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Monday, April 28, 2008

No More Room in Hell: 40 Years of the Modern Zombie Movie, Part 2

George Romero's 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead is rightfully credited with inventing the modern zombie genre. Yet it was the sequel to that film--released a full decade later--that effectively branded that genre into the collective consciousness of popular culture, ensuring that it was no fly-by-night niche but a category that was here to stay, much like vampires, werewolves and mummies before it.

Dawn of the Dead led to a veritable explosion of zombie movies, thanks to the ways in which it took the elements introduced in Night to a level virtually unseen in horror up to that point. In the 1970s, horror was all about the explicit, rather than the implied. And Dawn delivered explicit in buckets--audiences witnessed the flesh of victims being bitten; the heads of ghouls blown apart by shotgun fire; bodies being torn to pieces by hordes of the undead. And all in brightly lit full-color.

The picture was also a major evolutionary step forward both stylistically and thematically. Romero was able to create an overwhelming sense of impending dread and realism--this was a vision of the entire world literally falling apart. At the same time, he was able to deal with issues of race, gender and consumerism in bolder, more direct ways. Add a dose of black humor, and you have the ultimate horror epic.

Although released without the all-important MPAA rating, Dawn of the Dead managed to become a cult underground sensation. And its success opened the floodgates for a seemingly limitless flow of horror movies that dealt with the walking dead.

The craze first took hold in Italy, and the result was the infamous "Italian cycle" of zombie films. As had been seen with the earlier cannibal subgenre in Italian horror cinema, Italian filmmakers were not exactly squeamish when it came to delivering the bloody goods. And they took to the new subgenre almost as ravenously as the creatures that would populate their films.

Among the first was Lucio Fulci, whose dubiously titled Zombi 2 (1979) was unofficially marketed as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead (known in Europe as Zombi). Set on a Carribean island, the film harkens back in some respects to the more traditional voodoo-style of much earlier zombie films. Yet it is also decidedly a product of the Romero renaissance, focusing as it does on graphic depictions of rotting corpses and their flesh-eating frenzies. Yet there is something even more sinister at work in Fulci's flick--with no trace of humor in sight, it's a straight-ahead gorefest of unprecedented proportions. Unrelenting in its horror, the film seems to seek mainly to revolt the viewer as much as possible.

Fulci's later zombie trilogy continued his explorations into the utter bleakness of zombie horror. Hailed by some for being stylistically and technically superior to Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and House by the Cemetery (1981) were also less directly influenced by Romero. Here, Fulci struck out on more of an original path, tieing the zombie mythos to that of H.P. Lovecraft, and intertwining the zombie apocalypse with the apocalypse presented in the New Testament Book of Revelations.

Outside Fulci, the Italian zombie subgenre contained a relentless multitude of other entries--some good, some bad, all uncompromisingly brutal. For example, films like Nightmare City, The Nights of Terror, Zombie Creeping Flesh, and Zombie Holocaust were all released in 1980 alone.

The violence depicted in these movies was of a type never before seen in the history of cinema. Many have pointed to Italy's pervasive Roman Catholicism as the source for this zombie obsession. Specifically, in the Italian mindset, the living dead represent the ultimate horror, the most unspeakable blasphemy, because their existence refutes the sanctity of the human soul and is a perversion of the fundamental Christian belief in the resurrection of the body.

But Italy wasn't the only place where cinematic ghouls were flourishing. Some of George Romero's American compatriots were paying attention, as well. This was evidenced by films like John Carpenter's The Fog, released a year after Dawn of the Dead. Building on Romero's notions of social commentary, The Fog reinforced the idea that these movies could contain messages beyond the depiction of gore.

Unfortunately, however, Carpenter's work was an exception to the rule in America, where most zombie flicks could be included in the growing morass of junk that threatened to envelope the entire horror genre as a reaction to the voracious demand of the new home video market. Highlights include admitted cult favorite Night of the Creeps (1986) and Redneck Zombies (1987). If nothing else, the zombie deluge in America succeeded in cementing the subgenre in the annals of popular culture, a fact that can be attested to by Michael Jackson's classic Thriller video of 1983. The undead had arrived.

One of the ways in which zombie films managed to survive the 1980s despite the oversaturation was by adding healthy doses of what helped the entire horror genre survive the decade as well: comedy. Perhaps in no other era was the horror comedy so prevalent, and within this particular niche it earned an especially memorable name: splatstick.

Going in the complete opposite direction as the Italian cycle, splatstick flicks reveled in the absurdity of the zombie premise, serving up heaping helpings of irony and ridiculously over-the-top cartoon gore. Films like Bad Taste (1987), by newcomer Peter Jackson, were able to provoke both laughter and revulsion simultaneously. Despite being more about demonic possession than zombies, Sam Raimi's Evil Dead and Evil Dead II often get lumped into this category as well, particularly the sequel. The two most revered splatstick entries would have to be Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator and Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead, which came out within weeks of each other in 1985.

Almost an instant classic, Re-Animator was based on the work of Lovecraft, and the satirical manner in which it dealt with the subject matter of bringing life to corpses made it the "anti-Frankenstein". Although its undead were not of the flesh-eating variety, Re-Animator was a more than worthy addition to the genre.

Return of the Living Dead's zombies were not of the flesh-eating variety either--no, they preferred brains. In fact, it was this film which directly led to the inextricable link between zombies and brain-eating that continues to persist in pop culture to this day. Originally envisioned as an unofficial sequel to Night of the Living Dead, O'Bannon chose instead, out of deference to the master, to take the proceedings in a more humorous direction. The result was a film which is regarded as one of the finest horror comedies ever made.

Ironically, ROTLD would go head-to-head with the long-awaited third chapter in Romero's series, 1985's Day of the Dead. Panned at the time by critics and rejected by fans, the film failed at the box office, its serious tone and depressing social message no match for the frivolity and punk rock mentality of O'Bannon's film. Also, budgetary constraints and creative disputes had caused the film to be significantly less than what Romero had originally intended it to be.

Nevertheless, Day of the Dead featured perhaps the most astonishing make-up work yet seen in a zombie picture (courtesy of Romero's right-hand man Tom Savini), and the most shocking violence this side of the Atlantic. It also gave us the sympathetic zombie Bub, one of the all-time great horror characters and another conceptual evolution in the subgenre. Over time, Day of the Dead would be reconsidered by fans and critics alike, and rightfully take its place alongside its two predecessors.

