Through the powers of the internet, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Gracie and Abbey of Good Mourning, Nancy Podcast. A bi-weekly podcast that has just begun its 8th season, Gracie and Abbey are feminist horror fans who cover a wide range of horror movies, having some fun discussions yet they aren’t afraid to call out a movie’s cringe-worthy moments.
So lets get some coffee and have some fun.
You always mention having a nice cup of coffee during your discussions, so how do you take your coffee?
Gracie: Black as midnight on a moonless night!
Abbey: I take my coffee black or with a little bit of cream. I’m too old for dark roasts now, so I stick to the medium roasts.
If someone has never listened to your podcast, which episodes would you recommend them to start with?
G: I think our episode on The VVitch is pretty good. I also have a soft spot for our Frankenhooker, Hereditary, and Peeping Tom episodes.
A: I always tell new listeners to start with The VVitch or Get Out– they’re newer horror films but they really get to the heart of what the podcast has been about from the start.
Frankenhooker, Misery, Beetlejuice, and Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein are a few of my favorite episodes.
Has the idea ever come up of going back and revisiting movies you’ve covered earlier on in the podcast and “updating” episodes with your thoughts that might have changed on certain subjects?
G: Oh hell yes! I can’t listen to our older episodes at all. I cringe so hard because we had no idea what we were doing at the beginning. Now that we have a better grasp on our show and we have become more knowledgeable, I would like to “redo” a few of those episodes.
A: I think about that all the time! Mostly when I come across new articles or ideas about the films, or if I rewatch it and catch little details that I’ve missed during previous viewings. But I think some of the movies can have different applications as far as what’s happening culturally or socially, and I’m like, “AH DANG, that would have been awesome to talk about for that past episode!”
If you could go back in time and see the original theatrical run of any movie, which would you pick? The Exorcist? Psycho?
G: I love this question! Between The Exorcist and Psycho I’d pick The Exorcist but if I was going to pick any horror movie I’d pick House on Haunted Hill (1959)! I want to see that skeleton fly over the audience!
A: Probably The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or John Carpenter’s The Thing. Both were kind of genre-shaping for future generations, so to see a movement like that take place in horror, (especially for the special effects) would have been incredible!
Who are some female-characters in horror movies you feel don’t get the credit they deserve or just get often overlooked in discussions, Final Girls or not.
G: Lex Woods from Alien Vs Predator does not get as much hype as she should. She is so cool! I remember seeing that movie in the theaters when I was 16 and I wanted to be her so bad! I thought it was awesome how she became an honorary Predator. This was during my early fan fiction writing days so I wrote a few fan fics about her! And they will never see the light of day *laughs*
A: I’d have to say Selena from 28 Days Later. She’s SUCH a badass and such a good representation of women in horror, and I feel like she is never talked about. I’m looking forward to recording an episode of that movie in the future!
What are some of your comfort movies? Horror or not.
G: The Haunting (1963) is my “rainy summer day” movie. My non-horror comfort movies tend to be steeped in nostalgia so A Little Princess (1995), Matilda (1996) and The Secret Garden (1993) are some of my childhood faves.
A: I LOVE The VVitch and Midsommar, Arsenic and Old Lace is also a staple. When I’ve been watching a lot of horror or listening to too much true crime, I watch Pride & Prejudice (the one with Kiera Knightly) because the score is incredible and it’s full of rich golden hour light. And it’s grossly romantic. If I need to laugh, I watch Goon. It’s so, so good!
Heck yes! I love Goon. It never fails to get a laugh out of me.
On your show, you’ve discussed some of the classic Universal Monsters such as Dracula, Creature From The Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein and The Bride Of Frankenstein. With the success of Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, more modern takes are going to be on the way. How would you like to see your favorite monster adapted to modern times?
G: We talk about [in our Bride of Frankenstein episode] how the Bride is probably queer, which is why she doesn’t love the monster. I’d love for this to be blatantly shown on screen! And I feel like the Creature (my favorite movie monster) was already remade by Del Toro when he did The Shape of Water. I love it and I kinda hope it’s the only Creature remake in my lifetime.
A: Oh, that’s a good question! I would love to see another remake or at least reimagining of the OG Cat People.
If you had music playing in the background of your life, which existing movie score would you choose or which composer would you choose to create your soundtrack?
G: I LOVE the soundtrack from Prevenge (2016) by ToyDrum. I feel like it perfectly fits my life. I also really like the music from Near Dark (1987) by Tangerine Dream. So, some gentle melodic synth for my soundtrack.
A: Mark Korven- I would want him to write a score for my life. He’s responsible for the music in The VVitch and The Lighthouse. Although, I feel like my life isn’t really dreadful enough for that, so I don’t really know if that would work!
Do you have any horror collectibles or memorabilia? If you had to choose, which would be your favorite?
G: I have this large, vintage Creature from the Black Lagoon toy and it’s so funny. It’s battery operated so when you push a button it roars and moves its arms! I also have an autographed Scream poster by Skeet Ulrich and autographed briefs by Barry Bostwick.
A: I have a really great Wolf Man mask that I painted when Gracie and I did a promo photo shoot together for the show, and she’s got a Creature From The Black Lagoon mask. It’s so sentimental to me. I’ve also got a photo signed by Sid Haig that I got from Scare-A-Con when Gracie and I went together. I was so excited to meet him and Gracie and I had SUCH a good time!
Lastly, are there any writers/directors/podcasters/other content creators you’d like to give shout-outs to to keep the positivity train going?
G: YOU! It’s been so cool getting to know you, Gizmo! Also Spinsters of Horror is such a great podcast! I also want to shout out Carolyn from Velvet Hand Designs!
A: Black Men Can’t Jump [In Hollywood] reviews films with leading actors of color and analyzes them in the context of race and Hollywood’s diversity issues. Those guys are doing an AMAZING job. @brettmanningart on Instagram has lots of cool witchy stuff to check out, along with my girl Maggie Morse and her stuff, Unremorseful Art!
Anthony Perkins is well-known for portraying Mama’s Boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hithcock’s Psycho, based on the Robert Bloch novel of the same name. Bloch based the character on real-life serial killer Ed Gein. Perkins reprised the role of Norman in three Psycho sequels through 1990, and even directed Psycho III in 1986. Sadly, the life of the actor resembled the closeted life of Norman Bates a little too much.
Anthony Perkins was born on April 4, 1932 to Janet Esselstyn and stage and screen actor Osgood Perkins. His father passed away of a heart attack when Perkins was five years old, leaving him with his mother. In a 1983 interview, Perkins recalled his mother as, “She wasn’t ill-tempered or mean, just strong-willed, dominant… She controlled everything about my life, including my thoughts and feelings.” He also recalled her smothering and sometimes inappropriate physical contact.
Following in his late-father’s footsteps, Perkins began acting on stage at age 15 and made his on-screen debut in 1953 in The Actress. In 1960, he got a call about a role in the latest Alfred Hitchcock film.
“‘Hitchcock wants you in his new picture. One of his last.’ In those days that’s all Hitchcock had to say.”
The famous role was a blessing and a curse- people recognized him and knew his name but he was only seen as the dark, tragic character. So, to escape, he began acting in Europe through the rest of the 1960s.
According to his biography as written by Charles Winecoff, Perkins had only had same-sex relationships until he was in his 30s. It’s known that he had had relationships with actors Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter and he had a relationship spanning six years with choreographer Grover Dale. Rock Hudson would later become one of the first famous names to die from complications of AIDS in 1985.
Movie studios during the 1950s and 1960s were swift to distract from rumors that an actor was gay by publically setting them up with beautiful, young actresses. Tab Hunter remembered during his time with Perkins
“Warner Brothers never said a word about my sexuality, and that’s just the way I wanted it. However, Paramount did have something to say about my relationship with Tony, and they told him they didn’t want him to see me anymore. Every studio was run by an executive who had their own policies and their own ways of doing things. And Paramount ran a really tight ship.”
While looking back on a certain sexual encounter, Perkins referred to gay sex as “unsatisfying” and then he remembers a beautiful actress making advances at him and his thoughts were, “Sooner than get close to her, I would have crashed through the window and fallen to the pavement 10 stories below.” Through these times, Perkins was participating in psychoanalysis to try and curb his homosexual urges, trying to find the “gay cure”, if you will .
Perkins did not have a serious relationship with a woman until he was almost 40 years old. In 1973, at age 41, he married his wife, Berry, and they had two sons together.
As Winecoff was putting together his biography on Perkins, he uncovered the “double life” he led as a married man. Author Felice Picano says he had a sexual encounter with Perkins after he got married to Berry. Winecoff found employees of sex shops and hotel bell boys who remember having encounters with Perkins, as well.
In 1990, Perkins went in to get blood tests done on a palsy that had developed on his cheek. In a trashy move, someone working in the medical building went to The National Enquirer with news that “ ‘Psycho’ Star Anthony Perkins Has AIDS Virus”. Perkins saw the cover and that was news to him. He went and immediately got tested for HIV and it came back positive. Once the rumor was confirmed, he stayed quiet and private about it, fearing it would keep him from acting ever again. It was 1990- this was still on the fringes of it all being “the gay plague”. While I cannot speak for him, I feel if he had any negative feelings about his past relationships or sexual experiences then he would not have worked with charities in support of others with AIDS.
In a personal statement written shortly before his death, Perkins admits as to why he stayed quiet about his diagnosis and discusses his personal emotions as he lived with it, taking a jab at Hollywood life while he was at it-
“I chose not to go public about (having AIDS) because, to misquote Casablanca, ‘I’m not much at being noble,’ but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of one old actor don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world…There are many who believe that this disease is God’s vengeance, but I believe it was sent to teach people how to love and understand and have compassion for each other…I have learned more about love, selflessness and human understanding from the people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cutthroat, competitive world in which I spent my life.”
Anthony Perkins passed away in his home from AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 60 on September 12, 1992.
Upon his death, in lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to be made to Project Angel Food, an outreach program providing food delivery services to people living with HIV/AIDS and other critical illnesses. In 1990, Anthony and his wife chaired the “Angel Art” fundraiser, which raised over $540,000 for the organization. Project Angel Food is still an active organization in the Los Angeles area.
After the book on Hunter’s life story and the subsequent Netflix documentary, a movie was in development that would tell the story of the relationship between him and Perkins, Tab & Tony, produced by Zachary Quinto and J.J. Abrams, but there hasn’t been any news on that beyond 2019 (unfortunately).
There is a discussion to be had about LGBTQ+ representation in the media, and how poorly it has been handled, and it’s not a discussion I would avoid. However, this is not about that. This is me speaking of my own experiences. This is not me speaking on behalf of everyone. Please bear with me on a lot of this because it was all a long process about learning about myself and learning about the LGBTQ+ community. If someone comes to you and tells you that Silence Of The Lambs is harmful then listen to them. Don’t let my experiences dampen the experience of others. And my experiences with Silence Of The Lambs have been positive ones.
