Retro Long Live the Dead

Long live the dead!

Since 28 Days Later, the dead seem to be more alive then ever! Time, we thought, to take the undead as our main theme in this year’s retrospective at Cinema Nova. Generally called zombie, this fringe figure within the horror genre became a world wide plague as the result of the success of George A. Romero’s Living Dead trilogy.

Zombies used to be associated with exotic voodoo practices and Haitian sorcery (White Zombie with Bela Lugosi from 1932 and I Walked With a Zombie by Jacques Tourneur from 1941, for example). But since Romero made his low budget film Night of the Living Dead (1968), the modern flesh-eating zombie came to be. While adding a good dose of social satire and culture criticism, he took horror out of the gothic and mythological strongholds and put it at the doorstep of small town America. The Crazies (1973), Dawn of the Dead (1979) and Day of the Dead (1985) flirt with such contemporary issues as race, role patterns, consumerism, commodity fetishism and militarism (Vietnam).

The box-office success of Night and Dawn of the Dead didn’t went unnoticed. In their slipstream, a succession of imitations en deviations followed first in the U.S. and later also in Europe. In Spain, Jorge Grau (The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, 1974) and Amando De Ossorio (tetra-logy of the dead templars) are the most important representatives, while Italian directors such as Andrea Bianchi, Bruno Matei and Joe d’Amato exhausted the formula in such a way that in a very short time (1979-1981) the craze dies a sudden death.

One director, Lucio Fulci, however, towers above the others with his more metaphysical and cerebral films like Zombie2 (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981). He totally disconnects the zombie from a social context and portraits them as impersonal and inhuman messengers of doom, representing death and (catholic) hell. Which differentiates the Italian zombie film from its American counterpart, is that it is less character-based, plot-driven and attentive to verisimilitude. As a result of this weakened attention for coherence and probability and (often deliberate) spaciotemporal disorientation, the narration gives way to the spectacle. A structural element, of which Fulci was an accomplished proprietor, that illustrates most effectively this inclination for pure spectacle is the mechanism of the so-called “set piece”: zombie(s) chase a random victim, often a minor character, and kill it in some elaborate and extremely cruel way. This long sequence has often nothing but one long scream as dialogue! A lot of violence on particularly sensitive body parts is inflicted and some of them (like poking an eye out) keep on returning as a thematic element.

The success of the living dead film coincides with social and technical breakthroughs: the liberalization of the censorship and the enormous progression on the field of special make-up effects turned the seventies into an era full of pined away, bursting and torn apart corpses. Make-up artists like Tom Savini and Gianetto De Rossi started their career in this field. But in order to surpass the former films, directors searched for even more extraordinary effects, which turned the genre into a funny but one-dimensional and often less scary grand guignol extravaganza. In the eighties the living dead films were positively taken less serious then before.
While films like Return of the Living Dead (Dan O’Bannon), Evil Dead (Sam Raimi) and the slightly over-the-top productions from Stuart Gordon (Re-animator) and Peter Jackson (Braindead) left little to the imagination, such brainless Z-films like Redneck Zombies, I Was a Zombie for the FBI, Zombie Campus and Kung Fu Zombie send the genre straight into oblivion. This is, until in recent years a revival occurred with imaginative and original living dead entries like Versus (Rhuyei Kitamura, 2001), Dead Creatures (Andrew Parkinson, 2001) and 28 Days Later (Dany Boyle, 2002).

In Cinema Nova we always try to keep a broad perspective on our theme. We could have limited our selection to representations of the living dead as bloody flesh-eating machines that pump our adrenaline to unknown levels, but our choice is more tempting for the audience. Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey 1962) a film that inspired Romero’s Night, functions as a template for a more existential, spiritualized and disturbing take on the undead. In such weird and unsettling films like Zeder, Dead of Night, Messiah of Evil and, yes, Jacob’s Ladder we are confronted with the thin line between the real, the inexplicable and the imagination. These films often work on a subconscious level in that they try to arouse our primal death fear by using alienating, cinematographic techniques. Uncanny seems to be the most appropriate term. Something is uncanny, as Freud stated, if the border between fantasy and reality becomes blurred and when something described as fantastic, turns out to be real.

So, the fantastic film will shows us its most surprising side at Cinema Nova. Sixteen films, some of them scarcely screened, some unique prints specially imported from the U.S, are waiting to be (re)discovered on the big screen.


Psycho-sexual madness from the fifties wrapped in a film noir décor, mixed with surreal images and provided with a live soundtrack.

A young woman, the only survivor of a car accident, is chased by a creepy character. A macabre cult masterpiece.

Festival Favourite of 1995. Original and lethal funny living dead film, soaked in gothic romance and the best Italian horror tradition.

Morbid film about the resurrection of a renegade priest, stuffed with hallucinant imagery, that slowly builds up to an unbearable climax.

A young Vietnam private, presumed dead, miraculously returns home, but something is definitely wrong. A brilliant curiosity!

Zombie like creatures and vampires chase a little girl. Scary, surreal and fairytale-like; this presumed lost film is a revelation.

A milestone in the horror genre! Ninety minutes of primal fear, claustrophobic threat, hell and doom.

Four survivors hide in a huge shopping mall, surrounded by hundreds of zombies. Crushing social satire on consumerism.

The living dead have conquered the world! Visceral and terrifying finale of Romero’s zombie trilogy.

A test with a biological weapon of mass destruction gets out of hand. The virus transforms the inhabitants of a nearby village into twisted maniacs.

The inhabitants of a small town are in some sort of a strange catatonic state in this rare and unusual psychedelic chiller.

Out of the coast of Florida rest the rotting remains of the Third Reich. Soon the ocean will be swarming with underwater Nazi zombies.

A remote hotel in Louisiana is built on one of the seven gates to hell. This is the restored version of Fulci’s gore classic.

Carrions get out of their coffins, intestines fly around the room and the drill does its work. A Grand Guignol feast in Cinemascope!

Very lugubrious and eerie film. Vietnam veteran Tim Robbins is chased by memories of terrifying events. But have they actually happened?



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