It occurred to me during yesterday’s brief hiatus that it would be remiss of me to exclude the Godfather of Zombie Films from “zombie week.” I’m talking, of course, about George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
If you haven’t seen this movie, I assume you were raised poorly. I know that’s an unfair assessment to make, but for real, who among you hasn’t seen the black and white classic that’s been remade, adapted for theatre, referenced hundreds of times in pop culture, and recently given a proper sequel novel?
To be fair, you probably don’t go for the black and white movies when you’re getting psyched for Halloween. After a few decades, even the best movies in history get pushed aside in favor of today’s CGI-heavy ephemera. But if peer pressure isn’t enough to make you want to watch this movie, consider the impact the movie had on horror movies, particularly zombie movies.
The movie was made on a shoestring budget. Romero was a man who knew how to use the tools of his trade to make a coherent and visually appealing film out of limited resources. In today’s world, where there are so many more indie film makers than late sixties, I find the success of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead incredibly inspiring. It’s like if your buddy’s garage band suddenly hit the big time after a concert at a dive bar, and then went on to change the music scene for decades.
Since its release in 1968, Night of the Living Dead has been ripped off over and over again, and many up-and-coming filmmakers have tried to remake the film with their own spin on the story, since the film’s public domain. While this is inspiring in a way, we can’t forget that Night of the Living Dead was only made public domain in the first place because of an idiotic copyright error by the Walter Reade Organization, who screwed Romero out of a much-deserved fortune.
However, a few pretty flowers grew from this enormous pile of copyright horse shit. For one thing, we were eventually given Return of the Living Dead, a horror-comedy which had very little to do with Romero’s masterpiece but made a similar impact on pop culture.
We also can’t forget the one worthwhile remake: the 1990 splatter fest by horror makeup master Tom Savini. It takes Romero’s movie and builds on it in all the right ways, offering an answer to the question, “What might it have looked like if Romero had been given a bigger budget to work with?” Savini’s personal touch elevates Romero’s seminal zombie story to an a much more cinematic and visually appealing horror movie, and it does so without ever taking away from the original film’s legacy.
Night of the Living Dead is one of those movies every horror fan should see. It cemented George Romero’s place in horror history, and it completely changed the game.
Rest in peace, Mr. Romero.
Throughout the month of October, I’ll be reviewing 31 movies I’ve never seen before. Is there an excellent movie you think I haven’t seen? Tell me in the comments below, and I’ll check it out!
I also highly recommend snagging the Night of the Living Dead Criterion Collection Blu-ray if you've yet to do so. It's a must-own release for any horror fan.