Archive for Frank Darabont

Gelatin Lover

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2014 by dcairns


Confession: I’ve never properly watched the original THE BLOB nor the Larry Hagman-directed belated sequel, which I must admit I’m very curious about. But curiosity finally prodded us to run Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake, mainly on the strength of Frank Darabont’s co-writing credit, and a surprisingly respectable piece of work it is. Set in a small town in the northwest US (though filmed in Louisiana, presumably for the more comfortably warm nights), it has trace elements of Twin Peaks, and even features a brief spot by Jack Nance (always welcome) — and the casting director was Eric DaRe, not only the son of Aldo Ray, but Twin Peaks’ resident domestic abuser Leo Johnson.


The special effects, mostly under the supervision of Lyle Conway (DREAMCHILD, RETURN TO OZ, LINK) are surprisingly consistent, effective, imaginative and nasty — there are a few clunkers very late on, but by then the film has established its credentials and you’re willing to forgive. The script keeps giving people characterful things to do — if it’s a shame that we lose two of the grown-up characters early on, one has to admit that Darabont and Russell came up with a strongly emotive way of doing it. The pity is that Kevin Dillon, looking like a drunkenly assembled identikit of his brother Matt, and blandly attractive but underwritten Shawnee Smith, can’t compete with the grown-ups for screen value. The script gives them a little more meat than is usual in this kind of thing, and we also get anticipations of the superior Darabont flick THE MIST, as shady government doings start to play a role in the narrative, deepening and darkening the original’s “sinister meteor” gimmick.

Also: Del Close. I’m always glad to see Del Close. I knew he’d played a small role in the Hagman movie, because I remembered a comic strip he wrote about the experience in the very weird anthology comic Wasteland, but I didn’t realize he was in this, nor that he’d actually commemorated the experience in another autobiographical cartoon ~



Close was high as a kite when he filmed his BEWARE! scene, having had his eye scratched by his beloved cat, Grapefruit Head, causing him to take a large number of prescription painkillers including some intended for veterinary purposes.



In the remake, Close plays a preacher who ends up with the film’s coda, implying a distrust of militant Christianity which seems even more appropriate to the Reagan years than the paranoia about satellites and germ warfare.


Confession: the first thing I ever directed, a little project at art school, was an adaptation of a strip from Wasteland adapted by Close from a Severn Darden routine. Maybe one day I’ll put it on YouTube…


Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2011 by dcairns

Purely by chance, we watched George Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, Breck Eisner’s THE CRAZIES, and Ruben Fleischer’s ZOMBIELAND in a month. Not all in an evening or anything hardcore like that, mind you. Then, more recently, we watched the whole of Frank Darabont’s The Walking Dead in a day. That was somewhat hardcore, I grant you.

The Romero is the most underrated of the three — we’ve come to a pretty pass when the master and originator of the zombie sub-genre is so marginalized! And yet this is a fun film, essentially a western with a lot of Irish actors and a lot of zombies. Acting honours in the no-star cast go to Kenneth Welsh as the roguish patriarch. A few awkward moments obtrude, and the CGI gore effects look cheap. Romero is in very relaxed form, like late Hawks, not trying to be earthshaking, just having fun. The movie really is a western, something like THE BIG COUNTRY, complete with a zombie on horseback. Romero still pulls amusing variations on his original 1968 premise, and here he delivers the finest closing shot of his entire career. Long may he reign!

THE CRAZIES isn’t absolutely strictly a zombie movie, in the same way that 28 DAYS LATER isn’t, but… you know it is, right? A remake of Romero’s 1973 shocker, it’s much more expensive, much slicker, and delivers copious shocks and considerable suspense. The performances are fine, with Brit-playing-yank Joe Anderson the man of the match. It provides the most spectacular version yet of a climax that served for both RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and PONTYPOOL, and probably needs to be retired. As Fiona said, it’s stylishly made and has lots of good scares, but lacks the skin-crawling creepiness of the seventies cult nasty.

