Although George Romero wasn’t as particular or gung ho with his filmmaking as Stanley Kubrick was, you can’t really sit through “Night of the Living Dead” without feeling like everything is so deliberate. Like what is the significance of Barbara looking through the music box? Why did Johnny approach Barbara with his gloves on? And why did Romero blatantly film one of the dead with its eyes moving? Was it was considerably faint attempt to humanize the monsters that we’d see be hit with fire and shot to death throughout the film? Or was it his reminder that through and through these were once people with human impulses and their urges for human flesh are still a part of some human impulse? “Night of the Living Dead” is so nightmarish and intricate that I love picking it apart every single time I’ve seen it and it leaves me stunned every single time.
With the unfortunate death of George A. Romero this year, now is the best time to re-visit “Night of the Living Dead.” It’s hard to believe what one small mistake could have done to alter history, as Romero’s accidental omission of the copyright sign for “Night of the Living Dead” allowed his horror masterpiece to become public domain, and for his idea of the zombie to become open game for anyone and everyone with an imagination. Just imagine if Romero had copyrighted the concept of the flesh eating zombie and we probably wouldn’t have about eighty percent of the zombie movies we have today.
“Mimesis” is set in a world where horror fans gather for a party and have no idea what “Night of the Living Dead” is. At one point a character is explaining “Night of the Living Dead” prompting confused gleams from everyone. Horror buffs really have no idea what “Night of the Living Dead” is? It’s not even a remotely rare film. “Mimesis” is part “Night of the Living Dead” and part “My Little Eye.” Two friends are invited by an acquaintance to attend a party with other horror buffs at a house to meet stars and talk movies. When party goer Duane passes out while drinking, he awakens to find himself in a waking nightmare where he and fellow party goer Judith find themselves fighting off what seem like zombies.
Every three to four years, a new indie filmmaker thinks they can rise up and give a new flavor or angle to “Night of the Living Dead” and provide audiences with a new look at Romero’s classic horror film. “Night of the Living Dead” remakes are cyclical and the last time we had a remotely fresh take on the film was in 1990, and that’s due to the fact that Tom Savini had help from friend George Romero. Every other rehash since has been piss poor, embarrassing, and just damn unnecessary. How many times can we keep watching the same old story? How many new perspectives can you add? It’s impossible to make the 1968 film feel new and original when the first film mastered it, in the first place. “Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection” only has the illusion of presenting itself as a new version of the Romero tale because the entire rehash is now set in the UK. See? It’s not the same old indie filmmakers trying to upstage Romero, it’s new! In truth thiscan’t stand on two legs since it’s anything but a remake.
I spend a lot of time debating and exploring “Night of the Living Dead” to an almost obscene degree. While today it’s been passed around more than a bong at a Grateful Dead concert, has been included in every horror boxed set imaginable, and has been remade, reworked, and rebooted to a sickening degree, somehow George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” has managed to survive it all. It still stands, feet planted, in the ground and taking whatever the film world throws at it. A lot of horror geeks say Romero gets too much credit for “Night.” I mean, in the end isn’t it just a retread of the novel “I Am Legend” and “The Last Man on Earth”? And surely, it’s not the first genre picture to star an African American man in a dominant role. But still, “Night” is just art in motion. It’s still a rich and deeply effective indictment on humanity, and still possesses themes about the inner monster that ring true even in the digital age.
Much like almost every horror fan out there, I’ve seen “Night of the Living Dead,” and had my cherry busted by it when I was five. Since being in the public domain, Romero’s movie has been open to many, many re-workings, one of which occurred in 1990 when his protégé Tom Savini got the wild idea to remake “Night of the Living Dead,” and you know what? It wasn’t bad. In fact his remake stands as one of the better remakes of a Romero film to date, and Savini enlists much of the same dread and horror and instills it with a bleak tone of greens and dark blues to invoke a film that’s quite gritty, bleak, and hopeless even in spite of changing a lot of character actions and increasing the tension. It also helps that he enlists the talents of special effects guru Gregory Nicotero to turn the walking dead in to shambling harbingers of death that I still have difficulty looking at to this day. The song is almost like what you’ve heard in the original.
Since George A. Romero’s seminal 1968 independent horror film was released without a copyright, the horror classic we know as “Night of the Living Dead” has been in the public domain for literal decades. Since then it’s been remade, re-released, re-dubbed, re-edited, restored, colored, chopped, extended, spoofed, satirized, animated, prequelized, sequelized, novelized, sampled, and so on ad nauseum. Much to Romero’s chagrin, “Night of the Living Dead” has been the Mr. Potato Head of the horror world upon which independent film directors can switch and mix without worry of a lawsuit. Sometimes we end up with the 30th anniversary where horrible indie filmmakers attach their own filmed scenes to add extrapolation to the brilliant ambiguous plot twists in the original, and sometimes we end up with “Reanimated” a movie that’s not so much about continuing the exploitation of a horror masterpiece but allowing a forum for visual and graphic artists to paint on with their own visions and wild interpretations of Romero’s zombie classic.
Last year, AFI posted their acclaimed list “The Greatest Cinematic Heroes and Villains.” Taking great umbrage with their many choices, I decided to sit down and think about it. Who were my Ten Cinematic Heroes? Who were ten people I’d strive to be, or would want to be in a perilous situation? I’m one of those weirdos who really always side with the heroes. Whether it’s an epic science fiction film, or swords and dragon fantasy film, the heroes have always appealed to me. Comics, Video Games, Cartoons, it’s always about the good guys overcoming an obstacle and or villain who wants to take over the world, or just plain ruin their life.
A hero isn’t always made, a hero is often a figure of circumstance, an individual who blossoms from a horrible situation, or someone who just decides they have to do the right thing against everyone else’s frustration. A hero is one who is willing to lay it down and sacrifice just to help someone they love, or possibly someone they’ve never met. They rarely ever get a pat on the back, or a reward, nor is their decision always justified, but they do what’s right, and that’s enough. These are my top 10 Cinematic heroes.