Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Zombie Apocalypse Starts Here!

I don't know when I first saw Night of the Living Dead, but most likely it was way back in the early 80's in the comfort of my home when I found a copy of the movie on VHS for tiny bucks. Since because of infamous snafus the movie has long been in public domain it's been nigh ubiquitous in the VHS and later DVD markets. Rare indeed is the horror collection large or small that doesn't include this 1968 classic. That sadly means the producers have made relatively little money from their masterpiece, but I'm confident that the widespread distribution of the movie has added to its reputation.

Most of the time when I've seen it, it's been a muddy print. But a few years I ago I picked up a cleaned-up DVD version, hoped to be by Romero and his colleagues a definitive version of the movie. It's certainly crisp and that adds greatly to the enjoyment of the movie. What the original Night of the Living Dead has going for it that none of its successors or clones has is true horror and relatively little gore. Much more is suggested than seen and that's always the more successful route for true terror.

What prompted my most recent viewing of the movie is finding a book by Joe Kane titled appropriately Night of the Living Dead which details the background, production, and influence of the movie over the course of the last fifty plus years. The book is fascinating in that it tells you enough without overwhelming you with endless detail. It also follows the careers of the people behind the original movie and how they have tried in the intervening decades to deal with the fame, the disappointment, and how they have from time to time tried to reap some financial reward from the reputation of the classic horror flick. The book also deals with the other zombie movies, the ones which preceded Night of the Living Dead and those which have come after -- that includes direct sequels, homages, and downright copies. The author does a great job, aided by many sidebar interviews and commentaries to put the whole zombie movie canon into some context.

The tale of the making of Night of the Living Dead is reasonably well known by most folks I'd suspect. Given that's it's small-budget and independent status set it apart from most other classic horror flicks of its kind, it has a distinctive quality. A group of friends decided it would be fun to make a horror movie and using their experience as commercial makers worked for the better part of a year filming and editing a movie which has made a lasting and ongoing impact on narrative storytelling and on the broader culture as a whole.

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  1. Still haven't watched these movies but I've seen lots of clips and behind the scenes things about it.

    1. The first two of Romero's quartet are well worth the time. The original has a real power, much of it accidental due to its black and white format and lack of understanding of the threat. The second one is more intentional and despite garish color uses its setting of a then-new-concept, a mall quite effectively.
      The third one is difficult on many levels and adds not much to the saga I think, and the recent Land of the Dead is a perfectly fine zombie movie adventure but doesn't have the real Romero feel.

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