5 Phenomenal Things About “Night of the Living Dead”

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How can I let Halloween pass without an applicable Phenomenal 5? And what better way to celebrate Halloween than to focus on my favorite horror movie of all time “Night of the Living Dead”. For many it would be impossible to narrow down the list of great horror pictures to one indisputable favorite. Not for me. I adore “Night of the Living Dead”. So today I’m going to throw out five big reasons why I love the film so much. Now there are many examples I could give of the movie’s greatness so I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But these five things about “Night of the Living Dead” are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – THE MUSIC AND SOUND

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For me one of the key ingredients to the success “Night of the Living Dead” is the fantastic sound design and choice of music. In many ways it’s key in developing the movie’s overall creepy tone and feel. It may surprise some to know but much of the music was purchased and previously used in a variety of other shows and movies. Subtle but effective alterations were made to some of the tracks to make them feel more connected to the film. The live sound effects were recorded by Richard Lococo and they are amazing. Echos and distortions are used to make things all the more eerie and I love the little sound choices which add to the tense atmosphere. For example the emergency television newscast that we hear in the background of much of the film. It and all of the sound design lends much to the film’s disturbing feel.

#4 – DUANE JONES

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He was a relatively unknown stage actor when George Romero hired him to star in “Night of the Living Dead”. But Duane Jones was stepping into what would become an iconic role particularly in the horror genre. His performance as the composed and resourceful Ben is a real strength of the picture. We don’t learn a lot about his character’s story but we learn a lot about who he is. He’s cool, calm, and collective and without him things would have fallen apart quicker. Jones’ casting was significant because at the time (1968) African Americans weren’t known as leading men and women in movies particularly with an otherwise all-white cast. But he fits perfectly into his role and without his rock-solid performance “Night of the Living Dead” just wouldn’t be the same.

#3 – THE SETTING

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I still remember the first time I watched “Night of the Living Dead”. My uncle brought it and a rented VCR to our house and my parents let me stay up and watch it with them. I’ve loved it ever since. One of the main things that has stuck with me from that very first viewing all the way to today is the film’s setting. The whole idea and concept of basically being cornered in an isolated farmhouse while hordes of the undead collect outside was terrifying to me as a child and still creepy today. The survivalist elements mixed with the simple “we have nowhere to go” angle is very effective here and of course it would go on to influence a large number of other movies that followed. I’ve seen “Night of the Living Dead” more times than I can count, yet with each new viewing I still find myself completely immersed in that Pennsylvania farmhouse.

#2 – GEORGE ROMERO

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“Night of the Living Dead” is known for several firsts and for paving new ways. Perhaps most notable is that this was the feature film directorial debut for George Romero. He was the real mastermind behind the project and in retrospect what he was able to accomplish is astonishing. First, the film was made with a miniscule budget of only $114,000. This seriously limited many things but also called for a much more creative sense. Romero certainly had that creativity. Intelligent uses of sound, the camera, and the limited special effects all fell into place under his direction. He also chose to shoot the film in 35mm black-and-white. Initially this was a budget constraint but he uses it like a master. Now it’s the only way the movie should be viewed. Again, what Romero does here is astonishing and it’s a true testament to the creativity of good filmmakers.

#1 – THE ZOMBIE CRAZE

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Zombies are all the rage aren’t they? The undead have found permanent homes in all sorts of media including comics, video games, movies, and television. So many people have been inspired to offer their own vision of zombies and the term ‘zombie apocalypse’ is known by everyone. And to think it all started with Romero’s vision. “Night of the Living Dead” wasn’t the first film to deal with the dead coming back to life, but it was the first film to truly develop zombies as they have come to be known today. It would be impossible to number all of movies whose inspiration could be traced back to “Night of the Living Dead”. It’s influence can be seen not only in cinema but in the culture as a whole – something I know Romero couldn’t have imagined at the time. So the next time you see a zombie movie, watch an episode of “The Walking Dead”, or play “Plants verses Zombies” just remember that it can all be traced back to the classic “Night of the Living Dead”.

