31 October 2012

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

          So, I recently found a paper I wrote a few years ago and seeing how today is Halloween, I decided to post it.  This is an academic paper, so it will be different from my usual posts.  And it also contains spoilers.  But, if you haven't seen this yet, spoilers is the least of your problems.

9 March 2011
Film Analysis Paper #1
Night of the Living Dead
George A. Romero


When George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead premiered in 1968, it revolutionized the zombie genre. Before Romero, most movies featured zombies that were a product of voodoo.  They were usually slaves, being controlled by the person who put the curse on them (Roberts, The Zombie Movie History).  The writers at IGN.com put it this way:  “The granddaddy of the modern zombie genre...rethought what a zombie movie could be, removing the shambling creatures from the realm of voodoo...and placing them squarely in the backyard of middle-class America” (Linder).  Ever since, zombies have been depicted as undead that feast on human flesh.

By defining the rules of the zombie flick, Romero has influence all following movies of the type.  But, Night of the Living Dead was only the beginning.  Romero has since followed it with five sequels.  The first three films in the series have all been remade.  It has spawned numerous imitations.  Even after 40 years, this classic still influences everything from blockbuster movies to low budget films to video games (Linder).


          Barbra and her brother Johnny go to visit their father’s grave.  While at the cemetery, Ben and attacked and killed by a strange man, who then chases Barbra.  Barbra flees and takes refuge in an abandoned house.  She is shortly followed by another person, Ben, who also hides there.  Together they begin to board up the house, to protect themselves from her attacker, who is slowly joined by other people acting in similar ways.  Barbra and Ben are also joined by other people--The Cooper family and Tom and Judy--who have been hiding in the basement.

          They find a radio and television and discover that the people that have been surrounding the house are recently animated corpses that feed on flesh.  Fearing the undead, Harry Cooper hides his family in the basement.  The others continue to board up the house.  In an attempt to escape, Tom and Judy are killed.  Fighting over a rifle, Ben shoots Harry, who descends into the basement and dies.  Harry’s daughter, Karen, becomes a zombie and kills her own mother.  Meanwhile, Barbra sees her brother among the undead.  Taken by surprise, she is pulled into the mob of zombies.  As a last resort, Ben locks himself in the cellar, where he passes the remainder of the night.  The next day, Ben emerges from the basement and is subsequently shot and killed by a posse, who confused him for an undead.


          While looking at the formal elements, the most obvious is the use of black and white film stock.  When Night of the Living Dead was released in the 60s, most films were shot in color.  The choice to use black and white stock was not an aesthetic one, but an economical one.  According to Lee Roberts, Romero chose black and white because it was cheaper, keeping the budget down (Roberts Night of the Living Dead).  Whether he intended it or not, this choice added a great deal to the atmosphere of the film.  The lack of color emphasizes the emotions of the characters; they are scared and running out of options.

          Another important element was the use of camera angles.  Romero constantly uses a Dutch angle.  Many of the shots of Barbra running from the cemetery to the farmhouse employ this angle.  After Barbra watches her brother’s murder and is subsequently chased by his attacker, her world is turned upside down.  The dutch angle is also effectively used when Barbra tries to use the telephone to call for help and discovers that it has been disconnected.  She is trapped without a form of communication.  The unnatural tilt of the camera captures the unnatural events taking place outside the farmhouse.

          While Romero uses the Dutch angle as it is customarily used, he does the opposite with another angle--the low angle.  Normally, a low angle shot represents power and authority and a high angle conveys vulnerability.  But, Romero makes little use of the high angle shot (which would have normally heightened the character’s weakness), instead, filming many scenes from a low angle.  One particular scene has Barbra standing in front of a fireplace while Ben gathers wood to secure the house.  She is filmed from a low angle.  Normally, this angle would depict her own strength.  But, in this context, it seems more to emphasize her fear.  As Ben boards up the house, low angles are also used.  This does not focus on his power over the zombies, but rather his determination.  Rather than affirming the characters’ themselves, the low angle strengthens their emotional states.  Barbra looks more afraid from a low angle than a high one.

          Another element successfully used is the lighting.  The whole movie uses low key lighting.  This creates high contrast.  The contrast between light and dark alludes to the contention in the film.  The people in the farmhouse struggle to survive the invading zombies.  These two forces battle against each other, just as the light and dark do in the lighting.  Another contention occurs between Ben and Harry.    Ben wants to stay and fight while Harry wants to descend into the basement to hide.  The contrast between their plans is accentuated by the low key lighting.

