Friday, April 8, 2011

Film #61: Valley of the Zombies (1946)

Some things are just the perfect pair!
Tweens and awkwardness.
Applebees and vomiting.
Frat-house toilets and STDs
White Trash and energy drinks.
And comedy and horror.

This week’s film stayed true to mama’s word and channeled the latter pairing in the mid-1940s flick “Valley of the Zombies.” In VotZ you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl! Then you’ll clean up your unholy stomach-excretions in shame, young lady! IN SHAME!

Physician and surgeon Dr. Maynard is feeling like a paper-cut hemophiliac after gallons of blood go missing from his office. His partner Dr. Terry Evans and his head nurse Susan Drake don’t have any answers, nor does his creeper technician Fred. But late one night Maynard gets his answer by, gasp, a man walking through his front door in an ominous manner! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, egk! (We just peed a little thinking about the horror.)

That man is Orland Murks, a Boris Karloff wannabe that Dr. Maynard discovers is the same Murks he had committed to an insane asylum four years ago. But, what the fudge, Orland Murks died during an operation conducted by Maynard a few years ago in that very asylum! Nope, seems Murks is a freak of nature who employed ancient black arts to be resurrected from death. The only problem is his reborn zombie condition requires routine intake of fresh blood. Without it, Murks would die again.

Well, old Murks offs Dr. Maynard for his vein-juice, see, and then frames Dr. Terry Evans and his main squeeze Nurse Susan for the job. The coppers give Terry and Susan the fifth degree, but they don’t sing so those caged birds are shooed from the coop. (Sorry, we fell into 1940s cop speak there for a minute… speak that is copious in this movie.)

Hoping to get to the bottom of their old friend Maynard’s murder, Terry and Susan go all OJ on this mofo and embark on a laugh-filled adventure to track down the real killers! It’s a real scream! What, that joke was lame… well then it fits with VotZ!

The “laughs” equal the “screams” (and that’s not saying much) in the 1946 horror-romp “Valley of the Zombies.

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 2.4
Chris Dimick commands:
“Promise me zombies, and I better receive legions of undead brain-eating monsters. What did this flick do? Promise me a “Valley of Zombies”. What did I receive… neither a valley, or an "of the" or any zombies. Die movie!

Such is the problem with all pre-1968 movies (the year of Night of the Living Dead’s release) that feature “zombies” in their titles or plot. Before NotLD changed horror, a zombie was merely a person who had technically died but was then resurrected into the world of the living… though slightly changed.

In many cases, like Bela Lugosi’s “White Zombie,” or Vincent Price’s “The Oblong Box,” the films channeled Haitian voodoo legend in which witch doctor shamans are said to poison individuals with a potion that paralyzes the person and makes them appear dead (though only slows their breathing and heart to untraceable low levels).

After the “dead’s” relatives blubber over their “corpse” and bury it six feet down, the shaman digs up the person and awakens them from their poison. Traumatized by helplessly having to witness their own burial, and brain damaged from the poison, these “zombies” can then be controlled by the witch doctor to do their evil bidding.

Yeah, that is pretty f-ing scary! But nowadays the story is tame. The discerning modern day horror fan demands not psychological horror but puketastic, visual monsters that tear flesh from bone, are crimes against nature, and won’t stop until their brains are turned into scrambled eggs! Of course I’m talking about a modern zombie! An undead, hardcore muthergrabber! Not some traumatized, mentally disabled drooler who people just think is dead.

In addition to lacking any zombies, Valley of the Zombies failed on several other levels. I’m a big fan of mixing horror and comedy. The two are a perfect match, seeing as how many people like to laugh when they are scarred to defuse the terror, while others find humor in horrific situations.
The phase “all you can do is laugh” seems appropriate when one is being chased through the woods by a mask-wearing undead psycho killer.

But VotZ's humor was as dead as its main villain. The jokes may have been lost in translation between 1946 and 2011, but even so the placement of the jokes was just ridiculous and took away from any fun they were trying to elicit due to their absurdity.
Who jokes around with police after being interrogated for 8 hours on the grounds of possibly murdering their boss?

The writing was just subpar. For example, at one point in a graveyard Nurse Susan says “I’m allergic to skeletons, why I don’t even like skeleton keys.” What? That’s funny? Or how bout this gem delivered by the stereotypical 1940s detective; “This coffin is empty. Looks like the tenant has broken his lease.”
This movie was as annoying with its humor as the Abbot and Costello movies… only difference is A and C were trying to make a comedy, not a horror movie.

But it wasn’t all bad. We had the wonderful 1940s fashion to admire and make us feel like sweatpants wearing slobs.
The 1940s banter was also enthralling, with time-machine quality phrases like “I’ve always been a sucker for a sleigh ride” (going along with something you don’t believe is true) or “not by the jug full” (no way!) or "we're looking for a peculiar perpetrator with a passion for pickling” (a murderer is loose).
Then there was the run time, a brisk 56 minutes that made the absurdity of it all seem tolerable.

