Thursday, November 25, 2010
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
(Rod and Chip Go to the Movies, Part 1)
The names have been changed to protect the innocent. The events depicted are real…sort of.
Sometime during the 80’s…
The feel of Halloween was everywhere as we entered the Rhodes Theater off of Atlanta’s historic Peachtree Street. Rod and I were especially looking forward to tonight's double feature. We plunked down our money for Ms. May, the ninety-nine year old ticket taker with the fire engine red hair, to scoop up. She gave us a smile that we returned as we headed over to purchase a snack.
"She's a legend," Rod whispered to me.
I nodded in agreement as we got a big tub of buttered popcorn to share. It was definitely a popcorn kind of movie night.
We came across a man dressed up as Tim Curry’s character Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
"Hey, you guys are going to love the second feature. It's got soooo many old people," he said. He flipped his hand out at us to give extra emphasis to the word soooo.
We gave him a hesitant thumbs up as we entered the theater.
Frank-n-Furter was talking about Motel Hell, a 1980 horror film starring Rory Calhoun, which was the second feature on the bill. We were going to sit through it all right, but it was Night of the living Dead, the first feature that we were really there to see, it being Rod's favorite movie and all.
“Night of the living Dead! Night of the living Dead! Night of the living Dead!” Rod repeated the title three times and smiled in anticipation as he took his seat with the big box of popcorn.
"And on the big screen." I said for emphasis as if this special moment for Rod wasn’t significant enough already. “But, I wouldn’t say it was my favorite movie.”
Rod scoffed. “So what’s your favorite movie? Pillow Talk or something? Maybe you and Frank-n-Furter can watch next weeks Doris Day-Rock Hudson double feature together. I think there going to show The Glass Bottom Boat-”
“All right, shut up about it already. I should have never told you I liked Pillow Talk!” I said.
Rod put a finger to his lips for quiet as the lights began to dim.
It was then that we heard someone behind us noisily struggle to their seat. The guy behind us cackled and hooted after he finally sat down. You can always tell when someone sitting near you in a movie theater might be trouble. And this was trouble.
Rod looked worried.
The lights went down and the movie came on. Rod’s eyes sparkled as he watched the title flash before us on the screen.
Maybe there wouldn’t be any trouble after fall. I thought.
My relief was short lived as the dude behind us yelled ‘Woooooooooo!” As the credits rolled across went the screen. Rod looked at me with a barely restrained expression of outrage.
The guy behind us (who we quickly labeled “the dude”) didn’t make noise constantly throughout the movie, or else I’m sure that he and Rod would have come to blows.
There were, however, some disturbing incidents, most noticeably in the scenes whenever an older zombie would descend upon the house and the dude kept repeating, “Get it Granny!”
3 hours later
By the time of the end credits to Motel Hell, Rod looked at me. “That movie was alright. Love that Elaine Joyce. Glad it ended happily. But my God, our friend here slept through all of Motel Hell. Why couldn’t he have slept through Living Dead instead?”
We noticed the dude stretching as he got out of his seat when the lights came on. He looked at us. “Movies are over already? Damn, I must have tied one on.”
I looked worriedly at Rod’s bloodshot eyes, fearing there might be trouble.
“Let’s go Rod. Let's just get a beer at Jaggers,” I said.
“No, Chip. I got to say something here.” Rod said.
“Hey dude,” he said to the dude. “You know what you need?”
The dude heard the question, but just stared back at Rod with a vacant expression.
“Better material.” Rod said.
The dude looked confused, but Rod continued. “We’re going to our neighborhood bar. You want to join us?”
I was surprised at this olive branch of peace, and even more surprised when the dude (whose actual name was Dan) accepted.
At Jaggers, we began drinking a pitcher of Stroh’s Lite, when Dan brought up the subject again. “What did you guys mean when you said I needed better material?”
I started to say something, but Rod broke in. “What I meant was, if you are going to interrupt the greatest movie of all-time you better come equipped with your A-game.”
“What do you mean?” Dan asked.
Rod cracked his knuckles. “Ok, son. Heckling 101. For example: Don’t you think it is weird that they kept killing zombies? You might have said off-handedly to no one in particular, ‘Isn’t killing a zombie redundant?”
“What do you mean?” Dan asked again.
“Zombies are already dead. Why do you need to kill them?” I said.
Dan thought for a moment and then laughed. “Hey, that is kind of funny.”
“And you know how some of the zombies walked like Elvis Costello? What do you think you should say there?” Rod asked.
Dan thought for a minute as he took a drink from his beer glass. “I know. You’d say that zombie looks like Elvis Costello.”
“That’s okay, but wouldn’t it be better to say, “Ladies and Gentleman, Elvis Costello! as he walks by,” Rod said.
“Say it like you’re an announcer at a rock concert. And some of those zombie were exhibiting a lot of Joe Cocker movements. Use that too” I said.
