Day 5: The Undead as a Life-changing Experience

Few would disagree that the importance of Night of the Living Dead can be described in terms of its aesthetic qualities, as well as its political and ideological content. However, Night of the Living Dead is also a cultural product meant to be enjoyed and consumed by the public at large. Therefore, as important as it may be to provide an objective theoretical framework to understand Romero’s film, it is also valuable to appreciate its powerful subjective effect on the viewer.

On the last day of our week long celebration of Night of the Living Dead’s 40th anniversary, PopMatters offers six essays that delve on the subjective appreciation of Romero’s landmark film. In strong contrast to the previous installments of this collection, these articles offer a more personal perspective of the everlasting influence of Night of the Living Dead.

In “Life Amongst the Undead”, Prof. Barry Keith Grant recounts the first time he saw Night of the Living Dead, while he was a graduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He explains, Night of the Living Dead was not just a movie, but it was an experience in the most profound sense of the word.

The influence of Night of the Living Dead on modern low budget horror filmmakers is explored by Drew Fortune in “Reanimating the Dead At the Fringe of Hollywood”. Fortune interviewed screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (Feast, Saw 4, and Saw 5), and director John Gulager (Feast). The three fear makers agree on the impact that Romero’s film had on their careers, and Melton explains that the legacy of Night of the Living Dead was the simplicity of its execution.

Bill Gibron in “Night of the Night of the Living Dead” relates the experience of watching Night of the Living Dead for the first time at the tender age of nine. As Gibron explains, Romero’s film was a powerful experience because it looked and felt as if it were a documentary.

In “The Kind of Murder-happy Characters We Have Here”, Stephen Graham Jones ponders the issue of surviving a zombie apocalypse. Jones explores the biological nature and political ideology of the undead. One of the many thought-provoking issues raised is how the zombies may just look at us as “those things that are always running away”. Talk about fast food.

Also considering the light side of the zombie apocalypse, Rodger Jacobs offers a witty piece of flash fiction in “Tender is the Night of the Living Dead”. Jacobs is equally inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Romero by using zombies to explore institutionalized racism, juxtaposing the horrors in ’40s Germany with the obvious anti-Irish sentiment on the part of the zombie hunters.

Finally, in “Zombies as Change” Christian Caliandro offers his take on how the zombies of Night of the Living Dead stand for “cultural change”, which could explain the powerful personal effect of Romero’s film on most viewers. Night of the Living Dead is the first representation of an exciting and gruesome “hate generation” substituting and burying the ’60s live generation.

On this note, PopMatters concludes its week long celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead. It is perhaps ironic that even after 30 articles that incisively explored the origins, structure, and legacy of Romero’s film, we feel that much more remains to be said about this legendary horror film. In any event, the fact that a 40-year-old film continues to attract such a huge level of attention from fans, critics, and scholars, is the best testimony of Romero’s brilliance.

Thanks George for your hard work, which not only has been inspiring and revelatory, but also fun to watch. Thanks, also, for pointing out the social problems that haunt our modern world.

Let us just hope that by the time future generations celebrate the 80th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, mankind will be more tolerant and less selfish.