31 Days Of Horror: Night Of The Living Dead

“They’re coming to get you Barbara!”

Barbara (Judith O’Dea) amd her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) are in a cemetery in the country when they are attacked by a strange man. Johnny is killed and Barbara runs to a farm house.

Barbara finds no one in the house but a dead woman. Ben (Duane Jones) arrives and barricades the house from the swarming group of undead outside.

They soon discover more people hiding in the house. Harry (Karl Hardman) and his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and their injured daughter were attacked too and fled to the house. There is also Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley).

Harry thinks they should all hide in the cellar. Ben thinks that they need to make a break for it.

George A. Romero created a masterpiece of horror with this film that changed modern horror movies and the way zombies are portrayed in films.

31 Days Of Horror: The Masque Of Red Death

A plague called the Red Death is sweeping through the local villages and Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) has ordered the village to be burned to the ground.

Prospero is a Satanist and rules the land ruthlessly. When two starving peasants confront Prospero he orders them killed. The one peasant’s daughter Francesca (Jane Asher) begs for mercy. Prospero takes Francesca back to his castle and imprisons the two men.

Prospero invites all the local nobility to his castle for a party. Prospero’s also tries to seduce Francesca much to Prospero’s mistress Juliana’s (Hazel Court) dismay.

Juliana wants to join Prospero’s Satanic cult. Meanwhile a red cloaked figure is lurking around and the villagers are getting desperate as the plague ravishes through them. They seek shelter at the castle while the party goes on.

Director Roger Corman had been adapting several Edgar Allen Poe stories and this is one of his more stylish and artistic interpretations. Price is excellent as always.

31 Days Of Horror: Train To Busan

A father is trying to take his daughter to her mother’s. Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is divorced amd spends more time at work than with his daughter.

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Meanwhile a virus has broken out and is turning people into zombies. The zombie infection is spreading quickly through the city and people manage to avoid it at the train station by quickly boarding the train. Unbeknownst to everyone, an infected woman has boarded the train.

The woman turns into a zombie and quickly infects the passengers. Several of the cars are filled with the infected and the survivors have locked themselves in a safe car.

This South Korean horror movie is excellent and intense. Director Yeon Sang-ho made an animated prequel, Seoul Station. He also just made a sequel called  Peninsula that came out this year.

31 Days Of Horror: 28 Days Later

Animal rights activists free rage virus infected monkeys who quickly infect the people of London.

28 days later. London is a ghost town and Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in an abandoned hospital after being in a coma from an accident before the pandemic occured. Jim wanders the streets of London trying to figure out what has happened.

People infected with the rage virus become blood dripping fast running rage filled zombies.

Jim runs into some infected hut is saved by Selena (Naomie Harris). The two of them find two other survivors Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). They heard that there is a safe haven outside the city. They all travel there fighting their way through the infected.

Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland created a new spin on the zombie genre and the gritty cinematography works well creating an intense and horrifying movie.

31 Days Of Horror: The Thing

I know that technically The Thing isn’t a virus, but it is an organism that infects people. Granted it eats and overtakes its host but it is very infectious and extremely contagious as far as alien absorbing creatures go.

John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing is a brilliant and terrifying masterpiece.

Kurt Russell is stationed in Antarctica along with Wilford Brimley, T. K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, and Thomas G. Waites. A Norwegian helicopter is chasing a dog trying to kill it and the dog runs into the American camp. The Norwegians accidentally kill themselves and the dog ends up staying in the camp.

Russel and Dysart fly to the Norwegian camp and find everyone dead there. They also find a very strange body that the Norwegians tried to burn. They bring the body back to camp to autopsy.

They find the dog trying to assimilate all the other dogs and realize after autopsying both the dog and the strange body that an alien creature is taking over the bodies on a molecular level.

Eveyone is paranoid and everyone doesn’t trust each other.

I love this movie. It’s intense and suspenseful and edge of your seat terrifying. Rob Bottin’s effects are amazing and Carpenter has crafted an excellent masterpiece of horror.

31 Days Of Horror: Isle Of The Dead

General Pherides (Boris Karloff) and reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) visit the Isle of the Dead to pay their respects to the General’s long-dead wife. The island is supposed to be deserted but the general and Davis find people there after following the voice of a singung woman.