Once again, Romero had managed to reinvent the cinematic category he invented. But after Day of the Dead, several issues would cause the director to walk away from the world of the living dead. The genre would be forced to go on without him--and during a time when horror films in general would be suffering their lowest nadir in decades.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Doomsday Comes to the UK

The sci-fi/horror flick Doomsday, which was released in the U.S. earlier this year, has arrived in the U.K., where it is causing something of a stir thanks to where it takes place.

The film is set in a futuristic Britain, where Scotland has been walled off from the rest of the country in order to contain a 28-Days-Later-esque virus. Reduced to a cannibalistic wasteland, Scotland must be infiltrated by heroic Englishmen (and women) in order to find a cure for a new outbreak.

There are those who feel the movie is slanderous of Scotland and of the image of it held by many in the rest of Great Britain. Said Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil in an article in The Guardian:

I think it is a subliminal thought they have in England: in the dark recesses of their minds they believe that if Scotland is ever separated from London, then we will be cut off from the rest of the world for good. They think we'll build our own Hadrian's Wall and keep everyone out - which is of course nonsense. At 80p a brick, it will simply be too expensive.

Gotta love those Scotsmen and their senses of humor. However, there are more pragmatic views involved here, as well. Tourism organizations like Visit Scotland are hoping the movie will drum up interest in their ancient land. And Scottish Screen, a company that contributed significant funding to the picture and helped scout locations, believes a picture like Doomsday will have long-term benefits for the region's own motion picture industry:

Doomsday brought significant benefits to Scotland, not least to Scotland's talented base of cast and crew who worked on the production. It's likely to also attract a big audience who will see the extent to which Scotland can provide a flexible and diverse backdrop to all genres of film.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

You Go, Edward Woodward!

There aren't many among the human race who weren't reviled by the utterly asinine 2006 remake of The Wicker Man, starring flavor-of-1987 Nicolas Cage. I know I can safely say it was one of the worst movies I've ever seen. And now you can add Edward Woodward, Scottish star of the 1973 original cult classic, to the list.

Contactmusic.com quotes the actor as saying, "I didn't watch it. I didn't feel like it. If it was a run-of-the-mill movie, then fine. But The Wicker Man was very special and has claimed a cult following." The 77-year-old Woodward has vowed never to see the remake, and admits to being baffled as to why it was modernized in the first place (answer: a quick and easy buck).

* * * * * * * * * *

While I'm on the subject of one of the worst movies of all time, I just wanted to make a quick comment about one of the best. I know There Will Be Blood isn't a horror movie (though it sounds like it would be), but bear with me for a second. I finally saw it last night, and can't stress enough what an astonishing achievement in filmmaking it is. As great as No Country for Old Men was, There Will Be Blood deserved the Oscar. We're talking Citizen Kane-good here. And no, I don't think that's an exaggeration. One of the finest motion pictures ever made. See it at all costs.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kay Linaker 1913-2008

Best known as the co-writer of the 1958 horror classic The Blob, Kay Linaker passed away last Friday at the age of 94. Prior to her 1945 marriage, Linaker was also an actress during the 1930s and '40s, appearing alongside Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), as well as playing a bit role in The Invisible Woman (1940), the third film in Universal's Invisible Man series. She also starred in eight Charlie Chan pictures, playing a different character in each one.

After retiring from acting, she became a screenwriter, working mainly in television (her husband Howard Phillips was an NBC executive). For her contribution to the script for The Blob, one of the biggest box office hits of 1958, she received a mere $150 (she was promised royalties, which never materialized).

In recent years, Linaker continued to work as a teacher of screenwriting, acting and film study at Keene State University, and was in fact one of the oldest college teachers in America. She died in Keene, New Hampshire, where she had been teaching and living near her daughter Katherine.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Lady Ligeia: Coming Soon to a Crypt Near You

Den of Geek (great name) has an in-depth interview up with Michael Staininger, the Austrian first-time director currently in post-production on Edgar Allen Poe's Ligeia, a modern-day adaptation of my personal favorite short story from the gothic horror master. Staininger gives a lot of fascinating insight into his work on Ligeia, including the differences between his film and Roger Corman's '60s classic The Tomb of Ligeia, the difficulties of adapting Poe to the screen, and the deficiencies in American horror films today. Of course, he also remarks, "I’m originally from Europe, from Austria, in Vienna, and anything with intellectual appeal immediately interested me." Well, excuse me, Mr. Fancy Pants European intellectual.

Poe's classic 1838 tale follows the story of a bizarre yet beatiful woman who finds a way to defeat death by sapping the life of her husband's second wife from beyond the grave, then possessing her body. Staininger's film is expected to be released sometime this fall. It features Wes Bentley of Ghost Rider fame, the great Michael Madsen, and yes, Eric Roberts. Newcomer Sofya Skya plays the title role. Despite the involvement of Eric Roberts, it sounds like it could actually be a cerebral, atmospheric, supernatural thriller. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Boy's Got to Know His Limitations

If you've been reading The Vault of Horror since the early days (all the way back in October), then you know about how much my son loves horror movies, and how much I enjoy showing them to him. Being a mere pre-schooler, his viewing has been confined to the more "tame" variety, such as Universal monster flicks, '50s sci-fi shlock and the like. But he's a tough little bruiser, so it takes quite a bit to unsettle him. He likes pushing himself, and nothing usually phases him. It's enough to make you occasionally forget that he isn't even four yet.

Once in a while, I had even experimented with movies like Shaun of the Dead and Fido, which tend to me more light-hearted, with only isolated bits of graphic stuff that can be easily fast-forwarded through. But that's about as adventurous as I got.

Then one day, as he and I were sitting on the couch, he suddenly hopped down, trotted over to the DVD tower, and pulled down The Return of the Living Dead. It had to be the glow-in-the-dark font on the special edition that got his attention--that and the zombies.

"Daddy, can we watch this?"

"Uh...no, no we can't watch that one. That's a grown-up movie. That's too scary."

What followed was a slowly escalating temper tantrum, of the kind that's usually reserved for bedtime or the denial of candy. Screaming, crying, jumping up and down, insisting. Now, I'm not one of these parents that simply gives in to their kids' every demand, creating spoiled brats in the process. But what I am is a pragmatist. We could go on like this for a couple of hours, I thought, or I could use this as an opportunity to teach the boy a valuable lesson. Cruel? I think that's putting it a little too strongly. I knew there was no way he'd get very far. And I was right.