Setting aside the debate of whether or not it’s horror or to what degree it is a horror movie, Silence Of The Lambs was one of the first horror movies I saw. It was in the small but fun company of A Nightmare On Elm Street, Evil Dead 2, and Maximum Overdrive. I don’t remember exactly the first time I saw it, I was probably in the 8th grade or it was around that time. I knew at that time I was attracted to girls more that I was attracted to boys and I was stepping my way towards calling myself a lesbian.
I was instantly drawn to Jodie Foster’s Clarice Sterling and her story. I thought Hannibal Lecter was incredibly intruiging and suave on top of being a cannibalistic serial killer. I finally understood the “put the lotion in the basket” references that people would joke about.
As I was immersing myself more and more into horror movies, I was watching a lot of behind-the-scenes features on DVDs and if there was a show on TV about the making-of a movie then I would stop and watch it, not caring if I had seen it before. Watching a special on Silence Of The Lambs, the “coming up” spot before a commercial was showing people with signs protesting the opening of the movie. I thought to myself, “Why would people be protesting this?…ooooohhhhh.”
I could instantly see why someone would be against the character of Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb and how it is a negative representation. At first, I had just thought the character of Buffalo Bill was someone dressing in drag. I didn’t know the depth of gender identity or expression and that there is a difference between drag performers and someone who is transgender. The character is a combination of real life serial killers Ted Bundy, Jerry Brudos, and Ed Gein. Brudos and Gein were known for dressing in feminine clothing and Gein had actually made a “woman suit”.
Silence Of The Lambs and the character of Buffalo Bill were my introduction to the world of true crime and LGBTQ+ characters.
If you ask any horror fan in the LGBTQ+ community and they’ll tell you that there is an incredible lack of positive representation in the genre. If there is a “token” gay character then it’s a safe bet that they’re going to die or, in some cases, be the killer or helping the killer (why I did not like High Tension or the Scream TV series). We’ve never had a lesbian Laurie Strode as some sort of counterbalance.
When I was a child, I was very observant of those around me and what certain “norms” were. I wondered why it was ok for guys to walk around without shirts all the time and wondered why girls couldn’t. I felt weird having certain things done for me, such as men acting “chivalrous”. That was how I wanted to act. I was in that transition of “tomboy” to “trans”.
Over the years, I’ve probably identified myself in enough different ways to fill out a bingo card, and it took me a long time to accept that that’s ok. The first time someone called me “sir” in public I cried. I just sat in my car and cried. I didn’t know if that’s who I was. I knew about transgender people but I still thought the options were man or woman. I would have an identity crisis like clockwork my senior year of high school.
These were things I was feeling (and still feel) but I never felt wrong about feeling those ways until someone told me it was wrong.
It wasn’t until I was out of high school that I learned there was a grey-area in gender. Thanks to the internet, I learned about terns such as “genderqueer” and “non-binary”. I learned I didn’t have to decide to be one way or another. I learned about being agender and the areas of demigender/demiboy/demigirl. I had to move past what I felt was “acceptable” ways to be trans and just do as much or as little as I felt comfortable doing. I’m still working on that, too. I’m pansexual. I’m demigender and I use they/them pronouns but I will have no opposition if someone refers to me as “sir” in public.
Thomas Harris’ Silence Of The Lambs was published in 1988 and the movie came out in 1991. I wasn’t even born yet (I was born in 1992). Marsha P. Johnson and other black trans women rose up and The Stonewall Riots happened 51 years ago. So much had been happening before I was born and while I was still young. It’s 2020 and I’m 27 now and there’s still so much happening and still so much to learn.
We don’t see “Music From and Inspired By” on the CD cases for soundtracks much anymore, if at all. This is not to knock on modern horror soundtracks. We’ve heard some amazingly beautiful and terrifying musical scores in recent years. This is an ode to the nostalgia of walking through the aisles of a Sam Goody or Media Play and buying a CD in hopes that one specific song you heard in the movie was actually on it.
The Crow (1994)
The soundtrack features Nine In Nails covering Joy Division, Rollins Band covering Suicide, and Pantera covering Poison Idea. The Cure wrote “Burn” just for the movie. At the 1995 MTV Movie Awards, Stone Temple Pilot’s featured song on the soundtrack, “Big Empty”, won Best Song From A Movie.
Graeme Revell’s musical score from the movie was also released and included Eric’s Devil’s Night rooftop guitar solo, “Inferno”.
The Craft (1996)
The Craft: The Music From The Motion Picture was released on CD and cassette. Nova’s cover of Peter Gabriel’s “I Have the Touch” was recorded exclusively for the film’s soundtrack and plays over the end credits. Songs by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Connie Francis, and Portishead were all played in the film but were not on the soundtrack release due to copyright issues from their record labels.
There’s an uncredited bonus track on the soundtrack entitled “Bells, Books and Candles” from Graeme Revell’s film score. The Original Motion Picture Score was released soon after.
The Scream Franchise (1996-2011)
Scream’s soundtrack opens with the teenage anthem, “Youth Of America” by Birdbrain, which is heard in the movie as the audience arrives at Stu’s house for the ill-advised party in a horror movie. The Last Hard Man covered Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” was covered by Gus Black.
In Scream 2, adorable boyfriend Derek serenade’s Sidney by singing The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You”. Less Than Jake’s cover of the song can be heard in the credits and is on the soundtrack release.
“Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds appears on the soundtrack for the first two movies, as it’s predominantly featured in the first three movies.
And there’s Scream 3...
The soundtrack for Scream 4 has two songs from The Sounds, with “Something To Die For” playing over the film’s title card. The soundtrack is full of alternative pop/rock with a few tracks of Marco Beltrami’s score mixed in.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
You almost wouldn’t suspect a movie about affluent teens, a beauty queen, and a working class Freddie Prinze Jr. would have L7, Type O Negative, and Korn on the soundtrack but there they are. Songs by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Bing Crosby were used in the film but do not appear on the soundtrack.
The Faculty (1998)
Marco Beltrami’s score of The Faculty got its own release next to the compilation CD. Two Alice Cooper songs were covered for the film, with Creed covering “I’m Eighteen” and Soul Asylum covering “School’s Out”. David Bowie’s “Changes” was performed by Shawn Mullins.
Bookending the soundtrack are covers of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” Parts 1 and 2 recorded by Class of ‘99- the rock supergroup formed by Layne Staley (Alice In Chains), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), Martyn LeNoble (Porno For Pyros), and Matt Serletic.
Bride Of Chucky (1998)
This is about where we start seeing the trend of a lot of nu metal bands on horror movie soundtracks, whether their songs were used in the movies or not.
Rob Zombie (White Zombie) songs appear twice in the movie. The first being “Living Dead Girl” playing over the opening credits and later on when “Thunder Kiss ‘65” plays over the radio in the van and Chucky starts headbanging. Blondie’s “Call Me” is used in the movie and shows up on the soundtrack, too.
Then we also have Static-X, Coal Chamber, Judas Priest, Powerman 5000, Slayer, and Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden).
When a movie is written by the lead singer of a metal band, it’s a safe assumption that the soundtrack will be good and full of metal. Strangeland was written by and starred Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. The soundtrack featured Dee Snider solo and with Twisted Sister, along with Megadeth, Anthrax, Marilyn Manson, Soulfly, Coal Chamber, and Hed P.E.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Trying to keep things as “real” as possible, the soundtrack for the found footage film was released as Josh’s Blair Witch Mix and featured Type O Negative, Bauhaus, Front Line Assembly, and Skinny Puppy.
The sequel, Book Of Shadows, had two soundtracks released- the musical score by Carter Burwell and compilation featuring the likes of Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Queens Of The Stone Age, System Of A Down, and Nickelback.
American Psycho (2000)
When you think of Mary Harron’s American Psycho, odds are your first thoughts are images of Christian Bale dancing around to “Hip To Be Square” before bludgeoning Jared Leto with an ax. However, the song by Huey Lewis and the News is nowhere on the soundtrack. Maybe the dispute between Huey Lewis and the film was the violent scene that the song was playing through or perhaps it was just a contract issue. We don’t know for sure. But, Koch Records, who were set to release the soundtrack, had to recall 100,000 copies right before the CD was to be released to the public and destroy them (and what a collector’s item that would’ve been).
The first song on the soundtrack is Dope’s cover of “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” but that song is nowhere in the movie, not even during the credits. This one honestly took me by surprise when I bought the CD but I’m not complaining about it.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
This soundtrack is about as angst-filled as the movie is, so it works very well- Glassjaw, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Saliva, Fear Factory, Hatebreed, and Cradle of Filth.
The uncredited track listing at the end of the soundtrack are “Ginger Snaps – Opening” and “Ginger Snaps Theme Song” by composer Michael Shields.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Freddy vs. Jason was another movie that released two soundtracks. The musical score was composed by Graeme Revell and performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, except for three tracks that were performed by Machine Head.
The compilation soundtrack was a gathering of metal heavyweights. Appearing both in the movie and the soundtrack are Spineshank’s “Beginning of the End” (played over the movie’s title card) and Ill Niño’s “How Can I Live” (closing credits). The soundtrack also features Killswitch Engage, Slipknot, Lamb Of God, Stone Sour, Seether, Type O Negative, and Sepultura featuring Mike Patton (Faith No More).
The Resident Evil Franchise (2002-2016)
The score for the first movie was a dual effort from Marco Beltrami (Scream franchise, The Faculty, Joy Ride)and Marilyn Manson.
An alternate version of Killswitch Engage’s “The End Of Heartache” was made for the Resident Evil: Apocalypse soundtrack (sans screaming vocals) along with an alternate version of the music video, edited to contain clips from the movie.
Extinction featured soundtrack-exclusive remixes from Flyleaf, Bayside, and Aiden.
Afterlife, Retribution, and The Final Chapter released their musical scores (Afterlife and Retribution composed by Tomandandy and The Final Chapter by Paul Haslinger) but none of the final three movies had a compilation soundtrack.
The Underworld Franchise (2003-2016)
Outside of the musical scores, the soundtracks are almost solely remixes. AFI, Thrice, My Chemical Romance, Senses Fail, Hawthorne Heights, Lacuna Coil, and Deftones,amongst other artists, were all given the electronic/industrial remix treatment and put on the soundtracks.
Resident Evil star Milla Jovovich, performing as Milla, contributes “Rocket Collecting” to the soundtrack of the first movie.
For Underworld: Evolution, Atreyu released a soundtrack-exclusive single, “Her Portrait In Black”, and released a music video for the song that featured scenes from the movie.
The Saw Franchise (2004-2010)
Along with the fantastic scores by Charlie Clouser, the Saw movies up through The Final Chapter had soundtracks featuring numerous metal subgenres. Kittie, Suicide Silence, Slayer, Static-X, Meshuggah, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, The 69 Eyes, Bullet For My Valentine, and many more have a spot somewhere on the seven soundtracks.
