Lurching towards immortality: Romero’s zombies shuffled, shambled and devoured their way into history.
A new documentary examines how
George Romero and his team
created an icon of the horror genre.
SURELY the only film to simultaneously play in a 42nd Street grindhouse and at the Museum of Modern Art, Night Of The Living Dead, director George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, redefined the horror film for all time.
“Horror really has a function in society, of expressing cultural anxiety, and there’s no greater way to examine that than with Night Of The Living Dead,” says filmmaker Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter), who is executive producer of Birth Of The Living Dead, a new documentary about the Romero masterpiece.
“This movie,” he adds, “perfectly expressed the failure of the 1960s to deliver a new society, and the general anxiety of the time.”
Romero was a Pittsburgh ad man making beer commercials when he raised money from friends, hired a cast of mostly nonprofessional actors and, using an abandoned farmhouse as a claustrophobic set, shot a story of the dead rising from their graves.
Night Of The Living Dead rescued the zombie film from its voodoo roots.
Its end-times narrative had enormous resonance in the era of Vietnam and racial unrest (it also featured an African-American hero, Ben, played by Duane Jones), and it became a prime example of what talented people can do with imagination and almost no budget.
“It’s an awesome example of indie chutzpah,” says Fessenden. “This is a tale of a little movie that could – it became an iconic film.”
Relegated to second-tier movie houses, the movie was eventually championed by Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, and several American and European critics.
Eventually honoured by being placed on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, Night Of The Living Dead jump-started a zombie genre that continues to frighten in such films as World War Z and the hit TV show The Walking Dead.
“The zombie was thought of as a niche horror genre (at the time),” says Fessenden. But Romero changed all that with his film’s political subtext, and “in general, the zombie motif still speaks to our times, in the sense of apocalyptic despair.”
Yet, despite its cheap look and bleak ending, says Fessenden, Night Of The Living Dead “still packs a wallop. We’re not accustomed to endings this bleak. You still feel there’s a sense of integrity in the storytelling. It unsettles and challenges you.” – Newsday/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services