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Horror Video Games Part 3: Resident Evil

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Resident Evil is one of my all time favorite video games series. I love abandoned places and zombies, puzzles and experiments gone terribly wrong. And the first several games in the series combine those elements well. There are a LOT of RE games and spin-offs/side games in the series, some of which I haven’t played or have even heard of before doing a little research for this post. So I’ll only talk about the first game since I could easily go on for hours.

Resident Evil/Resident Evil: Director’s Cut/ Resident Evil Archives

The first game of the series was released in 1996, but was rereleased as a director’s cut and later remade. Resident Evil Archives contains the same plot of the original but with added rooms and areas, the introduction of several new (non-playable) characters, one of whom is Lisa. Her story is a heartbreaking thread woven into the plot but she is also very, very scary.

There was an incident involving a series of cannibalistic murders in the area surrounding Raccoon City and the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactical And Rescue Team) Bravo team is sent in to investigate. After contact is lost with Bravo, the Alpha team is sent in. Set down, the team becomes separated as a pack of very strange dogs appear (if you’ve seen the movie, they look like those) and start chasing them. A handful of the members manage to make it to a mansion located nearby. Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Barry Burton and Albert Wesker.

 

You can play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine. Both have their own special tool that is unique to them, although (if memory serves me right) either one of them can also pick up the other’s item but it takes up space in the item carrier. And believe you me that space is at a premium. Excess items can be stored in item boxes (they look like large, wooden trunks) scattered throughout the area. Any room with an item box is a safe room. You cannot and will not be attacked there. It’s a good place to heal; exchange items and save, using a typewriter.

 

 

The objective is to the explore the mansion and the surrounding grounds, gleaning information about what has happened on memos, reading journal entries and reports. One of my favorite entries to read is the groundskeeper’s journal (again if I remember correctly). The last page reads simply: “Itchy. Tasty.”

 

 

Foes range from zombies, which are encountered almost from the first to a giant, poisonous snake that you have to fight twice. Genetically engineered creatures also appear. The Hunters are large, almost gorilla-like animals that have a very annoying and startling screech. The first time I played this game, my brother was watching me play and we experienced the first encounter with a Hunter at the same time. There was a lot of screaming involved. They remain my least favorite foe. Sharks (Project Neptune, and thank you Umbrella for giving me another reason besides Jaws to be afraid to go into the water), crows, dogs, snakes (little ones), and large spiders also make an appearance because zombies just weren’t enough to scare you out of your pants, I guess.

 

 

As you explore, you move further and further into Umbrella’s secret facility. The mansion is only a front; the out buildings housed a laboratory, Project Neptune and a mutated plant. Beneath the courtyard, a series of tunnels lead to an underground facility. It’s here that all the pieces of the puzzle regarding the nature of Umbrella’s experiments come together to form a whole, and disturbing picture. It’s also where Tyrant is housed, and he’s the game’s last boss. Tyrant stands about seven or eight feet tall (my estimate) and is muscular. He is a single-minded, hunting/killing machine, and nerve-wracking to fight.

 

 

Resident Evil is the only game in the series to have multiple endings. They depend on decisions made at certain moments. The endings and the fact that you get a closet key make the game playable several times and always fun to return to.

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Horror Video Games Part 1: Castlevania N64

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I am a gamer, have been since first playing games on the Atari system when I was a kid. My first horror game was Friday the 13th on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and I remember playing it with my heart in my throat. Jason, in all his pixelated glory, was a near unbeatable foe. I never could survive an encounter with him. But, I think it was Castlevania for the N64 that woke a deep love for horror games in me.

Castlevania

The opening of this game still excites me, a sweeping view of a grand castle and the strains of a haunting and melancholy tune played on a violin by Malus. There are two playable characters: Reinhardt Schneider and Carrie Fernandez. Each have their own special weapons. Reinhardt has a whip and a dagger, while Carrie has magic orbs that home in on targets and a set of rings.

