The swinging '60s.
What comes to mind when you think about the 1960s? Is it the social changes that happened all over the world, or is it the rise of the hippies?
Maybe it’s all the groovy tunes, maaan or is it the first trip to the moon (if you believe in that, that is)?
Whenever someone starts talking about revolutionary things and the '60s, only one thing comes to mind for me, and that is Night Of The Living Dead by George A. Romero.
To talk about revolution and not mention that movie is a crime, in my book. It changed the face of horror for all time to come, basically. I always enjoy seeing something that so profoundly changed the path of something, whether it is a record, a book, or—in this case—a movie. Sure, there were movies with zombies before NOTLD, but never had they been so scary, and Romero added to the creature what we know as a zombie today, the flesh eating, mindless hunk of dead flesh walking around.
What Hitchcock had done for the thriller genre with Psycho in 1960, Romero did for horror in 1968, and both movies are such genre-defining films. I remember seeing NOTLD in my early teens for the first time, and I liked it. I rewatched it many times, and the more I saw it the more depth I saw in it, things that I hadn’t noticed the first time around.
The politics behind the movie that I didn’t notice when I was younger became more clear as I grew older, and nowadays I can rave for hours about how, in it’s own way, it mirrored what was happening in the world, and how it (in some warped way) showed the human mind when faced with danger and extreme situations. I watch NOTLD several times a year, and I never grow tired of it. It gets to me every time.
One of the many amazing things with the movie is the D.I.Y-spirit that flows through every minute and every second of it. Hearing Romero talk about how he and his friends gathered up some money to make this little horror movie, how they shot the movie by the house, no running water so they had to take baths in a little stream out back, and have their friends play parts in the movie is extremely inspiring and is also something that shows in the movie, how dedicated to this they were, and how genuine it feels. Guerrilla film-making, he calls it, and it changed the movie world by being such an uncompromising movie.
The movie also looks amazing, has a good score, and the violence… oh the violence. It’s raw, mean, and, at the same time, so mechanical. It is unnerving, and I think the Romero-style zombies are a pretty scary thought if they somehow came true.
It’s just so perfect in all its ruthlessness. Zombies don’t care, and they symbolize us as humans as we just stroll along, brain dead, not caring as long as we just eat away at the world. Like the doctor in Dawn Of The Dead said, they are "pure, motorized instinct."
One of the things that didn’t occur to me when I was younger is the fact that it’s an African-American who plays the lead role, and how much of an upset this was back in the day. It was pretty much unheard of before NOTLD, and what is so beautiful is that Romero picked Duane Jones because he was a nice guy, a good actor, and, most importantly, not a lesser human being in any way, which many people at the time grew up thinking. Unfortunately, Duane Jones suffered greatly from the racism in society, and Karl Hardman (who plays Harry Cooper in the movie) says Jones received a rotten deal in life due to the racial tensions of the time. Romero went against societies “rule” of the day, and he did it in the best way possible: by showing that in circumstances like the one depicted, you will meet people from all walks of life, of all skin colours, genders, sexualities, and everything else.
The movie is about group dynamics, and peoples inability to set aside differences—even under an extremely dangerous threat knocking on your door. Romero is a master at making horror where the “monster” isn’t necessarily the most dangerous threat against you, it's other people you should really worry about. I’ve heard people say, when they talk about The Walking Dead, that the biggest threat is at most times other people, and that is pure Romero right there.
Whenever I hear an interview with Romero, it strikes me how humble he is. The man defined a genre, and basically created a new movie-monster, one which has survived and once again made its way back, sinking its teeth into all those "fast zombies," and throwing them clear to make way for that slow-moving horde of the dead. He created this, and is in no way bragging about it, he’s just happy that people likes his movies.
Everything comes back to NOTLD—all zombie movies are related to it. Not only is it is the first one, it's also the most important one. I own a copy of each version of it, and I can watch it over and over again.
I know most people value the music and the politics of the 1960’s as the biggest achievement of that decade, but to me Night Of The Living Dead and George Romero will always be the top of the line. It shows human nature at its truest, and it’s not a pretty sight. But damn, does it make a good movie.
Thank you, George. You are the master.
Mike is a True Original. He hails from Sweden and has a formidable collection of comics, movies, records, and key chains. His favorite things to cram into his face are tacos, pie, and vegetarian sushi, and his favorite beverages are Pepsi Max, Lilt, and Julmust. When he's not watching movies, drawing, or writing, you might catch him jamming to DEVO, Integrity, and Funeral Mist. And if that wasn't enough info already, he also enjoys hockey, junk culture and art. Shit!