Horror of Horrors: The Living Dead
Salutations, Evil Geek Nation! Don’t adjust your browser settings, this week’s Horror of Horrors is now featuring 100% more C-Mart due to the fact that Arthur Harkness has the week off. I’m not really sure why he had to take off in such a hurry, but like three of his ceremonial daggers are missing from their display case and the barn in the Evil Lair is suspiciously low on sacrificial animals. I suspect I this all may have something to do with the flyer I found stabbed into the wall of the lounge announcing the “Say You, Seance: All You Can Conjure Occult Jam” being held right now at the Holiday Inn just adjacent to the Hellmouth in Cleveland. I definitely enjoy a good dose of horror and my all time favorite horror films of all time are George Romero’s classics The Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. The zombie genre has exploded in recent years and quite frankly is getting a bit overdone, but I will always come back to these movies because they still stand as two of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen!
“They’re coming to get YOU, Barbara…” The first time I heard those words, they carved themselves into my soul. I hadn’t even seen a single zombie yet, but even though I was about 9, I knew I was in for some serious shit. The movie’s reputation preceded itself; I had a blanket on hand to throw over my head for the really scary parts. A friend and I had attempted to watch Night of the Living Dead a few weeks before and didn’t so much as make it past the opening credits. This time I was determined to make through the whole thing even though I was watching it on my own. I tried to play it safe by watching it in the day time, since in my child logic nothing bad ever happened when the sun was out. The movie ended up scaring me in such a manner as not to frighten me away from zombies for good; instead it sparked a lifelong fascination with the Living Dead. What I’m really trying to say is damn you George Romero for condemning me to countless hours playing some of the crappier Resident Evil sequels. I may owe him a beer or two for influencing Resident Evil 2 though.
Night of the Living Dead is THE quintessential zombie movie. Everything you know about zombies, nearly all of the zombie movies you’ve seen, all of the zombie themed games you’ve spent hundreds of hours playing; all of it stem from this movie. It set the standard that few titles have rarely been able to live up to since it came out in 1968. The movie manages to project this eerie pall the moment it begins, which hang like cobwebs for the rest of the film thanks to the desolate setting and the black and white look. It’s easy and probably correct to assume that being in a major urban area would be the worst place to endure the beginning of a zombie apocalypse, but Night of the Living Dead shows us that it’s not all wine in roses in the country side either. It’s actually all molotov cocktails and barely contained racism once the group of strangers are all boarded up inside the house. In a theme that plays heavily now in the world of The Walking Dead (Shameless plug time!!! Check out my episode by episode reviews of The Walking Dead here!), sometimes the worst monsters that you’ll encounter aren’t the ones who are already dead. You have just as much, if not more reason to fear the living than you do from the zombie horde. The zombie horde won’t turn on you when you’re not expecting it for their own selfish reason; they just openly want to kill you at all times. The horde won’t hate you because of the color of your skin, they just want to eat your epidermis regardless of its pigmentation. One of the things that makes this film so terrifying is how quickly the zombies go from being a manageable threat, to being completely out of control. The humans are smarter than the zombies and if armed humans can easily kill them when the undead numbers are few. The rub is though you need to be on top of exterminating the threats as they develop. If you stop killing to say fortify the farmhouse you’re currently holed up in or you know, sleep or rest, then the crowd will begin to accumulate making it that much harder to neutralize. Sleep in one day or get lost in a day-dream thinking about the days when the dead stayed dead and the next thing you know you’re hosting the mother of all zombie house parties. Their seeming manageability is what makes Romero’s zombies a truly terrifying threat. The survivors are able to win a few battles, but just when it looks like there’s hope for survival, the humans learn that this is ultimately a war of numbers and that allows the Living Dead to gain the upper hand.As much as I love Night of the Living Dead, due to age restrictions and of course the fact that I was still terrified from the first movie, I would be in High School before I got to see Romero’s follow-up to his masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead. I’m happy to report that I didn’t need a blanket to cover my eyes this time around. No, in fact technology had advanced allowing me to have a finger placed just above the Stop button at all times in case things got dicey… and indeed they got REALLY fucking dicey at times! Night of is a fairly gory movie, especially for its time; Dawn of on the other hand isn’t a really gory movie… it’s the MOST gory movie EVER!!! Holy Lord, just the scene in the beginning with the police storming the apartment building probably called for a truckload of fake blood and that’s only the first ten minutes of the movie! You’ll see folks getting huge chunks of flesh bitten or torn off their body, limbs ripped asunder, machetes splitting open heads, all of it a symphony of carnage that manages to delight horror lovers to this day. The survivors in Dawn of the Dead are a little different from the survivors of the original film. They’re a smaller group of only four, and two of the group are the same type of unskilled “everyday people” like the first group, but the other two were well-trained SWAT soldiers. They were killing machines prepared for war. On top of that, they weren’t shacked up in some run down country farmhouse; they had secured themselves an entire mall. They had food, weapons and supplies to last for months if not years! They even had a helicopter! Surely they’d fare better than our first group of survivors, right? Nope. One of the tough guys gets bitten during the securing of the mall, putting an end to his story pretty quickly. Once again the theme of humans being the absolute worst is key in this film as our remaining survivors plans for refuge are foiled when a roving biker gang crashes through the safety measures in place at the mall.