As he sat on my lap, the opening scene in the medical supply warehouse held him transfixed. All those skeletons, split dogs and stuff--right up his alley. But then Frank and Freddy headed down to the basement. At the sight of the Tarman sealed up inside the trioxin cannister, he let out a little gasp. His eyes widened. Then stupid Frank smacked the cannister, letting out the gas. The Tarman's eyes opened, and we're off to the races.

Leaping off my lap for the first time, the little guy sprinted out of the living room, through the dining room and into the kitchen. A few seconds later, as the opening credits rolled, he crept back in, standing next to the TV.

"Daddy, I was just looking for a snack."

"I know, kid. Do you want me to stop the movie? Is it too scary?"

"No, I wanna see more. I'm not scared."

He climbed back up on my lap. We watched a little more. He laughed at the split dog yelping on the warehouse floor. But his reaction to the cadaver in the refrigerated locker was a little different. Once it started banging on the door and screaming to get out, he immediately jumped down off my lap again and bolted back into the dining room. Again, after a few seconds, he was back, this time a little slower.

"Daddy, I was just checking too see if the flowers on the table were OK."

I'm gonna need to teach the boy how to make up better excuses, some time before he starts dating.

"Are you sure that's all it was?"


"Can I ask you something?"


"Be honest, now."


"Is this movie scaring you?"




"Do you want me to take it off?"



"Yes. Let's put on one the movies that aren't scary."


Relieved, I happily picked up the remote and ended the brief experiment. Just like I expected, he made it less than 15 minutes in before his stubborn little will gave out. As I put the DVD back on the shelf and took down Monsters Inc., I watched him sheepishly seat himself on the couch, a shy grin crossing his face.

"You know, it's OK to get scared sometimes. Everybody does. I told you there are some movies that are just a little too scary for you right now."



"That was the only movie that was scary."

"I know, boy. I know."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Igor Trailer Debuts at New York Comic Con

The Weinstein Company unveiled the trailer for its animated horror comedy Igor yesterday afternoon at the NYCC, and the movie is already shaping up to be the coolest family film of the year. Unfortunately, the world-premiered clip is not yet available online.

Produced by a staff of animators salvaged mainly from one of Disney's defunct European houses, Igor tells the story of the town of Malaria, where anyone with a hunchback (I can just hear the offended disabled rights' groups now) is shipped off to Igor School, where they learn to become a mad scientist's assistant. John Cusack provides the voice of the lead character, who attempts to achieve success on his own by creating his very own monster. It was written by American Dad's Chris McKenna, and directed by Anthony Leondis, who has previously worked for Disney.

Obviously, the pic is a tip of the hat to the classic Universal monster movies, which its creators admitted at the Igor panel yesterday. They also stated that they chose Weinstein as the company to work with since it would allow them to produce more dark and edgy material than a company like Disney or Dreamworks. For example, the film features a reanimated bunny that longs to be dead again, and spends most of the movie trying to kill himself. Not exactly Shrek material.

In addition to Universal, the creators also mention Rankin-Bass as a major influence, particularly the legendarily beloved Mad Monster Party. Leondis and McKenna discussed how they were going for a classic Warner Brothers type of feel--a picture that will appeal to both kids and parents.

Joining Cusack are Steve Buscemi as the voice of the rabbit, John Cleese as Igor's mad scientist master and Molly Shannon as the monster. Igor opens on September 19. Put me down as majorly intrigued.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Downside of PG-13 Slashers

I'm not referring to the downside that is obvious to any die-hard fans of slasher horror--which is that sacrificing an R-rating for a younger demographic means the loss of most of the violence and gore that fans go in for in the first place. Rather, I'm talking about the problem of exposing teen-age and pre-teen audiences to material they probably shouldn't be watching unsupervised.

At no time in the past were slasher flicks marketed to the under-18 crowd. Despite the fact that the characters were always teenagers, the audience was always more in the 18-25 range. But a movie like the new version of Prom Night, now the number-one movie in America, is playing to wider audiences than ever before. And there's a drawback to all that, which a story out of suburban Chicago draws attention to.

The Herald-News reports that a multiplex in Naperville, Illinois was forced to pull the movie on its opening night, after an unruly gathering of some 300 unsupervised patrons age 11 to 15, all on hand to see Prom Night, had to be ejected by police. The paper described the scene as a "near-riot", during which a 911 call from the theater led to the dispatch of 11 officers and squad cars to restore order. An arrest was made when one of the young theatergoers refused to leave.

And here comes the interesting part. A representative from the theater chain commented that the Naperville incident was not islolated. Rather, several such large-scale disturbances had been reported at Prom Night screenings across the country. In all cases, those involved were underage patrons dropped off by their parents.

Needless to say, this is not something that could have ever happened, for instance, with the original Prom Night back in 1980. That film was rated R, and thus viewers under 17 could only get in with an adult--and for the most part, the audience was made up of adults, anyway. Somply put, we're talking about an audience here that would ordinarily be dropped off to see movies like 10,000 B.C., Drillbit Taylor or Nim's Island. Instead, they're being taken to see a flick whose subject matter is thematically R-material, but because it's been stripped of graphic violence, it's suddenly deemed appropriate for kids that have barely outgrown Hannah Montana.

This is the negative repercussion of marketing slasher movies to children. Of course, the picture's number-one status will be all that studios pay attention to. In their minds, the strategy of toning down horror movies for teens is a sound one, resulting in wider profit margins from a genre that typically doesn't bring in many number-one hits.

We can't rely on Hollywood to have scruples--never could. As parents, it falls on us to do our jobs as the custodians of our children. Part of that is supervising what they watch--that's where the responsibility lies. So use your heads, people.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chris Carter Spills the Beans on X-Files 2 Comic Book

Some quick but interesting news from New York's Comic Con today. Seems that last night, during a panel about this summer's long-awaited X-Files: I Want to Believe (yes, that's the title), series creator Chris Carter accidentally (?) let slip about a comic book tie-in that will be released about the same time as the movie.

The normally tight-lipped Carter was answering a question about what other forms the series might take, according to Firefox.org, when he mentioned the upcoming comic from DC/Wildstorm, which has not yet been "officially" announced.