Avenged Sevenfold, Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and Emilie Autumn all make appearances on multiple Saw soundtracks.
“Killer Inside” by Hydrovibe is on the Saw III soundtrack and features Saw franchise star Shawnee Smith on vocals. The music video for the song can be found on the 2-disc director’s cut DVD.
Chester Bennington (RIP) who plays a white supremicist in the car trap in The Final Chapter appears on the film’s soundtrack with his project Dead By Sunrise with their song “Condemned”.
Snakes On A Plane (2006)
Break out the studded belts and neon sunglasses for this one.
Cobra Starship plus scene singers William Beckett (The Academy Is…), Maja Ivarsson (The Sounds), and Travie McCoy (Gym Class Heroes) teamed up for the title single “Snakes On A Plane (Bring It)”. The music video featured the star of the movie, Samuel L. Jackson, and was played regularly on MTV2. The soundtrack also featured songs from Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy, and The All-American Rejects.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
And you might as well keep out the scene gear for this one.
The soundtrack features Hayley Willams (Paramore), Panic! At The Disco, Cute Is What We Aim For, and All Time Low. The token teenage emo character, Colin, listens to Screeching Weasel’s cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” on his way to meet Jennifer (and get mutilated) and that song got a spot on the soundtrack.
The War Of The Worlds broadcast was one of my blindspots up until about five years ago. I had driven up north with a friend for a day-trip and they were shocked to learn that I had never actually heard the broadcast. The drive home was a little over an hour so the broadcast filled the time perfectly. Listening as I drove, I could see why the listening public could have been scared out of their wits during the first parts of the show. The acting, the sound effects…I found it fantastic. If you want to listen to it now or have never listened to it before, you can find it on a lot of apps that stream audio, such as Spotify or Youtube. I bought a used copy of the CD of the broadcast in a 2nd & Charles for 99 cents.
If you’re like me, the broadcast is one of those things you hear about but never really learned too much about.
So let’s do it.
The War Of The Worlds came into this world as a story written and published by English writer H.G. Wells in 1898. By this time, Wells’ had already published the science fiction classics The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Invisible Man. In The War Of The Worlds, Wells’ tells a first-person account of an alien invasion of Great Britain, using the names of real cities as place markers, and then shifting away from using the first-person narrative partway through the story and we learn about the events through monologues from other survivors.
Jump ahead about 30 years and cross over into the United States.
The people living in the United States were collectively on-edge for multiple reasons. The Great Depression had started in 1929 and many Americans were still attempting to recover. Political conflicts were on the rise in Europe (World War II would start in 1939). The Hindenburg zeppelin crash in New Jersey on May 6, 1937, had been announced over radio waves by hysterical voices. The War Of The Worlds actor Frank Readick recalled listening to the recording of Herbert Morrison’s radio report of the disaster on repeat for his acting inspiration.
Enter director/writer/producer/actor Orson Welles.
Welles created First Person Singular, a series of weekly hour-long radio dramas (or “radio plays”) that premiered on Monday July 11, 1938, at 9PM EST, presenting an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After nine weeks on the air, the title of the show changed to The Mercury Theatre On The Air. Their time slot also changed from Monday nights at 9PM EST to Sunday nights at 8PM EST.
The 17th week of the show would fall on October 30, 1938 (Devil’s Night, if you’re from Michigan) and Welles wanted to do something special for their Halloween broadcast.
“I had conceived the idea of doing a radio broadcast in such a manner that a crisis would actually seem to be happening and would be broadcast in such a dramatized form as to appear to be a real event taking place at that time, rather than a mere radio play.”
During the press conference on Halloween morning, Welles said he didn’t believe he was the first to go about presenting stories in this manner, telling that other radio shows have done the same, but he does not name any specific shows. Turns out, the BBC had used a similar approach in 1926 with a radio broadcast about a riot in London entitled Broadcasting The Barricades.
Welles tossed around ideas of potential science fiction works with producers John Houseman and Paul Stewart before deciding to purchase the rights to H.G. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds. Houseman has since been openly skeptical if Welles had even read the book before deciding to make a radio play out of it.
On Monday October 24, six days before their next broadcast was scheduled to air, they handed the book to show writer, Howard Koch (who later wrote the screenplay for Casablanca), and told him to start writing a script. And here Koch was worried that he couldn’t make his radio adaption as interesting to audiences and he was worried it’d be boring or played-out because aliens were “kid stuff”.
Koch’s first draft of the script was done that Wednesday night. Instead of the invasion over Great Britain (as in the book), Koch wrote about the invasion starting in Grovers Mill, New Jersey, tailoring it to an American audience. Similarly to how Wells had done it in his novel, the first part of the play would be first-hand accounts of the invasion as it was happening and the second part would be Welles himself giving long, dramatic monologues, coupled with dramatic scenes, recalling the events of the invasion sometime in the future.
As the editing process began, scenes that had mentioned passages of time (“Last night’s invasion”) and scenes with more theatrical, dramatic dialogue, were cut. The first draft had made it clear multiple times that the alien invasion had taken place over several days and not 40 minutes. Act I of the radio play became longer and pushed Act II backwards. Typically, during radio plays there would be a station break at the midpoint of the show, or about a half hour in, reiterating the show’s title and a moment for sponsored advertising time. Act I of The War Of The Worlds ended up being about 40 minutes long and Act II was just 20 minutes, but doing this also meant that the station break would come 40 minutes into the show rather than 30 minutes in.
Koch turned in a script to CBS executives on Friday and the execs told them they had to “tone down the realism”. They also told them to change the names in the script and not use actual government titles to avoid any potential lawsuits so they changed titles such as “Columbia Broadcast Building” to just “Broadcast Building”, changed “New Jersey National Guard” to a generic “State Militia”, and so on.
On Saturday night, the show was rehearsed along with the full sound-effects team. On Sunday afternoon, the orchestra arrived at the studio with a full dress-rehearsal scheduled for 6PM.
On Sunday night, at 8PM EST, The Mercury Theatre On The Air began their presentation of The War Of The Worlds by H.G. Wells.
At approximately 8:32PM, Houseman saw a CBS supervisor in the control room on the phone. They were being ordered to immediately stop the production and reiterate that everything they were talking about was completely fictional. They were only a couple of minutes from their scheduled station break so they just kept going through to their scheduled break.
Listeners had heard live music from the fictitious Meridian Room at Park Plaza, they had heard about strange explosions on Mars, they had heard aliens coming from cylinder space crafts, and they had listened on as soldiers got evaporated by heat rays and choked on a mysterious cloud of black smoke- all before the station break reminding them, “You are listening to a CBS presentation of Orson Welles and TheMercury Theatre on the Air, in an original dramatization of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. The performance will continue after a brief intermission. This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.”
CBS was being bombarded with phone calls from people asking if what they were airing had been true. Phone lines as far as the state of Washington had short-circuited due to high volumes of callers trying to call their local radio stations, their local police stations, or calling friends and family, all trying to get answers if there was any validity to the “reported” alien invasion.
Following the conclusion of the broadcast, CBS ran a bulletin at 10:30PM, 11:30PM, and at midnight that said:
“For those listeners who tuned in to Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast from 8 to 9 pm Eastern Standard Time tonight and did not realize that the program was merely a modernized adaptation of H. G. Wells’ famous novel War of the Worlds, we are repeating the fact which was made clear four times on the program, that, while the names of some American cities were used, as in all novels and dramatizations, the entire story and all of its incidents were fictitious.”
There is still debate over how many people were actually listening to The Mercury Theatre On The Air that night. There was a radio survey taken the night of October 30th and 5,000 homes were called and asked what radio show they were listening to, if any. Only 2% of 5,000 surveyed were listening to The Mercury Theatre while the rest were either listening to another show or nothing at all. By 1939, 28 million American households had radios. If you kept the rate of the 2% that were listening during the survey and applied that to 28 million potential listeners, it’s 560,000 people.
OR there’s other sources that say there could have been up to 12 million people who tuned in.
Kind of a wide range.
There could have been people who tuned in late and missed the show’s introduction. The popular variety comedy show Chase and Sanborn Hour was also airing from 8PM-9PM on NBC. Listeners heard ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, at the beginning of the hour but when his act was followed by an unknown singer, some listeners lost interest and changed channels. By then, The Mercury Theatre was already 10-15 minutes into their presentation of The War Of The Worlds and those who had switched to CBS late had missed the show’s introduction and just started with music at the Meridian Room being interrupted by reports of odd occurrences in the sky.
A lot of factors had to line up for someone to absolutely believe that there was actually an invasion occurring. If someone had never listened to The Mercury Theatre before, hadn’t read the announcement of the scheduled shows in the paper, had missed the very beginning of the show, had not know that The Mercury Theatre had switched from airing on Monday nights to Sunday nights, plus all of the script edits, and if you believed in aliens…there could have been a solid half hour of you panicking.
The creatives behind The Mercury Theatre didn’t think the public would believe that aliens from Mars could invade Earth and create all of the devastation that they did within 40 minutes but, as history has repeatedly taught us, a lot of destruction can happen in 40 minutes or less.
“Our actual broadcasting time, from the first mention of the meteorites to the fall of New York City, was less than forty minutes. During that time, men travelled long distances, large bodies of troops were mobilized, cabinet meetings were held, savage battles fought on land and in the air. And millions of people accepted it—emotionally if not logically.”
Newspaper headlines published on that Halloween morning were ripe with incredible headlines. Newspaper companies had been trying to compete with radio because they were losing money as a news outlet and were competing for advertising money. A lot of the lore of the panic was initially spread by them, as they were trying to show that radio was an “irresponsible” medium. The New York Times headline read “Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact”. The Detroit News headlined “War Skit on Radio Terrifies Nation”. The New York Daily News headline was “Fake Radio ‘War’ Stirs Terror Through U.S.” and they went as far as to include pictures of a “war” victim on the front page- a woman wearing a sling on her arm who had heard reports of the “black gas” in Times Square and fell while attempting to flee from her apartment and broke her arm. There were at least 12,500 articles published about the broadcast but that hype only lasted a few days before newspapers went back to reporting on the looming war in Europe.
The Associated Press released a slew of reports from all over the country:
-Woman Tries Suicide: Pittsburgh – A man returned home in the midst of the broadcast and found his wife a bottle of poison in her hand screaming: “I’d rather die this way than like that.”
-It’s a Massacre: Providence, R. I. – Weeping and hysterical women swamped the switchboard of the Providence Journal for details of the “massacre.”
-Church Lets Out: Indianapolis – A woman ran into a church screaming: “New York destroyed; it’s just the end of the world. You might as well go home to die. I just heard it on the radio.” Services were dismissed immediately.
-“Where is it Safe?”: Kansas City – One telephone informant said he had loaded all his children into his car, had filled it with gasoline, and was going somewhere. “Where is it safe?” he wanted to know.
