Day 2: Understanding the Undead

Few would disagree that Night of the Living Dead is one of the most important and talked about films in the history of cinema. On our second day celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters offers six articles that give a rationale as to why, after 40 years, Night of the Living Dead continues to provide a frightful and nightmarish viewing experience.

Few would disagree that Night of the Living Dead is one of the most important and talked about films in the history of cinema. Just think about it -- during this week PopMatters offers no less than 30 articles about a film that is 40 years old. Why does this film continue to attract the undivided attention of hundreds of critics, scholars, academics, and fans from all over the world?

Arguably, the power of Night of the Living Dead resides in its interpretative ambiguity, which permits us to consider this film in relation to a variety of social, cultural, political, ideological, philosophical, psychological, and theological frameworks. In this regard, Romero’s geniality transformed a simple tale of flesh eating zombies into a complex showcase of academic and ideological readings. And even after several theoretical studies, the reasons behind the potent attraction of Night of the Living Dead remain ambiguous and enigmatic. Romero’s masterpiece continues to defy interpretation and categorization.

On our second day celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters offers six articles that explore some of these theoretical frameworks. These essays attempt to give a rationale as to why, after so long, Night of the Living Dead continues to provide a frightful and nightmarish viewing experience.

In “Satiety in Numbers”, Prof. Jay McRoy argues that the power of Night of the Living Dead resides in its presentation of a swarming mass of dead bodies. He reminds us of fears and anxieties due to alien aggregate social collectives. From immigrants to refugees, masses of displaced people have often been considered as a threat to a nation’s cultural and political integrity. This film counters the swarming crowds of the walking dead with a seemingly antithetical mode of social organization.

In “An Anthem for the Undead”, Spencer Tricker presents how Night of the Living Dead relates to the philosophical work of Ayn Rand. In particular, Tricker relates Romero’s horror film to Rand’s Anthem. The allure of the undead stems from the idea that a zombie apocalypse subverts thousands of years of moral discipline engraved into our brains. As such, when the dead walk the earth, mankind is stripped to its barest, most brutal self.

In “Blood, Guts, and Identity Fragmentation”, Rajith Savanadasa relates the powerful attraction of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead to the cultural and sociological theories of Baudrillard and Sartre. The resemblance between the narrative structure in Night of the Living Dead and the struggle for ascendancy in the most powerful nation in the world is indeed striking.

In “I’m Coming to Get You, Barbra", Ian Mathews argues that the power of the ghouls in Night of the Living Dead is not their number, and neither the infectious nature of their gruesome bite. The real horror presented by these ghouls is the terrifying possibility that your loved ones can become flesh eating monsters. Indeed, when the zombie standing in front of you is your friend, brother, or child, then you are confronted by a wholly different kind of terror that challenges rationality.

On a related issue, Victor Calderin reminds us in “Resurrection Revisited” that Night of the Living Dead subverts one of our dearest theological beliefs. Indeed, most religions invoke the promise of a glossy afterlife where we will be able to reunite with our dear departed ones. While most religions promise resurrection as a happy reunion with those lost loved ones, Night of the Living Dead frustrates this reunion. In Romero’s film, resurrection and the afterlife are transformed into nightmarish scenarios.

Without a doubt, the zombie walk is a notable aspect of the legacy of Night of the Living Dead. As explained by Dan Brian in “Zombie Walk this Way”, zombie walks are public events where fans of the undead dress up as zombies and parade across town. One of the reasons as to why these displays are so interesting from a cultural perspective is that they boil down to public displays of what appears to be a worldwide … death wish.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.