Dead, Deader, Deadest!
by Kristin Battestella
These fatal films and documentaries offer a wealth of gruesome, gore, blood, and body counts to match their ghastly names.
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague – Purdue Medieval Literature Professor Dorsey Armstrong hosts this 2016 twenty-four episode lecture series from The Great Courses Signature Channel, beginning with early feudal nobles versus peasants, religious society and church control, and urban growth in the medieval warm period before a changed Europe in 1348 with plague reducing the population from 150 million to 70 million. Onscreen maps, notations, and timelines supplement the disturbing first hand accounts, despairing eye witness testimonies, and Old English translations of outbreak terrors – focusing on the human response to pestilence while dispelling misnomers on The Black Death's name and symptoms. Some victims writhed in long suffering agony while others died within a day, drowning in their own blood thanks to bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic bacterium. Ebola virus comparisons are specific and gruesome alongside scientific theories on bacillus causes, tuberculosis similarities, Blue Sickness inconsistencies, and Anthrax possibilities. Prior Justinian outbreaks, Asian beginnings in Kaffa, and Italian trade route migration spread plague while fleas, rats, and gerbils transmission, weather patterns, and even extraterrestrial origins are debated. Entire villages were ravaged with hemorrhagic fever contributing to the scourge's spread on poor, crowded, malnourished people fearing the judgment of god, wearing creepy masks, and carrying fragrant herbs to curb the smell of mass shallow graves and dog-mauled bodies. Despite illiteracy, wills and documentation accumulate – although journals have blank spaces and abrupt ends because the writers died. Vacancies increase while religious orders decrease since those ministering to the sick die, yet crime declines as thieves won't even enter a wealthy but plagued home. Avignon pilgrimages bring devastation and Walking Dead comparisons as Florence's valuable textiles are burned. Prostitutes are often cast out – not for transmission worries, but to purge sin from a city. Orphans and widows become dependent on the patriarchal society, and artistic guild become charitable necessities. Flagellant movements fill the religious gap while England's unexposed island population leaves London with no place left to put the dead. When only the 103 heads of households are marked dead in the census, one can conservatively deduce the number of dead was probably quadruple that 103. In a town of 1,000, what if the average household number was seven? Ghost ships arrive in Norway, and grim reaper folklore expresses Scandinavian fears amid whispers of children being buried alive to appease angry gods. Primitive remedies and blood letting rise, as do tales of monks and nuns going out in style with debauchery and hedonism or gasp, dancing in town wide festivals. An entire episode is dedicated to antisemitism and Jewish persecutions, a depressing and violent response on top of the plague, and the callous church using the pestilence as an opportunity to remind people it was their sinful fault may have helped spur later reformations. Of course, lack of clergy meant the church accepted anyone for ordination, leaving priests who didn't know what they were doing when the faithful public needed help most. Outside of nobles losing their privileged status, most classes were ironically better off post-plague with memento mori artwork and danse macabre murals flourishing amid literary masterpieces and dramatic analysis inspiring the early renaissance and the likes of Chaucer. Economic booms re-establish trade as the aristocracy marries into the merchant class and peasants revolt for more power, changing the world for centuries to come. While lengthy for the classroom itself, these half hours are jammed packed with information, documentation, and statistics keeping viewers curious to learn more. This is a fine accompaniment or a la carte for independent study – an academic approach rather than the in your face, sensationalized documentary formats permeating television today. The Great Courses Channel is worth the streaming add-on for a variety of informative videos, and this macabre selection is perfect for fans of horror history.