X-Files: I Want to Believe hits theaters on July 25.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hazel Court 1926-2008

Best remembered as a leading lady for both Hammer Films and Roger Corman, English-born Hazel Court passed away Wednesday night from a heart attack in her California home. She was 82.

A promising British starlet in the 1940s and early 1950s, Court hit her stride appearing in crime dramas and mysteries--even appearing in several of them with her then-husband Dermot Walsh. In 1954, she starred in the offbeat English sci-fi flick Devil Girl from Mars, and before long was specializing in horror pictures.

Court was the female lead in two early Hammer productions: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959). In the former, she played Elizabeth, fiance to Peter Cushing's Dr. Frankenstein. Later, she starred alongside the likes of Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre in three of Roger Corman's classic Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). In between her Hammer and Corman stints, she topped the 1961 British cult favorite Doctor Blood's Coffin.

Perhaps it was her experience with Corman--in addition to her marriage to American actor Don Taylor--that encouraged Court to relocate to Hollywood in 1964. From that point on, focused on raising her daughter Sally (who, incidentally, played her as a child in Curse of Frankenstein). She also did occasionally work in television, appearing on shows like The Twilight Zone, The Wild Wild West and Mission: Impossible. In 1981, she made one final film appearance, an uncredited walk-on in Omen III: The Final Conflict (a horror picture, naturally).

She had recently completed her autobiography, Hazel Court - Horror Queen. It is expected to be published later this year by Tomahawk Press.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Okies Freak Out Over Horror Movie Trailer

Despite being born and raised in New York City, I am the last person to ever come off as a snooty city slicker. But if this isn't some provincial, backwoods nonsense, then I don't know what is.

Apparently, a horror short subject has been banned from the Bare Bones International Independent Film Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma due to a viral-marketing style trailer that got town residents in such a tizzy they actually contacted the FBI for fear of a terrorist threat.

Here's a news report showing some of the trailer, and detailing various bits of associated buffoonery:

The ultra-low budget film is called A Beautiful Day, and is put out by Outsider Productions, whose MySpace page you can find here.

As punishment for the scary trailer, Outsider Productions not only had A Beautiful Day booted from the film festival, but all their other entries as well. Producer James Bridges issued an apology, but to no avail.

Look, I'm trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt here, but I'd be hard-pressed to imagine something like this happening at, say, the Tribeca Film Festival--which actually takes place in a city that was attacked by terrorists. Way to beat those stereotypes, people of Muskogee. It's times like this that I can understand how Orson Welles pulled off that little stunt of his 70 years ago.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

American Horror Fans, Hollywood Thinks You're Dumb

And I'll be perfectly honest--you haven't done much lately to dissuade them from that belief, first justifying the microscopic theatrical release of Diary of the Dead, then making the remake of Prom Night the number-one movie in the country.

But that's not why I'm writing today. I know that American horror fans aren't dumb--at least no moreso than the general public at large. I know that if given the proper marketing treatment, the Spanish zombie flick [REC] could be a major hit in the U.S.A. In my opinion the finest horror picture in years, yet American distributors just don't have confidence in a foreign language film. But even if they had to--gasp!--dub it into English, it would be worth it.

What got me thinking about this again was last Friday's premiere of [REC] in the United Kingdom, a nation which shares our own native tongue (you can read some reviews from U.K. filmgoers here). After its Spanish run last November, the movie hit Italy in February, Russia in March, and Portugal and Sweden last week. Later this week, it's the Netherlands and Finland. Later this month, France and Belgium. Next month, Germany and Austria. And in June, Japan. Distributors in all those countries have no problem exhibiting the film, yet the U.S. holds firm in perpetuating its cultural isolationism.

After all, why take a gamble on a foreign flick when we can churn out yet another Americanized remake? That's what's happening, in case you haven't heard. Called Quarantine, it looks like a nearly shot-for-shot redo, and it hits theaters in October. On the bright side, the movie will star Jennifer Carpenter, who is excellent on Showtime's Dexter as the sister of the title character.

Here's the trailer, for those curious:

I won't lie, I'll probably go see it. Guess that makes me a hypocrite, since the more successful Quarantine is, the more it will reinforce the notion that American audiences need their entertainment spoonfed to them.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My "I Am Legend" Experiment

I must confess that I have never read Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (an oversight I hope soon to correct). In fact, I had never even seen any of its cinematic incarnations until a few months ago. Once the newest Will Smith version hit theaters, I took it upon myself to watch the previous two adaptations before venturing out to see the latest.

And so, thanks to Netflix, I was able to see The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price, and The Omega Man (1973) with Charlton Heston. Of course, I wasn't the only one with this bright idea, and a months-long delay in acquiring the latter film caused me to forgo the Will Smith vehicle during its theatrical run. Instead, I waited until it hit DVD and immediately plopped it at the top of my queue.

The idea, naturally, was to compare and contrast all three versions. And now that I've seen all three I can do that. So where do they rank?

All in all, I'd have to say that I definitely enjoyed The Last Man on Earth the most, and The Omega Man the least. I Am Legend falls somewhere in the middle.

Maybe it's because Last Man worked the best for me as a pure horror movie. Granted, it couldn't be made today, as in a post-Night of the Living Dead world it would seem far too derivative. But there was something about Vincent Price's classic performance, as well as the zombie-like creatures, that made that picture a very chilling experience. The sequence in which Price watches his daughter and wife slowly succumb to the disease is heartwrenching, and the scene in which he buries his wife, only to have her return home from the grave is downright bloodcurdling. Compare that to the much weaker flashback sequence in which Will Smith's family is summarily wiped out.

As for Omega Man, I just couldn't get into it. I know the film has a much greater cult status, but it didn't compare favorably to me at all. For one, the decision to turn it into an action movie took away a lot of the impact. The creatures are the most human-like of all three versions, speaking, thinking, and even eating regular food. This was a major disappointment. And while the camp value does give the film a certain "guilty pleasure" quality, it doesn't hold up well.

Smith's version is a cut above Heston's, returning some of the emotional impact of Last Man on Earth, as well as some of the horror elements. I may be wrong, but I got the impression that the creatures were depicted the most faithfully to Matheson's novel in this latest version as well. That said, the CGI work was terrible, and took me right out of it. Human facial expressions and movement remains the Achilles heel of CGI--and besides, there was no reason they couldn't have been depicted with mostly practical effects.