This movie stoked my zombie furor even more than Night of the Living Dead. To me Dawn of is hands down the apex of the zombie genre. It expands the world introduced in the first movie by showing that the zombie plague has continued well past the events shown in Night of. The zombies have just about completely overrun humanity and hope for survival is quickly dwindling. There’s also some symbolic messaging to be had in Dawn of the Dead, with both humans and zombies being attracted to the mall just because it was a place of familiarity in their former lives. The message was the humans were consumer zombies or something or maybe the whole thing was just some advertising slogan for the mall (Our prices are so low, you’ll come back from the dead just to shop here!), who knows. Zombies are cool and zombies graphically eating people is even cooler. That’s the real message we should be taking away from this flick.
George Romero has of course produced a bunch more zombie movies after these first two. Look… not every movie the guy makes is pure gold. George really could have coasted on the brilliance and success of his first two movies for the rest of his life, but the guy kept on making films and that effort in itself is admirable. His follow-up to Dawn of was of course the aptly titled Day of the Dead. Some people really enjoy this movie, C-Mart however is not one of those people. The beginning of the movie has an incredibly cool scene that shows how zombies have now completely overrun cities. A helicopter lands in the center of a city, then a man with a megaphone gets out and begins calling out to any survivors who may be in the area. We quickly see that there aren’t any survivors around, but there sure is a shit load of zombie just hanging out waiting for a meal to walk by. Slowly we see the streets fill up as zombies begin slowly pouring out of every door and window in the area. I’ve always thought that was such an incredibly cool scene, but unfortunately it’s all downhill after that. After Day of the Dead in 1985, George was on zombie hiatus for 20 years until 2005’s Land of the Dead which in my opinion is just so-so. After that he would create Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead which are both pretty forgettable wouldn’t say i dislike Romero’s later movies, they just haven’t rocked my world like Night of and Dawn of did. One idea that George Romero seems to be obsessed with that I outright hate is the idea of the intelligent, evolving zombie. I don’t want my zombie to learn tricks or play the fucking trombone, I want them to be mindless killing machines; like rotting, two-legged great white sharks. They eat, they sleep, and they make little zombies.
There’s been a plague circulating through Hollywood recently. It’s a disease that strikes old and infirmed film franchises, causing them to raise from the dead and return as mindless monstrosities. No one’s really sure where the disease came from, but they suspect it’s spread through contact with money at your local box office. Of course I’m not talking about an actual disease, no I’m referring to something much worse than that: the dreaded REMAKE!!! Having run out of ideas years ago, studios are now dead set on dragging the last dollar they can out of your sense of nostalgia by remaking all of your favorite stuff from years ago. Luckily though, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead have fared incredible well when it comes to remakes. Night of the Living Dead was remade in 1988 with legendary make-up artist and professional Sex Machine Tom Savini at the helm. Surprisingly Savini’s remake is actually kind of good. It’s not a shot for shot remake, but it’s mostly true to the original and what changes there are allow the movie to stand on its own aside from the original. Call me crazy, but if you love the original then I highly recommend you check out the remake, if only to see a slightly differnt take on the original.
Lighting would strike twice in the remake department when Zack Snyder would remake Dawn of the Dead in 2004. This iteration of the film strays WAY off from the original film which is why I think it works so well. The only basic concept remaining from the original is that the group of survivors takes refuge in a mall. There’s way more survivors living in the mall than in the first film and there is no bike gang to wreak havoc on our band of protagonists this time around, but there’s still plenty of trouble for our heroes to get into. I walked into this movie fully expecting to hate it since I was such a tremendous fan of the original film. Instead of walking out in a bile spewing rage, I ended up really enjoying the new take. Of course when you compare both remakes to their inspirations, original flavor wins both times without a doubt; but dare I say that both of the remakes are in my list of top 5 zombie films of all time? My one beef with the Dawn remake is that it ditches the classic shambling zombies for the de rigueur fast zombies that we’re brought to us in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Still, it makes for one solid zombie flick, so I’m willing to let that slide.
Sadly, lightning would not strike a third time, as anyone who’s seen the cinematic piece of shit that is the remake of Day of the Dead will tell you. The less said about that abomination, the better.
My love of the Romero zombie movie extends well past just his own films. Night of the Living Dead would later inspire the Return of the Living Dead franchise, which are campy, loose sequels to the original film. The Return of series supposes that Night of the Living Dead was in fact a work of fiction based on an actual event. The first zombie to appear in Return of is a specimen that was captured and preserved from that initial incident, but manages to escape thanks to some bumbling workers. These movies mix goofy humor with graphic and gory violence in the absolute best of ways and while not nearly as good as Romero’s crowning achievements, the first one in the series is still a great zombie movie and probably rounds out my top 5 along with the OG Romero’s along with their remakes.
My ultimate message for this article is this: Zombie movies kick ass and when it comes to George Romero, just like the James Bond song says: Nobody does it better. The man has been frightening us for 45 years now and probably still has a few good scares left in him yet. If a zombie apocalypse were ever to actually break out, I like to think I’d be able to credit George’s movies as being responsible for my continued survival. In parting, I will leave you with the wisest thing a zombie has ever said to me: “Brrrraaaaaaaaaiiiiiiinnnnnsssss…..” That advice will certainly change your life.
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Posted on October 9, 2013, in Features, Geekology, Horror of Horrors and tagged Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, George Romero, Horror Movies, Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Zombie, Zombies. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.