I saw the trailer for the soon-to-be-released remake of this, and since I do enjoy me some early, non-Dead Romero, I thought it was about high time to check it out. We open with these two kids at home, with the brother scaring the sister, going down in the creepy basement and scaring her some more, until they hear something for real upstairs. A man comes in and starts bashing the shelves and such, and finally the kids get upstairs and sees that mom is lying dead in bed, and eventually the guy sets the house on fire. It’s pretty good, and it works by creating this relatively simple scary situation, then contrasting it with real horror. The only thing is: can you name another movie that begins with a brother scaring a sister and then both of them being confronted by a dangerous deranged man? I bet you can!
So now we meet our hero David and his girlfriend Judy in bed. He is a volunteer firefighter and she begs him to stay in bed, and they talk about their impending baby, and whether they should get it on, and—um, a fire? A FIRE is going on? And you’re a FIRE FIGHTER? Maybe you should put some haste on. People are dying, you know. But this can be put down as part of the good, intriguing tension that Romero is able to create. Judy is a nurse, so they both go in together, and find people walking around in bio-gear. Her dad, a doctor, tells her to sneak out and avoid people, and creates a distraction so she can get out.
So the military arrives and their presence escalates quickly—accompanied by some pretty wacky editing—and are eventually rounding up civilians and bringing them all to the local school. By now we have noticed that there is a lot of shots of kids with or near real or toy guns. Ah yes, the old Romero social commentary. The military presses this obnoxious doctor, Watts, into service. I am quite sure this is the same actor who played the fellow ranting on television at the beginning of Dawn of the Dead. Mmmmmmmm, Dawn of the Dead. Meanwhile the mayor of the town is apoplectic, and we learn that this all happened because some virus, called Trixie, was on an airplane that crashed and it got into the water supply. This causes one of the characters to accurately sum up the situation: “Man, ain’t that some shit?”
SPOILERS > > >
So David and Judy are picked up, then end up escaping on their own with this other firefighter, Clank, and a man and his daughter. By the way, searing social commentary continues as we see a National Guard worker ransack the car of a man who has just been shot—and steal his GREEN STAMPS! That was a blast from the past. If you’re too young, look it up. Our heroes hole up in a house, where the teenage daughter, who seems destined NOT to become one of the leading intellects of her day, tries to get out her deep thoughts: “I mean, I KNEW that people DIED…” Well, knowing’s half the battle, honey. Eventually more crazies come along [I admired the woman sweeping the field], and our heroes leave the house and have an extended gunfight with a helicopter and soldiers in bio-suits. And here is where the movie become pretty much flat-out boring and never really got too much better.
They make it to some farmhouse. It’s clear that the daughter is going crazy, although no one knows if it’s the virus or the stress. Clank, too, is going insane, and has gone violence-happy, killing soldiers indiscriminately. The thing is, he soon realizes that he is insane. Then the dad rapes his daughter! Nice. By the way, have I mentioned that intercut with all of this [and for some time, too] has been an approximation of these big serious government gurus who are deciding whether to just nuke the town?
< < < SPOILERS END
I’m going to stop here because I’m just not interested in talking about anything else that happens. If you’ve seen Romero’s Dead movies, nothing happens that will surprise you. The movie just kind of meanders for a while and then finally peters out. It ends on a particularly lame note.
So Romero made Night of the Living Dead, then he made what eventually got released as Season of the Witch, a quite artistically-ambitious film that had problems is the making and release [most notably that the finaciers thought they were getting a softcore film], then made this. I say this, because this reeks with the sense of trying to return to his successful formula and make a movie that would play on Night while be just different enough to be considered completely new. What’s interesting—and this may be about the only interesting thing—is how a lot of the elements of Dawn of the Dead, which wouldn’t be released until five years later, are present here. This film finally seems like a weird, unsuccessful amalgam of the two. I think this movie leaves a lot of room for the producers of the remake to do something interesting, but this, as it is… uh, no.
The DVD contains an engaging interview with Lynn Lowry, a very distinctive-looking person who became a cult movie queen for appearing in I Drink Your Blood, Score, Shivers, and more. She seems like a nice, grounded person and it’s just a pleasant watch.
You shouldn’t let this discourage you from seeing other Non-Dead early Romero movies, like Season of the Witch or especially Martin, which I thought was very good. But this one I think you can safely skip.
Nah, not really.