Still, if you promise me a zombie, movie, you damn well better deliver a zombie.
Failure to do so might just lead me to call that Haitian friend of mine with his special powder.
Movies, you have been warned!”

N-Rating: 2.0
Nick Rich commands:
“Having worked in a blood bank for the past 5 years I can't help but have my interest piqued when there is blood in the storyline of a horror flick.

I know what you're thinking, 'but Nick, there's blood in every horror film!' This is true, but the blood I'm referring to isn't just splashed across the screen, the blood I'm referring to is the science of blood and/or its collection. I'm always interested to see how well a filmmaker did his homework when the subject of blood comes up (much like I imagine a cop is interested in a cop movie to see 'if they got it right'). To give you an example of my geekiness in this area: this week I watched the nominal 2009 flick Daybreakers (which is about a world of vampires dealing with the issue of running out of humans to feed on) and I got excited when I saw that the equipment the main character (a vampire hematologist) used was manufactured by WelchAllyn (a manufacturer of medical equipment used at my company).”

That made me excited.
Fear not, I'm appropriately ashamed of that excitement, but at the same time I'm grateful that my real-life experience affords me unique insight into any given horror film we watch - they all have blood in them after all! Really, what better industry could you work in being a horror fan? Not all horror movies have cops, psychologist, scientists or vampire hunters in them...

...but you can bet your sweet tookus there will be blood - and that's my business! It's fun to apply what I know about blood while watching a flick and see what my critical eye comes up with. By no means do I take it so seriously that I let it ruin the movie experience for me, but it sometimes makes for interesting observations.

At this point I know you're wondering and the answer is no, I do not work for vampires... at least not that I'm aware of. I get why people ask me that (or 'joke' as they say, but I know that deep down they are hoping I will confirm their suspicions about vampires secretly running the world) but the mundane truth is that there are no vampires running America's blood banks.

Oh yeah, I did it again folks! Here I am at the end of my review and I haven't even mentioned the movie I'm supposed to be reviewing! Ha-HA! I can do that because I'm not being paiiiiidddd! Ah, the freedom! Really, there wasn't much more to be said that Chris didn't already cover and I didn't want to bore y'all (at least by talking about the movie). Save a life (a real one), donate blood!

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you want to learn cheesy 40s-speak or if you've ever wondered if the Third Reich contacted aliens. (That was to see if you were paying attention)

Things We Learned From Valley of the Zombies:
-“A man has to be in jail before appreciating opening doors for himself.”
-It’s oddly comforting that women plucked their eyebrows in the 1940s.
-Strangulation was the murder of choice in the 1940s.
-Wanting to be a detective as a boy qualifies you to investigate vicious murders.
-A pocket is “a fine place for a gun.”
-Detectives in the 1940s didn't follow leads, they followed the fanciful stories they made up about their suspects.
-“I was put under a hypnotic state” is a good enough excuse for murder.
-Murder is okay if the body is presented well:

Quote of the Viewing
[Walking up to the creepy abandoned Murks estate, Terry and Susan seem ill prepared for murderer investigating, what with their lack of anything to aid them in the task. Nick gets exasperated at the absurd scene, and yells…]

Nick: “Whattt? He doesn’t want to bring anything! Not a gun, or a flashlight… just his fedora?!”

RDHP Presents:
Comedy-Horror Done Right 

This flick was a poor example of the usual delicious combination of fright and funny howls. Don’t let this be a bad example for other comedy horror attempts, since many of the best horror movies have employed this technique. Below, we present some of our favorite scary-funny flicks. (Movie summaries complements of

Return of the Living Dead (1985)
When a bumbling pair of employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapors cause the dead to re-animate as they go on a rampage through Louisville, Kentucky seeking their favorite food, brains.

Evil Dead 2 (1987)
The lone survivor of an onslaught of flesh-possessing spirits holds up in a cabin with a group of strangers while the demons continue their attack.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)
A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.

Slither (2006)
A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters.

Basket Case (1982)
A young man carrying a big basket that contains his deformed Siamese-twin brother seeks vengeance on the doctors who separated them against their will.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Aliens who look like clowns come from outer space and terrorize a small town.

Scary Movie (2000)
The best of the horror parodies that nails the genre’s most famous 1990s efforts. A year after disposing the body of a man they accidentally killed, a group of dumb teenagers are stalked by a bumbling serial killer.

Night of the Creeps (1986)
Alien brain parasites, entering humans through the mouth, turn their host into a killing zombie. Some teenagers start to fight against them.

Dead Alive (1992)
A young man's mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbors. This movie features zombie procreation… which is funnier than you’d think!

Ghostbusters (1984)
Three unemployed parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis all in their prime. Yeah, it’s gonna be funny.

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