October 1st -- It Begins!

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by George Romero

In the late ‘60s, American concern with atomic radiation continued to escalate amid endless military involvements. George Romero, a genius in applying realistic fear into his audience, harnessed this mania in Night of the Living Dead, referencing this radiation as being the core cause of all the pandemonium hogging all the on-screen attention. It might not seem as intensely thematic as the starkly-opposing entities present in the hideout -- namely the weathered, street-savvy black hero, and the scared-witless blonde victim – or the incredible usage of claustrophobia as the monsters build momentum and numbers towards the hideout, but the threat of an element as questionable and ill-researched at the time as nuclear radiation made sure to, and still does, give off a haunting aura of topical immediacy.

Holistically, this focal house is one of the strongest experimental grounds of fight-or-flight instinct that surround a topical man-made threat in the horror genre – or in film as a whole. And to think that Romero made this flick with a nickels-in-a-jar budget. Romero’s first zombie flick is a classic among horror classics for inventive resourcefulness, but also for its capacity to be thought-provoking within its terrifying properties. It has also become legendary because of one of the better usages of cheap prop-work to that point: the fantastic initial shot of the house's bloody, gap-toothed dead inhabitant. Even now, that shot in Night of the Living Dead rustles up a chill or two.

The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Following the exquisite steady-cam shot behind Danny’s tricycle in The Shining acts as a chilling confinement mechanism, making the near infinitely-spaced Overlook Hotel seem surprisingly finite. It’s a masterful concept, one that sticks with the viewer during any efforts for the characters to escape from Jack Torrance’s growingly-psychotic persona. Many of us who had similar “vehicles” like Danny’s trike know what it’s like to formulate a regular path to keep going ‘round and ‘round, like a track.

In doing so, Kubrick hits two birds with one stone: crafts an eerie atmosphere in the hollow pathways around the hotel, while also attempting to tap into comfort zones by showing us that a young boy can barrel around its echoing hallways with minimal fear. It also taps into our perception of sound and spatial competence, utilizing the alternating “wheels on carpet, wheels on wood” vibrations as a repetitive sensory device that cements our perception of the hotel’s size. Of course, once Danny runs into the bloody, chopped-up twin girls in the middle of one of these “safe” hallways, that finite property doesn’t exactly seem so comfortable. Though, it never really does feel comfortable in The Shining -- just tries to trick us into thinking as such.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper

Always seeming more bizarre than interesting, I’ve always felt that Tope Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre was fairly overrated. Sure, it harbors a strong villain and a nasty plot twist, but the character interaction and build-up annoy more than engage. The way that the “victims” treat Franklin, the odd wheelchair-bound kid, adds an unnecessary dynamic that I never really appreciate. Yet, it does make each of them less appealing to the viewer’s eyes, which might be necessary in order to soak in their rather grim demises. It’s become iconic because of two factors: one of which is the great rendering of one of the more bizarre villains in horror history -- the large, chain-saw wielding Leatherface -- and his demented family.

The other, the stronger of the two factors, lies in the “based on true events” portion of the whole ordeal. Once you’ve seen that, along with a little aided research in Ed Gein and the truths behind the events, it helps you realize that the more basic and mildly-sinister elements at play are all-the-more frightening because of their true-ish nature. If this was just the work of Hooper and writing team, it’d only be a mediocre exercise in horror; instead, since it captures a bizarre reality present in the wastelands of our country, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre hits a little harder than it might otherwise. Oddly, I’m not so much referring to the family of psychos, but more about the architecture and set design of their horrible torture-den of a house where they conduct their, erm, “activities”.


Bottom Line for the Evening: Night of the Living Dead stands true as a great horror film, a return to Texas Chain Saw impresses more than previous visits, while The Shining maintains its status a great film that happens to be based in a horrific environment.


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