New York’s Scary Summer

George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Earlier this month, novelist and cartoonist Adrienne Celt wrote in a piece for the New York Times Magazine that it’s important to her to have a friend with whom she can watch scary movies—especially because her husband won’t. Why is being frightened such a thrill for Celt, her friend, and countless other horror fans? “Horror,” writes Celt, “is a natural companion to the experimental fiction that I love—Clarice Lispector, Renata Adler, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce—in the sense of its belief that beneath ordinary reality lies a second and darker layer of existence. In these films, mood is not subservient to message: The mood is the message, working to disperse the sedative haze of the everyday.”

As Erik Piepenburg points out, New Yorkers will have ample opportunity all summer long to blast away the haze. In the New York Times, he writes up ten recommendations selected from three programs. Beware of Dario Argento, a twenty-film retrospective presented by Film at Lincoln Center and Cinecittà, is on through Wednesday. “I think people like horror films because it provokes such strong sensations that they do not understand,” Argento told film historian Rob King during the Q&A that opened the event. Parisians can look forward to the retrospective when it arrives at the Cinémathèque française on July 6, and three days later, a series of films starring and/or directed by Asia Argento will open with a conversation between father and daughter.

From Saturday through July 30, the Museum of the Moving Image will present the eleven-film series Films of the Dead: Romero & Co., and when George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) “comes to the big screen, just go,” advises Piepenburg. Talking to Hillary Weston in 2019, Jim Jarmusch noted that “there’s a suspension of rationalism in Night of the Living Dead. The zombies are drifting away from any kind of identity or meaning. They’re not monsters that come from outside the social structure, like Godzilla or Frankenstein; they are the remnants of that broken social structure. They come from within; they are us.”

Horror: Messaging the Monstrous, which Piepenburg calls the “biggie” of the three programs, is a series of over a hundred features funneled into ten strands—Race and Horror, The Undead, Women Make Horror, Creatures, and so on—opening today and running through September 5 at the Museum of Modern Art. Caryn Coleman, a guest curator on the MoMA series, tells Piepenburg that we find ourselves in “a collective moment of turmoil, so it seems right on target for New York to be hosting horror programming as both a tool of discussion and celebration.”

Messaging the Monstrous opens tonight with a presentation of a 3D restoration of Romero’s original and unrated cut of Dawn of the Dead (1978), first released in the U.S. in 1979. When it arrived in Chicago, Roger Ebert declared that it was “one of the best horror films ever made—and, as an inescapable result, one of the most horrifying. It is gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal, and appalling. It is also (excuse me for a second while I find my other list) brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of the American consumer society.” And it might not have been made if Dario Argento and his brother Claudio hadn’t boarded the project as coproducers.

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