Unfortunately, Will Smith is the least memorable of all three leading men, lacking both the chops and the gravitas. Particularly, it speaks volumes to how much our culture has devolved when in The Omega Man we have a Neville who collects rare art masterpieces, plays chess with a bust of Ceasar and quotes T.S. Eliot; and in I Am Legend we have a Neville who hits the video store every day, thinks Bob Marley is the height of Western music, and quotes Shrek.

Still, Smith did a much better job than I expected, and the film was better than I expected it to be. But don't get me started on the pat Hollywood ending. Perhaps I'd have a higher opinion of it all if it had been the first adaptation made.

In closing, it's about time I read I Am Legend. For any book to inspire such a varied series of adaptations is quite a feat, and speaks to a healthy dose of textual richness that is no doubt present in the source material.

Racist Overtones in Resident Evil 5?

The release of videogame Resident Evil 5 is still six months away, but a new trailer for the game is causing a bit of a furor thanks to a write-up by Newsweek game critic N'Gai Croal. In his article, Croal pointed out what he considered to be disturbing racial imagery. The Capcom game takes place in Haiti, and the trailer shows a white protagonist mowing down black zombies.
Croal gave an interview to MTV's gaming blog Multiplayer. Here's a bit of what he had to say:

“There was stuff like even before the point in the trailer where the crowd turned into zombies. There sort of being, in sort of post-modern parlance, they’re sort of ‘othered.’ They’re hidden in shadows, you can barely see their eyes, and the perspective of the trailer is not even someone who’s coming to help the people. It’s like they’re all dangerous; they all need to be killed. It’s not even like one cute African — or Haitian or Caribbean — child could be saved. They’re all dangerous men, women and children. They all have to be killed. And given the history, given the not so distant post-colonial history, you would say to yourself, why would you uncritically put up those images?

"It would be like saying you were going to do some sort of zombie movie that appeared to be set in Europe in the 1940s with skinny, emaciated, Hasidic-looking people. If you put up that imagery people would be saying, ‘Are you crazy?’ Well, that’s what this stuff looks like.”

Here's the trailer in question, for those interested in making their own judgments:

First, let me get three things out of the way: 1.) I can't believe there have already been four Resident Evil games. 2.) Can we all agree that trailers for videogames are a bit ridiculous? 3.) Is anyone else disturbed that Newsweek magazine has a "game critic"? or that 4.) he sounds like he's about 14?

OK, now that I've gotten that stuff out of the way, I will say that I can see how someone might be a little put off by what they see in this trailer. Particularly, someone who may not be a fan of horror. Someone, say, who has never seen Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2--or almost any zombie film made prior to Night of the Living Dead, for that matter. There is the potential for this trailer to be viewed in racial terms, I'm not denying that. But I don't believe that was the intention of the makers of the game at all.

Race is a tough issue in these days of political correctness. There's a lot of overreacting that goes on, but that doesn't mean every complaint is an overreaction. I'm very curious to read how you fine readers feel about this, so please leave a comment if you can.

Friday, April 11, 2008

He Has Such Sights to Show You...

British-born Clive Barker, in addition to being a prolific author and filmmaker best known for writing and directing Hellraiser, is also an accomplished artist who has been exhibiting his work for 20 years now. And now for those in the New York area, a rare treat: Barker's latest exhibition will be taking place at the Sloan Fine Art gallery in Manhattan.

An opening reception will be held on Wednesday evening, and the exhibition will last until Saturday, May 10. Included amongst the pieces on display will be some of Barker's conceptual artwork for his upcoming film The Midnight Meat Train (such as the painting above).

Sloan Fine Art is located at 128 Rivington Street. Gallery hours are: Wednesday and Thursday noon to 6, Friday and Saturday noon to 8, and Sunday noon to 6. For more information, or to check out more samples of Barker's work, go to sloanfineart.com.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Voice of Chucky Returns

Fans of Child's Play have a reason to rejoice today. They may not be all-too-happy that a remake of the 1988 slasher flick is being undertaken, but they can at least take solace in knowing that the impeccable Brad Dourif will once again be providing the voice of the killer doll Chucky, just as he did for all five films in the original series.

The news was announced yesterday by screenwriter Don Mancini at the Florida Fim Festival, and was first reported this morning by the Orlando Sentinel. I've never been a fan of these movies myself, but as a Nightmare on Elm Street fan, I can equate this with Robert Englund returning as Freddy in that remake (which isn't happening), so I guess that's pretty cool.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

William Castle Doc Dazzles the Festival Circuit

He was best known for directing '50s and '60 B-movies like 13 Ghosts, The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill, and for the showmanship that presented these films to audiences in ingeniously interactive ways. And now, a documentary on William Castle--Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story--is playing to strong reviews at the Sarasota Film Festival, having previously played at the AFI Film Festival, the Jakarta International Film Festival, the Slamdance Film Festival and the Magnolia Independent Film Festival.

The film is directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, who has made a career of producing and directing DVD making-of featurettes for the past decade, several of which were about horror films and the films of Castle in particular. Spine Tingler! features interviews with the likes of Forrest J. Ackerman, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Donald F. Glut, John Landis, Leonard Maltin, Marcel Marceau (no jokes, please) and John Waters.

My dad has recalled to me some of Castle's famous gimmickry, including such novelties as "Percepto"--a motion picture effect that electrified theater-goers seats to make them vibrate. In addition to his B-features, Castle also fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1968 by producing A-list highbrow horror film Rosemary's Baby (although the studio insisted that Roman Polanski, and not Castle, direct it.)

With any luck, once Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story makes the rounds at all the festivals, it will hit DVD shelves, so that the rest of us can enjoy it as well.

Monday, April 7, 2008

They're Coming to Get You: 40 Years of the Modern Zombie Movie, Part 1

No one could have anticipated that October 1, 1968 would be the day that would change horror movies forever. But it was on that day that George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead was released--an unheralded B-movie that would attain cinematic immortality and usher in the modern horror era in the process.

But there was something else that movie accomplished, much to the delight of modern horror movie fans. Night of the Living Dead literally invented the subgenre of the zombie film as we know it today. And for the past 40 years, we've been witnessing the results.

