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R.I.P. Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

April 4, 2013

How does the internet respond to a great critic’s death? Well by DDoS’ing his website. I would love to post a blog linking to a variety of Ebert’s reviews of zombie movies. But all I can get so far from is a “The service is unavailable.”

Now, after some extended patience, here are a few:

The Night of the Living Dead” January 5, 1967 :

I went to see it because it’s been a long time since I saw my last horror movie. I vaguely remember some stuff from the 1950s, like “Creature from the Black Lagoon” or “Attack of the Crab Monsters.” They were usually lousy, but it was fun to see them. But that was 10 years ago. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about violence in the movies, and it seemed about time to see another horror film. … I don’t think the younger kids really knew what hit them. They were used to going to movies, sure, and they’d seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else. This was ghouls eating people up — and you could actually see what they were eating. This was little girls killing their mothers. This was being set on fire. Worst of all, even the hero got killed. … I felt real terror in that neighborhood theater last Saturday afternoon. I saw kids who had no resources they could draw upon to protect themselves from the dread and fear they felt. …I supposed the idea was to make a fast buck before movies like this are off-limits to children.

Dawn of the Dead” May 4, 1979:

Dawn of the Dead” is one of the best horror films ever made — and, as an inescapable result, one of the most horrifying. It is gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal and appalling. It is also (excuse me for a second while I find my other list) brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of the American consumer society.

“Night Of The Living Dead” October 19, 1990 :

In 1968 George Romero made a scruffy little low-budget horror film named “Night of the Living Dead,” and it was truly frightening. That was in the days before the MPAA rating system, and I saw it at a Saturday matinee filled with little kids, who were so scared they were screaming and weeping.

Resident Evil” March 15, 2002:

“Resident Evil” is a zombie movie set in the 21st century and therefore reflects several advances over 20th century films. … The movie is “Dawn of the Dead” crossed with “John Carpenter’s “Ghosts of Mars,” with zombies not as ghoulish as the first and trains not as big as the second.

28 Days Later” June 27, 2003 :

Activists set lab animals free from their cages–only to learn, too late, that they’re infected with a “rage” virus that turns them into frothing, savage killers. … In a series of astonishing shots, he wanders Piccadilly Circus and crosses Westminster Bridge with not another person in sight, learning from old wind-blown newspapers of a virus that turned humanity against itself. So opens “28 Days Later,” which begins as a great science fiction film and continues as an intriguing study of human nature.

Shaun of the Dead“September 24, 2004

As movie characters, zombies are boring by definition: All they can do is shuffle, moan, catch up with much faster people, and chew on their arms. “Shaun of the Dead” shares my sentiments so exactly that during the opening scenes of the movie, its hero walks among the Undead and doesn’t even notice them. …; for them, the zombies represent not a threat to civilization as we know it, but an interference with valuable drinking time.

Land of the Dead” June 24, 2005:

Now this is interesting. In the future world of “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead,” both zombies and their victims have started to evolve. The zombies don’t simply shuffle around mindlessly, eating people. And the healthy humans don’t simply shoot them. The zombies have learned to communicate on a rudimentary level, to make plans, however murky, and to learn from their tormenters. When the zombie named Big Daddy picks up a machine gun in this movie, that is an ominous sign.

Dead Snow” Jul 15, 2009

They’ve finally assembled a horror film entirely from cliches.

Zombieland” September 30, 2009

There’s no getting around it: Zombies are funny. I think they stopped being scary for me along toward the end of “Night of the Living Dead.” OK, maybe in a few others, like “28 Days Later.” They’re the Energizer Bunnies of corpses, existing primarily to be splattered. But who would have guessed such a funny movie as “Zombieland” could be made around zombies?

