The Proving Grounds: The Struggle of the Female Horror Fan

I started watching horror in the 1980s and was immediately hooked. I was/am very feminine or “girly” with an early interest in makeup and fashion with a fluffy pink and lace aesthetic and rose-covered wallpaper. Why does this matter? Because of the gender-definition of the typical horror fan and all of its expectations. I didn’t have any female horror fans to spend my time with outside of my mother, so I would overhear boys talking about Nightmare on Elm Street and desperately want to join in the conversation. I found out very quickly that I must pass a screening or “test” of some type to be able look at the latest issue of Fangoria with them. The “proving grounds” began there and, while they have been nearly eradicated these days, a bit of the old guard are still hanging around.

Horror hit a big boom in the 1980s with the VCR becoming a staple in every home and video stores everywhere with large quantities of horror inside – right at a person’s fingertips. My mom worked at a local video store chain and she would take my brothers and I inside and let us pick out movies. I grabbed what struck my fancy or came highly recommended from my mom. In most cases, I knew more than the boys with the Fangoria magazines. To add to that, I was an advanced and avid reader already into Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and Bram Stoker works – to name a few.

It never failed throughout my childhood and teen years and even into my adulthood to be quizzed when I joined in a horror conversation with males. It was a “guy” thing to be into horror, apparently. I would immediately be asked what my favorite horror film was, my favorite gore moment, my favorite slasher, how many movies I’d seen, etc. It was grueling and quite insulting to have to prove my credentials again and again and again. Little Jimmy from a different class would overhear the conversation and drop in and, to my absolute “horror”, would not be asked a single question. There was no screening or quiz for him because of course he knew about horror. He was male.

As I got into my high school years, I became even more feminine – perfumes, purses, makeup, clothes, shoes: the very stereotypical trappings of the feminine ideal. By this point – the mid-to-late-1990s – the proving grounds were still in place and this time also including my video game credentials as I was also a dedicated gamer. More females were outspoken about horror and video games then but it was nowhere close to the way it is today. Also, there was a significant change. Once I would “pass” my screening to prove that, yes, I was quite a horror fan and, yes, I played a lot of video games – the worst reaction of all would happen: I suddenly became the “perfect” woman. I encompassed the “feminine ideal” with my looks and I had many of the same interests the males did. I would later come to understand that males wanted me pretty, docile, and someone who wouldn’t detract them from their own activities in male-dominated pursuits like horror films and long gaming sessions. This made me wildly popular with males who now desperately wanted to date me and overflowing with the kind of attention and objectification I, struggling with being queer (demisexual), did not want. I merely wanted to be a peer, not a love interest. This also earned me enmity from other females that claimed I was “faking it” for male attention. It was overwhelming.

It wasn’t until my 20s that I met a soulmate in both horror and gaming. He, a gay male, took me out on “friend” dates to horror films and gamed with me with zero pressure and never asked for my credentials. There was no awkwardness or idealization. We just bonded over the same things. It changed me and gave me hope just being so blindly accepted.

Obviously my husband (who also is my best friend) shares these interests with me. I mean, he edits and co-hosts The House That Screams horror podcast each week with me. It’s wonderful that we can share that passion together and with our friends on the show. The horror community has changed dramatically. I feel such a sense of community and acceptance from everyone there, particularly on Twitter. I’ve met so many other females who have shared the same proving grounds with me and what a long way we’ve come! Meeting other female horror fans – unafraid of judgment or ridicule for their love of the genre – and also meeting female horror icons has refreshed the horror community. I’ve only had one condescending male experience and it was what inspired this blog post. This “mansplaining” male assumed that when I posted on Twitter about the 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (seriously, that’s the name of the film as Universal owns the rights to the simple title “Dracula”), that I had no idea who Bram Stoker was and that I assumed he was the director. He asked me if I even knew the author of the book it was based on and it caused audible groaning from me. Not only do I think Bram Stoker directed the film, I apparently can’t read books – in his mind. It gave me a shock as fans of my horror podcast and the horror community in general have been so lovely to me all this time.

