It wouldn’t be October without watching the quintessential horror film - George Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. Viewing it once per year gives you just enough time to really appreciate its impact. To this day, it’s difficult to watch another scary movie without recognizing something stolen from Romero. This movie is also noteworthy for breaking another batch of new ground, intentionally or not.
It’s difficult to track down the exact reason for Romero’s casting of Duane Jones as the protagonist of Night of the Living Dead. Even George Romero’s explanation has varied over the years. Whether the reaction was intended or not, an African-American film lead in the late-60s was certainly noteworthy. But more than that, a casting choice gave the story layers. Instead of a tale of mere survival, the element of race turned it into a story about the dark side of humanity. Zombies make some great social metaphors.
It sure was nice when horror movies meant something.
This year, I watched Night of the Living Dead directly after finishing another classic zombie flick, 1932’s White Zombie. George Romero is credited with creating the “modern” zombie movie, and watching the two in such rapid succession only cemented that reputation. The two are quite different in almost every regard, even where the zombies are concerned.
The “traditional”, pre-Romero zombie seen in White Zombie is less about the brain-eating and more about voodoo. These kinds of zombies were living but brain-dead, poor black men forced to work for greedy, white, sugar plantation owners. Supposedly based on fact, these zombies still make for some terrific social commentary (not that it ever came up in those old films).
Since the voodoo era, zombies have represented racists, consumers, the military, and, most frequently, nothing at all. As a whole, the horror genre has become flat. The best we can hope for is a self-parody like Scream or Cabin in the Woods. Horror movies are simply too timid to stand for anything important anymore. It’s easy to startle teenagers with a PG-13 remake, but why not try for something more?
In a time when the country is percolating from social unease and class conflict, why not bring back the voodoo-slave zombie? It couldn’t be too hard to adapt an idea like that for modern Occupy Wall Street sensibilities.