          Low key lighting is also exploited to achieve a different effect.  When Barbra and Ben first enter the house, there are no lights on.  The house is completely black save a few blotches of light.  It is not until they have been in the house for about 10 minutes that Ben turns on the lights, eliminating the darkness.  In this first part, the blackness represents the unknown.  They do not know who the zombies are or where they came from.  Ben and Barbra do not know what they are going to do.  But, Ben eventually has an idea and turns on the lights.  He begins looking for tools to fortify the house.  Turning on the lights and eliminating the shadows symbolizes their turn of action.  Ben realizes the gravity of the situation and now knows what they must do.  He makes a plan and follows it.  This plan guides them just as the lights do.

          At the end of the film, the power goes out, throwing the house into the same darkness it was in at the beginning.  But, this time the shadows coincide with the impending doom.  Right after the lights go out, the zombies break through the boards and enter the house.  Just as the shadows surround the characters, likewise do the zombies.  This can most easily be seen in the last shot of Ben that night, before the next day.  The zombies have invaded the house and Ben has locked himself in the basement.  He is trapped; there is only one way in and one way out.  Ben is last seen crouching in the middle of the frame, with shadows on either side, occupying about two thirds of the shot.  The shadows are on the verge of collapsing on Ben.  Upstairs, the zombies are on the brink of reaching him as well.

          An additional element that is used (though to a lesser degree) to create a sense of helplessness is the use of a frame within a frame.  At first, the only connection to the outside world was the radio.  Eventually, the group finds a television set.  Now, they can watch the news and learn any updates about the events.  But, all the scientists and police are framed by the television.  They are the people who know and have the power to help.  However, by framing them in the television, they are removed one step from Ben and the group.  It distances them, placing help beyond reach.  Towards the end of the film, after the night has passed, the police and his posse are seen for the first time without the frame.  They are now close enough and able to help; although it is too late.

Personal Response

          I found this to be a really fun film.  While I enjoyed it, I also feel torn by it.  Some aspects of the film have aged quite well.  At the same time, others have not.  I thought the cinematography was quite good.  Camera angles, movement, lighting all contributed to create an effective atmosphere.  However, other aspects of the film seem outdated.  There are many instances where it cuts to the group of zombies outside.  They stand there for a split second, then they start walking.  It is almost as if the director gave them their cue one second too late.  I would assume that they would have been able to cut that first part out.  But either way, it looks a little funny and distracts from the film.  In another scene, Ben tackles a zombie and begins to punch it in the face.  But, it is obvious that he is punching off to the right, to avoid hurting the other actor.

          However, no film is perfect.  Even with its flaws, the overall film is a good watch.  Some parts are genuinely creepy; such as when the zombies eat Tom and Judy and when the Cooper girl, Karen, kills her mother.  The story is well written and the actors act as one would logically expect.  While not as fast paced or gory by today’s standards, this classic will always be a great one to watch.

Works Cited

     Roberts, Lee. "Night of the Living Dead Broke the Rules of Moviemaking." The BEST Horror Movies, For the Discerning Horror Freak... 2006. Web. 05 Mar. 2011. <http://www.best-horror-movies.com/night-of-the-living-dead.html>.

     Roberts, Lee. "The Zombie Movie History - Everything You Need to Be a Zombie Master." The BEST Horror Movies, For the Discerning Horror Freak... 2005. Web. 04 Mar. 2011. <http://www.best-horror-movies.com/zombie-movie-history.html>.

     Linder, Brian, and Scott Collura. "Top 10 Zombie Movies - Movies Feature at IGN." IGN Movies: Trailers, Movie Reviews, Pictures, Celebrities, and Interviews. 11 Feb. 2008. Web. 04 Mar. 2011. <http://movies.ign.com/articles/851/851230p2.html>.

But that's just my opinion...

29 October 2012

Classic Slasher Films

          It is Halloween season, so I decided I should watch some horror movies (obviously).  But I wasn't sure which ones.  Then I realized that I have never seen the classic slasher films.  So I decided to change that.

Halloween (1978)

          Halloween was one of the first slasher films and paved the way for others.  While I did like Halloween, I did not find it scary at all.  I really liked the idea and the story, but it wasn't frightening.  Michael Myers is suppose to be evil incarnate.  And for the most part he succeeds as that.  However, there are a few things that pull him down from that level.  If he is evil embodied, don't give him a face.  By giving him a face, he becomes a man.  His face is seen twice, but they could have easily not have shown it.  And there are some other parts that make him look like a kid, kind of innocent.  At one point Michael kills somebody and then looks at the body quizzically. I really liked the shot and thought it was cool, but it almost made him look like he was puzzled that the guy died.

          The movie starts off strong with a cool POV shot.  And it ends with a powerful montage with the theme playing over.  And the THEME SONG is awesome.  It really adds to the film.  Overall, I liked it.  I just didn't find it scary, though I'm sure it was for it's time.