Daughter of Death – Anthony Franciosa (Tenebre) and Sybil Danning (Howling II) star alongside the titular Isabelle Mejias (Scanners II) in this 1983 international production also known as Julie Darling. Certainly the print is flat with a slightly distorted ratio, rough outdoor scenery, poor highway scenes, and dark action that's tough to see. Fortunately, vintage Spanish Gothic homes and nostalgic shag hair, instant coffee, pay phones, talk of the roller rink, and malls add to the family conflicts and slithering snakes let loose. Julie is clearly a daddy's girl, but mom thinks boarding school will straighten out her budding anti-social behavior – she scares a school friend and insists she would rather go hunting with her dad than date boys or even marry. While her affection seems innocent to start, Julie is too young to be tucked in at night yet not old enough to see doctor dad operate at the hospital. The delivery guy checks out her mom and we see the Mrs. in a steamy bath, but the budding Electra sociopathy fully emerges once an opportunistic attack makes the choice between screaming mother and daughter with a rifle. Frenetic classical music on the headphones matches the rough assault before the edgy, synth score accents the chilling decision, subsequent lies, and plays for daddy's sympathy. Julie cuts mom out of all their pictures, too. Of course, Julie doesn't know the real reason her parents were fighting, namely her soon to be stepmother who brings along a little brother. Dad takes to the boy, replacing Julie in both the young lady and favorite child departments when they were supposed to have the house all to themselves. She hears the moaning of course, peaking in on the saucy, slightly raw sex scenes – escalating the creepy as Julie imagines herself in her stepmother's place. Does she even realize the sexual aspects or that there are different types of love for each of them? This is an interesting mental study that correctly strays the fine line between the sinister suspense and surprising horror. It isn't about gore a minute, but the twisted dread as viewers wonder when the hide and seek games will turn to terror. Our stepmom sees the competition and will protect her new husband and young son amid chess parallels, ladder dangers, and murderous matricide calculations.
A Split Decision
Dead of Winter – Lovely snow tipped trees, mountains, and chilly rivers begat hiking perils, rock tumbles, ropes cut, snowy crashes, and hungry wolves in this 2014 Canadian geocaching terror. Of course, there are bus driving montages, DUI histories, annoying music, getting gas in middle of nowhere clichés, and ridiculously hammy dialogue like “Is your cock ever soft?” “Only in your mommy!” WTF. One jerk films everybody in a camcorder point of view even as they clearly all have chips on their shoulders, but the sardonic documentation is forgotten as we quickly meet the cliché, overly excited nerds, angry lesbians, and the dude bros who want to watch amid nighttime scenery, windshield wipers, and the increasingly icy road. Although people are bundled up for this snowy treasure hunt, their faces are still Hollywood exposed as the teams run to and fro in the woods following creepy clues in a kind of humorous montage before no phone signals, a bus that won't start, garroting logger cables, and explosions. If they're stranded two hundred miles and at least four days walk from anywhere, why doesn't anyone stay near the fiery bus for heat and signal fires? Everyone continues following the increasingly bizarre geocache reveals such as a gun with no bullets and a stop watch promising screams in ninety seconds despite falling snow showers, waterfalls, and damaged bridges. One dumb ass know it all thinks a creaking old wood bridge with over a foot of snow on top the buckling boards is safe so they all go for it because he says there's a quarry shortcut and a convenient cabin nearby, too. Somebody has to take a dump in the snow, it's obvious who's going to die next – cough one lesbian and the black guy cough – and the hip acting hampers the finger pointing group divisions. Thanks to the straightforward rather than herky jerky filming, we can see the bloody hangings, torn limbs, and splatter gore, but arrows and crossfire reveal the killer far too soon when a movie about a treasure hunt shouldn't give up its reward until the end. Head scratching cutaways, airplane rescue fake outs, and whining about missing pizza further break audience immersion as no one complains about blisters, cold, or frostbite on their gloveless hands. No one is tired – least of all the driver who drove all night and then drank all day who says he'll stay up on watch while the others sleep. They didn't follow the river but are later glad to have handy flashlights and booze to drink as they joke about eating the tubby jerk first rather than addressing any real cannibalism horror. Jealously, one person that is not so mysteriously absent, a knife plus a pen and suddenly anybody can do an instant tracheotomy – it takes an hour for someone to realize this was planned revenge thanks to some prior competition because geocaching is a mad competitive and dangerous sport! The riddles and underground hideouts run out of steam with sagging contrivances and overlong, predictable explanations. This is watchable with entertaining horror moments, however the cliché points and outlandish but wait there's more on and on will become too laughable for some. Our survivors may have beaten the horror hunt, but everyone apparently forgets they're still stranded in the wilderness before the fade to black. Oops.