Prior to NOTLD, not only were zombie movies few and far between, but they were of a completely different variety. Usually dwelling on the zombie's folkloric origins in the West Indies, movies like White Zombie (1932), I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) dealt with ghouls that were relatively docile walking corpses enslaved by the will of a much more sinister living villain, and capable of not much more than wandering around mindlessly. They were are also far less popular than other movie monsters like vampires, werewolves and mummies.

But in 1968, maverick Pittsburgh director Romero changed all the rules. More specifically, he created the rules. And with varying degrees of loyalty, they're the rules that have been followed by filmmakers ever since. For instance, it was Romero's film which first established that:

  • Zombies are driven by a hunger for human flesh.
  • Zombies can only be killed by destroying their brains.
  • Anyone bitten by a zombie will become one.
  • Zombies are very slow-moving, but are unrelenting, and especially dangerous in large groups.
  • Zombies retain little or nothing of their former humanity.
  • The ranks of zombies are made up of everyday people, including friends and family.

First and foremost, it was the whole cannibalistic angle that took the subgenre to a whole new level of grueling terror. It struck a chord at something deep within the psyche, this concept of the dead literally consuming the living. And with the Hays production code fallen by the wayside, it was perfect timing--for the zombie ouvre would necessitate some of the most graphic violence ever put to film.

Even in NOTLD, the violent scenes were so strong for the time that audiences were genuinely shocked, even revolted. What would only come to be realized later after the furor died down was that Romero was also using the imagery to make a social point. Much has been made of Night of the Living Dead as an allegory for the Vietnam War and the Cold War in general, but it's also important to remember that it was Romero as well who set this standard of using the zombie as an allegory.

The importance of Night of the Living Dead to the modern zombie movie cannot be overestimated, much like the importance of The Lord of the Rings to the modern fantasy novel. In the wake of Romero's landmark, an entire movement was about to begin.

It wouldn't happen all at once, and in the beginning the new "rules" weren't always adhered to. The first major post-NOTLD zombie movies were a pair of comedy/satires made in 1972 by Alan Ormsby and Benjamin Clark: Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and Deathdream. One thing both films may have taken from Romero was a penchant for social commentary--the former took a shot at the hippie counterculture, while the latter was a rare Vietnam War movie actually made during the war itself.

Some movies, like David Cronenberg's Shivers (1975), would riff on the Romero device of unstoppable hordes, without actually dealing in zombies per se. But the influence was still there. Others, like Tales from the Crypt (1973)--featuring none other than Peter Cushing as a vengeful zombie--nostalgically hearkened back to pre-NOTLD ghoulish sensibilities.

The movie that would prove to be the first true descendant of Romero's work would be 1974's The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. The work of expatriate Spanish director Jorge Grau, the movie picked up on the flesh-eating concept, resulting in material even gorier than NOTLD which would prefigure the virtual smorgasbord of zombie violence soon to follow. Grau also picked up on the apocalyptic element--which would become the bread and butter of the subgenre--and traded in social commentary for an ecological message.

While not owing much to Romero, Amando de Ossorio's memorable Blind Dead series also bears little connection to earlier voodoo-style zombie films as well. Rather, they represent something wholly unique and original. Another Spanish auteur (working in his native country), Ossorio came up with the idea to make his zombies the deathless, cursed Knights Templar--a real-life troupe of mercenaries that ran afoul of the Vatican during the Crusades.

The series includes the original Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), The Return of the Blind Dead (1973), Horror of the Zombies (1973) and Night of the Seagulls (1975). For many, what makes these movies stand out is the striking look of the undead themselves--skeletal wraith-like beings in tattered robes, whose movements are accompanied by haunting choral music. The films focused on the destruction of youth and sexuality, dealing in carnal imagery in a way the far more chaste Romero never did.

Romero had laid the groundwork in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, but some would argue that it was the sequel he made ten years later that would cement the zombie subgenre's cult status. If audiences thought they were seeing a lot of zombie movies before Dawn of the Dead, then there's no way they were ready for the cinematic ghoul-fest that was about to be unleashed.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Charlton Heston 1923-2008

America lost a class act yesterday, whether you agreed with his politics or not. One of the last great connections to old-school Hollywood, Oscar-winner Charlton Heston passed away after a six-year struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.

Although best known for his roles in historical epics like The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur and El Cid, as well as his classic turn in The Planet of the Apes, Heston did make some contributions to the horror genre in his later years, including cult sci-fi/horror faves The Omega Man and Soylent Green, and an appearance in the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired In the Mouth of Madness.

He was part of the first generation of American method movie actors that hit the scene after World War II, along with guys like Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Rod Steiger, and of course, Marlon Brando. Some called his style hammy, and he certainly wasn't above chewing on some scenery here and there, but there's no question he was also iconic.

Unfortunately, his embrace of the conservative movement in the wake of Barry Goldwater's presidential bid, as well as his long-running association with the National Rifle Association alienated a segment of his audience. I remind those who are quick to judge that he also stood by Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights movement and actually fought for gun legislation in the wake of the King and Kennedy brothers assassinations.

But all that aside, today I choose to celebrate his art, and the contributions he made to the American film aesthetic. Whatever Chuck Heston was, there's one thing that can't be denied--he was larger than life. And there aren't many public figures about which that can still be said.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Time I Met Tom Savini

One of the benefits of having a site like this is the fact that it gives me the opportunity to assume that people will actually care to hear about various personal experiences of mine, and then the platform upon which to share them. A narcissistic indulgence I grant, but this is the 21st century, and everyone else seems to be doing it. So, on a slow news day like today, I'm going to show off my second most prized possession.

In case you're wondering (and really, why wouldn't you be?), my number-one most prized possession would be my original 1955 vinyl copy of Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours. Hey, it ain't all about the horror, baby. But the solid number two is this copy of the 1996 Anchor Bay double-cassette VHS release of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, autographed by zombie makeup effects maestro Tom Savini himself.

There was a brief time between liberation from the bonds of parental supervision and the loss of disposable income via procreation that I took an interest in frequenting conventions. The best was New Jersey's Chiller Theatre convention, and it was at one of these that I met the man responsible for creating the images that haunted my nightmares for years.