Also that morning, Welles was running on about three hours of sleep after an all-night rehearsal for Danton’s Death, the stage play Welles had been working on as well as working with The Mercury Theatre. Welles was turned around to do a press conference bright and early for damage control outside of the CBS building.
Circled by reporters, Welles read a prepared statement to the press:
“Despite my deep regret over any misapprehension that our broadcast might have created among some listeners, I am even more bewildered over this misunderstanding in the light of an analysis of the broadcast itself. It seems to me that they’re our four factors, which should have in any event maintained the illusion of fiction in the broadcast.
The first was that the broadcast was performed as if occurring in the future, and as if it were then related by a survivor of a past occurrence. The date of this fanciful invasion of this planet by Martians was clearly given as 1939 and was so announced at the outset of the broadcast.
The second element was the fact that the broadcast took place at our weekly Mercury Theatre period and had been so announced in all the papers. For seventeen consecutive weeks we have been broadcasting radio sixteen of these seventeen broadcasts have been fiction and have been presented as such. Only one in the series was a true story, the broadcast of Hell on Ice by Commander Ellsberg, and was identified as a true story in the framework of radio drama.
The third element was the fact that at the very outset of the broadcast, and twice during its enactment, listeners were told that this was a play that it was an adaptation of an old novel by H. G. Wells. Furthermore, at the conclusion, a detailed statement to this effect was made.
The fourth factor seems to me to have been the most pertinent of all. That is the familiarity of the fable, within the American idiom, of Mars and the Martians.”
Sooooo, “Sorry, not sorry,” pretty much.
The Federal Communication Commissions investigated the program but no laws were actually broken, so they just kind of wagged their finger and told networks not to take things to such an “extreme” and be more cautious with their presentations.
During the press conference, a reporter asked Welles if, “Knowing what happened, would you do the show over again?” to which he responded, “I won’t say I won’t follow this technique again, as it is a legitimate dramatic form.”
The found footage subgenre seems to be a love it or hate area of movies. Italian director Ruggero Deodato came in with a bang with 1980’s pioneering found footage horror Cannibal Holocaust. A stomach churning tale of a documentary crew that went missing in the Amazon rainforest, Cannibal Holocaust took what Welles’ did with TheWar Of The Worlds and turned it up to 11. Upon the film’s release, Italian courts seized the film and went after Deodato with charges of obscenity. The courts believed that Deodato had filmed the actual mutilations of the actors and were preparing to charge him with murder. To boost believability of the film, Deodato had the actors sign contracts saying that they would “disappear” for a year or so after the release. When the actors “reappeared” in front of a judge, the charges were dropped.
Typically, one could lump found footage in as strictly a thing that horror movies do, there are some found footage science fiction movies. 2008’s Cloverfield tells the story of friends out partying in New York City when aliens attack. Cloverfield was successful enough to spawn two sequels, 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox, however, the sequels are not presented as found footage. 2011’s Apollo 18 tells the story of NASA’s cancelled Apollo 18 mission as if they had actually taken off to the moon and encountered spider-like creatures on the moon. In real life, the Apollo 18 mission (as well as the Apollo 19 and 20 missions) were cancelled due to budgetary reasons.
Following the success (and notoriety) of The War Of The Worlds broadcast, Campbell’s Soup signed on to sponsor The Mercury Theatre and it became The Campbell Playhouse in December 1938. Welles continued working the show for the next two years. Welles then landed in Hollywood where he directed and played the title role in what many call the greatest movie ever made- Citizen Kane.
The War Of The Worlds saw two theatrical releases- the first in 1953 from Paramount Pictures and one in 2005 directed by Steven Speilberg. The title has also found life in numerous direct-to-video movie releases, music, video games, a board game, and loads of spoofs in movies and television shows including Tim Burtons’ Mars Attacks!, Scary Movie 4, and The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror XVII.
“We now return you to the music of Ramon Raquello playing for you in the Meridian Room of the Park Plaza Hotel situated in downtown New York.”
The short of it- Red Eye was a rape revenge movie without being a rape revenge movie and Lisa is a Top Tier Final Girl that 2005 was not ready for.
The long of it-
Red Eye is the first feature screenplay from Carl Ellsworth, who later wrote Disturbia and The Last House On The Left remake in 2009, and it was based on a story by Ellsworth and Dan Foos. Veteran horror director Wes Craven (RIP) takes a side-step from the genre he’s well associated with and helms this suspense-thriller. Our main players are Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Mean Girls) as Lisa Reisert, Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) as Jackson Rippner, Brian Cox as Joe Reisert, Jayma Mays as Cynthia, and Jack Scalia as Charles Keefe. The music was composed by Marco Beltrami, who also composed the music for Scream movies 1 through 4.
We’re introduced to Lisa in the back of a cab on a rainy night, talking on the phone to fellow hotel employee, Cynthia. There was a flub at the hotel over a reservation for two regulars, who become irate, and Lisa guides Cynthia through fixing it and, ultimately, making the customers happy. If you’ve worked in any sort of customer service position, you’ve been forced to keep a straight face and deal with asshole customers, and Lisa seems to be a pro.
As the audience files into a busy airport, there’s hundreds of background characters one can watch, including cameos from actors who had worked with Craven in Scream 2, The Serpent & The Rainbow, and even Craven himself (if you know where to look). A young girl is parting ways with her mother to take her first flight by herself. A pleasant older woman chats up Lisa after seeing the Dr. Phil book she’s carrying and Lisa passes along the book to her. While Lisa tries to defuse tensions between an asshole customer and an airline worker, Jack steps in. Jack has just been another face in the crowd of passengers until he steps forward to back up Lisa. After the planes are delayed further, Lisa sees this mystery man again and they sit adjacent to each other at the bar. Making conversation, Jack tries to play suave and coy by guessing what her drink of choice is. He lands on a Sea Breeze to which she corrects him by saying her drink of choice is a Bay Breeze. As she takes her first drink, she noticeably grimaces at the taste, which would seem odd for her “drink of choice”, no matter how cheap or watered down the alcohol was.
Jack seems charming enough. When the pair meet each other again as they’re seated on the same plane, it would be the start of a romantic comedy. While the plane goes through a patch of turbulence, Jack talks to Lisa about her family, her grandma who had just passed and her parents. She thanks him for the distraction, and goes back to asking about his job, to which he responds, “As fate would have it, my job is all about you.” Editor Patrick Lussier recalled that audiences had the same reaction to this that Scream got when audiences heard a voice on the phone ask Casey, “I want to know who I’m looking at.”
He has her now.
Jack is part of a terrorist group aiming to assassinate Keefe, a Homeland Security official. The plot involves his stay at the hotel where Lisa works, and they need her to make a phone call and use her pull as a manager to move him to a different room so it’s easier to hit his room with a shoulder-rocket launcher.
Once Jack’s intentions are revealed, he doesn’t hold back. The charming man she had smiled and joked with at the bar was now a manipulative, controlling, and misogynistic air head. Surrounded by other passengers and roaming stewardesses, Lisa is forced to silence her sobs and play them off as she’s still upset over her grandma’s passing. Jack keeps his charm with the surrounding people as best as he can, but when he turns back to Lisa, that facade falls.
Jack: “Lisa, whatever female-driven, emotion-based dilemma you may be dealing with right now, you have my sympathy. But for the sake of time and sanity, let’s break this down into a little male-driven fact-based logic.”
With each passing scene, Jack’s frustration and desperation grow. She’s not doing what he tells her, she refuses to make the phone call to move Keefe’s room. When he follows her into the airplane bathroom, which the stewardesses dismiss as a “mile high” moment, they’re finally alone, she’s at his mercy and he’s unleashed, choking her and slamming her head against the wall.
Jack: “I think you’re not such an honest person. Because I’ve been following you for eight weeks now, and I never once saw you order anything but a fucking Sea Breeze!”
We don’t ever learn the extent of what Jack’s job is, but he followed her for two months. The idea of assassinating a Homeland security official led to him stalking this woman for two months and waiting until she was in a vulnerable spot.
In the United States alone, there’s an estimated 570 people daily who are victims of a sexually violent crime. This adds up to an estimated 18+ million women and 3+ million men who have been victims of rape since 1998. An estimated 64% of people in the trans* community are victims of a sexual crime. 99% of the people who commit sexually violent acts will face no prosecution and not see prison time for their crimes, mainly due to rape culture that has conditioned people to not believe the victim and often see it as a joke somehow.
If you’ve been a victim of a sexual crime or know someone who has been, you can call 800-656-4673 (800-656-HOPE) if you’re in the States or you can visit https://rainn.org for more resources.
Breaking down the rape revenge movie subgenre comes to- the first act is the violation, the second act is the immediate aftermath and plotting, and the third act is the revenge. The I Spit On Your Grave moviesand the Soska Sisters’ American Mary are two of the most notable ones. The original The Last House On The Left was released in 1972, written and also directed by Wes Craven, in his directorial debut. Red Eye brings us along for the pursuit, the capture, the hostage situation, and every subsequent mental process all within the confines of an airplane and without showing any violent sexual acts. We learn of Lisa’s assault at the start of the third act, as the plane is landing. Throughout the entire movie, the word “rape” is never used. Jack notices a scar below her collarbone as he’s holding her against the wall in the airplane bathroom, and after she says it wasn’t self-inflicted, we’re able to assume he pieced it together.
Lisa: “It happened in a parking lot, the scar, two years ago, in the middle of the day. He held a knife to my throat the whole time. Ever since, I’ve been trying to convince myself of one thing over and over”
Jack (almost sarcastically): “That it was beyond your control.”
Lisa: “No, that it would never happen again.”
It’s not a parking garage, but an airplane, and there’s a “knife” to her throat the whole time. The actual knife is waiting outside of her dad’s house, but she just has to play along long enough to wait for a move to get out alive, which is a tactic still used in rape defense classes. Jack is almost like Richard Ramirez but with better teeth.
Jack: “Once I’m out of your line of sight, I’ll call off Mr. Killer from outside Dad’s and then you’re free. Free to yell and scream, call you dad, tell him to run to the neighbors, sound good?”
The asshole customer that Lisa and Jack had tried to calm in the beginning is the doctor that comes to Jack’s aid as the pen is sticking out of his throat. The pen belonged to teenage boys sitting behind them on the plane that try to annoy each other during the flight. The young girl that had been by herself on the plane kicks her back into the aisle to trip Jack as he’s trying to run after Lisa. Some of these background characters are not obsolete. Nothing in this movie happens without reasons and so much of it is a domino effect.