So there you have it – 5 phenomenal things about what I consider to be the greatest horror picture ever made. What do you think of the film? What’s something you love about it? Do you even like the movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below and share your thoughts.

5 Phenomenal Movie Cemetery Scenes

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It’s funny how I happened upon this week’s Phenomenal 5 list. I was in somewhat of a funk, unable to come up with a list that felt fresh. Well sometimes simply looking out your car window can offer up inspiration. Such was the case this week as I list 5 phenomenal movie cemetery scenes. I passed a cemetery and I instantly started thinking on the great movie scenes that have taken place in them. In fact it’s more than you might think. Obviously there are loads of horror films that are right at home in a graveyard. But I’ve also come up with great scenes from other genres. And to make the list more intriguing, I’ve chosen scenes that DO NOT feature a funeral (you’ll read about those in the near future). So considering the plethora of great movie cemetery scenes I would be dead wrong to call this the definitive list. But I feel perfectly comfortable calling these 5 movie cemetery scenes absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “THE THIRD MAN”

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One of my all time favorite classic movies is 1949’s “The Third Man” from Carol Reed. In the film an American writer named Martins (Joseph Cotton) visits Vienna in the wake of World War 2 to find an old friend who has offered him a job. He finds out his friend has been killed in an accident but he begins to suspect murder. He befriends his buddy’s girlfriend named Anna but soon finds out that she and nearly everyone else he meets is involved in the mystery. I don’t want to spoil anything so lets just say the movie ends after a funeral. Now this isn’t a cheat because my scene of choice is the final shot of the movie. It’s a long shot of Anna walking towards the camera with Martins leaning on a cart waiting for her. She walks and walks, finally making it to us but continuing out out of the picture. Martins is left alone and the movie ends on that note. It’s the perfect ending.

#4 – “TERMINATOR 3”

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How can I talk about cemetery scenes and not include the ridiculously over-the-top but ridiculously fun scene from “Terminator 3”? This franchise is known for its monster action sequences and this is one of the biggest. Thinking he is visiting his mother’s tomb, the Terminator reveals to John Connor that the casket is actually full of weapons. Arnie then busts out of the mausoleum with the casket full of weapons on his shoulder and a mini gun on his hip. He throws the casket into a hearse and then sprays every police car within 3 miles full of lead. But it doesn’t stop there. The evil terminator then appears and a crazy chase through the cemetery follows. A rocket launcher to her chest and a few broken tombstones later, and we get a wilder ending to what is a great cemetery scene.

#3 – “ARMY OF DARKNESS”

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Call it a sentimental choice but I just had to include the wacky cemetery sequence from “Army of Darkness”. You know the story, our “Evil Dead” hero Ash has been sucked back to the medieval past where and the Necronomicon holds the secrets to getting him back home. The problem is the Necronomicon is hidden deep within a spooky old cemetery. Ash makes his way to the center of the graveyard where three books await, two are traps and one is the real book. After a painful process of elimination, Ash finds the real book. All he has to do is say the phrase “Klaatu barada nikto” and he can safely remove it. Of course he completely botches it which triggers the rise of the army of darkness. It’s a hysterical cemetery scene from a great movie.

#2 – “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD”

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I hate to keep including this movie in my Phenomenal 5 lists, but I can’t help it. George Romero’s 1968 horror classic “Night of the Living Dead” is such a great movie. Just think, the entire zombie craze as we know it today started in a rural Pennsylvania cemetery during this film’s wonderful opening scene. Barbra and her jerk of a brother Johnny have been making the long trip to visit their father’s grave for several years. But this year it’s a little different. As Johnny is teasing Barbra about her uneasiness in the cemetery they notice a man stumbling their way. As he approaches them he attacks. Johnny fights with the man only to have his head slammed against a rock in the struggle. The man then chases Barbra out of the cemetery which launches this classic horror story.