Friday the 13th (1980)

          I was a little disappointed with this one.  Once again, I wasn't scared and I didn't find the story engaging or interesting.  I wasn't invested in any of the characters.  And, though I knew they were going to die, I never really worried for them.  I didn't know how I was suppose to feel about the ending.  Was it suppose to me a twist and subvert my expectations?  I didn't think it led to that.  But, then again, I did know the ending and who the killer was and why; so maybe that ruined it for me.  I imagine that the ending would have been more of a shock if I went in unawares.  I'm glad I watched it but I don't see myself watching it again anytime soon.  I am also curious how this movie led to the Friday the 13th we know today; it seems like an interesting evolution.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

          So, I finished off with Elm Street.  I felt about this one the same way I did about Halloween:  I liked the idea and concept, but I wasn't scared.  But, I imagine that is what happens as movies and audiences evolve over time.  I really liked the idea of not sleeping in order to avoid Freddy; but I didn't think that it was played up enough.  The TRAILER for the remake actually looks really scary and I am curious how they handle the property.

          And there were a few things that bothered me.  The 80s synth music is distracting.  And I did not like the ending.  The final confrontation between Freddy and our heroine makes Freddy look as threatening as one of the three stooges.  It reminded me of Home Alone.  But, overall, it was a good movie.

          With these movies I can certainly see why they are classics (though, I personally didn't like Friday the 13th).  And while they didn't scare me, I can easily imagine them being terrifying to the audiences of their time.  And seeing how each movie spawned a gazillion sequels, I am interested to see how they evolved over time.

     But that's just my opinion...

19 October 2012

Bully (2011)

Alex Libby
          Essential plot rundown:  This documentary follows several kids as they get bullied at school and their parents' attempts to change it.  So, I've been wanting to see this movie for a while, initially gaining interest because of the rating dispute.

          I had mix feelings about this documentary, but I liked it overall.  I think the subject matter is important.  I applaud the filmmakers for making this documentary.  It strikes home because this is something that we all will likely have to deal with, if we haven't already.  However, while the intentions were good, I felt the execution was weak.

          Bully follows several kids and I felt it was too many.  Because they have to devote time to each kid, I did not feel like any of them were fleshed out.  There is one main kid (see above) and he is really the only one I connected with.  I understand why they showed all of the kids; each one went through something different.  But part of me wanted to cut half of them out and focus only on two.  This would allow the audience to better connect with the kid.  Or they should have made the film longer, allowing more time with each child.  (The movie is only 1 and 1/2 hours).  Another complaint was a technical one.  Whoever was running the camera should learn to keep his hands off of the focus.  It was constantly shifting and was super distracting.

          Another thing was how the school system was depicted.  It is not a complaint, but more of a question.  The school system is depicted as useless and incompetent.  (And the assistant principal was a total bitch).  I am just curious as to how much of that is really incompetence and how much is the filmmakers twisting things a little to prove a point.

          So, overall, I would recommend this movie.  I liked it but felt it could have been better.  While there were some stirring moments, I really only connected with one person.

     But that's just my opinion...

11 October 2012

Finding Nemo (2003)

          Essential plot rundown:  A fish must find his son, who has been captured by the evil white man.  They converted this to 3D and released it in theaters.  And as I'm a fan of 3D, I decided to go check out the results.

          I really liked Finding Nemo.  It is an all around well made film.  The story is compelling.  It is a pretty basic story that anyone can relate too.  The characters are interesting and like-able.  It even has some touching moments between the characters.  Not much to say really about the film itself, other than it's good.

          What I really wanted to address was the 3D.  It was amazing!  I like 3D; I feel it can add a lot to the movie.  However, I'm a little uncertain of my feelings towards converting movies to 3D and releasing them in theaters (i.e. Star Wars Episode 1, Titanic, The Lion King).  It's like taking a black and white film and making it color.  However, when I heard they were doing it with Nemo, I was exciting because this is the perfect movie to be in 3D.  The ocean is vastly immense, with layers and layer.  There is so much more depth in an ocean than in a building or where ever.  And the 3D really accentuates that.  It was like I was really swimming in the ocean.  You can really feel the distances between the fish and the size of the ocean; it feels like it goes on forever.  And not only was it cool for the ocean scenes, but it even worked on a smaller scale.  When Marlin and Dory were swallowed by the whale, the whale's baleen looked awesome in 3D.  So, long story short, not all movies need to be in 3D, but Finding Nemo truly benefits from it.

          So, overall, Finding Nemo is a really good movie.  The story is strong, the characters are like-able, and it touches on some themes and has moving moments.  And, if possible, see it in 3D.

     But that's just my opinion...

07 October 2012

Battleship (2012)

          Essential plot rundown:  Aliens must fight a battleship.  So, this movie, as most all probably know, is based on a board game.  And how do they do?  I was a little disappointed.

