Though widely considered as the pioneer of modern ‘zombie’ filmmaking, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was by no means the very first of its kind. For decades prior, filmmakers had been toying with the ideas of ghoulish creatures, being resurrected through voodoo magic or stapled together through twisted medical procedures. The subtle difference with Romero’s approach was that his zombies were reanimated corpses, slow, brainless vessels, crawling from their graves to stalk the living.
“Zombies cannot run, I say this definitively, as the grandfather of zombies,” he comments in an interview conducted by Vice Films, making the ‘zombies’ we see in 28 Days Later… among other horror films, alternatively ‘infected’. This is an important distinction to make, especially when discussing the matter with passionate zombie-enthusiasts. Though Romero certainly has some authority in the matter, crafting the sub-genre and its many offcuts that we know today.
Self-funded on a micro-budget, Night of the Living Dead was originally inspired by Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, taking from it the central ‘siege’ narrative. In Romero’s film, a group seven-strong find themselves barricaded within a farmhouse as the dead, attracted to the scent of the living, as they incessantly bang on the defended doors, baying for brains. Though as the director discusses in the interview, what interests him the most is that despite the extraordinary situation the group find themselves in, they persist in bickering among themselves.
This is an underlying theme that continues throughout Romero’s ‘dead trilogy’, whilst outside the boarded up windows and barricaded doors, hell walks the earth, it is still the grubby, arbitrary in-politics of humanity that is our greatest downfall. Upon the film’s climax where a resolution of sorts could be reached, and one of the individuals rescued, only results in further murder at the hands of racial prejudice.
In its black and white appearance, it is still this grainy grunge-house look that has made the film such an iconic piece of horror cinema. With the constant re-releases of updated, cleaner, higher-quality version, George Romero rightly points out “I want that rusty, dusty look, it’s not the night of the living dead without that”.
Watch the iconic filmmaker breakdown Night of the Living Dead, below.