The bottom line is this: myself and other female horror fans have nothing to prove to anyone else. We are fans and that’s genderless. It’s a community that is kind and supportive so we must all shake off the unwanted DMs and male naysayers and keep being exactly what we all are: horror fans.

I spend $ on lashes, good skincare, my hair, high-end perfume and makeup… and gore films crack me up. I identify as a massive horror fan.

The horror hostess with the mostest!

The Real-Life Story of a Final Girl

I’m going to get very personal with this horror article. I want to talk about fear – real fear for your safety and even your life. We often, as horror fans, speculate on what we would do as we watch the final girl try to survive the slasher at the end of a movie. We see her run up the stairs instead of out the door and often think “I would have run outside away from the killer”. This is where I want to explain something that I know very well – the insane adrenaline rush that creates the fight-or-flight-or-freeze reaction. Yes, I tagged on the “freeze” as it is definitely part of the reaction in severe cases. Also, psychologists are tagging on the “freeze” as well in severe cases, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I will go ahead at this point and say that I have a horrible case of PTSD. This can be caused from domestic abuse as a child or adult, sexual abuse as a child or adult, or a particularly traumatic event – one that may include literally fighting for your life. When our final girl runs up the stairs instead of out the front door, she’s operating on a fight/flight/freeze reaction and they don’t always make sense.

My main reaction as a kid was flight, to run away/escape from the threat. Sometimes it was barefoot down the street late at night in an unsafe neighborhood, never sure where I was running to but just getting away from the violence. I got so good at sneaking back into the house, hoping he was sleeping it off. I learned to pick the lock on the back door and break into my own room through the window and slink into bed and bury myself underneath the blankets as if they could protect me. Once, I crawled under my bed and fell asleep like that, waking up to my long hair tangled in the coiled springs under my mattress. It’s amazing how resourceful I was as a child, something I forgot bit-by-bit as I grew up and became more of a “freeze” reactor to danger. That’s one of the horrors of PTSD… you don’t know what will cause the reaction and what that reaction is going to be. It’s true terror and, I might point out, that all of our favorite final girls almost certainly have PTSD after being stalked by a killer.

The purpose of this article is to reach out to those final girls and guys and to tell them it’s okay to stop and breathe and seek out help. It’s okay to stop “surviving” and start living. It’s tremendously easy to fall into the cycle of being a victim, especially if it begins in childhood. It’s up to you how many sequels you want in your horror movie. Mine ran on like Friday the 13th sequels – not making much sense and constantly on the run and in peril. The last chapter, the last villain was a decade ago. I think my breaking point was guarding the doors and windows with a long butcher knife in my hand as the police slapped the villain on the wrist and made him leave for 24 hours. It was the moment that I knew only I could protect myself and it had to come to an end, so I fled into the night. Despite being stalked, I survived. There were to be no more sequels. It was time to heal.

I sometimes wish horror movies would show the final girl’s struggle when it’s all over. The hassle and long wait time to get properly seen by a therapist and psychiatrist; the wrong diagnoses/medicines; the daily struggle in between. I suffer from PTSD and all three anxiety disorders. I was misdiagnosed with depression at first, something I’ll never understand as I was absolutely just afraid, and the depression medication exacerbates anxiety – so I felt even worse. There was no outside villain anymore, the villains had damaged my mind and now my brain was constantly on high-alert and there was a sense of hyper vigilance (common with PTSD) that made me feel like a threat was constantly occurring. Even in my sleep and to this very day, my fucking subconscious won’t let anyone touch me while I’m asleep or I start shrieking as if there’s some kind of secret alarm system in place I have no control over. I mean, I’m not even awake! The point is this: the final girl looks over her shoulder for the rest of her life, has trouble trusting people, and needs psychiatric assistance to learn how to live again instead of just surviving. Let’s explore a few statistics.

From the centerforfamilyjustice.org:

3 women are killed by a current or former intimate partner each day in the United States.

1 in 4 women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

66% of female stalking victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner.

1 in 4 victims of intimate partner violence identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer

More than 15 million children witness domestic violence each year in the US with 3500 – 4000 children witnessing fatal domestic violence yearly

1 out of 4 women and 1 out of 6 men are sexually abused in their lifetime

A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds

These are just some of the heartbreaking statistics of the world we live in. Many survivors fall into substance abuse, homelessness, mental illness, and death by suicide.

