Tag Archives: george a. romero

SHARK VS ZOMBIE: Ramón Bravo, the Man Behind the Stunt

This piece originally appeared on iHorror.com

Even if you’ve never actually seen Lucio Fulci’s 1979 Video Nasty Zombi 2 (aka Zombie), odds are pretty good that you’re at least familiar with one of its most talked about scenes, wherein an underwater zombie fights and bites an actual shark. This single scene was the main reason I sought the movie out many years ago, and I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of horror fans.

The story goes: Lucio Fulci actually wasn’t too keen on having a zombie versus shark scene, but producer Ugo Tucci insisted after having seen Tintorera: Killer Shark a few years earlier. Tintorera was one of the many cheapo sharksploitation movies that popped up in the wake (sorry) of Jaws. It was a Mexican production, directed by René Cardona Jr., based on the synonymous novel by Ramón Bravo.

Bravo was, in real life, a shark trainer and underwater photographer and filmmaker. His interest in all things aquatic started early, with Bravo competing in the 1948 Olympics – swimming, naturally – when he was just 23-years-old. From there, he developed an interest in underwater photography, with a specific focus on sharks. He gained some notoriety for the discovery and photography of “sleeping sharks” in the Caribbean. Bravo would eventually serve as Jacques Cousteau’s dive guide, assisting exploration of these caves of sleeping sharks. He would later write a series of ocean and shark-related novels, and would shoot the underwater footage for many water-related films from director René Cardona Jr.

But back to Zombi 2: Fulci, finding the idea of an underwater battle between fish and ghoul too silly, refused to shoot the scene, so a second unit stepped in to get the footage. Long before CGI was available and working on an extremely low-budget (less than $240K), the only option the filmmakers were left with was to film the scene using a real, live tiger shark – a breed known as “the most dangerous shark species”, due to its high number of fatal attacks.

According to lore, the production planned to hire René Cardona Jr. to act as the zombie who fights the shark. However, Cardona Jr. was unavailable on the day of the shoot, so Ramón Bravo – the shark’s trainer – stepped in to play the role of the zombie. Bravo was able to accomplish the death-defying stunt by feeding the shark prior to filming, as to satiate the gilled beast’s bloodlust. Bravo also doped the shark up with a dose of tranquilizers, just to be safe.

The end result is jaw-dropping to say the least. (Jaws-dropping? Sorry again.) A real human – dressed as a zombie – wrestling a real shark, deep underwater is just something movies don’t dare to pull off these days. The battle – which culminates with the shark ripping the zombie’s arm off – is easily one of the most iconic scenes in all of horror history.

Sadly, Ramón passed away in 1998, and – unbelievably – his performance in Zombi 2 went uncredited. However, I wanted to shine a spotlight on the man who helped create such an awesome and memorable scene, and say Bravo.

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THE MISSING “CREEPSHOW” MUSIC CUES!

Based on sheer unanimous appreciation alone, Creepshow may be one of the greatest horror films ever made. Truly: I’ve never heard one disparaging comment made about it. Inquire, and those who’ve seen it will excitedly describe their favorite segment, their eyes alight and hands animated. For those raised on it, it’s like a plateful of comfort food. And, due to its fall-tinged intro, it has become a Halloween staple. Needless to say, it’s a horror classic.

One of the things that helped cement Creepshow among horror royalty is its incredible score. Composed by frequent Romero collaborator John Harrison (using only a Prophet V synthesizer), the score successfully manages to craft a hauntingly Gothic aura punctuated by goofy camp – no easy task, but one that compliments the vibe of the comic book-inspired film perfectly. Romero himself has said that Harrison’s score delivers on the promise the tagline of the film avows: “the most fun you’ll have being scared”.

Not long ago I discovered Harrison wasn’t solely responsible for creating the amazingly spot-on EC comics-era sensation the score elicited. Many of the recognizable cues, it turned out, were from Capitol Records’ stock catalog. It was a trick Romero had used since the beginning of his career: pacing and editing his films using old stock music, which he often left in once the film was finished. (Just look at Night of the Living Dead‘s score – all stock music, some of which would later find its way into Romero’s Tales from the Darkside television show, as well as, you guessed it, Creepshow.)