They share the same adventure, trekking through the Forest of Silence, the Castle Wall and then the Villa but then diverges to separate levels unique to one character. Some levels can only be accessed through Carrie (i.e. the Underground Waterway) or Reinhardt (i.e. the Tunnels). Others are shared. There are also several different endings that can be unlocked. That makes this game have a great re-playability.

I love the atmosphere. Dark, tense and horrifying. Time slips from day to night, which is important to some aspects of the game. There is blood and implements of torture, supernatural foes and some very disturbing bosses. But there is also beauty to be found in Castlevania. One of my favorite levels is the Villa.

The Villa is reached after completing the Castle Wall area and fighting several Cerberuses. A timeworn cemetery greets you as you pass through the Villa gates, some of the tombstones still retain their epitaphs and are readable. Entering the Villa, you find yourself in a large foyer with a staircase. Exploring the house, a small indoor garden can be found. Red roses encircle the room. If the time is right, you’ll meet Rosa. She is the garden’s caretaker, responsible for the white roses. What white roses? There aren’t any but as the scene progresses, we learn the reason why. Rosa waters them with blood.

A maze lies behinds the Villa and it’s here that you meet Malus, a frightened boy that has lost his family. This part never fails to make my heart race. In order to help Malus, you must follow him through the maze while being chased by a large creature reminiscent of Frankenstein’s creature wielding a chainsaw and two hellhounds. I can still hear Malus’s scared “Help me!” and the revving of the chainsaw in my head.

As Reinhardt, one of the most memorable moments is entering the Tunnels, a labyrinth of seemingly endless pathways. Shortly after discovering a poisonous river, a scantily clad woman emerges from the murky depths, her arms chastely covering her chest. Walking toward Reinhardt, more of her is seen. Below her waist is the body of a spider. These spider women are the dominate foes of the level, gliding down from the Tunnel ceilings, skittering toward you from the shadows and spewing poison whenever they get the chance.

The Castle Center provides a harrowing challenge. To release the seal and fight the boss, two ingredients are needed. One is mandrake, the other magical nitro and it’s with the nitro that comes all the fun. One jump, one slip from an edge or a hit from the traps or enemies and you explode. Playing through this, my hands shake every time. Once the seal is broken, a massive bull awakens. As you battle him, his flesh falls from his body, leaving only a gigantic skeleton until you defeat him.

Castlevania has left a lasting impression on me. From entering the Forest of Silence to fighting the incarnations of Dracula, it has held endless fascination and frustration. At times creepy and beautiful to downright scary (there’s a statue in the Castle Center that weeps blood which then becomes a monster), it is a game I return to again and again.

 

 

 

 

Short Story Spotlight: The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

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Growing up, I was never into short story anthologies. I read Goosebumps, Choose Your Own Adventure books, various novels, and the works of Shel Silverstein. And as a young adult, I went through a Stephen King phase, reading about anything of his that I could get my hands on. Which included his short story collections. And that’s when, I think, I discovered the magic of the form. Short stories were, and still are, a box of chocolate to me. Each story was a different flavor and texture, some nuttier than others and some containing a delicious surprise that was unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable.

About ten years ago, or more, my brother gave me The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: The Thirteenth Annual Collection, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. Inside is gathered the stories of many talented writers, the tales steeped in shades of magic or probing the darkness. It is a delight to read, and every so often the volume calls to me from my bookshelf and I once more lose myself within its pages.

One of my favorites, and it so difficult to choose (which is why I will list some more favorites at the end of this post) is The Grammarian’s Five Daughters  by Eleanor Arnason. This story is whimsical, part fairy tale and part grammar lesson, both beautiful and charming. If interested, you can read it here The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

And as threaten–uh, promised, here are some of my other favorites:

  • Crosley by Elizabeth Engstrom
  • The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse by Susanna Clarke
  • Halloween Street by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Darkrose and Diamond by Ursula K.Le Guin
  • The Girl Detective by Kelly Link
  • Harlequin Valentine by Neil Gaiman
  • You Don’t Have to Be Mad by Kim Newman

 

Do you read short stories and what are some of your favorites?

Horror Movies – Part 4

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The Supernatural and Creatures: Vampires, Werewolves and Demons, Oh my!

