Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Zombies, Part 1

Let me state for the record, I am Zombie movie aficionado. My entry point into these films was literally at ground zero for the birth of the modern genre. Before I go any further, I would like to stand back in awe and ponder a rhetorical question…

What must it feel like to have literally invented, seemingly out of thin air, and entire genre of horror film that is so compelling that it’s still spawning fresh and original films almost 50 years later?

I am referring, of course, to George A. Romero and his seminal 1968 masterpiece “Night of the Living Dead.” It could be argued that this was one of the most influential films of all time, yet it’s backstory is so inauspicious that it is almost hard to believe – truth is infinitely stranger than fiction. But first, my experience…

Somewhere around 1971, I saw this film as a “midnight movie” feature in a small town in the south. This was brief phenomenon in American movie history where local theater owners would book “cult” films for the local (stoned) teenagers and college kids. These movies would only be shown on Friday or Saturday nights at midnight. I would have gone with my friends in an appropriately altered state, ready for some fun. I still remember thinking, as the movie started, that it looked like a really low budget black and white drive-in movie, and I didn’t expect much. Oh how wrong I was! Even today, this film packs quite a punch. There was nothing “funny” or “tongue in cheek” about it. No irony or acknowledgement that this was a low budget horror film. Just an unrelenting assault that became more surreal and violent as the movie went on. The sense of anxiety and terror of the people trapped in desolate farmhouse at night, realizing there is no way out of this nightmarish assault from the ever growing numbers of undead (who wanted TO EAT THEM) was palpable. By the time we get to the closing credits, everyone is dead except our “hero.” People have been burned alive, a child has killed her mother and begun to eat her, mobs of zombies have literally eviscerated the living, with long grotesque scenes of entrails being ripped out and graphic footage of zombies eating human limbs like barbecue. As the film ends, the sun is coming up and the National Guard is working it’s way through the countryside disposing of the slow moving zombies. Our hero stands up in an upstairs window to get their attention – and is promptly shot in the head. A voice on the soundtrack says “There’s another one for the fire…” I stumbled out of the movie theater shaken up and more than a little disoriented. I did not have a good time, in the best possible way! I had been obsessed with horror movies for as long as I was aware they existed, and I had never seen anything like this… this wasn’t entertainment, it actually felt traumatizing and dangerous! WTF!!

This film is an example of low budget, independent film making at it’s best. Shot in Pittsburgh, PA, in black and white, with a few local actors and various local businessmen who had invested a few thousand dollars, IT LITERALLY CHANGED THE WORLD. George A. Romero, who is still alive and working, would undoubtedly have a good laugh at the whole thing. It was just an act of sheer genius – he was a 27 year old young man who created a blueprint for the apocalypse that still resonates today.