Birth Of The Living Dead


How Romero’s zombies re-animated horror

In 1967, a 27-year-old college dropout from the Bronx, now living in Pittsburgh, made his first feature-length film, a $114,000 DIY horror movie entitled Night Of The Flesh Eaters. Set almost entirely in an abandoned farmhouse, it saw a ragtag bunch of no-name, largely unprofessional actors besieged by an army of ghouls who’ve inexplicably risen from the grave.

It featured no stars, boasted a black lead (the classically trained Duane Jones), who strikes a white woman, and it turned traditional notions of morality and narrative inside out. It was appallingly grisly, unremittingly bleak, and it attacked all that was ‘good’ in America – science, patriarchal family, the government, police and military. Retitled Night Of The Living Dead, it invented the modern zombie, reinvented horror and smashed down the door for independent filmmakers.

The history of George A. Romero’s game-changer has rightly been traced a thousand times, and horror aficionados will find little new in this 80-minute documentary. But it does tell the tale well, digging out some strong archive material and training the camera on a succession of informed talking heads led by indie horror figurehead Larry Fessenden (his Glass Eye Pix produced the film), The Walking Dead executive producer Gale Anne Hurd and Romero himself – as frank and engaging as ever.

Strong on socio-political context (race riots, the Vietnam War, etc) but relegating NOTLD’s cinematic legacy to a flurry of stills, it scores extra kudos for seeking out a Bronx tutor who teaches Romero’s debut to his primary school class: “All together: ‘The need. To feed.’”

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