There is too many movies that fit into this subgenre that I enjoy, so I hope that I am able to do justice to this most popular subject. It is also, sadly, often an overused subject as many B-movies can attest to.

Vampires

The Lost Boys(1987). My first vampire movie. As a treat, and after much begging on my part, my mom let me watch it one afternoon when I arrived home before my younger siblings. I am very glad that I watched it during a sunny, fall afternoon and not after dark. As the title suggests, it has a sort of skewed Peter Pan-esque feel to it, which wasn’t at first apparent when I was younger. A group of punkish teenagers lure newcomer, Michael, into their group, slowly seducing him with their cool lawlessness and pretty Star, the group’s only female member. Michael, unwittingly, starts to show symptoms that his younger brother assumes belongs (with help from the resident vampire experts, the Frog Brothers) of a vampire. There is a really cool showdown near the end of the movie between vampires and humans. Plus a neat little twist of sorts concerning motive. It’s gory though, but what would a vampire movie be without blood?

I Am Legend(2007). A great movie on many levels. A lone man in a wasteland of viral vampires in which Robert, the main character, has a daily routine of scavenging the city looking for supplies or hunting for food, he also experiments, looking for a cure. It is sometimes poignant, sometimes tense and I cry almost every time at the scene with Robert and Sam, his dog companion. Those who have seen it probably knows what I mean. I have also seen The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price in the lead role, which was really good as well. I have yet to read the novel but it has spawned three movie adaptations and probably several works “influenced by”, one of which is the low budget zombie movie I Am Omega (2007).

Other Vampire Movies: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Interview with the Vampire (1994), 30 Days of Night (2007), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Blade (1998)

Werewolves

Cursed (2005). This is a horror-comedy by Wes Craven. I enjoyed the mix of traditional werewolf lore and modern day culture found in this movie. It centers around siblings Ellie and Jimmy Myers who have an accident on their way home. Descending a hill to see how the other driver fared, they are scratched by some sort of wild beast, a beast that violently kills the woman involved in the accident. Once home, Jimmy begins to investigate unidentified animal attacks which leads him to believe they had survived a werewolf attack. As the movie progresses, the werewolf symptoms become more evident and there is also a slight element of mystery since the victims all have one thing in common. It does contain gore, but I have yet to see a werewolf movie, or any monster type movie for that matter, that doesn’t. I think that there is a nice twist at the end, I know that when I first saw it, the werewolf was not the one I thought it was.

Silver Bullet (1985). Based on the illustrated novella Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King. Here siblings, Marty (Corey Haim) and Jane (Megan Follows) Coslaws, have a strained relationship which changes as a series of gruesome, violent murders begin to plague the small town of Tarker’s Mill. Fear conquers the townspeople until a curfew is put into place and the festival is cancelled. The Coslaws decide to have their own backyard celebration and the children’s uncle is invited. Uncle Red makes a motorized wheelchair (named Silver Bullet) for Marty and gives him a bag of fireworks. Marty takes his new wheels out for a spin one night, with the intention of lighting off his fireworks. It is at a bridge that Marty sees the werewolf. He escapes by chucking a firecracker at the beast which takes out one of the creature’s eyes. Without spoiling who the werewolf is for those of you have not seen the movie or read the book, I will say that Marty and Jane know who it is.

Other werewolf movies: American Werewolf in London (1981), American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Wolf (1994), The Wolf Man (1941), The Wolfman (2010).

Demons & Supernatural Entities

 Jeepers Creepers (2001). I love this movie. Siblings Trish and Darry Jenner are going home during college break, driving through the countryside. They are run off the road by a large, rusty truck with the license plate “B Eating U”. Trish and Darry try to first discover who or what the driver is, following the driver back to a large pipe. Shaken by what was found, they flee to a gas station intending to call the police and they receive a phone call from the local psychic. Shortly thereafter, it becomes apparent that the siblings are being hunted, well one is specifically, Darry. The Creeper seemed to enjoy the young man’s smell. For me the ending is both heartbreaking and very creepy.

