Maniac Cop, Directed by William Lustig, 1988
New York supercop Matt Cordell is ruffling more than his share of feathers on the force. Sure he puts away the bad guys, but he tends to do so without regard to due process or miranda rights. To quell the torrent of lawsuits and public backlash against the vigilante with a badge, the powers that be frame Cordell for murder and arrange to have him killed in prison. Sounds pretty open-and-shut right? That's what everyone thought until Cordell returned from the grave and began slaughtering the citizenry of New York; guilty and innocent alike. Now it's up to a rogue detective and a beat cop also framed for murder to put Matt back in that pine box before he protects and severs another civilian.
I can't adequately communicate my love for Maniac Cop. It is awash in late 80's cheese with the added illegal steroid that is a Larry Cohen script. The kills are candy-coated carnage that never fail to entertain this degenerate horrorphile and the music is tinny and cliche in the best possible ways. Not only that, but the cast list reads like the sampler platter at the Cult Hero Cafe. Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, Richard Roundtree, Robert Z'Dar, and William Smith all make their awesomeness felt in this hodge podge of camp. The plot is pretty bare-bones, but it is nevertheless charming in its own right. I like this film so much that I actually sat through the sequels and didn't completely hate them. Sterling praise, I know.
Dawn of the Dead, directed by Zack Snyder, 2004
Terribly familiar story here. One day all of humanity decides that they don't like dying anymore and opt for rising from the dead and feeding on their neighbors instead. This is of course a remake of the classic, and seminal, zombie film directed by none other than master of the postmortem shamble: George Romero. A handful of survivors end up quarantined in a shopping mall while the hungry hordes do their best to crack open the doors and feast on the contents within (much like how one would eat a peanut).
I genuinely like Snyder's Dawn of the Dead. The one qualm I have with Romero's original, piddling though this complaint may be, is that the rebuilding of the microcosmic society within the shopping mall gimmick runs a little stale after a while. What Snyder's remake does is to retain the parallel between zombies and the mindlessness of mass consumerism while injecting tropes that weren't yet convention when the original Dawn of the Dead was released. Instead of focusing on the novelty of living in a mall for extended periods of time, Snyder turns the film into a character piece wherein lager-than-life personalities constantly contending with one another. While it sometimes comes off a bit generic, and the zombie baby ending is atrocious, I find the overall effect accomplishes exactly what a remake should do.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, directed by John Newland, 1973
A woman inherits an enormous old house from her parents and promptly moves in along with her husband. As they begin the process of renovating, their family carpenter warns them not to alter the fireplace in the small office on the ground floor. Like any character in a horror film, she fails to heed the warning. What she discovers behind that fireplace is something far worse than grout between the bricks or a pile of dead birds.
From a remake to a film that is soon to be remade, I wanted to inspect the foundation before someone rebuilt the house. I had to see what about Don't Be Afraid of the Dark piqued the interest of Guillermo del Toro. The good news/bad news situation here is that while I didn't like the original overall, I think there is enough potential hidden under the muck to make it ripe for remaking. The atmosphere is interesting and the little demons are creepy when not fully exposed; the force perspective used to employ real actors and still present the illusion of diminutive size was great. I also really like the ending and the cacophony of demon voices. The problem is that sandwiched between all of those elements is a big ol' jar of boredom. Kim Darby is not very sympathetic and her aimless wandering through the house does nothing to create tension or mood but more to accomplish the blocking on the page. But again, given del Toro's flair for the fantastic and some more dynamic performances, this thing could really be special and I am anxious to see it polished and redressed.