#1 – “THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY”

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Of all the Phenomenal 5 lists I’ve done none have had a more obvious #1 choice than this one. Sergio Leone had an unmatched knack for building up and executing great western showdowns. Perhaps his best takes place in his tasty 1966 spaghetti dish “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. In a scene destined to take place since the film’s brilliant opening, the good (Clint Eastwood), the bad (Lee Van Cleef), and the ugly (Eli Wallach) come together in a Mexican showdown at Sad Hill Cemetery. With buried gold at stake the three square off in a three-way duel not knowing who can trust who. Leone masterfully soaks the scene in tension with his camera and with Ennio Morricone’s glorious music. And even after the shootout, Leone gives us a classic finale that seals its place at the top of the list.

There are several other fantastic cemetery scenes I hated to leave off. What are your favorites? Please take time to let me know what you agree or disagree with.

5 Phenomenal Directorial Debuts

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Sometimes it takes a director a few movies to really hit their stride. On the other hand sometimes directors knock it out of the park on their first try. This week I’m looking at five phenomenal directorial debuts. Now I have to admit as I was doing research for this list I was really surprised at some of the first efforts of some of the directors I came across. Many were extraordinary, others not so much. But one thing’s for sure, with so many directorial debuts throughout film history this certainly isn’t the definitive list. But after seeing these five directorial debuts, I can boldly say that they’re absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “THE 400 BLOWS” – Francois Truffaut

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Acclaimed director François Truffaut’s first film is arguably his very best. “The 400 Blows” is a 1959 French drama that was a pillar of the French New Wave movement. It was such a key film in defining a movement that was steering away from the traditional moviemaking of the time. Truffaut not only directed the film but wrote this semi-autobiographical story of a young boy’s hard life growing up in early 1950s Paris. Even with the movie’s sometimes heartbreaking subject matter, “The 400 Blows” is a beautiful film and it’s clearly a deeply personal work from Truffaut. I can’t say enough about this picture and it’s amazing that such an accomplishment could be a director’s first effort.

#4 – “BLOOD SIMPLE” – The Coen Brothers

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While Joel Coen was listed as director and Ethan Coen as producer we now know how the Coen brothers work. “Blood Simple” was the brilliant directorial debut from arguably the best directing team of our time. The Coens also wrote this modern-day film noir that gave us a new way of looking at crime thrillers. We get our first look at several of the reoccurring themes that the brothers would revisit in their following films as well as their own quirky sense of dark humor and unique style. Overall this is a fabulous movie and a great debut for the Coen brothers. It certainly set the table for the many wonderful pictures the Coens have given us since.

#3 – “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD” – George Romero

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My favorite horror movie of all time is “Night of the Living Dead” from director George Romero. I’ve always been impressed with how the film used a minuscule budget and no-name performers to create such a wonderfully eerie atmosphere around a groundbreaking story. Even more impressive is the fact that this was Romero’s directorial debut. There are so many director’s touches that make this such a classic movie. But it’s really cool that Romero’s first film essentially launched the zombie craze that is still going strong today. “Night of the Living Dead” is a fascinating bit of filmmaking and an incredible first effort from George Romero.

#2 – “CITIZEN KANE” – Orson Welles

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You know it’s an amazing accomplishment when a director’s first film is considered by many to be the greatest movie of all time. Such is the case with Orson Welles and the phenomenal “Citizen Kane”. The movie underwhelmed at the box office but critics adored it and over time both it and Welles’ stellar direction have received well deserved praise. Welles also produced, co-wrote, and starred in the film. “Citizen Kane” had its share of controversy and obstacles while it was being made, but the finished product is an absolute masterpiece and it’s a master class on strong and visionary directing. It’s a true cinema classic.

#1 – “THE MALTESE FALCON” – John Huston

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Being such a huge fan of Humphrey Bogart I knew a lot of cool tidbits about one of his biggest movies “The Maltese Falcon”. Yet one big and well known fact escaped me until a few years ago. This was the directorial debut for the brilliant John Huston. He also wrote the screenplay for this fantastic film noir that remains one of the greatest films of all time. It’s said Huston had envisioned and setup in his mind the entire film frame by frame before he ever started shooting. His intense preperation and incredible detail enabled him to shoot the entire film in order. The result was a seamless and fluid movie filled with great characters and some brilliant camera work. Huston would go on to make several more classic films but his career started here with the search for the “stuff that dreams are made of”.

