Night of the Living Dead: celebrating 47 years
RELEASED this day in 1968, George A. Romero’s epic, groundbreaking classic, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD hits theaters, recounting the tale of a group of disparate individuals who take refuge in an abandoned house when corpses begin to walk in search of fresh human bodies to devour. The pragmatic Ben (Duane Jones) does his best to control the situation, but when the reanimated bodies surround the house, the other survivors begin to panic. As any semblance of order within the group begins to dissipate, the zombies start to find ways inside — and one by one, the living humans become the prey of the deceased ones.
There are few movies out there that represent the feelings of the era in which the film was made as honestly and brutal as Night of the Living Dead. 1968 America was very chaotic, with the deaths of charismatic leaders such as MLK and JFK, post Tet, and the furious antiwar protesters took over in colleges across the nation, including Columbia University in New York. And of lest no forget, Tricky Dick’s infamous call for the GREAT SILENT MAJORITY to stand up and be recognized. Night of the ?Living Dead was very much an subversive answer to the late Presidents speech. And was interesting invoked one of the greatest Civil Rights speeches made, when Dave Dennis stood up in front of those mourning the loss of James Earl Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner from New York City, when he said, “I’m not here to do the traditional things most of us do at such a gathering…what I want to talk about right now is the living dead that we have right among our midst, not only in the state of Mississippi but throughout the nation. Those are the people who don’t care, those who do care but don’t have the guts enough to stand up for it, and those people who are busy up in Washington and in other places using my freedom and my life to play politics with…”
Not only does Night of the Living Dead hold historical clout, but also became the predecessor to an entire sub-genre in horror. Think about it. Before Romero, zombies were still in the realm of voodoo witch-doctors and crazed plantation owners, space alien mind control, or even atomic aged ghouls. Not saying those sub-genres aren’t good in their own right, cause anyone whose seen The Serpent and the Rainbow can attest that voodoo zombies are still scary. But Romero created something new, a new monster in the lineup of Frankenstein’s, Vampires, Werewolf’s, Mummy’s, fish people, and the like. Without Romero we wouldn’t have The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Resident Evil, Zombi3, The Beyond, and a laundry list of films that benefited from George’s take on walking flesh eating ghouls.
And besides all this, Night of the Living Dead is a damn fine horror movie. Low budget and gorilla in nature. The story was plausible and the characters felt real: we know these people; they’re us, we’re them. Romero’s take on zombies is fundamentally about the people who are trying to survive and how they react given certain situations. How we ultimately take sides and are not quick to listen to the ideas of others. Our fight or flight response forces us into making poor decisions, instead of working together as a group. And then in the end, much how Ben met his fate, we needlessly die.
One of the best reviews I read on Night of the Living Dead wasn’t really a review, but rather a review on the audience during a screening in 1969. The unknown reviewer noted the following:
“The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying. I don’t think the younger kids really knew what hit them. They were used to going to movies, sure, and they’d seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else. This was ghouls eating people up — and you could actually see what they were eating. This was little girls killing their mothers. This was being set on fire. Worst of all, even the hero got killed. It’s hard to remember what sort of effect this movie might have had on you when you were six or seven. But try to remember. At that age, kids take the events on the screen seriously, and they identify fiercely with the hero. When the hero is killed, that’s not an unhappy ending but a tragic one: Nobody got out alive. It’s just over, that’s all. I felt real terror in that neighborhood theater last Saturday afternoon. I saw kids who had no resources they could draw upon to protect themselves from the dread and fear they felt.”
Z Nation: A Post-Apocalyptic Netflix Review
So, guess what new SyFy television show I found while slumming through Netflix last night? That’s right right, folks, Z-oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-i’m-watching-this-Nation has been recently released on Netflix in all its bludgeoning macabre exploits of “who’s going to die next?” or “why can’t I get a decent radio signal?” or “why is that chick dressed like a hooker?” or (for better or worse) “ZOMBIE BABY!!!” Have you seen this new zombie wasteland? If you haven’t, fair warning. There could be spoilers ahead. Or meth-heads selling fabricated zombie weaponry.