Swiss archeologist Dr. Aubrecht (Jason Robards, Sr.), his housekeeper Madame Kyra (Helen Thimig), British diplomat Mr. St. Aubyn (Alan Napier) and his pale and sickly wife (Katherine Emery), her youthful Greek companion Thea (Ellen Drew), and English tinsmith Andrew Robbins (Skelton Knaggs) are all on the island.

The houskeeper Krya believes that Thea is a vorvolaka, a kind of vampire creature that brings plagues and tells the general who laughs it off as superstition. Davis starts to fall for Thea.

The next morning Robbins is found dead and Dr. Drossos (Ernst Deutsch) diagnosis the cause of death as septicemic plague and quarantines the island until a hot dry wind comes to the island.

Mr. St. Aubyn dies and they bury him quickly much to his wife’s chagrin who fears premature burial. Soon the general starts to believe that Thea is a vorvolaka.

Producer Val Lewton made several low budget horror movies for RKO Studios and all of them were excellent thrillers that dealt with more psychological horrors rather than actual monsters. Isle of the Dead works as paranoia and superstition grab hold of the quarantined people. Karloff’s performance is fantastic.

31 Days Of Horror: Land Of The Dead

The zombie plague has been around for a while now and the remaining humans have created new smaller settlements. In Pittsburgh using 2 rivers as a barrier and an electric fence as a third barrier people have a enclosed life, safe from the zombies.

Most of the people live in squalor but the rich live in a fancy high rise.

The leader of the settlement Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) has a group of people go out into the zombie infected zones looking for food and supplies in a large all terrain vehicle.

Riley (Simon Baker) and Charlie (Robert Joy) have been leading the supply runs but are quitting. Cholo (John Leguizamo) is also part of the group but has been saving up to buy his way into the sky rise.

When Kaufman refuses to let Cholo in, Cholo steals the all terrain vehicle and threatens to blow up the settlement. Kaufman forces Riley to go stop Cholo.

Meanwhile the zombies have slowly started gaining intelligence and amass a large group to attack the settlement.

George A. Romero created the modern zombie movie and after a long break after Day of the Dead returned to the genre with this film.

31 Days Of Horror: Cargo

Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife Kay (Susie Porter) along with baby daughter Rosie are searching for supplies while a pandemic is ravaging Australia.

The virus turns people rabid in 48 hours. Kay has been bitten and bites Andy. Meanwhile an Aboriginal young girl named Thoomi (Simone Landers) is trying to protect her father who has been infected.

Andy travels with his daughter trying to find someone and someplace safe for her.

Along the way he runs into Thoomi when they both get captured by Vic (Anthony Hayes). They escape with Rosie.

This Australian film was directed Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke who based the film om their short film of the same name.

31 Days Of Horror: Stake Land

Vampired have overrun the world and the remaining humans live in fear and in small towns away from the big cities.

Martin (Connor Paolo) has had his family killed and teams up with a vampire hunter named Mister (Nick Damici). They are heading for a northern community that is supposed to be a safe haven.

Along the way they kill as many vampires as they can find. They also pick up random strangers that are looking for a safe place.

They also run afoul of group called The Brotherhood. Lead by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris), The Brotherhood thinks that the vampires are sent by God are forcing people to join them or get sacrificed to the vampires.

This low budget horror movie is really good and spooky. The post apocalyptic look of the world kind of reminds me of The Road but with vampires.

Clark Johnson, Director of ‘Percy’: “This Is an Homage to the Schmeisers”

Director Clark Johnson during the making of Percy.

Filmmaker Clark Johnson epitomizes the notion of the journeyman actor-director. He has sat behind the camera in countless TV shows, going from superhero fare (Luke Cage) to prestige productions (The West Wing) and everything in between. Not only that, he directed four episodes of The Wire, the cult HBO hit he also appeared on, and got an Emmy nomination for handling the The Shield pilot, the one in which a character in the opening credits gets offed and set the tone for the rest of the series.

Percy is far from Johnson’s first foray as a film director. Most notably, he was at the helm of S.W.A.T., the Samuel L. Jackson-Colin Farrell big screen adaptation of the 70’s TV staple. The story of the Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser who battled biotech giant Monsanto features a different kind of fireworks. The legal kind.