Most recently, Waxwork Records released the original Creepshow soundtrack, but it was missing all of those additional stock music cues. In 2014, La-La Records released an “expanded” version of the soundtrack, which included a few of the music pieces, though not many – 14 in all, including only one from “Father’s Day”.

But, thanks to the help of the Internet (and my own dogged searching), I’ve collected almost 30 pieces of missing music cues, including 6 from “Father’s Day”. These pieces were incredibly difficult to track down. There are a few message boards which (thankfully, gratefully) have the music cues listed by name (and Creepshow‘s IMDB page is a wealth of info), but locating the actual audio files proved to be almost impossible. Even though some of these tracks were released on the Creepshow Expanded OST, they don’t even exist on Youtube.

(Complicating the search was the fact that a.) several of the songs have near identical names, and b.) many of the composers worked under different aliases. Whew, exhausting.)

It’s important to hear these cues in full because they’re just incredible. Bill Loose’s work, especially, which is all at once gorgeous, lush, and dramatic. It’s amazing these composers created these beautiful pieces with the knowledge they were to be cataloged anonymously along with hundreds of other pieces for the sole purpose of filling out a record company’s stock music library. It seems almost unjust, in a way – relegating these tunes to a lifetime of obscurity, only to be showcased for literal seconds at a time in the background of some nondescript cartoon or low-budget film.

(And check out Loose’s “Sonar Waves”, specifically about 45 seconds in – any horror fan worth their salt ought to recognize those notes instantly.)

As far as I know, this page is the only place online you can listen to the (almost) entire collection of missing cues from Creepshow in one spot. Unfortunately, it is not complete. I am still missing about 20 tracks, which is mind-boggling. Like I said, these have been hard hard hard to find. But I will continue to update this page as I discover the final, missing cues. Below, the tracks are listed in the order that they appear in the film.

None of this would be possible if it weren’t for the fine, informative folks at YowpYowp and Film Score Monthly (specifically, a member named PrimeEvil whose own keyboard handiwork I’ve included below).

I won’t bore you with my blathering any longer. If you’ve read this far, you deserve to be rewarded with the music. Enjoy, and if you happen to have a hot tip on any of the missing tracks, please email me!





 

HORROR PET OF THE MONTH: Ella!

When the athletic Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) is tragically paralyzed in a freak jogging accident in George A. Romero’s masterful Monkey Shines, things – at first- seem hopeless for the injured Allan.

After the accident, Allan withdraws. He becomes a shell of his former lively self. He grows distant from his girlfriend. And most tricky of all, Allan hates his live-in the nurse, Maryanne – the only one who can actually physically assist Allan.

All is reversed, however, when Allan’s speed-freak med student buddy, Geoffrey (John Pankow, looking like Elvis Costello’s twin here), delivers him a surprise package in the form a cute little capuchin monkey, lovingly nicknamed “Ella”, after the famed jazz singer.

But what Geoffrey fails to tell Allan is that he’s been experimenting on Ella (and other monkeys, for that matter), injecting them with human brain tissue. Unbeknownst to even Geoffrey, the experiment ends up being somewhat successful, and in turn, Ella develops an almost psychic bond with Allan.

The relationship between man and monkey quickly goes beyond possessive and protective; soon it’s hard to tell where Allan ends and Ella begins. And that Ella, boy…she becomes one mean motherscratcher when pushed.

But ain’t she just so dang cute? Hard to stay mad at a furry face like that.

Who’s a good girl? Ella’s a good girl.

Bub Discovers New Music!

One of the great things about 80s horror flicks (versus today’s pedigree) is they didn’t take themselves so seriously. They weren’t afraid to inject lots of humor right alongside the buckets of blood. Everything from Evil Dead to Creepshow, A Nightmare on Elm Street to The Lost Boys, there was an art to the balance of humor and horror – something that is most certainly lost on 99.98% of today’s spook movies.

George A. Romero was no stranger to having fun in his movies, especially them zombie ones that made him so famous. Hell, Dawn of the Dead (1978) has a pie fight! By his third zombie film, Day of the Dead (1985), the slapstick got toned down a bit but there was still lots to smirk at – one of the main ones being the childlike “Bub”, a zombie who we see being ‘taught’ by Dr. Logan. Bub is iconic, as are his interactions with Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan, so I thought I would take a familiar scene and update it a bit – contemporize it for the year it was released, 1985.