Like all final girls, I’ve lost people along the way. Survivor’s guilt is very real. To all of my final girls/guys, please know that this can be your final movie and you can start to live again free of fear. I am a testament to that. I’ve glossed over quite a bit of my journey and experiences as I’ve found it makes people “uncomfortable” but please know that there is a way out and you can really live again and smile and carry on with your life. Here are some resources:

thehotline.org has many resources available and you can contact them directly at 1-800-799-7233 with 24/7 availability.

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) – National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 for online chat and can also be reached at 1-800-656-4673.

National Runaway Safeline is available 24/7 online, through email, and by phone at info@1800runaway.org and at 1-800-786-2929.

ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline is available at 1-800-422-4453.

National Suicide Prevention Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

National Alliance on Mental Illness can be reached during business hours at 1-800-950-6264.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline is available 24/7 at 1-800-662-4357.

Lastly, I would like to say that I did run away from home at 14. My best friend (also living her horror movie) ran away with me – all the way from Indiana to Hollywood, CA, where we lived on the streets and Hollywood is not a good place to live on the streets. We thought anything was better than what had happened and was happening in our lives. Of course, we eventually called our parents after several days of street life and hustlers. We made a choice to re-enter what we ran away from, seeking no help for the issues that made us run away in the first place. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it through the sequels as a final girl and died of a heroin overdose last year. That was hard. It’s still hard.

If you need someone to listen, to help you deal with your horror movie, final girls/guys – you can contact me directly and discreetly via DM on Twitter @house_screams and I can listen and direct you towards the help you need to end your horror movie and to stop surviving and start living.

I will end this by saying that I love horror films. I love the horror community and the support and friendship I’ve found there (especially “the bros” on my horror podcast – The House That Screams). I draw the line at real-life horror and want to do everything in my power to help put a stop to it. I’m unafraid to speak my truth, even on my podcast – though we are usually laughing. The fact that I can laugh and have fun and be safe is surreal and I’m at acceptance with it. You can be, too. Love 💕 @candythefinalgirl (IG, Slasher)

History Lesson: The EC Comics Scandal and the (Temporary) End of Horror Comics

Every horror fan knows Tales From the Crypt. Most know it from the popular HBO series that ran from 1989 to 1996 with a very impressive cast throughout its episodic run. Many of the stories were inspired by the EC comic it originated from but most were written specifically for the show. I think horror fans are doing themselves a great disservice by skipping the superior comic (and its related horror tales in The Vault of Horror and the Haunt of Fear).

EC Comics, run by Bill Gaines, began printing these titles in 1950 and was a horror pulp dream until 1955 (27 gore-packed issues!) when the infamous Comics Code shut them down in a very publicized trial, claiming that the titles promoted juvenile delinquency and this was reinforced by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s Book “Seduction of the Innocent”. Gaines had to pull his horror comics from publication. The comics code was so strict that even the words “terror” or “horror” in the title were enough to have the comics shut down, which left Gaines forced to discontinue his highly gruesome tales. I feel like Gaines had the last laugh because Tales From the Crypt inspired an entire generation of the world’s best-loved horror authors and movie directors.

Personally, I have to thank EC Comics pulp horror for not only my interest in the genre, but for inspiring me to write my own horror tales beginning in grade school. These awful yet perfectly over-the-top stories I wrote in the vein of Tales From the Crypt were so popular among my classmates that I had to spend extra time in the computer lab in the late ‘80s printing off enough copies for classmates requesting my newest gory tale. It was my first gruesome taste of success and started a chain reaction that is still in motion today for cranking out stories. I objectively find it fascinating that a horror pulp comic from the ‘50’s that lasted only 27 issues could make its way to me in 1987 and inspire me to write but I’m sure stranger things have happened.