Scott Kosar and Ray Wright’s script does serve up some nice war-on-terror resonance, in keeping with the political tradition Romero’s always been part of (unlike the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, which doesn’t bother its pretty decomposing head about little things like meaning), and in the early stages I was impressed by the pace of the plot development and the intelligence of the characters, who figure out the whole situation and take sensible steps to contain the problem long before most real cops would, let alone the movie variety. It doesn’t do them any good. And unfortunately, as the crisis mounts, they seem to lose their wits and do stupid things like separating for no reason in locations which haven’t been secured.

What they need is a set of rules, like Jesse Eisenberg in ZOMBIELAND. You wouldn’t think there was room for another zom-rom-com after SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick use the zombie holocaust as mere bloodsoaked backdrop to a touching love story between a naive, nerdish virgin and a tough lady grifter. There’s actually a slight flavour of 1930s conman movies like BLONDE CRAZY here.

The cinematographer’s name is Michael Bondvillain, how cool is that? Oh, wait…

Also to be enjoyed — the titles, which use that interactive lettering thing that’s been spreading through cinema since the opening creds of PANIC ROOM, titles floating blimplike over Manhattan and casting their drifting shadows over the skyscrapers. Here, the artists’ names are scattered by falling zombies and their prey. This is a stylistic flourish driven by technology — had it been possible in the forties, Michael Powell would have had fun with the idea. In the sixties, Leone.

This is the first movie to explore the idea of zombie celebrities — expect more of this, someday. Romero introduced the incidental comedy of dead people still wearing the ridiculous gear they had on in life, back in DAWN OF THE DEAD — football players, Hari Krishna cultists, nuns (in fact, the nude girl in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is probably the first gesture in this direction), and ZOMBIELAND carries on the tradition with a zombie stripper, nipple-tassles spinning like rotor blades as she sprints bloodily after a victim, and a zombie father-and-son three-legged race could well be the greatest genre image of 2009.

Finally, The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont’s TV treatment of zombies, which delivers on suspense and gore and is compulsively watchable, as we discovered after five or so hours of viewing it. What it lacks is any new slant on the zombocalypse scenario, and any particularly novel or striking characters. The central perfs are all very good (as in THE CRAZIES, several Brits play Yanks), but nobody has the kind of soap-opera appeal of Hurley from Lost or Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica: they’re all a bit standard-issue. And if they’re not going to be decorated with quirks, I’d like them to be properly deep, which they’re not either. Only Michael Rooker (known affectionately to us as “Henry Portrait”, which is an old League of Gentlemen joke) has an excess of unpleasant personality to balance the mindless hordes.

Good zombies, though! Probably the most impressive designs of all the shambling undead above, and very good suspense situations, deftly delivered by Darabont and his colleagues, including Ernest Dickerson. My favourite TV zombie holocaust is still this one, though.

Available for cheap in UK:

Dead Set [DVD] [2008]

Zombieland [DVD] [2009]

Zombieland [Blu-ray] [2009]

The Crazies [Blu-ray] [2010]

The Crazies [DVD] [2010]

Survival Of The Dead [DVD] [2009]

Survival Of The Dead [Blu-ray] [2009]


George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead (Two-Disc Ultimate Undead Edition)

The Crazies [Blu-ray]

The Crazies


Zombieland [Blu-ray]

The Walking Dead: Season One

The Walking Dead: Season One [Blu-ray]

Fog. Fog. Fog.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2008 by dcairns

We went to see THE MIST. When we came out, it was slightly misty. Uncanny.

I get the impression this film came out ages ago in the States, but here it’s just opened, and was only showing at 5.15pm on one screen in Edinburgh. Not a big hit Stateside, presumably. Why that should mean it shouldn’t get a big release here is puzzling to me, since possibly what stopped it working on its home turf is its politics, and political perceptions are different here.

