Blog Directory CineVerse: Bring out your "Dead"

Bring out your "Dead"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Romero's "Living Dead" changed the horror landscape forever

by Erik J. Martin

Forty-one years ago tomorrow, on October 1, 1968, a low‑budget, grainy black‑and‑white horror film was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. It was George Romero's all‑time fright fest and cult classic "Night of the Living Dead," and if you went to see it and your skin didn't crawl, you must have been a zombie yourself.

Produced for a laughably low $114,000, NOTLD (a ka Night of the Flesh Eaters) starred a cast of complete unknowns, including Duane Jones as Ben and Judith O'Dea as Barbra. The campy plot is simple, but effective: seven people take refuge inside a farmhouse from a growing army of recently deceased cannibalistic corpses that have risen from their graves via radiation from a fallen satellite. As their barricades weaken and the crisis worsens, the once‑unified group begins to turn on themselves. 

But while perceptive critics were admiring director/writer Romero's social commentary on the dangers of nuclear war, the volatility of the sixties and the tendency for cornered human beings to treat their fellow man like monsters, audiences by the score were screaming their fool heads off and gobbling up tickets to see flesh‑eating zombies gnawing on arms and taking bullets to the forehead.

And why not? They had never before witnessed such graphic depictions of blood, gore and savagery captured onscreen. Because there was no MPAA or ratings board at the time to censor him, Romero went full‑tilt with his shocking imagery and kept it intact despite repeated advice from friends and distributors to take it out. 

The result? Instant controversy and outrage by viewers initially. But word‑of‑mouth helped sell the movie to a young, thrill‑seeking audience, who especially flocked to NOTLD playing at drive‑in theaters so they could partake in a little flesh nibbling of their own.

Like its terrifying title characters, "Living Dead" was truly breaking barriers and shattering old school horror conventions, opening up the floodgates for a host of shockingly new and violent gore and slasher flicks to come. NOTLD spawned four Romero‑helmed sequels (1978's "Dawn of the Dead," 1985's "Day of the Dead," 2005's "Land of the Dead," and 2007's "Diary of the Dead") and countless imitators and parodies, and inspired an indigestibly inferior 1990 remake by filmmaker Tom Savini. It also embedded in our pop‑culture consciousness that immortal line, "They're coming to get you, Barbra..."

A bit of Dead-head trivia: Romero was so short on available actors that he gave bit roles to two of the original $300 investors; and while much of the blood shown in the movie was really chocolate syrup, many scenes actually featured blood and guts provided by another investor‑‑a local butcher. 

Lastly, Farrell, one of our CineVerse members, was nice enough to lend us a framed movie mini-poster of "Night of the Living Dead" that was signed by George Kosana (who played Sherriff McClelland) and which is currently featured in our CineVerse display behind locked glass along the east wing of the building that you can check out. Sherriff McClelland, of course, is responsible for arguably the film's second most unforgettable quote: "Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up." 

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