Z Nation feels like how “Return of the Dead” is for “Night of the Living Dead.” Its campy. Goofy. B-rated production value with a few lower listed or no listed actors and actresses. In fact, I’m certain I’ve seen a few of these people in other cheesy-b’s, like Sharknado or Sharktopus or Mega Piranha or Deep Blue Sea (sorry Sam L.). Basically, nothing at all like its predecessor The Walking Dead. However, with that being said, while Z Nation is most certainly more outlandish and cartoonish than the famed Ricktatorship, I seriously doubt SyFy intended it for anything less. Z Nation is meant to be…well…dumb. But dumb and entertaining. Watch “Puppies and Kittens,” the season opener, the proverbial handshake to the world of horror and zombie fanatics and tell me otherwise.
The idea is credible. Finding a cure being a priority. And seeing the apocalypse in a larger world view instead of the isolated given Walking Dead story. My hat goes to SyFy for even attempting a new zombie show. And I think that’s probably the reason why they went for overthetop action sequences and spoofs. With plotholes the size Wyoming, its not a story that’s meant to carry much depth. Nor are we to feel anything for the protagonist, except for maybe the “survivor” guy, he seems cool and assholish (which is pretty bad close to reality — sad, but true). The comparison between The Walking Dead and Z Nation isn’t exactly fair either. They are two different takes on the same horror sub-genre. Its like comparing a delicious craft beer, like Saint Arnold or New Belgium, with an industry beer, like Coors or Miller. Yeah, they’re both beers and will eventually get you drunk, but they taste differently going down (interestingly though, they all taste the same coming back up. This is perhaps an interlude to the pretentious “work well with others or you’ll die” attitude most zombie shows and movies adopt). And besides, its got DJ Qualls in it! The last good thing DJ was in was those few guest appearances on Supernatural.
So there you go. Yes, Z Nation is not The Walking Dead…duh! Its running, gunning mayhem. Entertaining and shallow. But delicious all the same. Nothing wrong with a Coors every now and then. Sometimes the pretentiousness gets a little overwhelming and we need to just relax with some good ole fashion American violence.
Anthological Show: enjoying television in a new old way
Douglas Petrie, writer and co-executive producer of American Horror Story, recently announced the setting for the upcoming season 4. This time audiences will be transported in a 1950’s era carnival. And fans have been surging approval all week. As a fan of AHS myself, how can we not get excited about this new setting? 1950’s carnies? Yes, please! This reported setting ekes everything traditional where horror is concerned. Horror is rooted in the mystique of the carnival, from the days of Lon Chaney, Tod Browning, and Irving Thalberg. But even for non horror historians, folks will enjoy the twisted nature of the grandfather of theme-parks. This fall we’ll find “who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? [And] who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir…?” (The Funhouse, 1981).
The popularity of American Horror Story is interesting. Horror has always festered in the hearts of those depraved enough to look, but AHS has a wider base audience that doesn’t fit the typical horror fan scheme. The same was said regarding Frank Darabont’s take on The Walking Dead; however, rating and audience approval has been a roller coaster ride all its own, with downs in the opening of a new season, and ups midway through the second half, while AHS has enjoyed a rather steady climb, growing a wider fan base with each season. Why is that?
Perhaps using The Walking Dead as a comparison isn’t exactly fare. Getting zombies on a continuing television show is a transformative process, especially a Romero influenced zombie story. Truth be told, how many episodes can you really do before you know everything there is to know about the characters involved? How much longer can this story of this set of particular characters go on? On the other hand, audiences (despite disapproval) feel invested in these character stories and will sit down every Sunday night (or Monday afternoon, if you watch online) season after season just to see what happens next. OR…The Walking Dead could take a cue out of American Horror Story’s play book. Dedicate an entire season to just one cast of characters and their story. Producers could make the seasons a tad bit longer, but that’s it. One season, done.