I suppose the final question here is this: would Tales From the Crypt and its sister horror comics be as revered had there not been a scandal to shut them down? Every one of us has seen the slow demise of something we enjoyed unfold before us, be it a music sound or our favorite author’s works becoming less enjoyable or even a genre of movies shifting in tone. I think, in spite of wishing I could devour more of the specific Tales From the Crypt horror in the ‘50’s, that the Comics Code scandal heightened the senses of horror fans and left them wanting more was actually a good thing in the end. Many of our favorite horror authors (Stephen King himself, even!) took that inspiration and went on to write their own ghastly tales. King is the most successful horror author of all time and talks at length in his book Danse Macabre about EC Comics influences. What better recommendation could there possibly be?

The Comics Code also gave us all a taste (or rather distaste) of censorship. It is still talked about to this very day, and all of this happened before my own mother (now a grandmother of 3) was born. That’s absolutely astounding. The world learned from it and it spawned a veritable legion of horror fans. The bottom line is this, straight from the depths of my horror-loving heart: fuck censorship.

History Lesson: Grand Guignol Theatre and The Invention of Modern Gore Effects

As a child, I was a precocious reader and I would quickly get through “age-appropriate” fare. I would read anything I could get my hands on, often stealing books from my mother’s extensive library. Stephen King quickly became my favorite author at age 10 and certainly was inspirational, but getting my hands on horror comics inspired my earliest writing. I’m not typically a comics fan, but I became obsessed with EC Comics – particularly three specific titles: Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear. These gruesome yet detailed works of art had some of the best horror I’ve read to this very day and it was then that I first heard of Grand Guignol theatre.

In a particular story called “Well-Cooked Hams”, the characters kill a man in France for his secrets in doing Grand Guignol theatre and, if you’re familiar with Tales From the Crypt, the results are as grisly as actual Grand Guignol itself. The story stayed with me from age 10 to this very day. In those pre-internet days, it was hard to find information on this type of theatre. I heard it mentioned again when I became a classic movie buff at age 13. It was in reference to an infamous 1964 film called “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” starring an aged Bette Davis. It wasn’t the first time Grand Guignol technique was featured in a film, but it was the first time I heard that term again for years. It wouldn’t be until much later as the internet filled with information that I discovered the truths behind Grand Guignol and it’s a fascinating and strange piece of history.

After finding all the information I could ever want and compiling it from the internet, I am finally able to share the things I’ve learned about this tiny Parisian theatre I’ve been curious about for most of my life – and all from one comic story in Tales From the Crypt.

Opening in an old chapel not far from Moulin Rouge, Grand Guignol was begun in 1897. The beginning fare were one-act vignettes about common life encounters. The play that set the tone for the infamous theatre was adapted from a short story by Maupassant in which a prostitute murders an officer. Audiences ate up the killing and blood and inspired the second owner, Max Maurey, to cash in on the bloodlust and create a new way to entertain the crowd. The theatre, still equipped with boxes that once served as places for nuns to watch church services and angelic artwork, also had nearly-opaque furniture and a gothic feel that audiences enjoyed. It added to the “experience” of seeing gory one-act plays that now featured only serial-killers, unhinged murderers on the loose, and revenge plots – always with spectacular gore effects that drove audiences literally wild.

To focus on the audience briefly, it must be understood that the theatre’s strange popularity in a repressed time was caused by newspaper accounts of audience members fainting at the horrific sights. It was exciting and different. It should be noted the those “boxes” I referred to that were once used for nuns could be rented out to theatre-goers to help with the “arousal” the sights and effects caused. At times, those who rented the boxes got so loud and passionate that the actors would break character to tell them to keep it down.

The types of plays that The Grand Guignol was known for were bleak and dark fare that EC Comics would later use in their doomed comic titles (they would inspire “The Comics Code” backlash and end their most famous titles in the early 1950s – a tale for another day). The Grand Guignol was notorious for plays about insanity, revenge, serial killers – all ending in gruesome effects-based climaxes. To keep senses heightened, these plays were paired with a comedy or sex farce. The Grand Guignol literally played with the senses and arousal of human nature to get its primal payoff from the audience and keep them coming back for the thrills and – perhaps – a chance to really go at it in one of the “boxes” with a willing partner while gore spilled onstage.