Lisa has the arc that typically defines any Final Girl. As the plane is landing, that’s when her “final transformation” happens. Laurie had a knitting needle, Ginny had a machete, and Lisa had a cartoon monster pen. She makes it to the final showdown to face her killer. She may not have a house set up with booby traps to catch her villain, like Nancy did, but she has home field advantage. She knows the layout and, just as important, she knows where her field hockey stick is in her closet. Jack, going beyond what he was paid to do, pursues Lisa back to her father’s house- the large house that she grew up in and where her father left her bedroom untouched after she moved out.
Jackson: “I’ll finish the job.”
Lisa: “Not in my house.”
And, we have the fantastic “fuck you” moment of
Lisa: “Where’s your male-driven, fact-based logic now, Jack?”
As the dust settles (literally), Cynthia and Lisa share the screen for the first time. After every exchange on-screen between them is through the phone, there’s a definite satisfaction in seeing these two come together after the hellish ordeal. The first time we see Lisa, she appears more innocent and proper, being a people-pleaser as a hotel manager, even to the demanding and rude customers. At the end, she tells those customers to fill out a comment card and shove it up their asses. In true fashion of early 2000’s movie humor, it ends on a knee-slapping zinger-
The ideas for doing a podcast/blog/whatever started to take shape towards the end of last summer. Doing a series on Romero’s zombie movies was always at the top of the list for discussion topics.
Over the last few weeks, the dots have connected a bit too much.
For my sake and your’s, I’m taking a break from talking about Romero’s zombie movies, and probably zombies in general.
I was excited to talk about Diary Of The Dead because it’s going to be about true crime, which is another topic I’m very interested in, and I’m gonna have to try to not drag my feet with Survival Of The Dead because I haven’t had many positive things to say about that one.
I’m still going to be writing. I have a whole log of topic ideas. Some of the topics may still be heavy but it’s not going to be about this shit. I have something in the works right now and I am so very excited about and can’t wait to share it with everyone.
To everyone that has shown me support, be it reading my posts or talking to me about them or retweeting my posts- I appreciate the fuck out of you and thank you for giving me a chance.
“My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most and they’re where the trouble really lies.”
Content warnings: suicide mention, mental health
The 20 year gap between George A. Romero’s Day Of The Dead and Land Of The Dead was the longest gap between his Of The Dead zombie movies and a lot of crazy shit happened, to say the least. Possibly the biggest fuel for the crazy shit- the 24 hour news cycle. Following up on the development of CNN in 1980, MSNBC launched in 1996 with Fox News following up later that year. The World Wide Web debuted in 1991, making it possible to share news, ideas, and theories faster than ever before. The dumpster fire that is Facebook didn’t appear until 2004.
Political issues, social causes, racial and sexist divides, riots, economic turmoil…everything that had been going on in the United States now had the spotlight on news channels attempting to fill 24-hours of air time.
On February 26, 1993, a bomb was detonated in the parking garage below the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, killing 6 people and injuring upwards of 1,000 people. American citizens began forming their harmful views of anyone who might be from “the Middle East” who could be part of “that al-Qaeda terrorist group”. So, two years later, on April 19, 1995, when a bomb was detonated in a truck outside of a government building in Oklahoma City, some people received a “shock” as they saw a scrawny, pencil neck, white American man named Timothy McVeigh come across their TV screen as the man that had committed the heinous act.
The public saw the government, specifically the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and FBI, massively fuck up during a 51-day stand-off/seige of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, that resulted in the deaths of 81 people, including 28 children, and their “leader” David Koresh. In 1993, President Clinton signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which prohibited openly LGBTQ+ people from serving in the military, an act still causing a harmful ripple in all military branches. Between 1994 and 1995, people watched in awe as the story of O.J. Simpson and the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman unfolded. People sat with popcorn and pizza to watch the infamous Bronco car chase and “the trial of the century” that occupied news stations for nine months. In the summer of 1995, a heat wave hit Chicago and it resulted in the deaths of 739 people, many of whom lived in poverty or were elderly.
The attacks on September 11, 2001, made the one of the biggest marks in American history. Terrorists hijacked four planes, crashing two into the two World Trade Center buildings in New York City, crashing one into the Pentagon in Virginia, and a fourth crashing in a field in Pennsylvania before reaching its potential target. Over the four crashes, nearly 3,000 people were killed and an estimated 25,000, people were injured. Starting at 8:46 in the morning, millions of people had a front row seat to watch chaos and death live on television.
News of what was happening was almost unavoidable. Citizens of all ages were exposed to sights that were beyond comprehension to some. Anger, fear, stress, and a lot of confusion were felt across the country. A case study in the Boston-area with mothers and children, ages 7-15 years old at the time of 9/11, found that 5.4% of children and 1.2% of parents were given a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) diagnosis from watching the events of 9/11 on TV. Another 18.7% of children and 10.7% of parents showed signs of PTSD but not enough for a formal diagnosis.
Anti-Muslim hate was firing on all cylanders for some (assholes) now. People were being verbally and physically assaulted almost instantly following the attacks of 9/11 from fearful and uneducated people fearing that they could be the next terrorist. In 2011, a study by the American Psychology Association, found that 82% of Muslim Americans felt unsafe after 9/11. Numbers for PTSD, anxiety, and depression skyrocketed among Muslim Americans.
I bring this up this way because I had just started the 3rd grade when 9/11 happened. I heard about it on the radio in the car on the way to my grandma’s house, where I continued to watch it on TV. Odds are that if you’re reading this, you have some solid memories around that day. Or, maybe you were too young to remember it yourself and learned about it in history class and by stories of people you know.
After the attacks of 9/11, the United States launched itself into war with Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2001, an estimated 6,828 American personnel have lost their lives during these military campaigns, or double the amount of lives lost during 9/11. Between 2001 and 2014, an estimated 78,000-88,000 soldiers in the Middle East have lost their lives and an estimated 174,000-200,000 civilians have been casualties of war efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
In the few years following 9/11, Americans were fearing something was around any and every corner. Only one week after those terrorist attacks, envelops containing anthrax were sent through the U.S. postal system to media outlets and government buildings, killing 5 and injuring 17 others, ranging in age from 7-months to 94 years old. A few suspects were questioned but no one has ever been convicted for the crimes. In 2002, D.C. was held at hostage for nearly a month as the Beltway Snipers shot and killed ten people and injured another three people seemingly at random while driving around in a Chevy Caprice.
Political punk rock and rap that had rally cries from N.W.A’s “Fuck Tha Police” in the 80s and Bikini Kills’ “Rebel Girl” in the 90s had come back with a vengeance and with common targets. NOFX released War On Errorism in 2003, with album art of a cartoonish-George Bush painted with clown make-up in front of an American flag. When Green Day released American Idiot in 2004, I was part of the sea of teens/young-adults with cheap, smudged eyeliner singing along to lyrics like, “I’m not a part of a redneck agenda. Now everybody do the propaganda and sing along to the age of paranoia.” Then American Idiot went on to win Best Rock Album at the 2005 Grammy’s.
Let us not forget country musicians, specifically Toby Keith, that also spent time on the Billboard charts with their uber patriotic songs boasting support for soldiers being sent overseas. In a punk rock move, Natalie Maines of country-trio the The Chicks called Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)” “ignorant” and at a 2002 concert in England told the audience, “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” (referring to George W. Bush). It was a move that drew hate and criticisms from country music fans and that damaged their career for a long time. In 2017, Maines continued her outspoken ways in a series of Twitter posts condemning President Trump and his corrupt and hateful ways.
The early 2000s was seeing a modernist surge in zombie movies. The video game-turned-movie franchise Resident Evil began in 2002, releasing seven movies over the next forteen years. Edgar Wright’s horror-comedy Shaun Of The Dead was released in 2004 in England and quickly gained popularity, for being a relatively small release.
In 2004, Zack Snyder released his version of George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead as a face-paced, blood-soaked, action-packed remake. The film featured cameos from some of the cast of the original movie, but Romero himself had no involvement in Snyder’s movie.
Romero had other ideas forming.
George A. Romero’s Land Of The Dead was built from the ideas that Romero was forced to scrap due to budgetary reasons 20 years earlier in Day Of The Dead. A more modern budget ($16 million) and more modern technologies (CGI) would allow for fancy yet enforced high-rises to shelter the elite and more “developed” zombies. Initial title ideas were Twilight Of The Dead and Dead Reckoning, in reference to the film’s Mad Max-esque train-like tank.
The story of Land Of The Dead takes place seemingly during a “lull” of the zombie-apocalypse, where the rich and powerful are living comfortably in high-rises, known as Fiddler’s Green, while the lower class live on the streets, all surrounded by electric fences and armed guards to keep them safe. Teams are sent out to gather supplies in an attempt to keep everything functioning, mainly to keep those in power comfortable but to also try and help their friends living at their level on the streets.
Land Of The Dead reunites Super Mario Bros. stars John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper (RIP) where, once again, Leguizamo’s character, Cholo, plays menace to Hopper’s tyrannical leader, Kaufman. Cholo shows the aggression and loyalty of a gaurd dog to Kaufman in an attempt to get himself out of the slums and get a spot in Fiddler’s Green. After being denied, Cholo steals their D.I.Y. armored tank, Dead Reckoning, and threatens to blow up Fiddler’s Green, and the surrounding areas, if Kaufman doesn’t pay his monetary ransom. Tasked with retrieving Dead Reckoning are Riley, played by Simon Baker pre-Mentalist TV fame; sharp-shooter Charlie, played by Robert Joy; and impisoned sex-worker Slack, played by Asia Argento, daughter of famed Italian director Dario Argento, who was the co-producer and co-composer of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). Romero recalls knowing Asia “since she was knee high to a grasshopper”.
Picking up where the “Bub” zombie left off in Day, we have the “Big Daddy” zombie, played by Eugen Clark. First seen at Big Daddy’s garage and gas station, Big Daddy appears still ready to work and serve customers at the station. He is observed making snarling and barking sounds at other zombies, in an attempt at some form of communicating. Big Daddy observes the other zombies being mezmerized by the “sky flowers” (fireworks) that Riley, Cholo, and company shoot off as distractions so they can safely make their way through the hoards, and Big Daddy is having none of it. He then takes on the role of leader of the pack, moving towards the masses back towards the city, and showing others how to use tools. Notably, he shows the butcher zombie (played by Boyd Banks, who appears as Tucker in 2004’s Dawn of the Dead) how to use his meat cleaver to cut through walls and use it as a weapon. We see even more character zombies (or “stenches” or “walkers”, as they’re called in this) including a softball player, a brass band, another clown zombie, and a zombified-Tom Savini with a leather jacket, wielding a machete, as his character of Blades from the original Dawn.
Also making appearances as zombies are the director and star of Shaun Of The Dead, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. The pair appear as the chained up zombies at the photobooth. Wright and Pegg were fans of Romero’s zombie movies and Romero was a fan of Shaun so there was a mutual respect and fun to be had in their cameos. Romero’s daughter also makes a cameo as the girl at the guard station by the electric fence who shoots at the zombie who gets caught in the fence.