You may or may not agree with the above formula. But hey, its working for American Horror Story. And why, you may be asking? Because its an old new take on how the cogs of horror operate. Long drawn out and reoccurring seasons on the same set of characters will kill a horror story quicker than the FCC. Consider Tales from the Crypt, a near decade run horror anthology (1989-96) that demanded absolutely zero audience dedication, because each show was a single story all its own, and yet people still tuned in to hear the Crypt Keeper’s hilarious chuckal and corny one liners. And before the Crypt, we had Tales from the Darkside, created by George Night of the Living Dead Romero himself, which ran from 1983 til 88′. And before Darkside, during the 70’s we had Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1970-73) based on some of the early work being done by Stephen King. And before that was audiences enjoyed The Twilight Zone (1959-64), with its incredible cast of writers, which included alums of macabre Alfred Hitchcock and Ray Bradbury. Anthologies work! Its a proven 55 year old formula! The only difference now is that American Horror Story has taken said formula and turned it into a single season turn around, instead of a single episode turn around. And this gives us the best of both worlds. We can become invested in characters without feeling stuck with them until the show comes to its inevitable end.
And that’s the rub, right? I think most of us have a tendency of kidding ourselves by thinking our beloved shows will end. And there are those who still feel the sting of watching an amazing show never reach its desired conclusion (cough cough, Firefly, cough) before being canceled. Perhaps the future of television will focus on crafting seasons the way American Horror Story does. Sure, it might not work for most shows, especially shows soiled in drama who keep audiences coming back by drastically killing off major characters (no matter how beloved) each and every end of a season, and despite how much you hate the writers for it, you still come back dammit! But for horror and science fiction, the anthology platform works and can actually improve both the story and ratings. What are your thoughts on the old new? Leave them in the comments box below!
AMC and the Walking Dead Spin Off: some quick thoughts regarding the angry internet nerd overreaction
It seems to be official now: AMC and the undead minds behind the Walking Dead comic book series are in talks over a Walking Dead companion show spin off, with a brand new cast of characters and locations. And when I say brand new, I mean these guys have not even been established in the comic book world. The zombie apocalypse isn’t isolated, its a huge universe with plenty of potential stories to be harvested. An actual companion story arch might be refreshing, giving us the “bigger” picture of a world gone awry. Though, be it as it may, nerds and fans of the still airing Walking Dead have begun to complain.
We’ve all got our opinions regarding what’s best for horror and the zombie culture, but are you (angry interest nerds) seriously complaining about getting more of what you love? One commentator snickered something about AMC being greedy and wanting to capitalize on a popular show. To this, I would simple say: “Are you nuts? You’re talking about a television network here, of course they’re concerned about capitol. But I’d argue, friend, that the folks over at AMC are not dumb. Walking Dead is hot right now, zombies are hot right now. This should be good news for zombie fans across the board. How many other TV spin offs have gone on to be actually better than the original? Lots. Seriously, if a bunch of geeky forensic nerds can get three companion shows, why can’t the Walking Dead get at least one? This should be a no-brainer, you igit!”
Okay, perhaps i’m being a little harsh, but my patience with angry internet nerds can be sometimes tested, especially considering how awesome this news should be and how these guys have already written it off. Come on folks! And its not as if the creative minds behind the original aren’t going to be behind this one; the twisted folks who’ve been writing these stories in the comic universe for over a decade are still in the drivers seat. Check out the office announcement from Daily Dead here:
“AMC announced today that the network is in the initial stages of developing a companion series to its original drama series The Walking Dead, which premiered on AMC in October of 2010. The Walking Dead is currently the #1 show on television among adults 18-49. Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd and David Alpert are on board as executive producers, with AMC Studios set to produce. The companion series has a target on-air date of 2015.”
Hopefully as more news regarding the spin off are released, more fans of horror will step up and defend whats going on. I’d personally enjoy seeing more Walking Dead, especially from a brand spanking new perspective. Until then, lets demonstrate some patience and see what happens, without resorting to biased opinions.