Paranormal Activity(2009). Okay, I’m a sucker for mockumentaries and “found footage” movies. The Blair Witch Project, Monster and 7 Nights of Darkness. The last two I will discuss in my next post. This astounded a lot of people, it was the little movie that could, low-budget and filmed in a short period of time and brilliantly put together to for a movie that felt like it had actually happened. I went into watching the movie on the fence, not really expecting anything, although my parents who had watched it before I had the chance to, said that they didn’t care for it. I love it. A haunting-like experience has been happening to Katie and her boyfriend, Micah, decides to document the events and buys a camera, among other electronic devices all designed to catch the haunting in some form. He does not take this seriously, sometimes mocking and childish, other times angry and near the end he becomes scared. The acting is good here, they seem like normal people which makes it feel very real. The DVD has two endings. The theatrical one and then an alternative. It was the disturbing alternate ending that I first had seen.

Other demon/supernatural themed movies: Legion (2010), Wolfen (1981), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Evil Dead (1981).

Creature Features: Stuff that I couldn’t fit into the above.

Jaws (1975). After watching this movie, I definitely fear getting into the water, even the man made lake not far from out house. Yes, I know that it is impossible for a shark to live in that lake (unless there happens to be a mad scientist who is genetically engineering great white sharks for fresh water living nearby) but still, the idea of getting into a body of water deeper than a bathtub, and murky water at that, is frightening. Based on the novel of the same name (yet another book to add to my growing list of to-reads) by Peter Benchley. If you haven’t seen this movie, see it. It is about an impossibly large great white shark that is plaguing the waters off a small island community, that is all I am saying. This movie contains many intense moments, and the musical score is legendary.

Alien (1979). This is a great sci-fi horror. A group of employees of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation are woken from stasis by the computer after it receives a distress signal. They land and explore the area, finding a room filled with eggs. One crew member (Kane) is attacked by a hatchling of an egg, the creature nestling over his mouth and nose while a evil-looking tail wraps around his neck making it impossible to remove by manual force. Ash, the ship’s Science Officer, tries to surgically remove the creature but is unsuccessful. The creature’s blood is made of acid. Eventually, Kane wakens, the creature having died and released its hold on him but not without leaving behind a gift for the crew of the Nostromo. My favorite character is, of course, Ripley. She is strong, intelligent and much braver than I would have been in that situation.

Other Creature movies: Predator (1987), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Tremors (1989).

Horror Movies – Part 3

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Slashers: The Monsters are…Human!

These are by far the most frightening due to the fact that the creatures that are causing so much fear and killing innocent folks are OTHER PEOPLE! This area of horror can be straightforward slash and gore or more psychological in nature.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974). This movie was THE BIG MOVIE. It was often talked about as I was growing up, referenced by adults and older children that had seen it. Nothing was as scary as this movie because it had actually happened. It didn’t, but it became this sort of urban legend that endured due to marketing strategy. This movie has scared some people I know that don’t scare easy. All of that gave me high expectations of the movie when time came for me to watch it. I was not disappointed. It was scary. There is nothing quite like the sound of a chainsaw that can really make my blood run cold with terror. (Brief side note, one that is probably more interesting to the author of this post than to the readers: the first time I played Resident Evil 4 and encountered the village’s flour-bag-masked-chainsaw-wielding-doctor, I screamed like a little girl, dropped the controller and covered my eyes while Leon Kennedy promptly had his head removed by said chainsaw.) I do love the ending of this movie, the scene where Sally escapes in the back of a truck. I felt sorry for this girl who went through so much, and was very glad that she escaped with her life. Her companions did not fare as well.

