Day 1 of PopMatters’ celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead begins with a brief introduction especially written by Romero for this collection. Following Romero’s lead, our first series of essays concentrate on the possible origins and inspirations that eventually led Romero to create such a masterwork of the horror genre. These essays put this landmark film into context, comparing its visual and narrative structure to other films of the era. This exploration proves valuable to understand why Night of the Living Dead became – and remains—so popular since its original theatrical release.
It is undisputable that Night of the Living Dead completely altered the landscape of American popular culture. Indeed, Romero’s film revolutionized the horror genre with its depiction of gruesome violence combined with incisive social commentary that reflected the turbulent cultural and political climate of America during the late 1960s. And equally important, Night of the Living Dead made evident the economic viability and aesthetic potential of low budget independent productions.
It is important to realize that Night of the Living Dead was not born out of a cultural vacuum. That is, even though Romero’s film is revolutionary by virtue of its clever deconstruction of the horror genre, there are many narratives that inspired Romero in a conscious or unconscious manner.
Day 1 of PopMatters’ celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead begins with a brief introduction by Romero written specially for this collection. In “The Zombies and I”, Romero recounts that the critical response to Night of the Living Dead opened his eyes to the feasibility of incorporating social criticism into the sort of horror films that he loved since he was a kid.
Following Romero’s lead, our first series of essays concentrate on the possible origins and inspirations that eventually led Romero to create such a masterwork of the horror genre. These essays put this landmark film into context, comparing its visual and narrative structure to other films of the era. This exploration proves valuable to understanding why Night of the Living Dead became—and remains—so popular since its original theatrical release.
In “A Controversy Is Born”, Prof. Mark Jancovich explains that Night of the Living Dead became a celebrated film because of the controversy that surrounded its release. The reputation of Night of the Living Dead has to be considered to re-explain and better understand the significance of this nightmarish film.
In “Of Mice and Maggots (and Other Nasty Things)”, Kelly Roberts offers a comprehensive exploration of the many horror and science fiction films that may have predisposed Romero for the creation of his undead opus. However, Night of the Living Dead was revolutionary in the way it denied the viewer the delightful sense of resolution usually found in horror flicks made before 1968.
In “Cannibalizing Consumers”, Tim Mitchell goes one step further and argues that Freudian theory as applied to consumerism proved to be fundamental in the development of Night of the Living Dead and its close predecessor, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956). The cannibal horde archetype created by Romero will always have a place in popular imagination as long as consumerism is a dominant force in our world.
While consumerism is a serious thing, in “Camping Out at the Graveyard”, Matthew Sorrento discusses Night of the Living Dead in the context of 1960s camp. During the New Hollywood Movement, a variety of films, including Night of the Living Dead, were self-aware of genre conventions. Rather than demeaning its thrilling and frightening effect, Sorrento argues that the camp nature of Romero’s ghouls helped to relax our nerves, only to be completely shattered by the time we witness the searing downbeat ending of this film.
Finally, in “Home Is Where the Zombies Are”, Chris Justice provides a detailed analysis of the fascinating mise-en-scene of Night of the Living Dead. The powerful visual design of this film forces us to toss rationality aside. This elegant visual structure is one of the many elements that have made Romero’s film so unforgettable.
Sunday, October 26 2008
The farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead shatters the illusion of our most trusted institution: the American home is as dangerous as the evil outside its walls.
When we relax and revel in the campy ghouls, our nerves are left fresh for the film’s terrifying bite; the last and sharpest of which comes at the searing downbeat ending.
As long as consumerism dominates the marketplace, the cannibal zombie horde archetype created by Romero will always have a place in the popular imagination.
Every film in the horror genre leading up to Night of the Living Dead offers some kind of release, a resolution to the terror. Romero's great innovation was to rip away this delight, this false hope, and replace it with an even deeper terror.
Films that cause outrage frequently become the focus of cults and of spirited defences exactly because their capacity to outrage is seen as a challenge to mainstream tastes and sensibilities.
The response to Night of the Living Dead made me realize that I could inject socio-political satire into the sort of "horror" fictions that I loved since I was a boy.