And there they are, 5 Phenomenal Directorial Debuts. I know there are several that could have made the list. What are you thoughts? Feel free to leave your comments and share your favorites.

The Keith & the Movies Valhalla Induction – “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD”

The Keith & the Movies Valhalla is a place of tribute for those movies that I hold in the highest regard. These are films that embody everything that is great about motion pictures. These are the best of the best – movies that I truly love and that stand above the rest. There are many great movies that won’t find their way into these sacred halls. But here you will find those films that I believe personify brilliance in filmmaking, storytelling, and entertainment. These glorious 5 star accomplishments are worthy of special recognition as the very best. In other words, these are my favorite movies of all time.

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1969) – Few movies can say they forever changed a genre. George Romero’s zombie classic “Night of the Living Dead” is one of those films. Made with a miniscule budget and essentially a no-name cast, Romero managed to craft an exceptional horror film that still maintains it’s creepiness today. It develops an eerie atmosphere and tone thanks to the wonderful original black and white, the clever use of moody music and sound, and other chilling little details sprinkled throughout the film. It’s also credited with making zombies the craze they are today. This is a movie I love and for me it’s the greatest horror movie of all time.

Night of the Living Dead is the second inductee into the Keith & the Movies Valhalla. But there are more amazing movies to come in the near future so stay tuned. What are your thoughts on this horror movie classic? Is it worth the cult status it’s received or is it an overrated picture? You now know my opinion. It’s one of the very best. Take time to share your comments below.

THE THROWDOWN : Zombies vs. Vampires

Wednesday is Throwdown day at Keith & the Movies. It’s when we take two movie subjects, pit them against each other, and see who’s left standing. Each Wednesday we’ll look at actors, actresses, movies, genres, scenes, and more. I’ll make a case for each and then see how they stand up one-on-one. And it’s not just my opinion that counts. I’ll share my take and then open up the polls to you. Visit each week for a new Throwdown. Vote each week to decide the true winner!

*Last week “Annie Hall” (56%) took out “Midnight in Paris” (44%) in the Woody Allen deathmatch*

In keeping with the Halloween season, today’s Throwdown focuses on two stalwarts of the horror genre. Whether you’re a fan of horror pictures or not, undoubtedly you have seen movies featuring zombies and movies featuring vampires. Both have roots in classic horror films, both have been spoofed, both had been parts of huge franchises. But this is all about the battle. Today we’re putting the living dead in the ring with the blood suckers to determine which are the better horror movie terrors. A great case could be made for both, but ultimately it’s you that will decide. Vote now!

ZOMBIES VS. VAMPIRES

There have been variations of zombies in the movies for years. But they really made their way into the limelight in 1968 in George Romero’s horror movie classic “Night of the Living Dead”. Since then, zombies have found their way in hundreds of films. But they’ve also been spotlighted in comic books, video games, and television shows. But their real position prominence came from the big screen and you can almost expect a new zombie movie of some kind every year. There have been loads of sequels to Romero’s classic film. But we’ve seen different approaches to zombies from a variety of films such as “28 Days Later”, “Resident Evil”, and “The Evil Dead” just to name a few. But there have also been zombie spoof films that are tons of fun, movies like “Zombieland”, “Dead Alive”, and “Shaun of the Dead”. So there are no shortage of zombies in the movies and personally I’m happy to hear it.

You can trace vampires in the movies all the way back to the silent movie era. I mean who can forget the classic “Nosferatu”? And Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was a driving force during the Universal movie monsters craze in the 1930’s. While vampires did hit a lull in popularity, they are certainly back with a vengeance and you can see them in a huge variety of films. To prove the point just look at the variety of people who have played big roles in movies as vampires – Gary Oldman, Keifer Sutherland, Kate Beckinsale, Christopher Lee, Leslie Nielsen, Tom Cruise, Wesley Snipes, and even Pee Wee Herman! But even more than zombies, vampires have leaked over into several other genres including comedies and even teen romance flicks (unfortunately). Movie lovers have a fascination with vampires and it’s easy to see why. And with the current creature of the night craze, don’t expect any shortage of vampire movies in the near future.

