To celebrate the US release of his Flu series, Wayne Simmons has written a review of one of the movies that started it all. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).
The first zombie was a runner.
That’s right, the case of Fast vs Slow zombies is officially over, as far as I’m concerned. In 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, Bill Hinzman’s Cemetary Zombie ran down that gaddam hill in pursuit of damsel in distress Barbara.
That’s a fact.
And if it’s good enough for George A. Romero, then it’s good enough for me: sometimes zombies like to run.
Not that many of them do run within Romero’s genre-defining Living Dead franchise, now spanning six movies. They ride horses in the 6th installment, but we don’t like to talk about that: most zombie fans agree that Romero jumped the shark with this series around film 4 or 5.
The first movie in the series, however, is a classic and to this day counts amongst my absolute favourite horror movies. The plot is simple: a mysterious virus from outer space (oh come on, it was the 60s!) causes the dead to rise and feast upon the living. A handful of survivors hole up within a small farmhouse in the midwest as hordes of flesh-eating zombies close in. Pressure mounts as our protagonists, including key players Ben and Cooper, debate the best way to survive the night; Ben feels it’s best to stand their ground but Cooper wants to retreat to the basement. Chaos ensues.
The simplicity of this film is probably its strength for me. It would be unfair to call it character-focused, Romero tells us next to nothing about the assorted motley crew in the farmhouse, but their struggles and hopes and fears when trapped are what drive this movie, leaving us, as the audience, to ask ourselves that age-old question: what would we do?
The political railroading of the sequels is largely absent here; Romero’s message delivered in a much more subtle, and thus more effective, manner. The choice of Duane Jones, a black American actor, to play the lead in a 1968 production should not be lost on us; the conclusion of the movie is not only shocking, but a cruel reminder of some of the attitudes towards race during the time Romero was writing. Zombies, as a metaphor, are used to great effect here.
Night of the Living Dead is not only the first modern zombie film, it’s the best. Nothing can live up to this, in my eyes. It’s got all the horror you’ll need: buckets full of gore, screams aplenty and more twists and turns than a Pennsylvanian snake. It’s a beautifully made movie too, from the understated performance of Duane Jones to Romero’s perfectly paced direction. But most of all, it’s got heart and soul, enough to keep the zombie sub-genre shambling (and sometimes running) across four decades of movies, books, games and more, with no sign of slowing.
Long live zombies.
Fast, slow and everything in between.
Want more? Wayne has been having some of the world’s premier zombie writers over at his blog to review some zombie movies too. Be sure to stop by and check out reviews of movies such as The Dead and [Rec].
Be sure to check out Wayne Simmons’s Flu series either in print, ebook, or on audio narrated by Michael Kramer.
Cassandra McNeil is the Marketing Project Manager at Tantor Media.