So I’m introducing a dear friend tonight to “28 Days Later” (2002). It is possibly my favorite horror film of all time, maybe even narrowly beating out “Aliens” (1986), “Alien 3” (1992), John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), the Sutherland-tacular 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and George A. Romero’s first three “Dead” films (1968, 1978, 1985). (Whenever “Star Wars” fans refer to their “Holy Trilogy,” I muse inwardly that those last three are its equivalent for zombie horror fans.)
My friend thinks it’s funny that I refer to “28 Days Later” as “my sacred cow.” I’ll be crestfallen if she does not like it, and I told her as much. And that’s weird for me … I usually don’t feel let down when someone doesn’t enjoy the same books, movies or music that I do. Not everything is for everyone. Art would lose its mystique if it weren’t subjective. If all art appealed to all people, it would lose all its appeal altogether.
Part of me feels, unconsciously perhaps, that “28 Days Later” is the kind of film that “redeems” the horror genre (even though no genre needs such redemption — if art is well made or if it affects people, then it’s just fine).
Most comic book fans of my generation can tell you how people can occasionally roll their eyes at their favorite medium. (Comics have far greater mainstream acceptance today than when I started reading them in the 1990’s.) For horror fans, it’s sometimes worse. Horror is a genre that is easily pathologized — and sometimes with good reason, because a portion of what it produces is indeed cheap or exploitative. I wish I could accurately describe for you the looks I’ve gotten when acquaintances find out that I’m a horror fan. They aren’t charitable.
“28 Days Later” and movies like it are so good that they elevate horror to a level that demands respect from the uninitiated. It is an intrinsically excellent film — it just happens to have a sci-f-/horror plot setup and setting. It’s beautifully directed by Danny Boyle, it’s perfectly scored and it’s masterfully performed by its cast — most notably by Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson.
“Hereditary” (2018) is a difficult movie to review. It’s an exceptionally well made horror film, enough for me to rate it at least a 9 out of 10. But its content is so disturbing that I’m not sure that I can actually recommend it to others.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is almost perfect. It’s an astonishingly good first feature film for writer-director Ari Aster, it’s gorgeously shot in the hills and deserts of Utah, and it’s masterfully directed. The performances are uniformly perfect. If I were to name each actor who hands in a fantastic performance, I’d simply be reading its cast list. I can’t remember the last time I watched a feature film in which every single major performance was exemplary. And “Hereditary” gets damned scary in its third act. (Seriously, give it time.)
The only flaws that I can think of are extremely minor. The pacing isn’t perfect. (The story occasionally seems to slow when events should be accelerating.) I had problems with the way that one key character was portrayed, and there was one plot point that gave me trouble. (I can’t say more for fear of spoilers.) But these things are so forgivable that they hardly merit a mention here. You simply can’t argue that this movie was expertly assembled.
Yet I didn’t always enjoy “Hereditary.” I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t state that. I shut it off more than once, and then came back to it when I felt more able to stomach the brutal events it depicted.
“Hereditary” is more than a “dark” movie; it’s gut wrenching. Even if you have read its reviews and you’ve seen the movie’s marketing, then you still aren’t anticipating what will transpire on screen. (I’d even go so far as to say that the film’s marketing was misleading, but I can’t specify why here.) Yes, there’s a obvious “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) vibe, and it’s sometimes reminiscent of “The Exorcist” (1973), but the movie pushes well past the boundaries of those films, and it does so fairly early on. If I, a lifelong horror fan, was turned off by this, then I’m willing to bet that it would also be too much for a lot of casual film goers. (And indeed, while critics loved this film, audiences last year generally hated it.)
I’m closing with a little bit of trivia. Toni Collette gives a tour-de-force performance here as the troubled mother. If she looks familiar to you, that might be because she’s also the mom in another well known supernatural horror film — M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999).
What’s with all the people in music videos looking so damn young these days? Did they change the child labor laws?
There was a time when I was daily viewer of MTV (the sedate stuff on VH-1 was for old people), and I rocked hard, people. It seemed to me that whenever I watched a video, I saw people who were my own age.
Now these videos are inhabited only by people who look young enough to be my kids. And that makes sense, because … they kinda are young enough. (Yes, I realize the video below for The Calling’s “Wherever You Will Go” was made 18 years ago, but that’s beside the point.) If the performers in a video today were in their very early 20’s, then they’d be about the right age, if I’d fathered kids when I was 26.
Furthermore, some astute commentators pointed out online Monday night that 2019 is the year in which the original “Blade Runner” (1982) was set. The opening title card names “November, 2019” as the time when all things Fordesque turn angsty and existential and killer-androidy. Am I … older than Harrison Ford’s character? I am six years older than Ford was when he made the film.
Now I just feel weird. Why do I write these blog posts, anyway?
[Update: Today I am learning that “Akira” (1988) and “The Running Man” (1987) also set their stories in 2019?! That’s ironic, given that the future we’ve come closest to is that of 2006’s “Idiocracy.”
I wonder how people in our parents’ generation felt when 2001 arrived, if they’d happened to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” in theaters in 1968.]
So I raised a few eyebrows a while back when I praised the 2004 colorized version of the late George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). A couple of horror fans gave me flack for it — I hope people realize that I was talking about the last (and best) colorization, adapted by Legend Films. (There were several prior color versions, and the 1986 attempt by Hal Roach Studios was broadly and justifiably condemned.)
I also hope that people realize that my preferred version will always be Romero’s black-and-white original. And it just so happens that I found an unusually good copy of it online, over at the Timeless Classic Movie Youtube channel. (There are actually some really clean copies of a few great classics there, including 1964’s “The Last Man on Earth”).
There are actually several colorized versions of George A. Romero’s 1968 classic floating around out there — the one I watched was the quite decent 2004 revision by Legend Films. (I believe it’s the truly crude 1986 Hal Roach colorized version that is so widely reviled by fans — and with good reason. Those green-skinned zombies looked awful in that one clip I watched.)
I had a blast with the Legend Films outing. I cheerfully recommend it. The colorization isn’t perfect, and it’s a little strange seeing the start of the zombie apocalypse rendered in occasionally pastel hues. But this was a fun way to revisit a beloved film I’ve seen so often before, but only in black and white. You can also finally fully appreciate how beautiful Judith O’Dea was. (And, in my opinion, she and Duane Jones were damned terrific in this movie.)
Check out the clip below.