I wanted to meet Tom Savini more than anyone else there--more than the guy who played Uncle Owen getting spoonfed by his attendant in the corner; more than any of the middle-aged chicks who had once played girls who got killed by Freddy Krueger; and even more than the guy who played the robot on Lost in Space but didn't do his voice. This wasn't a celebrity worship thing. This was me wanting to meet someone whose work I genuinely appreciated.

And there he was, standing at his table with a British woman who may have been a publicist, an assistant, a girlfriend, or a wife. I took advantage of the opening and introduced myself to the creator of Flattop, Bub and Dr. Tongue. I let him know how much sleep his effects work on Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead had caused me to lose. I asked him (circa 2000) if there were any plans for a fourth Dead film, to which he firmly responded there was no chance whatsoever (Tom, you sly dog).

After he signed my video box and I had walked away, I realized I had forgotten to pay for the autograph, yet he had never bothered to mention it or behave in anything but a gracious manner. That made a good impression on me. I never liked the idea of paying for autographs anyway, even if it's probably the bread and butter of a lot of the folks who appear at conventions.

And there you have it--my brush with the king of squibs and sheep intestines. Not much to it, but since there weren't any remakes announced today, I went with it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

DC Comics' High Moon Gets Movie Treatment

Shock Till You Drop is reporting that High Moon, one of DC's premiere web-only comics, is being turned into a motion picture to be executive produced by John Woo.

Part of DC's Zuda web-comics imprint, High Moon debuted last November, and is, as you've probably guessed, a tale of werewolves in the Old West. Written by David Gallaher and drawn by Steve Ellis, it can be read at Zuda.com.

The film adaptation will reunite Batman Begins' Cillian "Scarecrow" Murphy and the always-excellent Rutger Hauer, and will also star Sean Bean, a.k.a. Boromir of The Lord of the Rings.

The project is interestingly described as a cross between The Lost Boys and The Magnificent Seven. I'm not particularly familiar with the source material, although I was a big fan of the Old West incarnation of Ghost Rider, another horror/western comic.

Shooting is set to begin in August.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wicker Man Sequel Gets Scrapped

I had no idea this was even supposed to be happening, but according to contactmusic.com, a planned continuation of the 1973 UK classic The Wicker Man has been cancelled due to financing difficulties.

Set to begin shooting in Scotland later this month, the planned sequel had nothing to do with Nicolas Cage's 2006 remake, a definite contender for worst movie of all time. Rather, it would seem to have been an attempt by the noble Scots to redeem their beloved property.

Local politicians are reportedly quite bummed out, having built their hopes around the idea of profiting from the publicity for the film.

While it's possible that the funding issues may be resolved, it doesn't seem likely. What a shame that an American remake can get financed, but not a legit sequel. Especially with Christopher Lee still among us, and just as sinister as ever--if not moreso.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

This Old Haunted House

Taking a little break from speaking about horror fiction, I would like to talk a little about horror fact. Don’t hold this against me, but I used to live in a haunted house. “A haunted house?” you say? Yeah, a haunted house. Two story, full basement, fully attached, single bath, on 77th Street in Brooklyn. For 19 years.

How is this possible, you say? I don’t know. I don’t really believe in the supernatural [though I do not affirmatively deny it, either]. But the house was haunted, and you don’t have to take my word for it. You can ask just about anyone who ever lived there, or even anyone who ever spent a little time there.

Like I said, it is a pretty nondescript house. In fact, the only thing that can really give any credence whatsoever to this series of vignettes is that fact that the house is rather old for our part of Brooklyn, built sometimes during World War I, and probably before America’s entry into it in 1917.

When I was a kid, my mother’s parents lived there, and we moved in when I was 4. I don’t recall really any strange experiences when I was that young, or any stories, but I didn’t like the basement. The stories would come later, which would only confirm events that I was around for. In the spirit of full disclosure, I never actually SAW anything. But my sister and my parents both did. My experiences with the haunted aspect were just amorphous feelings, instincts, hackles.

See, this house, which I loved dearly, and had many great times in, was the seat of my family’s warmth and love. But, for whatever reason, the shadows in certain corners were darker, more inky, than in other places. And there were certain parts which just didn’t feel right – a closet in a bedroom, corners in the basement – and at times it seemed like there were places light didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t, penetrate.

Like I said, I never affirmatively experienced anything. But I can remember being in the basement [which was always disorderly, chock full of stuff in random stacks] as a child, either playing with electric trains set up down there [it was the only area big enough], or looting though the vast, moldering library for many hours at a time, amusing myself with finds from the magical to the titillating. And at first, when I would turn on the lights, and the shadows would flee, I would be fine, and I would set to doing what I planned. And sometimes, after an uneventful while, I would feel something. I would feel it on the nape of my neck, or the base of my spine. And the little hairs would rise. And suddenly I realized that beyond the light lay the shadows in the corners. And then I didn’t feel so safe and secure, and when the opportune moment would arise, I would bolt back up the rickety stairs to the safety of the upper floors.

Then there would be other times, when I was old enough to be home alone [I guess around 12 or so], and I would come home from school, and my sister and brothers were at the sitter’s house, and I would, as just about every kid would do, watch TV. I would start watching at 3:30pm, watching GI Joe, the Transformers, Voltron, and maybe some other half hour long commercials. As the hours crept by, the house would get progressively darker, the shadows slinking ever closer. But me, being in front of the boob-tube, would seldom notice until maybe I was thirsty for more Sunny Delite. As I would turn to get up, it would dawn upon me that the house was, aside from the pale TV glow, entirely dark. And I mean COMPLETELY dark. And that is when I would feel like I was on display, out in the open. I cannot say I felt any overt malevolence, but it was certainly no attention I wanted. Again, instinct would take over and I would freeze until I could summon the will to move, and when I moved it was with the speed I could muster, and I would bolt to the nearest and brightest light I could. Once that light was on, I would then systematically turn on all the lights in the common areas of the house, and again breathe a sigh of relief, for once again I was delivered.

Okay, you're thinking: “Alright, this guy says he lived in a haunted house, and all he is telling us is he is a little wussy who was afraid of the dark.” But I said I never saw anything. However, when I was about 13, and my sister was about 8, and my whole family was home one weekend evening, my sister out of nowhere begins to scream bloody murder. She was upstairs in the bathroom, my mother preparing the usual Saturday feast, and my Dad and I in the living room, probably watching some type of sports. My father and I run up to see what’s wrong, and she related the following: she was taking care of business in the usual fashion when a silhouetted face appeared in the window of the bathroom door [there was an old style, fogged window on the upper third of the door], and the handle began to rattle. She realized it was too tall to be any of us, and thought there was an intruder, so she began to scream at a volume and pitch only achievable by 8 year old girls, and as she did so, the face disappeared.

