horror directors

Remembering George Romero

You always remember your first.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was the horror movie gateway drug for this author, age 11 or so, on a Halloween night long ago, chopped to bits on Buffalo’s Fox affiliate WUTV yet still retaining its indelible impact. Sure, frights had come before (Dr Who’s creepy score, those saltshaker Daleks, and Christopher Plummer skulking about London’s East End hunting for Jack the Ripper) but this film was intentionally sought out for its scares, by a kid looking to earn his stripes in what’s become a lifelong obsession — horror.

Night was the perfect cinema accompaniment to the perverse joys found earlier within the pages of HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King (if your childhood differed, you really missed out).

The film was the ideal portal to transcendent frights— violent, but not excessively so (but just enough to leave you wanting more), black and white to tame the terrors ever so slightly for someone that young, and a confounding message that resonated, even though one didn’t exactly know why.

Romero’s canonical Dead movies can be ordered and re-ordered every which way, with as many unresolvable (and correct) arguments as to which is best and why. They’re the stuff of bar night arguments, worthy of any GOAT sports parley. They can be endlessly watched and re-watched without losing one iota of impact, and there’s not many films like that, especially in horror.

Creepshow, though flawed, was a rite of passage for many…The Crazies, since eclipsed by far better exemplars, nonetheless instilled a love of bio-hazard films. And for a guy who is best known for giving zombies their due, George Romero’s Martin is one of the Top 3 vampire films ever.

Most directors’ creative output diminishes over time. And his was no exception. But without Romero’s efforts, horror films would’ve likely continued to get the short shrift, critically speaking.

To paraphrase Stephen King re: Night of the Living Dead, George Romero “play[ed] a number of instruments, and he play[ed] them like a virtuoso.”

RIP sir, and thank you for all you’ve done. We owe you so, so much.

The Fog

The_Fog_1980Fair is foul, and foul is fair: / Hover through the fog and filthy air”

Frightful tales told around a campfire connect people with a more primitive form of horror, the kind that hearkened back to our oral culture.

In The Fog, the Exemplar of Elocution John Houseman plays Mr. Machen, who is regaling local kids with an inappropriately gruesome yarn about lost sailors.

In 1980, John Carpenter already had his sea legs, having directed the super-cool Assault on Precinct 13 and the transcendent Halloween. He’s as close to a can’t miss director as there is, as even his duds are OK (In the Mouth of Madness). The Fog is probably somewhere in that category as well, despite the stunning widescreen cinematography, the quirky story and the neat performances.

For a film named after inclement weather, the real horror is derived from chimerical sailor-pirates, menacing the residents of Antonio Bay, California, about to celebrate the fishing village’s centenary.

It turns out lo those years ago, six of the city founders were not heroic figures, but buccaneers who’d raided and plundered a vessel known as the Elizabeth Dane. A wooden piece of its hull, washes up on the town’s beach and an exuberant youngster Andy brings it home to mommy, the resident radio DJ (Stevie Wayne, played by Adrienne Barbeau) who takes it into work with her. The plank shorts out her radio equipment and the words “6 must die” appear on it before the wood bursts into flames.

the_fog_john carpenterSuddenly, in a sleepy town known for very little, a trawler and its fishermen go missing and a corpse is found; bottles begin to rattle in the town grocery store, as if after-shocks from an earthquake; and clock alarms go off.

When townie Nick picks up (in more ways than one) north-bound hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), the windows of his pickup shatter. Elizabeth later suggests that she brings bad luck with her, even if Nick “doesn’t’ believe in luck, good or bad…”

As Albert King sang in Born under a Bad Sign…”if it wasn’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all…”

With politicos and other luminaries gathering to celebrate 100 years of Antonio Bay, the fog is rolling in, and with it killer pirates, sabers and hooks as watchful lighthouse DJ Stevie has to sound the clarion call.

The Fog is breathtaking. The shoreline shot of the lighthouse descent is Hitchcockian in its beauty. Scenes are impeccably staged (as star Janet Leigh pointed out, both Carpenter and Hitch shared a careful planning ethos).

However, there’s something as difficult to pin down as the fog itself, something viewer-resistant. The jump-scares seem out of place. Despite Carpenter’s keen eye, the setting isn’t as inherently scary as it would be in the darker psycho-geography of Stephen King’s New England. Also, the pacing is uneven and it’s easy to be distracted and the denouement seems Italian-lite. It’s a couture model without a personality, whose beauty is best admired from afar.

*** (out of 5)