“That’s good, Chip.” Rod said. “But you don’t want to overdue the Cocker references. After one or two, it gets stale awfully quick.”
Dan was very interested now. “I like it. You got anymore?”
“I have one.” I said. “When the zombies were marching to the house and appeared to be in unison you might start singing The Jets song from West Side Story.”
Dan looked puzzled. “I don’t know that one.”
Rod pounded his fist onto the table. “Danny, boy. You’ve got to work on getting a handle on common frames of references. Casablanca, On the Waterfront, and the entire Billy Wilder catalog are good places to start. Movies with lots of memorable quotes.
Dan nodded in agreement and actually pulled out a pen and started writing the suggestions down on a napkin.
“Comment on any repetition.” I said.
“What do you mean?” Dan asked.
“You know how they endlessly argue about whether to stay in the cellar or not? Just blurt out something like, ‘The Night of the Living Dead drinking game, one shot every time they say the word cellar.’” Rod said.
“Guess you’d get pretty drunk if you took a drink every time they said cellar.” Dan proudly observed.
“He said cellar!” I shouted and downed my drink, as did Rod.
Dan hesitated, but then smiled and chugged his beer.
“You remember how the guy is boarding up the house and keeps asking the girl to help him and she doesn’t do anything for the longest time and then after about twenty minutes she finally brings him a couple pieces of wood? Maybe talk as if you are her and say, ‘Here’s a couple of pieces of wood, can I go now?’ And don’t forget to be whiny as if you are talking for her,” Rod said.
“In her voice? Yes, that would be better.” Dan said as he scratched his chin.
“And don’t forget what I call the absurdist comparative paradox, where you come up with something totally unrelated but relevant to what the characters are saying. Like when the character says ‘Murder victims are being partially devoured by their murderers,’ you say something like ‘like what Elizabeth Taylor does with husbands.’” I said.
“Chip never misses the chance for a Liz Taylor reference,” Rod said. “But like the Joe Cocker thing, don’t overdue it.”
I shrugged at Rod’s slight rebuke. “Let’s hear yours then, Rod old man. What’s that speech the radio announcer says?”
Rod put his hand up to his ear as if he is Gary Owens from Laugh-In.
"From Washington-‘It has been established that person's who have recently died,have been returning to life and committing acts of murder.The unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims.’ And then to contrast in the same announcers voice say…something like… in the lighter side of the news,lets take a look at Freddie the news chimp on his magic tricycle.”
“I get it! Because if zombies were taking over, there wouldn’t be any lighter side of the news.” Dan said.
“Yes, Danny. Yes.” Rod said, proudly praising his star pupil.
“I remember that radio announcer going on and on. Would it work with that?” Dan asked.
“Yes, when he drones on and advices to kill the brain, kill the ghoul. Say that, hesitate and then excitedly say, And on tonight’s episode of Fibber McGee and Molly…yadda yadda.”
“I think Fibber McGee and Molly is a shaky reference. Our generation may not have ever heard of Fibber McGee and Molly.” I said.
“Chip, you disappoint me. I’ve heard of it. You’ve heard of it. We don’t have to actually have to know what an episode sounds like. We know it’s an old radio show reference. We understand the reference enough to use the joke!”
I didn’t want to register my disagreement with Rod, so I let the point pass. We were in teaching mode after all and I had to admit Rod was on a roll.
Rod turned away from me and looked Dan squarely in the eye. “Dan, the whole yelling out ‘get it granny’ thing. About the third time you yelled out ‘Get it granny’ when the old zombie tries to grab them. I almost climbed over my seat to punch you.”
“Oh, no permanent harm done. But next time make it interesting. Say something like ‘Who said there aren’t any good roles for older actresses in Hollywood?'”
“Or at least Pittsburgh.” I interject. “Remember, it’s set outside of Pittsburgh and was shot there.”
“And Danny boy, what did you say when the naked zombie was headed to the house?”
Dan looked down in shame. “I think I just shouted out ‘Owwwwww.’”
“Can you think of anything better?”
Dan scrunched his brow in thought. “Maybe I could have said like I was talking in her voice and ask if this is the way to the zombie playboy shoot.”
Dan had a proud look on his face as we clapped for him.
“The fact that the posse needlessly shoots a black man in the last scene is an attempt to make a commentary on the unjust way that blacks have been treated in American society,” Rod said.
“What’s the punch line?” Dan asks.
“There is no punch line.” I said. “That’s Rod’s overall take on this movie.”
Rod nods. “Yes, Danny. Jokes aside, this is still my favorite movie.”
Dan stands up and throws some money on the table. “Guys. I want to thank you for giving me some things to think about.”
We shake hands with Dan and he departs.
“I think he has potential.” Rod says.
I nod in agreement.
Coming soon: Rod and Chip Go to the Movies, Part 2…Where Rod and Chip go to a high-brow X-Rated movie…thought it turns out to not be the kind of movie they thought it would be.