A few examples of plays featured at The Grand Guignol include: Le Laboratoire des Hallucinations – a doctor performs a very detailed brain surgery on his wife’s lover and turns him into a hallucinating zombie who then kills said doctor with a chisel to the doctor’s brain, L’Horrible Passion about a nanny who strangles the children she has charge of, and Le Baiser dans la Nuit about a woman who disfigures a man with acid and he gets revenge. If any of this sounds familiar, it is because it’s in the same vein as the later and also controversial EC Comics, though they had many stories incorporated with the supernatural.

As for how the gory effects were done, it was one of the stage actors who pioneered the technique of practical effects. His name was Paul Ratineau and he invented a stage blood that looked real and congealed under the stage lights. He thought of stage effects as magic tricks, which I find tremendously interesting as modern special effects legend Tom Savini has also said this about effects. Even Savini’s life documentary is called Smoke & Mirrors. Back to The Grand Guignol, acid effects were also quite common as many ideas for the plays were pulled from the newspapers and apparently acid crimes were common then. The acid effects were portrayed by using an early form of latex that mimicked melting flesh. The theatre got very creative and skinned someone alive in a famous short play called The Torture Garden. The effect was created with a long strip of Elastoplast (a cohesive tape) that was painted red inside to look like bloody flesh when it was ripped off.

The audience consisted of a mixture of local theatre loyalists, people who were interested in seeing the things they had heard about and even upper crust society members who would brave the rougher, seedy side of town to experience the “magic”.

The theatre was wildly popular until it began to struggle after World War II. It had stayed open during the war, catering to German officers. The theatre, though it’s shock value had worn off through the years, remained open until 1962. By then, Grand Guignol effects had made it to the movies in various ways. The building still exists today and is home to the International Visual Theatre – a company that exclusively does plays in sign language.

This is an important part of horror history that many know nothing about. I only heard of it myself through a story in an old Tales From the Crypt comic. It stuck with me and I’m glad it did. I can share this knowledge with fellow horror lovers.

The comic story that started my fascination

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Misfits: An American Horror Punk Story

Misfits fans have the uncanny tendency to be horror fans as well. It would be a difficult feat to like their music without a love for the genre, considering that the majority of their songs are about specific horror movies. Glenn Danzig, frontman and lyric writer for the band, speaks often of his fondness for horror films, literature, and visual art. The majority of Misfits songs are inspired by horror films – the schlocky, exploitative, gory and obscure. The purpose of this article is to share those references to shepherd those that are horror fans and may have a knee-jerk “I don’t listen to punk music” reaction into giving Misfits a try, even if just for references alone. Perhaps you’ll find a band to add to your playlists or you’ll find a movie you absolutely have to see.

When I think of Misfits horror movie references, “Return of the Fly” is the first that comes to mind. Based on the movie “Return of the Fly” (1959) starring Vincent Price recurring his role from the iconic 1958 film “The Fly”, the lyrics themselves make me laugh as Danzig feels as though he was phoning in his lyrics by sort of repeating the credits of the film. Not their finest hour, but worth mentioning, especially as “The Fly” was passed up for this unnecessary remake. It sets the tone for Misfits references. These forgotten cult films were a big inspiration to Danzig.

“Night of the Living Dead” is the band’s most recognizable homage to a horror film. The film (1968) is the literal invention of the modern zombie directed by legendary George A. Romero. It’s a catchy punk tune about one of the most famous horror films of all time and deserves a listen. As with all old-school punk songs, it’s a succinct venture into territory we all love and the lyrics are top-notch.

“Astro Zombies” is a personal favorite song of mine. The intro is legendary in the punk world and the song has a different feel to it than the rest of Misfits fare. Based on the film “The Astro Zombies” (1968), the song shines as a much better piece of art than the comically-bad movie. This is a song that is so infectious, you’ll find yourself humming it under your breath after listening.

“Bloodfeast” is a heavier, dark tribute to 1963’s “Blood Feast” – possibly the first real gore film ever made. The lyrics dive into the dismemberment prevalent in the film and, punctuated with solid heavy guitar riffs, make it a gory and fun listen that becomes quite an ear worm.