Romero has stated that the stories of his zombie movies are not connected in any way, but that doesn’t mean there’s no similarities between them. During the opening credits, there were issues with getting right to use footage from Night, Dawn, and Day, due to them all having different property owners, so they shot “new” footage, such as the old radio in black and white (like in Night). In Land, to get in and out of the city, the crews use an abandoned subway tunnel to go underneath the river (like a medieval moat), taking us back underground in passing, reminiscent of Day. During the climatic zombie attack on Fiddler’s Green, a zombie gets trapped in a giant folding umbrella and stumbles around before falling over a table, taking us back to the slapstick of zombies wandering the escalators and ice rink in Dawn. As the hoard of zombies
The main conflict of the movie has almost nothing to do with zombies but rather Cholo’s ambitions to get a cozy spot in Fiddler’s Green, no matter the cost. During the opening scene, while Riley and his team are emphasizing looking for food and medicine to take back to the city, Cholo finds a (well-intact) liquor and cigar store. He intends to bring Kaufman a special treat, and kiss his ass a bit more, and doesn’t appear to care much that a member of his team gets bitten by a zombie in the process and commits suicide right in front of everyone. Riley tries to reason with Cholo, reminding him, ”They wont let you in there, they wont let me in there, and we’re their own kind.” Kaufman turns down Cholo’s request to get a spot in Fiddler’s Green, telling him, “Space is limited.” To which Cholo corrects him by stating, “You mean restricted.”
Back in the city, Riley walks through the slums to his friend, Mulligan, who is giving a speech, almost as a sermon in the streets, slamming Kaufman, ”He didn’t build that place, he took it over, and left us in the slum.” We later hear Kaufman trying to show his good side by telling us, ”I put up the fences and made it safe. I hired the soldiers.”
After the zombies make it across the river and begin attacking the good, kind folk (yes, heavy sarcasm) of Fiddler’s Green, Kaufman looks down in anger, gritting his teeth, “You bastards! You have no right!”
A lot of this stuff sounds familiar…
A lot of this stuff sounds really fucking familiar, doesn’t it?
Kaufman actually says, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” when speaking to a colleague about Cholo’s demands. About this, Romero says,
“I always thought that was a little too on the nose but i think that it’s gone a long way to making sure that people understand that there’s a little politics in this”
The audience does receive the satisfaction of seeing Kaufman die a fiery death at the hands of Big Daddy and a zombiefied-Cholo.
Not all horror movies are political nor are all zombie movies. But Romero has said it himself that his zombie movies act as a snapshot of the time periods that they were made. Politically, socially, economically, or whatever, his zombie movies don’t let viewers forget about certain issues.
And we still have a couple of his zombie movies to dive into on here!
Suddenly, I got this conceit: Maybe I’ll do one of these every ten years, reflect a little bit of what’s going on. So Day Of The Dead really grew out of that 80s feeling of giving up on everything- government, the military, faith in the financial systems.
In the dawn of the 1980s, Ted Turner launched CNN, giving America its first 24-hour news station. The early 1980s offered no shortage of noteworthy stories to constantly occupy TV screens. On December 8, 1980, Beatles’ legend John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman outside of his apartment building in New York City. Many viewed the Manson Murders of 1969 as the end of the “hippie” era and the murder of John Lennon a decade later also marked a turning point in American culture. Bands such as The Clash, Dead Kennedys, and Bad Religion had emerged, launching political punk that would only grow in anger and popularity over the next nearly forty years. The following year, in 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to murder President Reagan in an attempt to get actress Jodie Foster’s attention and love. Hinckley was released from prison in 2016 for the attempt on the President’s life. Also in 1981 the first IBM computer was released and was quickly followed by the first Macintosh computer being introduced by Steve Jobs in 1984. Though still denied by many, in 1985 the first holes in the ozone layer were reported.
One of the most impactful pieces of news came in 1982 when the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recognized the issue of the AIDS virus. In 2005, scientists were able to trace the disease back to the late 1800s, when it was a disease that infected chimpanzees in Africa and became known as simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), specifically in Cameroon. SIV was believed to make the jump to humans around 1930 after chimpanzees were hunted and humans came into contact with infected blood. The infections then spread across Africa and eventually the world. The infection became known as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) left untreated.
After a month or so of a person becoming infected with the virus, they usually begin showing typical flu-like symptoms. If the exposure was just an acute, the person might not even notice anything out of the ordinary in the beginning. The early stages are sometimes called asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection. If the virus is caught in a person during this early stage, they would be prescribed antiretroviral therapy (ART) and it would effectively keep the virus at bay. It could slow down the progression of the virus or completely stop it from progressing. HIV is spread between humans through sexual contact, blood-to-blood contact (such as sharing needles), or from mothers to infants (during pregnancy and breastfeeding). If it’s left untreated, that’s when it evolves into AIDS. When AIDS takes over the body, it leaves the immune system more vulnerable to illnesses, called opportunistic illness. Common symptoms are fever, chills, weight loss, weakness, sweats, and swollen lymph glands. Remember- it’s not HIV/AIDS that directly stated as the cause of death, but rather an “AIDS-related sickness”.
Once the virus had made the transition from chimpanzees, there were an estimated 2,000 people in Africa who were infected by 1960. The first HIV epidemic was in the 1970s in Congo. In the capital city, Kinshasa, there was a quick and drastic rise in opportunistic illnesses. The speculation is that an infected individual traveled to the capital city and the virus entered the urban area through sexual contact and quickly made its rounds that way. The virus continued to spread throughout Africa in the 1980s, mostly through soldiers, truck drivers, labor migration between the western and eastern ends of the continent, and sex workers. There was a shameful stigma attatched to sex workers with their “promiscuity and high-risk lifestyles”. The first case of HIV in South Africa was believed to belong to a white, gay male steward for an airline. That man later died of pneumonia in 1982.
It all started as a rumour… Then we found we were dealing with a disease. Then we realised that it was an epidemic. And, now we have accepted it as a tragedy.
Chief epidemiologist in Kampala, Uganda
Across the Atlantic, in June of 1981, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in America published an article in their weekly report about a new, rare kind of lung infection. The illness, called pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, was found in five gay men in the Los Angeles area. None of these men had histories of other illnesses and two had died between the time of the discovery of the illness and the publication of the article. That was the first report of AIDS in America, but they didn’t know it yet. By the end of the year, gay men in primarily California and New York were reported as having odd, rare, and aggressive “cancer” or illnesses, with 121 of the reported 270 cases rapidly passing away. That’s when some researchers began to refer to the condition as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). That name sparked a damning stigma to medical professionals and the public about the illness.
It wasn’t until September of 1982 that the CDC first used the term “AIDS” and gave it the initial definition of “a disease at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell-mediated immunity, occurring in a person with no known case for diminished resistance to that disease”. In 1983, the CDC begins to believe that AIDS is shared through sexual contact or exposure to infected blood given that most cases were found in gay men with multiple sexual partners, people who injected drugs intraveneuously, Haitian people, and hemophiliacs. The panic of the AIDS crisis had begun to swell. People in America were beginning to believe that the illness affected exclusively gay men and that something as simple as a handshake or being around someone coughing was enough to trasmit it. The CDC had to release a statement that they had identified all major ways that the virus spread and let the public know that casual contact was safe, but that didn’t change the views of more conspiracy-minded or homphobic people.
The Reagan administration first publicly acknowledged AIDS during press conferences between 1982-84 and they were complete assholes about it, to say the least. As it is, “acknowledging” might be too solid of a description for that back and forth between press secretary Larry Speakes and the press pool. Journalist Lester Kinsolving was a notorious frequenter of these press conferences who was also a conservative and an open homophobe. Kinsolving was the first person to bring up the topic of HIV/AIDS to the press secretary and he was met with laughter from Speakes as well as other members of the media, even as Kinsolving referred to it as “the gay plague”. At the time he was asking these questions, most of what the public perceived of the illness was wild misinformation, such as part of a question Kinsolving asked involved, “an estimated 300,000 people have been exposed to AIDS, which can be transmitted through saliva…”. Kinsolving’s personal beliefs aside, he was still trying to ask questions that hadn’t been asked to one of the most powerful people in the world about how they were going to be proactive about stopping a health epidemic.
These political shit garglers have not gone away either. Before he was Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence was Indiana’s loudly conservative Republican and dangerously naive governor who also served in the House Of Representatives. In 2011, he supported an amendment defunding Planned Parenthood, a safe haven for HIV screening. This lead to a Planned Parenthood in Scott County, Indiana, closing its doors. Scott County is a lower-income county, with nearly 20% living below the poverty line, with a high rate of intravenous drug use. Pence was also open about his opposition to needle exchange programs, which inadvertently lead to people with drug addictions to share needles. Over the next few years, nearly 200 cases of HIV were identified and Governor Pence was finally forced to acknowledge the epidemic in January 2015. It still took him until April 2015 to temporarily allow needle exchange programs in a bit of an attempt to slow the spread, while still not showing any attempt to provide funding for drug rehab or mental health programs.
And here we are, in 2020, with the guy who stuck his fingers in his ears while singing “Lalalalalala” while a HIV epidemic spread through the state he was in charge of has now been appointed to lead the response efforts for the potential outbreak of the coronavirus (Corvid-19) in the United States.
So now, let’s go back to the 80s.
The bricks for George Romero’s third installment in his series of zombie movies began to fall into place in 1982. Romero had teamed up with author Stephen King for the horror anthology Creepshow and it had such box office success that Romero was able to turn his brain back to a zombie story.
Having plenty of hellish real-life inspiration from the world to go on, Romero’s initial script for Day Of The Dead was a whopping 204 pages and “involved nothing less than a multi-tiered society where the lowest classes of humans are raised to feed the zombies. In turn the undead are slated to be ‘tamed’ to work as slaves to maintain the ruling elite”. So it was kind of like White Zombie, minus the flesh-eating zombies part. The production company was not willing to give Romero the $7 million dollar budget he would need for his grandeur vision so he was forced to greatly tone it down. The story held onto its underlying themes of science vs. military control vs. civilians, which would show itself in shouting matches and power struggles between the characters. Romero held onto the ideas that he was forced to cut from Day and would later use some of them in his 2005 zombie endeavor Land Of The Dead, such as the series of safe high-rise buildings for the upper class. Effects artist Tom Savini said that some of the ideas Romero initially had were reminiscent of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark with zombies”. Romero also scoffed at the idea of presenting his latest zombie flick in 3D, after the early 80s had seen the likes of Friday The 13th Part 3 and Jaws 3-D.
As a military group they were there for research and, of course, now the need for what they are doing is all but gone. With society gone, who are they going to report to if they find anything out? All of a sudden, when that structure is gone, they don’t quite know how to behave or they cling to old behaviors and no one talks to each other and no one communicates. So there’s this sort of tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society.