My Dad and I [mostly my Dad, I was only 13], checked the upstairs, and nothing was amiss or out of place. My sister was not one to make such stories up, and she was clearly shaken from the event. That night we had my aunts [my Mom’s sisters] coming for dinner, and we told them about this strange story, and how silly my little sister was for scaring herself.

Instead of sharing in the laugh, they both looked at each other, and then at my Mom, and with knowing smirks, they each began to tell tales of when they were girls it the house, and of strange goings on, etc. One story they told me was of meeting an old lady after Church, named Mrs. Loughlin. Mrs. Loughlin and her husband lived in the house before my grandparents and sold them the house. Mrs. Loughlin, according to my aunts, told them that one day, years after her husband had died she walked into the bathroom to see him standing there shaving, only to disappear after he turned around to look at her. She then told of a boy, in his teenage years, who had lived there before her, and had died tragically while riding the train to a school dance, and was said to still inhabit the walls. This was the first time I realized that I lived in a haunted house.

Time passed, and the house remained in its usual state – shadows darker than usual, corners that remained uninviting, yet we were all living happily within. My parents had two more kids. While I still never saw anything, I would mark how objects would occasionally disappear, and reappear later in unexplained fashions. In fact, I named this effect “Fred” and joked with friends that Fred lived in the basement.

Then one summer evening before I went away to college, I came home late from hanging out with the guys. My parents had had company for dinner that night, and were still awake talking after the company had left. As I come in my father calls me over to the dining room, saying they has something to tell me, which turned out to be the definitive ghost story from 77th Street.

The story went as follows: after the usual large Saturday night feast of steaks and all the sides, and after the company left and the boys [then 8 and 5 years old, respectively] were put to bed, Mom and Dad stayed up, talking over a glass of wine. Both my sister and I went out. At one point, when all was quiet, they hear a snuffling, a whimpering, of a child, and cautious footsteps one at a time coming down the stairs. My Mom said she called out to the footsteps, thinking it was one of my brothers upset at something, maybe not feeling well, or had had a nightmare. When she called the footsteps stopped. My father told me he called out next, this time using their names, but there was no response. At this point they both realized something was amiss, and my Dad got up and started towards the stairs. He then told me that as he approached the stairs he heard the footsteps go up, one at a time but quickly, and as he got the foot of the stairs, he saw a shadow turning the corner of the landing. He went up the stairs, and there found both my brothers both sound asleep, wrapped tightly up in their blankets. They had never gotten out of bed.

It was clear they both were disturbed by this tale, though also somewhat exhilarated, in that they felt that they were privy to something truly mysterious and otherworldly, or at the very least, weird. They asked what I thought, and I didn’t have a good answer for them.

Years later, the year I graduated college, our family moved out to a new house. My Dad and I spent many hours cleaning out the various corners of the 77th Street house, including the most forbidding of corner and closets. It was in more ways than one a cathartic activity. The next Spring, while we were waiting to sell the old house on 77th, I was using the all but empty house as a study hall for me and my study group from graduate school. We were there daily, and we even made up keys for them in case they had to get in and I wasn’t there. During our finals that Spring I was going to meet my fellow students one day, and for whatever reason I arrived a few minutes after they did. I found them both sitting on the front stoop, with the front door open, and the both of them wide-eyed and ashen faced. I asked what was wrong, and Pat said that he didn’t know what was up, but they both had no idea what was going on. I turned to Cheech, and he said that they were sitting there, talking about the day’s study itinerary, when there was a flash of light from nowhere, and a set of bongos that Pat [a Deadhead] had brought over on another day began to play by themselves. At that these two fully grown men, in the middle of broad daylight, ran out of the house in fear. I am not making this up.

At that point I was constrained to explain the history of my soon to be former house, and after that it took a little reassuring to get them back inside. I had to say it was a little creepy, but nobody ever got hurt. After a little while, we reconvened our study group, but they were never able to just let the random sound of the house settling go without a furtive glance.

I swear to you, gentle readers, that the events as set forth above are 100% true, and that I only changed some names for the sake of privacy in these electronic days.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lon Chaney Shall Not Die

Today The Vault of Horror marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of the great Lon Chaney Sr. How fitting indeed that April Fool's Day would be the birthday of Hollywood's greatest illusionist.

Born Leonidas Frank Chaney on April 1, 1883, he would go on to become the single greatest celebrity of the silent film era, with only Charles Chaplin being a possible exception. He was best known for his incredible skill with makeup--so much so that he even wrote an entry on the subject for the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Always doing his own work, Chaney was able to dramatically transform himself for a wide variety of roles, most memorably including Fagin in Oliver Twist (1922), Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Prof. Echo in The Unholy Three (1925), Erik in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Alonzo the Armless in The Unknown (1927), Prof. Edward C. Burke in London After Midnight (1927) and Tito Beppi in Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928). In those early days of movie makeup, Chaney suffered greatly under painful applications, and even lost some of his vision due to his work on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

Many have attributed his fascination with unusual, often deformed roles to the fact that he grew up the son of parents who were both deaf and a mother who was an invalid. His ability to communicate so effectively without words and under heavy makeup might also be attributed to this.

His career was confined almost entirely to the silents, and in fact he made only one talkie, a 1930 remake of The Unholy Three, in which he performed the voices of five different characters. He was in line to portray Dracula in Tod Browning's 1931 production when he became ill with lung cancer brought on by heavy smoking and aggravated by a piece of artificial snow that became accidentally lodged in his throat while working on his final silent film, Thunder (1929). Lon Chaney passed away on August 26, 1930 at the age of 47.

Although known primarily for his work in horror, Chaney was also an accomplished dramatic stage actor, as well as a gifted comedian, dancer and singer. He was played by James Cagney in a 1957 biopic, The Man of a Thousand Faces. His son, born Creighton Chaney but using the screen name Lon Chaney Jr., became a prominent horror actor in his own right, but never quite escaped the awesome shadow of his legendary father.

(Special thanks for the animated GIF go to LonChaney.com, the family's official website.)
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