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It is just over a week ago since the horror icon that was George. A Romero passed away. Romero will always be remembered for his groundbreaking 1968 film Night of The Living Dead but to me, his often underrated 1985 effort Day of The Dead will always take a special place in my heart. Alongside such classics as Tope Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and creature features such as THEM!, Day of The Dead was crucial to growing my appreciation of the genre during my late teens right through to today.

Horror Films As a Safe Place

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Alongside this passion, I have always been interested in the psychology of horror films and why some love them and others, not so much. An interesting argument is that horror films provide audiences with a safe place, when the world around them is often, in itself, a scarier and more unknown reality. With all that is going on in the world, I am sure that this is something many will agree on. It is not a coincidence that American audiences in the 1930’s flocked to see Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein films during the Depression and in doing so, launched the genre as a lucrative and dependable avenue for major studios for decades to come.

Yet, it is understandable, that people may wonder why I would find comfort in a film about people trapped in a bunker underneath hordes of the flesh-eating undead. As Day of the Dead illustrates, however, it is in the bleakest situations that individual humanity often shines the brightest. Through his approach, Romero manages to subtly place these qualities in our protagonists. This includes John, the Jamaican pilot among our human survivors who muses on why they can’t get along with the film’s military antagonists; incidentally, it also perfectly summarises why we as a species can’t help destroying one another and the planet we all call home;

“That’s the trouble with the world, Sarah darlin’. People got different ideas concernin’

what they want out of life”

Without a doubt, my favourite character is the zombie Bub, who is arguably the most human of all the film’s characters. How can you not love a zombie who appreciates Beethoven?

 

Below is my absolute favourite quote from Day of The Dead however, perhaps as relevant today as it was in 1985.

“You want to put some kind of explanation down here before you leave? Here’s one as good as any you’re likely to find. We’re bein’ punished by the Creator. He visited a curse on us. So that man could look at… what Hell was like. Maybe He didn’t want to see us blow ourselves up, put a big hole in the sky. Maybe He just wanted to show us He’s still the Boss Man. Maybe He figure, we was gettin’ too big for our britches, tryin’ to figure His shit out”

This is my review I did of a showing of the film at Chapter Arts Centre for Buzz Magazine. 

If I had to describe The Red Turtle in one word, that word would be intriguing.

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To try and synopsize it as a simple tale of a shipwrecked man and the red turtle he encounters would not only be a disservice to the film’s wondrous visual complexity but it’s universal themes. Those used to the computer-animated adventures of our favourite Pixar characters and heroes might initially view its style and approach to storytelling as unusual. If you are even the slightest fan of the work of its co-producers, Studio Ghibli, however, then its appearance will most likely be more enjoyable, though no less impressive.

In the opening scene our shipwrecked character is clinging onto life among huge animated waves; a moving image straight out of the imagination of the iconic Japanese woodblock painter Katsushika Hokusai.

We meet the titular red turtle as it thwarts our castaway’s attempts to escape the tropical island he finds himself on. After it’s death at the hands of the castaway and his reflective grief we are transported into a surreal journey and exploration of nature and life itself, a combination of captivating visual and narrative strokes. In an age of loud and brash summer blockbusters, the beauty of The Red Turtle lies in its refusal to force a specific message onto viewers. Everyone can interpret it in their own way, at their own pace and enjoy its subtle touches. This includes an amusing Greek chorus of scuttling crabs.

This is not to say the film is free from it’s dramatic and awe-inspiring moments; the brute power of nature and it’s destructive potential are also very apparent in one particular sequence. And so to be found within this ambiguity, there is also a clear, simple and profound core message which unifies all these elements, surrounding the cyclical nature of life, death and rebirth. There are also broader ecological themes which you will find in many of Ghibli’s own past output. This includes their early 1984 animated masterpiece, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. 

As such, it is fitting that its finely observed gestures and crisp visual storytelling should also remind us of silent cinema’s golden age. This is both emphasised by and fits perfectly with the absence of traditional dialogue and monochrome tinged night sequences.

Another key element of the film is the music. Laurent Perez del Mar’s score intertwines smoothly with the visuals on screen, integrating wood and bamboo percussion, gentle flutes and soaring strings to add even more depth to the film’s already kaleidoscopic tones.

At the very core of The Red Turtle is a universal message which transcends boundaries of language, culture, geography and age. Above all else, this is the film’s greatest strength.