“Die, Die, My Darling” is easily one of Misfits most famous songs. Even those who aren’t Misfits fans can identify this one as it is as recognizable as The Crimson Ghost (Misfits mascot that we see everywhere on merchandising and t-shirts… I’ll get to that in a minute). The song was inspired by a film of the same name but is also known as “Fanatic” (1965). Done by Hammer Films, it stars famous actress Tallulah Bankhead in her final film performance.

The Crimson Ghost was a 1940’s serial that was public domain and was used on the band’s singles and promotion – the skull-faced logo we know so well now. It’s nearly impossible to find anything Misfits-related without seeing The Crimson Ghost emblazoned on it. The 12-part series is available to watch on YouTube, but don’t expect brilliance or great performance. The Crimson Ghost serves best as Misfits mascot.

This is just a small taste of Misfits horror fare. A small list of “must-listen” tunes include:

“Hybrid Moments” – my personal favorite, “Where Eagles Dare” – an extremely popular catchy song, “Hatebreeders” – so fun and catchy that you’ll thank me later, “Devils Whorehouse” – whose lyrics inspired the title of my podcast “The House That Screams” with the lyric: “Come alive in the house that screams!”. The list could continue, but I feel I’ve given newcomers a start to the horror-filled fun of the Misfits.

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The Romero Undead Films: More Than A Trilogy

George A. Romero is my favorite horror director and definitely in my top 10 directors of all time. As a horror fan, I’ve seen all his zombie movies (also known as the “Dead Trilogy). He is the father of the modern zombie and zombie movies have been mainstream in film ever since Night of the Living Dead – his groundbreaking first film in the series. It was so shocking in 1968 that it was controversial and just barely made the deadline before MPAA ratings were put on movies a mere month later. But, let’s get to the real point here: Romero’s “Dead” films were more than a trilogy and horror fans need to acknowledge that fact.

Before I dive in to subsequent entries in the series, I must draw attention to the original “Dead” Trilogy: Night of the Living Dead (1968, B&W), Dawn of the Dead (1979, Color), and Day of the Dead (1985, Color). These three films are legendary in the horror genre and no other zombie film can come near the vision and artistry of these films. They follow a progressive path as the story evolves, focusing on the humanity of survivors with controversial and shocking revelations into the base nature of humanity at its last stand. This theme continues in modern works, such as the popular television show “The Walking Dead” – which, I must add, has strong ties with Romero and many homages to the “Dead” films. Greg Nicotero of “The Walking Dead” was actually involved in several of Romero’s “Dead” films.

Beginning with Night of the Living Dead, Romero broke barriers for horror and cinema. The protagonist and hero of the story, Ben, was portrayed by an African-American actor named Duane Jones. The Civil Rights movement had made great strides up to this point, though 1968 was the year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was still a hot topic when Night of the Living Dead released, so having an African-American hero was shocking – especially as Ben was leading the entire cast of white people. If you haven’t seen the movie, absolutely do it. It’s gritty, raw, and still frightening to this day. The claustrophobic atmosphere – due to limited budget – works better than a high-budget, location-filled film. The growing situation is revealed moment-by-moment and the fear grows and literally swarms for both the characters and the viewer. Also shocking was the dark ending in a world full of happy, answer-filled endings. There are no answers, no explanation. There is just a feeling of hopelessness and questions left over. 100% perfection.

Romero followed up Night of the Living Dead a decade later with the next progression in the story in 1979’s Dawn of the Dead (which happens to be my favorite horror film of all time). In color – bright, comic book-style hues – it is a glaring contrast to Night of the Living Dead’s stark black and white. Special effects legend Tom Savini really pushes the envelope in this film with his gore effects that broke barriers in the field. Romero refused to tone down the movie to an R-rating, causing the film to be accessible only to those over 17. It did nothing to stop the film’s popularity, especially with the warning on the movie poster of “violence and scenes that may be shocking”. Romero delivers on that promise. This movie seems to pick up where Night of the Living Dead left off. The dead are coming to life and everyone is aware and coping. It’s clearly the next step as we see society falling apart, the morals disintegrating, and hope has long-since died. A small band steals a helicopter and tries to find a place to hold up and survive in and end up at a mall, a safe haven full of everything they need… and a healthy amount of zombies. I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it, but it really pushes the envelope on every front: what happens to humanity when all things fail, the choices people make under pressure and the aftermath of said choices, and the sheer brutality of a world surrounded in threats from all sides. The breakdown of all rules in society is frightening enough without the constant threat of the undead. Absolutely my favorite film of the series, as both a horror fan and amateur sociologist.