But what ARE the politics of the film, a Frank Darabont adaptation of a Stephen King short story? Well, it certainly has things to say about crazy religious zealots (a favourite King bugbear). I don’t disagree with King’s assessment of God-bothering wingnuts, but it’s a little depressing that he always writes them the same way. Marcia Gay Harden in THE MIST is almost exactly the same character as Kathy Bates in MISERY and Piper Laurie in CARRIE. And they do always seem to be women.

“Another failed attempt to make Christians look bad” says somebody on the IMDb. I dunno, I thought they  looked pretty bad, the ones in the movie. I suspect that if you’re a Christian and you think this movie is about you, it is.

The drama of the film is divided in an interesting way. As the titular dry ice descends on King’s usual community of Castle Rock, a disparate crowd of shoppers shelter in a supermarket (if it were Britain, they would doubtless head for the pub, as in nearly every U.K. apocalypse movie, but Americans have a tendency to gravitate to larger outlets, as in DAWN OF THE DEAD), struggling to fend off the savage alien ecosystem that lives in the fog.

While all the action sequences revolve around battling the extra-dimensional creepy-crawlies (C.G.I. tentacles and skull-faced insects etc), much of the drama comes from the conflicts among the humans, with Harden’s crazy bat forming her own doomsday cult with tendencies towards human sacrifice.

The movie stumbles in a couple of ways with this approach. Firstly, it sacrifices the atmospheric chills of fog-blind panic for sheer monster-osity. There’s no “unseen” in this film, the beasties are all over the screen, FLAUNTING THEMSELVES. Secondly, it robs the cult of screen time and the chance to build convincingly.

Still, most of this is entertaining. The bugs are genuinely horrible, even more so than the excessively nasty critters in Jackson’s KING KONG (advice: better to get killed by the BIG ones, it’s much quicker) and there are some good actors at work. Thomas Jane does OK with the boring hero part, and the wonderful Toby Jones (son of the beyond-wonderful Freddie) gets to be an action star. Which has to be good. There aren’t many short action stars with outsized baby foreheads. Bruce Willis need no longer be lonesome.

Oh, and it’s always terrific to see the authoritative and adorable Frances Sternhagen.

The characters are a bit stupider than necessary, I have to say. Trapped in a building with a glass front, they set about sandbagging it with doggie chow sacks, rather than simply withdrawing to the loading bay with a lot of provisions. They have three army guys from the military base where the problem started, but it takes ages before anybody thinks of asking them what happened. And so it goes.

Darabont starts in his usual staid fashion, then adopts a Battlestar Galactica kind of shaky-cam crash-zoom approach when the biting starts, which didn’t really work for me. If you’re trying to simulate documentary roughness, it should be consistent. In reality, it’s almost as hard for a camera operator to smoothly follow somebody going to the fridge to get some Weightwatchers Carrot and Swede Mash as it is to follow somebody fighting an alien pterodactyl in Walmart. And I can say that with total authority, because I’m a strange, strange man.

Oh yes, politics. The other area where these surface is the disputes amongst the survivors. There’s some pithy barroom (or supermarket) philosophy here: “As a species, we’re fundamentally insane. Put two of us in a room, we pick sides, and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. That’s why we invented politics and religion,” opines Toby. And as always with monster movies, its tempting to read this one as a metaphor for Our Present Mess. “We’ve got to cut and run!” declares Jane.

But things are pretty complicated. The monsters are explained, rather lamely, as the results of a military experiment in extra-dimensional jiggery-pokery (what I’d call a video game explanation). So military intervention got us into this. But then at the end —


— the army take care of the problem. And the hero would appear to have been wrong in giving up hope. If this IS a metaphor for the Iraq war, the message would seem to be “Trust in the military, they will take care of these inhuman bad guys if we STAY THE COURSE!”

I sort of think Darabont probably didn’t intend that message, although I don’t know much about his views. Which would make it a failed ending, I think, although I did respect its very un-Hollywood negativity. It’s an ending that may well follow you around for a bit, bothering you, whether you like it or not.

“I regret nothing!”