The events of Day take place over four days, as told to the audience by a calendar with the days marked off with Xs, with it appearing to start on Halloween. We open with an isolated, claustrophobic shot of our heroine, scientist Sarah (played by Lori Cardille), alone in a white-walled room with a dramatic build up to a jump-scare of a mass of zombie-hands thrusting towards her through a latex rubber wall. Cardille had a resume of work in soap operas and theater work but Day was her first (of very few) movie roles. A Pittsurgh-native, her father was locally famous as Chilly Billy on Chiller Theater (a favorite of young Night actress Kyra Schon) and for having a bit role in Night Of The Living Dead, which came out when Lori was in the 8th grade. She takes a commanding lead with her ideas and processes and has no problem with just telling the men, “Fuck you.”
I think I was still partly apologizing for the first film, where Barbara was just Jell-O.
George Romero, on the character of Sarah
After the audience adjusts from the whiplash of the opening dream sequence, we see a set-up built with the same ingredients as Dawn Of The Dead– four survivors in a helicopter. Next to Sarah are John (played by African American actor Terry Alexander), “Flyboy” pilot John (Jarlath Conroy), and Miguel (Antone DiLeo). The four are flying over the Florida coast in an attempt to find anything or anyone. After only succeeding in finding a tropical zombie hoard, complete with an alligator scooting down the front steps of a bank, they return to an underground mine that they have claimed as their own lab/bunker/housing unit. On Sarah’s side as a fellow scientist is Dr. Fisher, played by John Amplas. Playing part of the side of the military men are effects artist Greg Nicotero and former professional football player Gary Klar as Sergeant Steele. Leading asshole, Rhodes, was played by Joe Pilato, who was already familiar with Romero after working on Dawn Of The Dead and Knightriders. Pilato was also part of the crew helping Savini with effects on Dawn.
Richard Liberty appeared in Romero’s 1973 film The Crazies and he made his return to Romero to play the (mad) scientist Logan, who is referred to as Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s Monster is an almost loveable zombie named Bub, played by Howard Sherman. Like Victor Frankenstein showing off how his creation knows how to sit down and walk around, Frankenstein is proud of his prized project. The knowledge of the zombies continues to progress after the events of Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead. They go from being “mindless” to almost infantile knowledge. Bub picks up a book placed in front of him, a copy of Salem’s Lot, opening it and letting the pages sway from side to side.Romero was offered the directing job for the movie adaptation of King’s novel Salem’s Lot so he gave it a little nod there. He puts a razor up to his face in an attempt to shave a beard that isn’t there, he learns how to stop and start a tape player, and, upon seeing Rhodes in his military garb, salutes him. Rhodes, being the “hardened, respectable leader” that he is, is almost offended that one of these things would salute him and he refuses to return the gesture. Later on, after the zombies have flooded their underground sanctuary, Rhodes is literally torn in half, he squeals out a dying, “Choke on ‘em,” and Bub hits him with a salute as a giant middle-finger.
Filming of Day was split between Florida and Pensylvannia. The majority of the film was shot in Wampum, Pennsylvania, in a former limestone mine that had turned into an underground storage facility. The seemingly “climate controlled” mine made it the ideal place to store large items, such as yachts, or fragile items, such as feature-film negatives. On the flip side though, the chill and humidity caused issues with keeping the makeup on the zombies and it caused many of the actors to get sick, to the point of Cardille getting a fever reaching 104. A sort of “cabin fever” also swam around the cast and crew. The days would start early and run late during shoots in the mine, meaning they would arrive before the sun came up and would leave after the sun went down. The scenic tropical shots were filmed just off the coast of Fort Myers, Florida, from the opening scene to the finale with our few survivors having made their escape via helicopter and finding a beautiful beach to land on.
Setting up between Pensylvannia and Florida also presented the crew with an unforeseen challenge- finding zombie extras for the shoot in Florida. Once again, there were no shortage of eager participants around Pittsburgh, including the dean of Carnegie Mellon (alma mater of Romero and Cardille) and his wife. Some extras had the privilege of being zombies in Night, Dawn, AND Day. However, Florida had a zombie shortage. A call went out for about 800 zombies needed for a wide shot and Chris Romero recalls about only 36 showing up. Savini still got to build off of effects he had started to use in Dawn, able to add more character zombies, such as a football player and a bride, and got to give the zombies more detail in their makeup, giving them more distinction between ethnicities and how long they had been zombified. A distinct clown zombie would later reappear in Diary Of The Dead and even would be given a spot in 2009’s Zombieland.
Day Of The Dead was released in July 1985 That year also gave us another cult-popular zombie film- Return Of The Living Dead. Though the pair had split creatively, Romero’s collaborator on Night Of The Living Dead John Russo had kept at writing horror novels and working on other films. Included in his works, Russo had a sequel he had written to Night that he had been holding in his back pocket since 1972. In 1978, the year Romero was working on Dawn, Russo wrote that story out as a novelization and gave it the title Return Of The Living Dead. Then Romero and Russo agreed to let the other do their own thing with their respective sequel stories. Russo’s Return Of The Living Dead was released in the fall of 1985. The story plays out as an almost ramped up spin off, treating the events of Night as factual but played as fiction for a movie (“You mean the movie lied?!”). The story is filled out with bumbling and punk rock characters and faster, more talkative zombies.
A celebration of both films is happening at the Monroeville Mall in June of 2020 for their shared 35th anniversary. For more info on that check out http://www.thelivingdeadweekend.com
When Another One For The Fire was still in the idea phase, I knew I wanted to do my best not to half-ass anything. The topics I wanted to discuss would loop around in a tangled web and I was excited to circle around each topic that way. Part of that tangled web included watching the subsequent sequels/spin-offs/reboots of Romero’s zombie movies. 2008 saw a Day Of The Dead starring Ving Rhames (as Rhodes, with Rhames appearing in another Romero reboot after 2004’s Dawn Of The Dead) that went directly to video. I might not have had easy access to all of the possible Romero spin-offs but one of the ones I was able to get my hands on was 2018’s Day Of The Dead: Bloodline. I drove up the road to Family Video, I found the DVD in the “2 for $1” section, I came home, I got out my laptop, and I prepared to type out anything I thought would be relevant to touch on during discussion.
Guys, gals, and pals, I give you my stream of consciousness while watching Day Of The Dead: Bloodline–
“-And now these zombies are fast, too.RottenTomatoes 0% and 9% audience score, which is generous AF, this acting is atrocious, it’s been 20min and I’m surprised I haven’t turned it off, I’m watching this for you guys-starts at medical school, outbreak happens, jumps to “five years after the outbreak of the rotters” in the military bunker. Lot more people in the bunker- kids, trailers, still searching for the medical cure. Still have a Rhody asshole, still have the medical student woman trying to take charge and have people listen to her but she’s definitely sexualized in this one, and the fucking creepy guy who assaulted her is still pursuing her in zombie-form after the “five years later” (but he apparently has super high antibodies in his blood or some shit) but now he a fast sneaky climbing-on-shit zombie who somehow lived through five years, seriously, the creep cuts her name into his arm and assaults her and is somehow the Bruce Willis Die Hard of zombies crawling through the vents but he becomes the “Bub” and even as a zombie he fucking licks her face as she goes to draw his blood jesus christ I’m done I tried for y’all”
Place your bets on how fast you’ll get Robin Sparkles’ “Let’s Go To The Mall” stuck in your head.
The term “shopping mall” itself is a specifically modern North American term used to define a “shopping precinct or shopping center in which one or more buildings form a complex of shops with interconnecting walkways, usually indoors”. In other parts of the world, the term “shopping center” or “shopping arcade” is the term used. One of the earliest records of a site resembling a mall was in the 10th century Isfahan’s Grand Bazaar in Iran. The area was defined as a “covered market”. Then there was Trajan’s Market in Rome which dates back to 100-110CE. Built in the 13th century, Chester Rows in Cheshire, England, is most likely the longest continuously occupied shopping mall, as it’s still in operation to this day.
In 1828, The Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island, opened, making it the first enclosed shopping center in the United States. Jump ahead to the post-World War II boom in the States. There was an increase in “suburban culture” and an increase in automobile ownership and use. More shopping centers were popping just outside of major cities and away from the more congested downtown areas. Larger “anchor stores”, or “big box stores”, were being built into malls to be more of a “draw” to the public and to hopefully bring more foot traffic to the smaller chain stores.
In 1956, in the Edina, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, the Southdale Center opened. The Southdale Center was designed by an Austrian immigrant named Victor Gruen. Feeling that America had become too “car-centric”, Gruen designed the mall to feel more like the communal meeting places that he remembered in his native Vienna. This design was the first of its kind- fully enclosed and climate controlled. Gruen’s design is how we now define modern shopping malls.
The Monroeville Mall opened in May of 1969 in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. George Romero first visited the mall in 1974 with his friend/potential investor Mark Mason (Oxford Development Company). That’s when an idea came to Romero-
“When they first showed us around, they took us where they had sealed-off rooms upstairs packed with civil defense stuff, which they had put there in the event of some sort of disaster- and that’s what gave me the idea. I mean, my God, here’s this cathedral to consumerism, and it’s also a bomb shelter, just in case society crumbles.”
Nearly a decade after his instant cult-classic Night Of The Living Dead was released, Romero was back at it with his zombies and began filming Dawn Of The Dead in 1977. A majority of the film was shot inside of the Monroeville Mall and they had to make the most out of what little time they were allotted when the mall wasn’t occupied. They had from 2AM to 7AM, from the time taverns in the mall closed to when the automatic “Muzak” came on.
The opening of Dawn picks up right where Night left off. George Romero and his future wife, Chris, make cameos in the opening scene as two operators in the booth of the chaotic television station. Stephen, also known as Flyboy, played by David Emge, comes to the station to pick up Fran, played by Gaylen Ross. Romero was still facing criticisms for his portrayal of a “damsel in distress” with the character of Barbara in Night. Feeling some pressure on who to cast as the female-lead in this follow-up, Chris Romero cast Gaylen Ross. Ross was an acting student who had yet to land her first professional role. When she was asked to scream at the airfield scene, she refused, putting her foot down in a character-defining moment because she wanted to make her character tougher. Sure, she has a moment of panic and “freezes’ but we see her feisty character growth happen much faster than anything we saw with Barbara.
Cut to an apartment building being swarmed by police during a raid. After the dust settles of the raid, and the police discover zombies that the occupants had been hiding in the building while in an extreme case of denial, we’re introduced to Peter and Roger, played by Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger, respectively. Each thinking that they’re alone, they take the other by surprise and aim their guns at each other. After a moment, the pair realize that they’re on the same boat, lower their weapons, and Roger brings Peter along to meet up with Stephen and Fran to make an escape in Stephen’s helicopter. Playing out as the complete opposite of the relationship between Harry and Ben in Night, Roger and Peter use their knowledge and skills to help each other rather than try to play “King Of The Castle”.
