I am a huge zombie fan. Moreover, I am a huge Romero zombie fan, my screen name and blog title being a play on his famous Living Dead series of films. The first time I saw the original Night of the Living Dead I was eight years old. It was a drizzly, rainy Sunday afternoon and they were playing some old B horror flicks on television. Even at an early age I loved the old black and white horrors despite the camp nature and poor quality of most monster movies. Even for the day and age they were being made in, few were seen having any artistic value and Night of the Living Dead was leading the charge. The zombies were slow, dimwitted, and looked like a bunch of mental patients who’d rolled around in the mud. Even so, it terrified me beyond rational thought and I spent nearly a week sleeping in a pallet on my parents’ bedroom floor. Fast forward about ten years and I again found myself enthralled by B horror and gore in the form of The Evil Dead (which is another post entirely on its own) and decided to give Night of the Living Dead a second try, fully expecting to find myself in the grips of the same bladder quaking terror I’d been subjected to as a small boy.
Where my first viewing had filled me with dread over a cannibalistic holocaust shambling up to my front door, my second gave me a chance to really enjoy the film and appreciate it as a man who had both watched and read a lot of fiction in the same genre. It was no longer a terror tale of reanimated corpses roaming the countryside in a frenzy but instead became the story of a band of survivors whom, in life before the disaster began, would never have so much glanced in each other’s directions, let alone struggled together to try and ensure the survival of the group. A woman, traumatized and nearly completely catatonic from an unimaginable assault and a sudden loss. A man who based solely on his skin color would never have been invited into the homes of any of the other characters during the time. A couple struggling with a sick child and a failed marriage and a second couple so young and naïve they find themselves thinking that everything will be okay as long as they wait. In 1968, the diversity of the cast and the nature of their relationships (the divorcing Cooper family as well as Ben’s protective concern over Barbara which transcended the racial barriers of society at the time) were taboo in American culture.
I watched the movie a dozen times the year I turned eighteen. Maybe more. It became, and remains, one of my favorite movies. Like any disaster story, the real villain isn’t the force of nature trying to wipe out an unprepared population, but the more seamy elements of human nature that destroy us from within. Immediately after meeting, Cooper and Ben butt heads over who should be in charge, who has the best plan for survival and what the proper course of action should be. Their instant dislike and escalating struggle for supremacy will eventually be the group’s undoing. Tommy and Judy, the young lovers, find themselves torn between the two men seeing merits and failings in the logic presented by both and, despite voicing their concerns over the plans once or twice, are quickly struck down presumably because of their youth. A shoestring budget, borrowed video equipment, volunteers and donations lead to the creation of a much overlooked classic that spawned numerous sequels, knock offs and homages and created not only a subgenre within horror and science fiction, but truly gave birth to an entire subculture in America that has only grown over the last 47 years.
If you haven’t seen the original Night of the Living Dead or its 1990 remake (which is also an incredibly entertaining film) I suggest you take a look. Being released into public domain a few years ago, a quick search of the internet or YouTube will result in dozens of hits where you can watch it for free or for very little. For a truly horrifying Halloween treat, make it a double feature and either watch the original and the remake or the original and its 1970s sequel Dawn of the Dead.
In the words of George A. Romero, godfather of zombie gore, stay scary.