The Strangers(2008). I don’t remember seeing this advertised at all. In fact the first time I did notice it was on a bargain shelf of a big box store. Ever on the look out for a good horror movie, I picked it up and read the back. And replaced it on the shelf. I had “seen” those movies, needless violence and gore, all for shock value. A couple of years later, I was discussing horror movies with a friend and she mentioned that there was a really good horror movie called The Strangers. We share similar tastes in scary movies so I thought that I should give the movie a proper chance. I am so glad that I did. It is one of my favorite movies. It’s subtle at times, eerie and foreboding, and atmospheric. It centers on two main characters who are going through a very difficult time in their relationship. James takes his girlfriend, Kristen, to his family cabin. It’s awkward between them and James calls his friend Mike to come pick him up since there is only the one vehicle and James doesn’t want Kristen to be stranded there. But Mike did not answer his phone and the message was left on his voicemail. Things start to get interesting when a knock sounds on the door sometime in the very early morning. It’s a young woman, her face obscured by the lighting, asking for Tamara. She leaves when Kristen and James says that she does not live there. After that, James leaves to pick up a pack of cigarettes for Kristen. From that moment on, they become plagued by a trio of masked, psychotic tormentors. Never once during the course of this movie do you see the assailants’ faces. They remain anonymous. I highly recommend this movie, it’s very well made and quite scary with little gore. Be sure to lock your doors before watching it, though. I know that the premise of this movie haunted me long after I watched it.

Them(2006, French-Romanian) Like the first two movies, this contains the “based on real events” tag, and this movie was also suggested to me by my good friend. This movie is very well made but since it isn’t in English, there is some distraction with subtitles. Lucky for me, I don’t mind subtitles (some of the movies I have really enjoyed have subtitles). It has a very surprising ending, that is all I am going to say and I know that it both shocked and horrified me. It is fast-paced, the running time is less than an hour and a half (in fact I think it is just a little over an hour total). It starts out with a mother and daughter riding along after dark. They are arguing and during the course of the argument, the mother crashes the car. There’s no cell service, and no way on that deserted county road, for them to get help immediately. They are almost playfully and invisibly attacked. The movie then goes on to concentrate on a school teacher, Clementine, and a night in her life. A night that is full of torment for her and her boyfriend. I won’t give anymore of this movie away. For those of you who loved The Strangers, this might be one you will enjoy as well. It has a similar atmosphere. I highly recommend seeing this.

Halloween(1978). The music scored by the movie’s director and co-writer, John Carpenter, is truly haunting and very appropriate for such a movie. It concerns Michael Myers who was put away when he was 6-years-old for killing his older sister. He escapes some fifteen years later to revisit the old homestead where he begins to stalk a baby-sitter, Laurie. A great movie which reminds me of those urban legends centered on the dangers of baby-sitting and “local killers escaping”. A horror movie classic, and a Halloween staple around here. It is, interestingly enough, one of the highest grossing independent films in history, and stars a then unknown actress, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Scream(1996). Very inventive while playing with common themes and elements from a long line of slasher movies. It contains a combination of horror and dark comedy and while being gory, frightening and tense, manages also to be funny and playful. There is also a wink to Freddy Kruger in one brief scene. The janitor mopping the floor is wearing a green and red striped sweater and is called either “Fred” or “Freddy” by the principal. The janitor is actually Wes Craven in costume, the film’s director. The main character is a high school student, Sidney Prescott. She is at times vulnerable and tough, and always intelligent.  I think she’s a kick-ass heroine. I remember being very impressed with Sidney when I first saw this movie. And every re-watch just reaffirms that admiration.

Other favorite slasher/human as “monster” movies:

Urban Legends(1998)

I Know What You Did Last Summer(1997) – Also written by Scream writer Kevin Williamson

Vacancy(2007)

Chernobyl Diaries(2012)

Silence of the Lambs(1991)

Horror Movies – Part 2

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Return of the Dead – Zombies

I watched zombie movies when I was younger but it wasn’t until I grew a little older that my love for zombie movies really blossomed. It started innocuously enough. My brother bought Resident Evil the video game for the PS. He assured me that it was a really cool game, but it wasn’t really cool. It was AWESOME. It was like exploring a haunted house. And it was scary. I screamed and jumped, was killed by zombies (dogs, crows, and humans) and by Umbrella’s nefarious genetic experiments. From there, I went on to play Resident Evil 2 and loved exploring Raccoon City as both Claire Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy. Which naturally led to Resident Evil 3. So I had some familiarity of that world when the movie Resident Evil came out.