          I was expecting something action packed like Transformers, but that did not happen.  Most of the action is shown in the trailer.  And while it was cool, it wasn't enough.  But, I did like the aliens.  They did have cool ships and cool technology.  They had these scanner things that could detect the difference between people and machines, and they would use that to choose their targets.  But they never explained why they would attack one thing but not another.  I felt like there was a reason but it was never given.  And that is really the only good about the movie.

          The first half hour is dedicated to "character development."  But it was useless.  We get to know the main character, and he is a douche.  I didn't like him and it's hard to root for somebody you don't like.  They try to get us to care by having a lot of people literally tell him "You have a lot of potential, but you are wasting it" (We never actually see this 'potential', we only know he has it because we are told) and by giving him a hot girlfriend.  But that does't help.  They even try to get us to care for his girlfriend by having her be a physical therapist for soldier amputees.  But you still don't care for her.  They even have a weak character arch with a soldier who is missing both his legs.  I didn't care about him either.  So, basically it is full of people that you don't care about.  And with action movies, that is ok sometimes; but here it hurts.

          Somebody also discovers the aliens' weakness and they use that to defeat them.  And it is totally unbelievable.  It's worst than Independence Day. It feels force and doesn't really make any sense.  And the ending was anti-climatic.

          However, I do applaud their efforts.  They did try to somewhat follow the game.  They have to fire on each other blindly and they use a grid system.  So, there was more connecting them than just the name.  And I give them props for that.  And it was cool seeing naval combat.  I haven't really seen a lot of that in movies, so that was a little refreshing.  Does anybody know of a good movie that depicts naval warfare that they would recommend?

          So, overall it was an ok movie.  The action was cool, but was a little sparse.  The VFX were good for the most part; the aliens never quite look real. Battleship was not a waste of time, but you're not missing out if you don't watch it.

     But that's justs my opinion...

02 October 2012

Bully: Anti Christian Propaganda?

          I haven't yet seen Bully, so maybe I should wait to write this til after, but I don't think that will make a difference.  I was looking online to see when the documentary will be coming out on DVD when I found this REVIEW.  Now, I don't know anything about this website or the people who wrote this review other than it is some super conservative Christian group.  And, what I read upset me a little.

          First of all, when the movie came out there was a big hoopla about the rating of Bully and what not.  But this is what this review said about the matter:

               "BULLY also contains a fair amount of strong foul language, which the filmmakers so far have refused to bleep. How childish of them!"

Childish?  Of them?  Because they refuse to remove a few words?  That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard!  They are words; you won't go to hell if you hear them.  And how is it childish of them for not censoring life?  They are trying to show what kids go through when they are getting bullied.  And if they hear the word "fuck", then what right do we have to remove that?  The writers of the review are the childish ones; they need to mature beyond the point of being offended by a word.  And would bleeping the word really make a difference?  You may not actually hear the word but your brain is a smart thing and will fill in the blanks.  And that brings to mind a quote from another REVIEW about Bully that I read a while ago.  I've been wanting to share it, but felt weird doing so without a context.  But now is my chance.

               "And a film, with a few swears, that reveals a problem we know exists but do little to change, can hardly be called offensive.  In that case the good surely outweighs the bad, and if we can’t see that, well, that’s most offensive of all."

And I agree with that statement wholeheartedly.  It is sad that people get hooked up on the small things that they miss the big picture.

          But, that's not even the main thing.  Apparently one of the kids being bullied is a lesbian and this somehow makes the movie evil.  Once again I copy and paste:  

               "The problem with the documentary is that one teenager featured in it is a girl who says she’s a lesbian. There are shots of the manly-looking girl with her slender “girlfriend” and lesbian friends. She and her parents complain that people in her school and in the community have shunned them because of this. However, unlike the other cases in the movie, they give no examples of physical abuse. Thus, there’s little reason to include this politically correct, Anti-Christian content."

She is not getting abused physically, therefore she shouldn't be included?  What the hell?  Does emotional abuse not warrant our attention?  Just the physical?  But, like I said, I have not seen Bully, so I don't know how this is really portrayed.  But the reviewers seem to think that because one of the kids is a lesbian, that the filmmakers have some hidden agenda.  It doesn't matter what she is, only that she is being abused.  Is it ok to abuse gay people?  The movie is not pro (or anti) LGBT but rather anti abuse, regardless of who is being abused.  I find it idiotic that they can't looked past the fact that one person is openly a lesbian and see what truly is the problem.

          So, basically, this is the most closed-minded, bigoted review of a movie (of a movie trying to help those in need, may I add) that I have ever read.  True, we all have our beliefs and don't always agree with what other people do, but that does not mean we avoid them.  They are people too.

     But that's just my opinion...