Day 4: A Zombie is Forever

On our fourth day of celebrating the 40th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters presents six articles that discuss the everlasting legacy of Romero’s zombie masterwork. As such, these contributions help us understand why Night of the Living Dead continues to be of relevance to modern audiences.

Night of the Living Dead was a revolutionary film for a variety of reasons. In strong contrast to other horror movies of the era, Romero’s film repudiated narrative closure, showcasing a gloomy and depressing ending; it threw into question rationality, and its characters were confronted with an impossible situation beyond human comprehension; it was unusually violent and grim, and permeated in a nearly unbearable atmosphere of dejection, dread, paranoia, and xenophobia; its horrors were internal rather than external; it presented authority institutions as useless, inefficient, unreliable, and untrustworthy in counteracting a violent threat; and used metaphorical allusions to convey an incisive criticism to the several social ills of the era.

These thematic and structural characteristics unambiguously delineate the constitution of what is known today as the postmodern horror film, and they clearly resonated with the social and cultural anxieties of that bleak period in American history. However, Night of the Living Dead is relevant far beyond its own specific time, as it influenced and defined the narrative structure of the horror genre for years to come.

In addition, Night of the Living Dead may also be the only film that has been colorized, sequelized, remade, and reedited with new footage within the lifetime of its director. Furthermore, it is truly amazing that, 40 years after its original release, the social and political commentary that Romero infused into Night of the Living Dead continues to be relevant to our postmodern world.

On our fourth day of celebrating the 40th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters presents six articles that discuss the everlasting legacy of Romero’s zombie masterwork. As such, these contributions help us understand why Night of the Living Dead continues to be of relevance to modern audiences.

In “Victim or Vigilante, the Case of the Two Barbras”, Prof. Cynthia Freeland discusses Night of the Living Dead in relation to its 1990 remake. She compares the character of Barbra on both films to elucidate the different social landscape that saw the original release of these movies. Indeed, while racial politics were the prime mover in Romero’s film, gender politics are at the center of the remake.

In a similar manner, Prof. Linnie Blake compares Night of the Living Dead to its latest official sequel, Diary of the Dead, in her essay, "Forty Years On and It Still Ain’t Worth Saving". In particular, Prof. Blake dissects the way these films reflect their turbulent times: the late '60s and the post 9/11 years. As Prof. Blake explains, for Romero, 40 years after the original release of Night of the Living Dead, America continues to be a divided nation. Indeed, as chronicled on his films, Romero appears to be convinced that there has been little meaningful social progress on the 40 years that separate both of his films.

In “We’re coming to get you, Barbra”, Ian Chant argues that the real villains in Night of the Living Dead are not the zombies, but the selfish people trapped by a situation they cannot comprehend. Chant examines how this confrontational structure returns in the several sequels of Night of the Living Dead, but also in other popular horror films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Descent, and The Last Winter. As Chant explains, the real monsters in the films that Night of the Living Dead inspired are the hobgoblins we face every day: jealousy, selfishness, anger, lies, rage, and simple misunderstandings.

In “Decade of the Dead”, Michael Curtis Nelson provides a detailed analysis of the zombie nightmares created in the new millennium. This essay discusses Night of the Living Dead in relation to the Dawn of the Dead remake, Planet Terror, and Romero’s Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead. Nelson argues that Romero’s social pessimism is justified. After all, from 9/11 and Aub Ghraib to Darfur and New Orleans, an entire decade of powerful images of human suffering have had very little impact on changing the status quo.

On the same pessimist note, in “1968 is Undead” Timothy Gabriele carefully explores the juxtaposition of 1968 vs. 2008 through Night of the Living Dead. The radio and television broadcasts of Night of the Living Dead depict a government unable to protect, alert, and prepare its citizenry for a national crisis. As such, Night of the Living Dead appears to be prophetic, in the way it brings to mind the bureaucratic bungling that surrounded the September 11th and the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Finally, in “I See Dead People” Marco Lanzagorta argues that the influence of Night of the Living Dead goes far beyond the horror genre. Indeed, while it is true that Night of the Living Dead inspired films such as Zombie, 28 Days Later, Planet Terror, and many more, Romero’s signature can be observed in thrillers (Straw Dogs and Reservoir Dogs), war movies (Black Hawk Down and Crimson Tide), urban dramas (Assault on Precinct 13th and Fear), and science fiction flicks (Aliens and Universal Soldier). The real legacy of Night of the Living Dead is the way it became a quintessential icon that perfectly represents the patriarchal conflict for phallic control, as well as the confrontation between the primitive and the civilized.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


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 .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

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.