Train to Busan

Train to Busan sounds like a bad prog rock album, something that was probably recorded live in 1977 and featuring a synthesizer the size of a small bachelor apartment.

What it is though, is a South Korean horror film set on a train, which against all odds, actually manages to reproduce the tedium of rail travel.

Wildly overpraised on all fronts, Train to Busan actually received commendation for what the New York Times called its “class warfare,” as if this is the first time in movie history where a guy with calloused hands took a slick city dweller to task, making him a better man in the process.

Seok-woo is the latter. We know he’s unsympathetic, because like in Hollywood, people in certain occupations come with a set of tedious expectations: as a fund manager, ergo, he’s a leech on society. If this were a rom-com, he’d have a writer (the noblest creature on earth, second only to an inner-city kindergarten teacher) rescue him from a life of crass materialism.

He’s a terrible father, because…see above. He is taken his sullen daughter to see her mom as his marriage has dissolved. As part of a birthday gift, he takes her on a…Train to Busan…

Suddenly, a convulsing young woman boards the train with strange striations on her leg, a makeshift tourniquet wrapped around her upper thigh.

And it’s time for another stock character to sound the alarm, a vagrant warning that people are dying (the homeless are either dispensers of wisdom, or crazy, but seldom anything in between when it comes to the silver screen).

Turns out Mr. No-Fixed-Address is correct!

There’s an infection, and it’s spread farther than the afflicted girls’ gams, that is to say, throughout South Korea’s southern coast. News broadcasts start to report zombie outbreaks country-wide. Now it’s up to the passengers, which include the elderly, some evil corporate types, a baseball team, cheerleaders, etc, to save themselves from rampaging zombies.

Much has been made of these zombies. They’re fast, they’re plentiful, they’re loud…but ultimately they’re tedious.

Train to Busan, like a locomotive, works on one level, and one level alone. Never have so many sliding doors been slammed into the faces of the rampaging undead. It’s not gory enough either, and there’s a noticeable lack of spirit.

**1/2 (out of 5)

[Hop on board and hear our Train to Busan podcast discussion]

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.