to help finance it? That’s right, Fright Fans! You get this sci-fi horror production, Alien Contamination (aka Contamination).

Following his success of the 1978 “space opera”Starcrash, Luigi Cozzi wanted to stay in the realm of sci-fi for his next film. After seeing Ridley Scott’s legendary classic, Alien, Cozzi decided he wanted to make pretty much his own version but on a fraction of the budget. Keeping the eggs, the acid, and an alien creature, but keeping the setting to just Earth, Cozzi was underway. Shot in just 8 weeks with locations in Rome, New York City, Florida, and Columbia (we’ll get back to that one), Cozzi had his film.

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“Da suits! Day do nothing!!!”

Now granted, also because of the budget, the big alien creature wasn’t stop motion and was animatronic instead, the creature wasn’t what Cozzi wanted. As the viewer, you only get to see random quick, poorly lit shots of the entire creature. But by that point you don’t really care.

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This is where the Cronenberg influence comes in. The acid from the eggs? Well, it’s actually spores released by the eggs when they are in a hot and moist environment. When the spores explode from the eggs, anyone that is splattered by the eggs also explodes!!! In a few of the shots, you get the impression that Cozzi spent a good chunk of the budget on the sternal and gut explosions that happen several times throughout the film. Some are slightly laughable but others are fairly impressive. The graphic nature and slow motion filming of the bodily explosions actually earned Alien Contamination a spot on the “Video Nasties” list for excessive blood and gore.

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Crap. I just realized I hadn’t even mentioned an important thing: the plot! A derelict cargo ship coming into the harbor in New York City doesn’t answer any hails. Upon searching the boat, the harbor patrol, a scientist, and a cop find a few dead bodies and a curious collection of pulsating eggs, that look like footballs made from alligator hide, in the boiler room by some steam pipes. Now remember what I said makes the eggs go boom? Yep. Welcome to the game, Victim #1!!!

Bring in more scientists and more government agencies, and we learn the eggs came from space (dun-dun-DAH!) when two astronauts (one played by Ian McCulloch of Zombi fame) returned to Earth. Someone has been hiding and producing more eggs on a Columbian coffee plantation for their own nefarious plots (or are they??) for world domination!

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Talk about “walking on eggshells”!

Okay. All the Columbian stuff? Yes, this film was partially financed with Columbian drug money. Hell, a couple of the gunmen that greet the cop and the scientist at the plantation probably weren’t even actors and provided their own guns! Cozzi did say that the drug smugglers where pleased when the film turned a profit on their investment, though.

In the end . . . oh yeah. The ending. This hits the Fulci influence home for me. With the derelict ship floating into the harbor and an ending shot showing NYC again and a potential threat within it, I thought I was watching Zombi again. Seriously, fright fans, this is not a great movie by any means, but it was fun to watch it for what it is. Watch it with friends, have a few laughs, and be surprised by the bodies going *BOOM*.

Trailer for “Contamination”

“What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” – Killer Nun (1979)

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Nunsploitation

A subgenre of exploitation films which centers on aberrant secularized behavior of religious women and had its peak in Europe in the 1970’s. (Cobbled from Wikipedia.)

This was my first adventure into the dark little corner of this particular subgenre. I think before this the closest I came to seeing a nunsploitation film was 1971’s The Devils. That infamous film had at least ten times the budget of this plus the star power of Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. Killer Nun has the fading star power of Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita, War And Peace) as the lead, Sister Gertrude, and the less than 5 minutes of screen time of Alida Valli (Suspiria) as her Mother Superior.

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Alida Valli (Miss Tanner in Suspiria) as Mother Superior

There are 3 main reasons why I chose to watch this one:

  1. It’s available on Shudder.
  2. It’s a Section Two “Video Nasty”.
  3. I needed to watch a “video nasty” as part of the “Horror x52 Challenge” that I’m participating in on Letterboxd.

Let’s perform our penance and talk about the film for a bit. Set in modern times, which happens to set it apart from the medieval time period used in most nunsploitation tales, Sister Gertrude isn’t the most stable of people after having a brain tumor removed recently and developing a morphine addiction during her recovery. The Sister with a growing smack habit breaks bad and goes to the city to score when her stash dries up at the care home (don’t know what else to call the institution she helps run with its odd mix of residents/patients).

Prior to this outing, we get to see one of her “psychotic” moments of anxiety and distress while assisting the doctor. If you deem to watch this or already have, can you please tell me what instrument they are using for her psychotic break scenes? Seriously. I’m torn between it either being a theremin or a singing saw. Whichever it is, it made me chuckle a bit at the choice of it for those musical stings.

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Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg) with Dr. Poirret (Massimo Serato)

Anyway, back to the outing. Sister Gertrude decides to get some with a rando from the bar, and this leads to one of the more ridiculous simulated sex scenes I’ve ever seen for any Italian horror film out of the 70’s. Given the height difference and doing it standing up against a wall, either the dude was trying to jab it through her navel or his penis can contort like an elephant’s trunk. … Okay, yeah. I nitpick things like this. Sue me.

For the first 40 minutes, not a hell of a lot happens. But then the Killer Nun dons some pink Playtex dishwashing gloves (which made my mind think giallo), and the body count and intrigue both begin to build. Intrigue, you say? Why, yes I do! It’s around this time that the vast majority of the viewers can see a twist coming, but even then it comes off well.

Another “close but not quite” moment I liked was a scene when Sister Gertrude has everyone in their rooms praying for one of the deceased while she kneels in the hallway. As the camera slowly and steadily pulls back down the hallway away from her, she’s kept in the center. This scene would have been a greater moment for the film through the cinematography if it had been a dolly shot instead of handheld. I say this because you can see the minor tilting of the plane/frame as the camera man is backing up, and the centering of the frame shifts just a bit during the pull back as he dodges a couple of chairs that are off to one side of the hall. If they couldn’t do the dolly, they could have at least removed the obstacle of the chairs!

For the aspects that most likely earned it the “video nasty” tagging, there is the drug use, the sex, the violence, some torture (a deliciously done murder using injection needles), but oddly there isn’t really any anti-religion sentiment or social commentary to it. From what I’ve been reading, this also sets it apart from most other nunsploitation films.

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“Okay. Just a little pin prick . . .”

In the end, I can recommend checking this one out. Not a great film, but not a bad one either. Give it a view if you have Shudder, or check it out elsewhere. You just might make a habit out of nunsploitation films!

Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!