There’s chaos at the docks as people are trying to make their way to boats and cars in an attempt to flee the area and get to somewhere more remote. While Stephen is finishing loading up the helicopter, a man approaches the four of them and asks if anybody has a cigarette to which they all shake their heads “no”. He then says that they have an idea that they could make it to an island, Stephen asks, “What island?” and the man replies, “Any island” (an idea which would come back almost thirty years later). As the helicopter ascends, we hear the man shouting, desperately asking for cigarettes. In the next moment, almost everyone in the helicopter pulls out a cigarette and lights them. It’s not locking someone out of a cellar and boarding up the door behind you, but it’s them taking themselves into priority. Their “fight or flight” (literally) mentality is at play and they’re aware that some of their actions to protect themselves and each other are going to come at the price of actions that could be morally or even legally wrong. Peter tries to get some sense into Stephen by reminding him that, “We’re thieves and we’re bad guys.”
As the four fly over the open Pennsylvania hills, we are re-introduced to the hunting mobs that came in at the end of Night. Stephen comments, “The rednecks are probably enjoying the whole thing,” and he’s not wrong. On the ground, there’s upbeat music playing from radios and people donning camouflage who are fueled by coffee and beer. There are military jeeps driving alongside the pick up trucks. Romero received permission to deploy actual National Guard volunteers as extras during these scenes.
Spotting a large, seemingly vacant building, they’re confused at first. “What the hell is that?” and the response, “It looks like uhh shopping center, one of those big indoor malls.” In the 21st century that seems comical but at this time the Monroeville Mall had been open for just shy of a decade and many other major cities didn’t even have malls near them yet. The mall put them on a much more grandeur scale than the farmhouse so the need for zombie extras grew. On Night, there were about 250 extras playing zombies. On Dawn, about 1,500 people volunteered to be zombie extras. “I couldn’t believe everyone wanted to get shot or bitten,” said Chris Romeo, reflecting on how eager people were to be a part of the movie. Special effects artist Tom Savini (also Blades the biker in the movie) recalled that extras were vying for a chance to get to gnaw at actual pig intestines on-screen. The audience gets to see more actual zombie “characters”, too, such as the Nuns, the Hare Krishna, and the zombie in his bathing suit.
Breaking up and away from Night, Dawn also explores new territory- black comedy. After turning the power in the mall back on, the zombies seem flabbergasted and stumble around on escalators and wander around on the ice rink. Once the mall is cleared of the zombies, our group of survivors get to go on a playful spree around the mall. Who hasn’t had the dream of being locked in a store or a mall overnight and having the entire place at your disposal? What would you do with it all if you had no one around to stop you? The four play in the arcade and get enough sweets in the candy store to make Augustus Gloop envious. Ben and Stephen open up the bank and “make it rain”. Fran gets to make herself up with new clothes and try out new looks in the hair salon.
But after the sugar high comes the crash. After all of these playful ventures and even getting furniture and other household items together to make it appear more “homey”, the always inevitable boredom sets in. It doesn’t matter how badly you wanted that action figure or video game for Christmas as a kid, eventually, even you got bored of it. In Joe Kane’s book Night Of The Living Dead Behind The Scenes Of The Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever, he notes-
“After gorging themselves on free goodies- from gourmet foods to fancy clothes to expensive toys- our protagonists reach that dreaded destination achieves by candy-stuffed children, clueless lottery winners, and the idle rich the world over- spoiled resentment and stultifying boredom. Now that they have it all, they discover all is not worth having. What’s the point, if there’s no one left to envy them?”
Another break from Night was the character of Fran. Their flowing blonde hair is about the start and end of their similarities. After Peter noting that Fran looks ill, Stephen tells them that she’s pregnant, while she’s in the other room “resting”. So now she is literally and figuratively the maternal presence next to three men. The next day, Fran demands the attention of the room and tells them, ”I’m sorry you guys found out I’m pregnant because I don’t want to be treated any differently than the way you treat each other. I’m not gonna be den mother to you guys. I want to know what’s going on and I want to have a say in the plans. There’s four of us.” She also states her intention to learn how to fly the helicopter, just in case something happens to Stephen and he’s unable to fly the helicopter/he’s dead and that she wants a gun to carry herself. She has no intention of sitting on the couch, helpless, while everyone else does all of the work around her.
Landing on what ending to use was in issue for Romero once again. The original script had Peter and Fran both dying at the end- Peter shoots himself and Fran commits suicide by putting her head up into the running helicopter blades, similarly to what happens to the zombie at the small airport towards the beginning of the movie. A plaster cast of Gaylen Ross’ head was made for the scene but when the idea was scrapped, they instead used the cast for the shot of the zombie’s head exploding via shotgun during the police raid scene.
Romero on the initial ending- “As I was shooting it, I was trying to make it more comic book and more of a reflection of the different decade. I decided that it just wouldn’t be right to do that because it’s not as dark a film, so I switched gears and decided not to kill them. I didn’t remember we had shot it. It was base footage. We never finished it. We just shot a take of her (Ross) standing up into the helicopter blades. It was just a close-up and she stood up out of frame.”
During the final shots, we see a zombie carrying a gun up through the sky light. This zombie has been carrying the gun since it got a grip on it through a door and Roger just let him have it. It does not know exactly what the gun is, much less how to point and shoot it, but this was a crucial stepping stone that would be a through-line in Romero’s zombie movies. In Night Of The Living Dead, the zombies had zero grasp of tools or their environment- just purely searching for food. In Dawn, they might not know what tools are or what purpose they serve, but it holds onto it because it knows that it’s something. Later, Romero’s zombies would learn how to shoot guns and more.
George Romero and Italian filmmaker Dario Argento had a mutual admiration. By the time of Dawn’s filming, Argento had already made waves in the giallo and horror genres with his movies The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’ Nine Tails, and Suspiria. Since Argento assisted Romero with the soundtrack and funding, Argento was given rights to edit the European release of Dawn. Topped with a soundtrack by the Italian prog-rock band Goblin, Dawn Of The Dead was released on September 1, 1978 in Italy and made its premiere in America on April 7, 1979.
Nearly 30 years later, in 2004, Dawn Of The Dead would get the remake treatment under director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Batman Vs Superman Dawn Of Justice). The screenplay would be written by James Gunn (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Scooby-Doo) and George Romero would have no involvement in the movie. Not carrying over any characters from the original story, we are introduced to a whole new crew starring Sara Polley, Ving Rhames (back after his initial Night Of The Living Dead audition, Pulp Fiction, Lilo&Stitch), Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer (8 Mile), Kevin Zegers (Air Bud, Adam Green’s Frozen), and Boyd Banks (who would return as a zombie in Land Of The Dead the following year). A Nightmare On Elm Street star Heather Langenkamp was part of the prosthetics production crew. Langenkamp is married to SFX artist David Anderson and the pair work at AFX Studio.
This movie would be a spark in the debate of fast vs. slow zombies, with many old school fans proclaiming, “fast zombies suck!” Tom Savini has said in the original the zombies had more “personality” with costumes and the fast zombies run by so fast you can’t even see what they actually look like. Thoughts on fast vs. slow zombies aside, the opening sequence has become a standout moment in all zombies with even author Stephen King singing his praises.
Snyder’s Dawn drops plenty of Easter eggs for longtime fans. The opening scene has a little girl zombie, in a nod to Karen in the original Night Of The Living Dead, who then takes us by surprise and runs around like Spider-Man. Ken Forree makes a cameo of a preacher on television who brings back his famous line from the original- “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” Tom Savini has a cameo as a police officer on television who instructs people to shoot the zombies in the head while Scott Reiniger (Roger) plays a general we get a glance of. One of the stores in the mall is named Gaylen Ross Clothing Store. There is a woman who is pregnant in this version, as well, but, unlike the original, we see the baby come to full-term after the mother is bitten by a zombie and then gives birth to a grotesque zombie baby.
Drawing on dialogue from the original movie, the remaining survivors make a break for the marina and get to a sailboat with the idea to make it to an island that is free from the zombie infection. The closing shot of the movie them sailing off into the sunrise and we’re left feeling a glimmer of hope along with them. That is, until the credit scenes begin to pop up. Zegers’ character, Terry, finds a video camera on board the boat and the audience is shown what happens the further they get away from the mainland. They run out of drinkable water and fires break out as the engine breaks down. Once they finally reach the island, they’re greeted by a hoard of zombies running towards them at the dock and the video camera drops and everything goes black.
And what else is dying? Malls.
In America in the 1990s, malls were growing at a rate of 140 per year, topping off at around 1,300 built total. In the year 2007, right before another recession hit, no new malls were built, making it the first time in almost 50 years that no new malls were being constructed. It wasn’t until after the recession in 2012 that another mall would be constructed. However, malls were still seeing a decrease in foot traffic. For a mall to be considered “dying” it must have a store vacancy rate of 40% or more. In 2014, nearly 3% of malls were considered “dying”. Nearly 20% of malls were considered “troubling”, meaning they had a store vacancy rate of 10%-20%.
In an attempt to combat further closings, malls are adding more commodities to try and bring customers back. Movie theaters and gyms are common finds in malls now. Yes, we can put some of the blame on dying malls in the hands of online retail; some, not all. By the mid-2000s, 5% of total retail sales were attributed to online shopping and in 2017 that number had risen to 11%. In 2012, there was almost a flip in common job positions and people became more likely to hold non-retail positions instead of retail positions.
Ironically, a mall that is not dying is the Monroeville Mall. However, updates and remodels have left parts unrecognizable when you compare it to how we see it in Dawn Of The Dead. In 1984, the Ice Palace was replaced by a food court. In 2013, a movie theater opened at the mall. The clocktower seen by the fountains in the movie has also been removed. Other movies filmed at the Monroeville Mall include Flashdance (1983, at the Monroeville Mall Ice Palace), The Boy Who Loved Tolls (1984), Zach And Miri Make A Porno (2008, also set in Monroeville).
The Monroeville Mall is an attractive spot for zombie movie fans. The mall was strategically built near the end of the Pennsylvania turnpike. Over the last few years, I’ve made several trips to the Pittsburgh area and I’ll always try to spare some time to visit the mall, even if it’s just while I’m on my way back to the turnpike. Down exit wings of the malls, there’s a Dawn Of The Dead movie poster in the middle of a photo history of the mall. After his passing in 2017, a bust of George Romero was put up down the wing of Dick’s Sporting Goods. The hill/lower level of the current Macy’s was the former loading ramp that is show several times throughout the movie. Places such as the roof and back hallways are closed off to the public. For the dedicated fans, Living Dead Weekend put on two events per year, splitting them between Evans City and Monroeville. The events offer tours to places that are otherwise closed off as well as a chance to meet the casts and crews for Romero’s movies and other zombie movies and television shows. (Be sure to check out http://www.thelivingdeadweekend.com for more information on upcoming events)