A confession: I’m not a horror person. My history with watching horror movies is shoddy at best, varying in quality, and because I don’t know what to look for in horror films (and I’ll be honest, I don’t know what I should be taking away from them either), I rarely seek them out. But like any good film enthusiast, I am always open to the recommendations of others. So, as we embark on this year’s Sinedelphia celebration, I look forward to reading the insights of my fellow writers and, just maybe, discovering an inner fondness for horror I never knew I had.
But that may be jumping too far ahead.
I was prepared to be the dummy of the bunch this month, as many of our contributors to Cinedelphia are horror fans. But when the idea of this Goblin series was first announced, and the names of films such as Tenebre, Suspiria, and Deep Red floated around, I felt even further out in cinematic left field. Enter George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. For a genre that sometimes flirts with the line of obscurity, a bell of recognition went off in my head. Yes, I have seen Dawn of the Dead…but the 2004 remake helmed by Zack Snyder. In fact, I think I even saw it theaters, which for me is a true rarity when it comes to horror films. I much prefer whimpering in the privacy of my own home. As I remember it, I wasn’t so much scared as I was disinterested. There was a mall, people were picking off zombies from the roof top. It just seemed stupid. But I do believe in second chances and seeing originals, so I looked forward to tackling Dawn of the Dead circa 1978.
And it’s so much better. I will never understand the fascination some people have with zombies, but I did enjoy watching Romero’s take on the slow-moving, bumbling, undead, people-eaters. Maybe because it did not feel like a horror movie, and more like a disaster movie, along the lines of Contagion or Day After Tomorrow, where the real threats come from those still alive. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is also brighter than the 2004 remake, which, as I recall, had a much more saturated, overexposed look to it that made it feel more like a horror movie than the story did. I’m of the opinion that scary things only come out at night, so when most of the action occurs during the day or in brightly lit interiors I’m less focused on my fear and more on the film.
Needless to say, if all horror films were like Dawn of the Dead, I’d watch more of them. Yes, the action is silly, the blood is neon, and the dialogue very quotable, but it possesses the fun that I see resonated in all the horror fans I know. Despite the datedness of some of the effects, there is a dedication to filmmaking and craftsmanship that goes beyond what limits in budget may show. The lasting impressions are just as effective now as they were then.
One thing that certainly leaves an impression is Goblin’s original score, which you can only listen to in its entirety on the European cut of the film. After listening to excerpts from the soundtracks of Tenebre and Suspiria I was surprised at how different Dead‘s score seemed to me. The opening notes to the title sequence reminded me of old westerns, watching two outlaws prepare for a gun draw. The slow drum cadence matching that of our hearts in anticipation of what’s to come. And then the slightly off-kilter cords chime in that are now very reminiscent of horror soundtracks across the genre. I especially gravitated to the rousing and punchy “Zombi” played during the film’s final fight sequence between the zombies, bikers, and our three remaining protagonists. I enjoyed Goblin’s score more because the style is not something we see very much of, at least in mainstream horror, which is what I am most exposed to. I prefer Goblin’s work on Suspiria and Tenebre, but Dead is playful at times, rock’n’roll at others, and definitely adds to the action of the film.
One horror movie down, infinite to go.