Night of the Living Dead (1968) IMDb

Categorization

Personal horror and dehumanizing drama on a backdrop of the televised apocalypse. The film is low budget, black and white with poor effects, editing and acting. This set off the subgenre- defining zombie franchise.

Subject

A small group of people gather in a farmhouse as murderous “ghouls” walk. Some advocate locking themselves up in the basement, others make a move for freedom. Only one of them survives the undead.

Commentary

Serious, harsh, unethical, complicated, political and fairly realistic. As in all great zombie fiction the protagonists are seldom moral, and fail refreshingly. It kicked off a wave of good X-rated horror like The Exorcist (1973) as the Hays Code fell, and it was a major film in the “midnight movies” phenomenon. Subtext includes Vietnam, racism (albeit unplanned; the script doesn’t imply ethnic contrasts), the products of bourgeois families, the dominance of media, the danger of love, capitalism (in grave ornaments), the utility of savagery, and so on. The offered explanation for zombies is charmingly retro (a “mysterious radiation”) but nobody is certain.

References here: The Crazies (1973), The Return of the Living Dead (1985), The Fisher King (1991).

fiction moving picture zombie

First Romero sequel:

Dawn of the Dead (1978) IMDb

Categorization

Grander in scale.

There is a loosely linear internal chronology reflected in the names of the sequels, yet every story seems to take place in the present day of the particular production, and neither characters nor locations are recycled. This film is the overall climax of the arc.

Subject

It turns out that every human with an intact brain gets hungry after death. Two guys in a SWAT team ditch the fall of Philadelphia when things get too depressing. They join forces with a traffic reporter and his girlfriend at the same TV network, and make their way north via news helicopter. They pause at a mall.

Commentary

Mood clashes with odd music, weirdness in the premisses—zombies must have astounding bite strength—overdone make-up, overhyped gore, and almost explicit symbolism. The action sequences are poor, using the ridiculous slow multiple ricochet and having a SWAT member warning about it, among other unfortunate tricks. Lots of humour in small, black, quirky and often ineffective doses. Zombies are explicitly termed as such, with a reference to voodoo.

There is no sheriff’s death squad this time, and so we have an ingenious apocalypse where simple “rules” have extremely complex and interesting results. An ever present, brutalizing mortality. It is the pinnacle of the main development in 1970s horror cinema, away from the external threats and isolated locales of the 1930s through 1950s, reaching all the way into common people in common places. This is the significance of Peter saying “They’re us, that’s all.” It’s post-Vietnam horror at the self.

References here: Shaun of the Dead (2004), The Strain (2014).

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Non-Romero remake:

Dawn of the Dead (2004) IMDb

Subject

Some ordinary people go to bed one evening without paying much attention to the news. They wake up to total chaos. A televangelist (played by the guy who did Peter in the original) smugly informs a handful of survivors that this is simply God taking action.

Commentary

Fairly close to Romero’s principles (zombies can run here, they eat only humans, and people don’t resurrect unless bitten) applied directly to everyday people in the middle of everyday life, with a high budget and modern tools. Too many slow-motion close-ups on guns (the present era’s equivalent to the slow multiple ricochet), and fast zombies do detract from their symbolism. The central symbolic motif of the original is more mercifully toned down, and fortunately not contradicted. Also preserves and improves upon the jarring musical choices of the original, for the opening credits sequence in particular. The final act is somewhat weak, eschewing ennui and slow death for more direct horror and Hollywood action. It would have worked better if Nicole clearly developed an insane attachment to the dog because of her family, and died.

References here: “Under the Hood” (2009).

Japanese production fiction moving picture zombie

Nominal sequel, despite being created after the official sequel, without Romero:

Zombi 2 (1979) IMDb

Categorization

Low-budget Italian exploitation effort, best known for an aquatic zombie-on-shark wrestling sequence and an assault on a woman’s eye in unflinching close-up with worse special effects than in “Un chien Andalou” (1929). Does not follow Romero premisses.

Subject

A boat from an uncharted Caribbean island is found drifting on the waters of New York city, apparently empty. The Coast Guard investigates, setting off a quest that will eventually result in the island emptying its mass graves.

Commentary

Tits and unconvincing gore add little, unlike the sheer schlock value of the shark fight and maggots. The music is overrated.

References here: The Return of the Living Dead (1985).

fiction moving picture zombie

Second Romero sequel:

Day of the Dead (1985) IMDb

Subject

A research project devoted to understanding the undead is still proceeding. A neurologist is attempting to “make them behave”, and has found a zombie of relative intelligence. The project was put together hastily however, so research is agonizingly slow. The soldiers who are meant to be protecting the scientists want to return to civilization, although it might be gone. On the ground above the missile silo, the dead now walk in their millions.

Commentary

The “Condition” is explained quite closely, with moderate success. Still the same crappy makeup concept, and a few of the zombies are simply laughable (a clown, a kid in American football gear, a housewife who still wears bright yellow rubber gloves; Romero succumbs to the foibles of the contemporary cycle). Nonetheless, the deterioration is intriguing and credible, though the very end leaves a lot to be desired (blame the budget if you must; it was cut in half as punishment for gore). The existence of this more philosophical entry deepens the series very neatly, but it is not nearly as original as its predecessors.

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Non-Romero remake:

Day of the Dead (2008) IMDb

Categorization

Opportunist garbage.

Subject

A US town troubled by a nosebleed-inducing “flu” is quarantined by the military, and soon erupts.

Commentary

Barely does lip service to the originals. No merits.

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Remake:

Night of the Living Dead (1990) IMDb

Commentary

The studio fumbled the copyright for the original film, so there is a large amount of other versions floating around, including a colourized one. This is an actual remake with a 1980-/90s action/final girl. There are a couple of nice twists, but the characters are flat, there is no sense of reality, and the script compulsively explicates completely unnecessary details, which is not good for horror.

fiction moving picture zombie

Alternate version:

Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D (1991) IMDb

Categorization

A redub gag wiping the entire audio track and replacing it with humorous voices performed by one guy acting out a new script. Some footage is cut.

Commentary

It’s full of stereotypes and lowbrow jokes, but the effort is obvious, and it does apologize to Romero. It even has music and surreal sound effects, as well as a number of brief interruptions ranging from the nonsensical to the disturbingly factual.

fiction moving picture zombie

Another alternate version:

Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (1999) IMDb

Commentary

Adds a prologue, crashed car and epilogue, all of it crappy. Also messes with the music and cuts out good original footage. Terrible acting, including a hilarious attempt to have one actor return and play the same character (in additional footage only) after 30 years, strongly reminiscent of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Stay away.

fiction moving picture zombie

Third Romero sequel:

Land of the Dead (2005) IMDb

Subject

Years have passed since “everything changed”. A capitalist cadre has arranged for the successful defense of several city blocks, protected by rivers, electrified fencing and private guards. The rich live in a skyscraper called Fiddler’s Green while the poor subsist beneath. They haven’t heard from the nearest haven in a long time, and get their supplies by raiding the ruins. The chief raider, who’s built and commanded an armoured truck—the Dead Reckoning—is retiring to head to Canada. Outside, the “walkers” who rule nearly all the world exhibit unexplainable behaviour.

Commentary

The zombie goes full circle, reclaiming the symbolism it possessed in White Zombie (1932) as the concept of Bub reaches the surface. Land is partially based on Day scripts from before the budget got cut. Modern effects, snappy pacing, nice in-jokes, relatively good characters for a Romero movie. The most annoying weakness is excessive use of automatic fire, and they should have called it Night of the Living, damn it.

fiction moving picture zombie