So what say you? Are you partial to the walking dead or the blood suckers? You decide who comes out on top as the better movie monster. Is it the zombies or the vampires? VOTE NOW!

5 PHENOMENAL HORROR MOVIES

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What better way to start my ’10 Days of Horror’ than doing a Phenomenal 5 on the greatest movies of the genre (according to me of course). This is certainly a wide open list and everyone has their opinions. But this is the one genre where I can list my top 5 without hesitation. The horror genre goes way back to the silent movie era and it has kept audiences fascinated ever since. These 5 frightening films are the ones that I can’t get enough of. For me, they are the best of the genre and I truly love each. So here we go. Now considering how broad a subject this is I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But you can’t deny that these 5 horror movie classics are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “PSYCHO”

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece “Psycho” has arguably the most well-known scene in horror movie history. But there’s also so much greatness wrapped around Janet Leigh’s memorable murder in the shower at the hands…err, knife of Norman Bates. Anthony Perkins is as creepy as they come and you know there’s something not quite right about the guy from the first moment you see him until that final unnerving grin. And of course there is his macabre relationship with his dear, dear mother. For my money “Psycho” is brilliant and it’s the perfect mix of mystery and horror presented with the sharp style of a master filmmaker. It has its share of detractors but I will always love it.

#4 – “HALLOWEEN”

Oh there are so many things I love about “Halloween”. The great John Carpenter gives us a host of special ingredients that makes this film unforgettable. “Halloween” gives us the quintessential scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. It gives us the frightening Michael Myers. It gives us Donald Pleasence’s wonderfully goofy prophecies of doom. And how can you forget the simple yet to haunting piano score by Carpenter himself. Working with an incredibly small budget, the movie still broke new ground and invented the great horror movie cliches that are still imitated today. It’s a horror movie classic and the king of the slasher sub genre. It also still entertains me just as much as when I first watched it.

#3 – THE EVIL DEAD

In 1981 two young new filmmakers, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, made what would become one of the scariest horror movies of all time. “The Evil Dead” is another example of creating a great horror film with a tiny budget. It’s a highly influential picture that spawned two great sequels. It’s the story of five college kids who spend spring break in an isolated cabin in the woods. They accidentally release demons who begin killing them one by one. “The Evil Dead” is one of the few movies that I would call genuinely scary. The creepy concept and disturbing makeup effects still stick with me to this day. And of course it introduced us to the wonderful character Ash. This is a horror treasure that beats anything that comes out these days.

#2 – “THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE”

For years I thought “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was based on a true story. It was one of the most frightening movies I had ever seen. It’s been years since I found out that the story is purely fictional yet the movie still has the same effect on me today. Tobe Hooper directed, produced, and co-wrote the film that was made for under $300,000 and featured a cast of unknowns. The story of five friends who encounter a cannibalistic family in rural Texas didn’t rely on a buckets of blood and gore for its frights. Instead Hooper creates a disturbing sense of uneasiness with this material alone. Throw in Leatherface and pinches of dark comedy and you have one of the greatest horror movies of all-time.

#1 – “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD”

I never have a hard time telling people what my favorite horror movie of all time is. George Romero’s classic “Night of the Living Dead” was the first horror movie that really effected me. This is the film that put zombies on the map and there have been countless imitators since. As with the others on this list, Romero uses a small budget and no-name actors yet develops a horror picture that is unlike any other. Expertly crafted and wonderfully unsettling, “Night of the Living Dead” sets its creepy tone early and keeps it through so many clever techniques. I love everything about this true classic. It’s not just my favorite horror movie, it’s one of my favorite movies of all-time.

There they are – 5 Phenomenal Horror Movies. As I mentioned, this is a broad list and everyone has their favorites. But I’ll put my five up up against anyone’s. These five films showed that if you’re creative and skilled you don’t need loads of money and big backing to make a great horror picture. So what did I miss? What would you have included on the list? Which of my choices do you disagree with? Please take time to comment below.