Survival of the Dead” May 26, 2010

Zombies, as I have noted before (and before, and before) make excellent movie creatures because they are smart enough to be dangerous, slow enough to kill and dead enough that we need not feel grief. Romero has not even begun to run out of ways to kill them. My favorite shot in this film shows a zombie having its head blown apart, with the skullcap bouncing into the air and falling down to fit neatly over the neck. If that doesn’t appeal to you, nothing will. … All zombies share one characteristic: They take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

The Crazies” February 24, 2010:

Are the zombies in “The Crazies” real zombies? Maybe, maybe not. Is there an agreed definition of what is a zombie and how they get that way? Not that I know of. I think zombies are defined by behavior and can be “explained” by many handy shortcuts: the supernatural, radiation, a virus, space visitors, secret weapons, a Harvard education and so on. I suppose it would be a “spoiler” if I revealed why the Crazies are on the lurch, but come on, does it matter? What if I revealed they got that way because of, oh, say, eating Pringles? Would that spoil things for you? What difference does it make? All that matters is that they got to be zombies somehow. Before that, they were your friends and neighbors. Then they started in on the damn Pringles. The protagonists of course have to be healthy. I cannot imagine a zombie as a leading character. Vampires — now that I grant you. Werewolves. But a zombie doesn’t bring much to the party

Stake Land” April 27, 2011:

Zombies are a great convenience. They provide villains who are colorful and frightening, require no dialogue, motivation or explanation, and yet function efficiently as a negation of all that is good. Just the very word “zombie” can persuade people to buy tickets for a movie, and “sex” hasn’t done that in years. At the risk of using the word MacGuffin twice in the same week — well, that’s what zombies are, aren’t they?

Attack the Block” July 27, 2011:

The movie, which should have been titled “Defend the Block,” illustrates once again that zombie, horror and monster movies are a port of entry for new filmmakers. The genre is the star. Unknown actors are almost an advantage. …This is an impressive first feature written and directed by Joe Cornish, a British comic actor who has also authored the forthcoming Tin-Tin movie by Spielberg.

See also Ebert’s “Interview with George Romero” April 29, 1979:

Does Romero see a message in “Dawn of the Dead?”

“Well, yes, but it’s not something I think should be talked about a lot. You can say the movie is an observation about materialism, and so forth, and what have you really said? The point is that people come out of the film having experienced some very extreme emotions, and it’s up to them to interpret what happened.”

And of course, Ebert used “zombie” to describe many other movies (this is far from a complete list but is some films I thought most relevant for this zombie law blog):

The Stepford Wives” January 1, 1975

It’s all so eerie, especially after Charmaine goes away for the weekend and comes back as a zombie like the rest.

“Dog Day Afternoon” January 1, 1975

Sonny and his zombie-like partner, Sal, hit the bank at closing time (a third confederate gets cold feet and leaves early). The stick-up is discovered, the bank is surrounded, the live TV mini-cams line up across the street, and Sonny is in the position, inadvertently, of having taken hostages. … Lumet is exploring the clichés, not just using them. And he has a good feel for the big-city crowd that’s quickly drawn to the action. At first, Sonny is their hero, and he does a defiant dance in front of the bank, looking like a rock star playing to his fans. When it becomes known that Sonny’s bisexual, the crowd turns against him. But within a short time (New York being New York), gay libbers turn up to cheer him on.

The Manchurian Candidate” March 11, 1988 :

By the end of the film, so many different people have used so many different strategies on Harvey’s overtaxed brain that he is almost literally a zombie, unable to know what to believe, incapable of telling who can be trusted.

Pulp Fiction” October 14, 1994:

The screenplay, by Tarantino and Roger Avary, is so well-written in a scruffy, fanzine way that you want to rub noses in it – the noses of those zombie writers who take “screenwriting” classes that teach them the formulas for “hit films.” Like “Citizen Kane,” “Pulp Fiction” is constructed in such a nonlinear way that you could see it a dozen times and not be able to remember what comes next. It doubles back on itself, telling several interlocking stories about characters who inhabit a world of crime and intrigue, triple-crosses and loud desperation.

Triumph of the Will” (1935) June 26, 2008:

There is a lesson, to be sure, in the zombie-like obedience of the marching troops, so rigidly in formation they deny their own physical feelings. One searches the ranks for a smile, a yawn. But all are stern and serious, and so is Hitler, except once when he smiles as the horses are marching past.

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