Savage Hippie Episode 50 – A Two Hour Eulogy for George A. Romero

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In this ultra-hyper, super special episode of the Savage Hippie podcast, David Cole and I eschew the boring politics to talk about the films of George A. Romero, the legendary film director, who passed away on July 16, 2017. Ann Sterzinger sat this one out ’cause, ya know, gurlz.

First we talk about all six of Romero’s “living dead” pictures. Then we leave a sliver of time in the last quarter of the episode to discuss the other films he did. The listener might be surprised to discover just how varied Romero’s films are. Aside from his genre-defining zombie films and other horror pictures, Romero attempted to make an experimental art film, two dramas and a weird, psychological character study. He’s also done a few stinkers, but what director hasn’t?

We also discuss other directors like David Cronenberg, Dario Argento, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, the often hotly debated “auteur theory” as it applies to Romero and David’s political video, in which he uses the Goblin song “Pie in the Face” to criticize the hypocrisy of the media.

For Sounds of Marshabaloosh, we violate all copyright laws by playing three songs by the Italian progressive group Goblin from the Dawn of the Dead soundtrack album. In case you’re wondering, Goblin also did the soundtrack for the Dario Argento films Deep Red, Suspiria and Phenomena, along with a number of other films.

And David did the masterful artwork.

Vengeance of the Zombies (1973)

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Don’t be mislead by the title for this film.  It’s neat sounding but, in order to actually take vengeance, you have to be motivated by someone who violated your personal, social or moral code.  And zombies can’t do that because zombies can’t think!

Anyhoo, Vengeance of the Zombies is a movie I thought I really loved upon first viewing but, after a second viewing induced by the stupid netflix DVD skipping, I realized that I didn’t really get what happened or what the purpose was.  It hits all of my quintessential check points; it has voodoo, Satanism, gore, nudity and is shot in a European style by one Leon Klimovsky but is a little dull in parts and, I dunno, kinda silly.

As far as I gather, Paul Naschy, who plays three different roles, goes around using voodoo to raise the dead and those zombies go around killing people.  But I found it a little confusing; is it because I’m stupid?  There was a guy who looked like V from V for Vendetta that went around killing people violently without the aid of zombies.  Who the hell was he?  There are a couple of neat stalking and killing sequences.  A lecherous couple get impaled by a knife and then the killer strangles the girl with a metal string.  One old woman’s head plops clear off her head.  One man is forced to slice his own throat via voodoo.  One old man gets axed in the face.  Like I said, it’s a pretty gory movie.

But, aside from gore, there are Satanic sequences that make no sense at all.  Are they dream sequences?  I couldn’t tell!  It’s cool looking!  The Satanic, sacrificial room with its altar of sacrifice is designed well and the camera has a cool fish-eye effect during the first sequence.  Paul Naschy has cool, goat horns and his face is painted green in this segment.  And there is another segment where Naschy’s face looks all burnt up.  The makeup job is great!

Also I must say the zombie resurrection scenes were actually kind of creepy.  The opening scene with the graverobbing couple getting trapped in the mausoleum and being attacked by a white, clear sheat draped, female zombie who rises from the coffin and brutally dispenses with the couple drew me in to the whole thing in the first place.  But, also what annoyed me is that the film’s supposed main character, Elvira (Romma) didn’t really drive the plot and more just seemed like a casual witness to the proceedings.  She seemed virtually immune to all of the violence surrounding her and I didn’t quite understand why.

Lastly the score was something else entirely; funk jams, percussion filled afro beat (I think?) and messy jazz music; all quite enjoyable if you ignore the fact that they rarely fit the film’s scenes.  Only one time is this not true and that’s aforementioned stalker and murder sequence.  Other than that, minus making much sense, this film is pretty darn cool!

Valley of the Zombies (1946)

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Nice poster, nice title but no valley and no zombies.  Not to mention no budget either.  I don’t have that much to say about this 56 minute quickie (as they used to call short movies back then) except that I wish the bad guy was played by Boris Karloff and not Robert Livingston.

The plot concerns Doctor Terry Evans (Livingston) killing people and using their blood to stay alive.  Most of the movie is just a police procedural with the film’s two main characters Fred (Earl Hogdins) and his wife/fiance Nurse Susan Drake (Lorna Gray) trying to prove their innocence after being in the scene of the crime.

If you must know the background, Dr. Maynard (Charles Trowbridge) wrongfully (or rightfully, I forgot which) diagnosed Evans as being insane and had him sent away to the looney bin, where he apparently died except that he didn’t and found some way of chemically sustaining his life.  Only he must constantly refill himself with blood and thus kills people to do so.

During most of the film the two protagonists do their own detective work Thin Man style since apparently the cops are too stupid to do it themselves.  They explore creepy houses and mausoleums while the guy leads the charge with total bravado and the girl, of course, acts frightened every time she turns her head.

But indeed, I was disappointed that the movie had no zombies.  I was hoping that Livingston would play a voodoo master.  He looks cool with his thick eyebrows, top hat and cape and he does hypnotize the leading female but, ultimately, there wasn’t enough going on even for a movie this short.  Now those RKO “sophisticated” low budget horror pictures like Cat People, The Body Snatcher and I Walked with a Zombie were good at “not showing” everything but this Republic picture ain’t like that.  It doesn’t show much and doesn’t have creepy atmosphere.  I still like some of the sets though.