Day of the Dead came along in 1985 and, according to Romero himself: “only the real trolls love Day of the Dead”. This entry in the series is by far the most gory and some of Tom Savini’s finest effects work. The gore and practical effects are unsurpassed, even by today’s CGI. A sense of realism adds to the twisted evolution of the undead situation. Romero, once again, explores the further changed society as no survivors can be found or contacted by a scientific team, protected by a military troop, in a truly claustrophobic tale in a secure underground mine. The two sides – the scientists searching for a cure versus the shrinking military troop – are at odds and tensions are high. Romero does a wonderful job with his best female character yet. She’s much tougher than anyone else in the group of rapidly-deteriorating survivors. Romero even dives deeper into the concept of the zombies themselves with the introduction to the much-beloved zombie Bub, who shows an amazing ability to learn and remember a bit of human life. In some ways, Bub is a hero. This is a movie that should not only be watched but rewatched after initial viewing. Romero is so great at showing true visions of the breakdown of humans to their baser natures that it’s almost something to look at from a sociological point of view as a possible reality.

Most horror fans, to this day, say “I’m a fan of Romero’s ‘Dead’ trilogy”. I know people haven’t forgotten about the fourth installment – the high-budget, star-studded Land of the Dead (2005). No one could possibly forget, try though they might. I was very excited when this film came out, but I left the movie theater after it was over feeling much like other Romero fans: disappointed. It’s not that the movie is bad. As a fan of B movies, I’ve seen worse for sure, but I definitely wanted that claustrophobic and tense atmosphere from the first three movies back. The ambition with this high profile, high budget fare comes across lacking in character development and non-stop gore/death that is so constant that it lacks any affect to the audience and bears no emotional weight. Critics and fans alike panned the movie. The important and most poignant fact in this film is that it shows the evolution of the zombies themselves and that they are learning, something touched on in Day of the Dead with Bub. One can’t help but root for the zombies in this film as the characters are so one dimensional.

Diary of the Dead (2007) was the follow-up in the series and is similar in vein to the popular “found footage” films. I thought it was the lowest and least-inspired of the entire series. There are some better characters and we care more about them throughout the story, but viewing it all through a character’s camera seems beneath Romero. He didn’t need gimmicks like that. But that tight, claustrophobic feeling is back from time-to-time. Personally, I was disappointed that such a trailblazer and legend of horror would try to jump on the bandwagon. Romero also claimed that this film took place at the same time as Night of the Living Dead and that just doesn’t wash with fans. True, it shows the beginning of the zombie apocalypse through different eyes, but to put it in Night of the Living Dead’s time frame weakens the film and left me feeling very confused. This film features digital cameras and computers and modern technology that takes away that vital survival horror and claustrophobic themes that made the originals work so well. Besides a few good scenarios and scenes, this film adds nothing to the series.

The final film Romero did in the series, Survival of the Dead (2009), redeems the series – an unpopular opinion of mine. I feel that if one really wanted the best of the series they would watch: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. Skipping Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead, the viewer misses nothing much. Survival of the Dead is a natural progression of the story and recaptures the essence of the storyline. It also begs the question “what happens when the zombie apocalypse hits and you decide escaping to an island makes you feel safe?”. A common answer from horror fans, when asked how they would deal with a zombie outbreak is “I’d go to an island where I’d be safe and zombies couldn’t get to me”. Romero takes this and twists it back into horror, pointing out quite tragically what would happen in that scenario and makes it frightening by showing the viewer that an island isn’t a safe place. In fact, nowhere is safe. The islanders are looking for their own ways to deal with the undead – attempting to teach them to prey on animals instead of humans. Does it work? I’ll never tell. I don’t want to rob anyone of a great movie experience. This movie is criminally underrated and skipped often due to the previous entries. Buy yourself a copy and indulge. Get back into the story and find a well-done ending to the series.

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