Resident Evil (2002). I do remember complaining that the mansion looked nothing like the grandiose edifice of the video game and was sorely disappointed that Jill Valentine was absent. Putting that aside, I enjoyed this movie from the first. Intensely creepy in many places, it also proved to be a sort of mystery as the main character, Alice, had lost her memory at the movie’s start. We don’t know much about her and are discovering the secrets of Umbrella’s Hive along with her. I still find the Red Queen very creepy, especially when she utters the line (and personally one of my favorite lines from the movie) “You’re all going to die down here.” I have enjoyed all the movies of this series. But the first is my favorite and, in my personal opinion, the scariest.

Night of the Living Dead (1968). I did not see this movie until three years ago and regret not having seen it sooner since it is a classic. I think that the strongest scenes are both at the beginning and at the end. It starts out with siblings, Barbara and Johnny, visiting their father’s grave. It isn’t until after the cross is placed on the grave that Johnny starts reminiscing about the past, and he says that Barbara had always been afraid of the cemetery. Out of a fit of playfulness, Johnny starts teasing Barbara. Shuffling behind them is a solitary man, which when Johnny spies him he says to his sister: “They’re coming to get you, Barbara. Look here comes one now.” She attempts to talk to the gentleman when she is attacked. Johnny comes to her rescue but loses his own life. The rest of the movie centers around the house Barbara escapes to, and she is joined by another zombie refugee, Ben. This is a great movie, and I recommend watching it at least once. I am not going to give away the ending for those of you who might not have seen it.

Zombieland (2009). A horror comedy. This movie concerns the world after a person who was infected with Mad Cow Disease and goes on to infect others and starts a zombie apocalypse. This is very much a journey type story. Each character is looking for something. Columbus is going home, worried about his parents. Tallahassee is on his own quest, he makes killing zombies his personal mission and he is searching for the last Twinkie. They encounter Wichita and Little Rock. The sisters had a history of conning their way through life. Eventually, the quartet travel together to go to Pacific Playland, a theme park. On this odyssey, they quarrel, and have fun, destroy a store and meet Bill Murray. Wichita and Little Rock leave to go to Pacific Playland, without Tallahassee and Columbus, which leads to a fight for survival. It is a great movie, both comical and horrific (I can so understand Columbus’s fear of clowns) and heart-warming in its own way. I recommend this movie for those who don’t like the more serious zombie movies and for those love zombie movies in any fashion.

Shaun of the Dead (2004). Another zombie comedy, this one a part of the Cornetto Trilogy by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. This movie is about a handful of survivors as the zombie apocalypse is happening. The plan is to hole up at Shaun and Ed’s favorite pub with Shaun’s ex-girlfriend and her best friends, and Shaun’s parents. There are tons of inside jokes, which can be found as a bonus material on the DVD. Interesting bits of trivia pop up while watching the movie. Shaun’s boss, who is absent, is named Ash after the character from the Evil Dead series. Most of the music has some sort of “dead” or “zombie” theme. One of my favorite scenes takes place in the pub when the jukebox starts playing Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now and a synchronized fight ensues. If you enjoyed Zombieland, you might enjoy this movie too.

The Serpent and the Rainbow(1988). This is a very interesting movie since it concerns the zombie origins in the actual world. It is based on loosely on the non-fiction book of the same name by Wade Davis, a ethnobotanist. The movie centers on the search for a drug that a pharmaceutical company wants to use as an anesthetic. While seemingly based on fact, it does touch on supernatural elements. I have only seen it just the once but I was very impressed with it. I remember wanting to see it when I was younger and had asked my mom who had seen it if it was something that I’d like. She didn’t think I would have since it was a huge departure from what I usually enjoyed. She was right, though. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it then, not when I was such a glutton for gore and special effects, and the obvious scare. Now that I am older, I find that my tastes have matured as well. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the movies I once did in all their gory glory (although not as much as I used to, I must admit), it means that I have a bit of a broader sense of what is scary.

Other favorite zombie movies: Dawn of the Dead (2004), Pet Sematary (1989), Army of Darkness (1992)