FarmAid and the United Nations have gotten behind Percy, increasing the film’s chances to get eyeballs around the globe. Sadly, just as the movie was unrolling in theatres across Canada, Schmeiser passed at age 89, presumably from Parkinson’s disease. There’s no word whether he got to see the movie before his death.

Clark Johnson phoned from Chelsea, New York. Really pleasant dude, we didn’t start talking about Percy until exchanging immigrant stories. Turns out the pairing of filmmaker and subject was meant to be.

I learned a lot about farming watching Percy. I presume this mirrors your own learning curve.

As kids, we weren’t allowed to have grapes, grape jelly or lettuce because of César Chavez and the action for micro-farm workers. My parents’ activism was my first connection to farmers. Jump forward 45 or so years and I get to tell the story of Percy Schmeiser. Being a city guy, I went to Whole Foods and learned the difference between corn oil and canola oil, and moved from there.

I know the answer to this, but I want to hear your take: Why was Percy shot in Manitoba and not Saskatchewan?

That’s a fair question. Tax deals. A good portion of our crew travelled to Manitoba to shoot because there’s no work in Saskatchewan. It was not lost on us we couldn’t shoot a SK movie in SK. 

Was it useful to have the real-life referents at hand?

Oh, yeah. This is an homage to the Schmeisers. We relied heavily on their interactions with our writers in early stages. When you are in the farming community in the Prairies, you find a similar discourse. We shot at a farm north of Winnipeg. Everybody had the same intimate connection with the land. We felt totally engaged with the story. 

How did you manage to have all four seasons on screen?

I have a lot of pull in the film industry, Jorge (laughs). We were in Toronto and our locations people called us in early June (2019) and asked us if we were planning to travel anytime soon. The canola was blooming and that would last a week or so. Our director of photography, Luc Montpellier, jumped on a plane, grabbed a camera and a drone, and shot that beautiful yellow-blooming late-spring canola. Then it snowed in September, a whole foot of snow, so we got a crew and shot, instead of coming back in January.

Don’t Ask Christopher Walken to Dance

It’s been a while since Christopher Walken has had a role as meaty as Percy Schmeiser. You would have to go back to 2015 to find the actor headlining a movie (the little seen One More Time).

Walken and Clark Johnson go way back. The filmmaker’s first film as a special effects technician was the David Cronenberg classic The Dead Zone (1983), starring Walken. Their paths crossed two more times before Percy.

How hard is to direct Christopher Walken?

He’s very conscious of how people perceive him. Like any good actor, you don’t want to be judged by what’s expected of you. He said “I’m not going to dance or anything”. I kind of wished he would. It was his suggestion that his wife would be played by Roberta Maxwell, because they started together in Stratford. The cast kind of came together in support of Chris.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many executive producers in a movie as in Percy.

I’m glad you said that. You can always tell it’s an indie by the number of EP credits. Nobody can get paid, but if this movie ever makes any money, you get EP points. I stopped counting after 18 or 19 EPs.

Mumbai Via Winnipeg

There was a lot of ingenuity at play in the making of Percy. As a good independent film, financing came down to the wire and Johnson wasn’t sure if they would be able to go to India to shoot a pivotal scene. Clark Johnson managed to make Winnipeg play the part of Mumbai, at least the interiors: “It was a wonderful surprise to find such a diverse community there.”

Eventually Johnson, Walken and crew made it to Mumbai to shoot exteriors, some time after they finished principal photography. “That was a bonus. We learned from the Indians they revere Schmeiser too. The farmers knew who he was, they all had stories about dealing with the agroindustry. That was enlightening to us and I believe added to the story.”

Monsanto is known for being litigious. Was this a concern during the creative process?

For sure. Garfield (Miller) and Hilary (Pryor, the scriptwriters) sticked fairly religiously to the trial transcripts, so we wouldn’t get any backlash from people not interested in us telling the story. 

Having done so much television, is there any aspect of that process that has made your work in features more efficient?

Absolutely. You learn expediency when you’re on a TV schedule. You become highly disciplined. I use those principles to make my days. I can be spontaneous because I’m getting my meat and potatoes done as I go. Also, from being an actor, I know what that entails. It all adds up.

Percy is now playing at the Scotiabank Theatre in Saskatoon.