George A. Romero’s 1968 black-and-white masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead, isn’t just another zombie movie. It’s the zombie movie. What we think of as a ‘zombie’ today simply didn’t exist before NotLD, and the whole genre — from 28 Days Layer to The Walking Dead to World War Z and beyond – would never have existed without it.
Sure, the word has been around for decades. There were even a few movies like I Walked with a Zombie and White Zombie about the ‘classic’ individual creatures raised from the dead by a voodoo priest. But the idea of the modern zombie, the shambling, mindless flesh-eating ghouls you gotta shoot in the head to kill, started in ’68. And here are a few things you may not have known about The Mother of All Zombies:
There are no actual sequels to Night of the Living Dead.
Seriously. A direct sequel would be tough, since – spoiler alert – everybody dies. But for lot of reasons – copyright and trademark issues and legal hassles and much more – Romero only created ‘side stories’ after 1968, set in the same world but with no returning or recurring characters from the original. That makes it almost unique in the genre.
There are too many versions for sale.
First, there’s the remake made by *** in 1990. Do not bother. Stick with the original rather than a bad xerox, and avoid anything time-stamped 1990.
There’s also a colorized version, which is a sin against God and Man, so skip that, too. The black-and-whiteness of the original, back in the days before found footage, is an important part of the original film, so please … skip it.
There’s a Blue-Ray with extras from the Criterion Collection, but think twice before you make the investment. This version is terrific. It includes a great 4K print, previously unseen dailies, an additional doc featuring comments from other great directors, and two commentaries … but it’s also thirty bucks. You really have to love this movie or movies like it, to go for this.
If you just want to watch or re-watch it, or have a copy on the shelf, there are plenty of inexpensive alternatives. You can watch it free with ads if you have Amazon Prime, or get various editions at various prices. Personally, if you just want to watch a good copy without interruptions, you can stream it for a buck-ninety-nine on Amazon Prime, or buy that streamed version of ten dollars. But whatever you do: no color, and no 1990!
There are a ton of recaps in various podcasts. Some of them are actually good.
Every podcast in creation has done a recap of the plot of Night of the Living Dead, scene by scene. You can even read one in Wikipedia. And a precious few of those recaps offer some very good – or at least entertaining – information on top of the scene-by-scene breakdown. Three standouts:
The Horror Virgin, — Episode 169, July 2021. Paige, Mikey and Todd know a lot about horror in general, and put it in a modern context while laughing way too much. There are 200+ episodes of Horror Virgin already, and it’s a great resource in general… especially for zombie fans.
Random Number Horror Generator No. 9 – Episode 53, June 2021. Jeffrey Cranor, the co-creator of Welcome to Night Vale, and Cecil Baldwin, the incredible announcer from Night Vale, have been doing a weekly horror commentary/recap show for years, and they always have something unexpected and smart to say. No exception here, in an epsiode with special guest, incredibly good short story writer Alyssa Wong, Also: read Alyssa Wong. Now.
Ue Que Horror (OO-ee Kay or-ROAR) is a VERY lively, VERY irreverent, almost dizzying podcast about Latino culture and horror movies, and their recap – along with their insights into the racial aspects of the move, and George Romero’s own Latino heritage – if he has one – is worth the listen for sure.
George Romero Wrote a Novel that encompasses Night of the Living Dead – and it’s good!
Actually, he started a novel, and worked on it for years … but sadly passed away in 2017 with the book unfinished. His wife finally found someone she thought could expand and fulfill his vision in Daniel Kraus, a best-selling horror author in his own right He completed a huge novel, The Living Dead, in 2020. The unabridged audiobook version, performed by Bruce Davison – yeah, Bruce Davison from Willard and The X-Men and all – and Lori Cardille, who actually appeared in a couple of later Dead movies, do a great job.Either way, a great book … and there are rumors of a sequel.
Duane Jones, the star of the movie, was an amazing man… and there’s an excellent documentary about him
This man kind of came out of nowhere, made this movie, and made a huge impression on everyone in the process. Though he did only a little more acting, he had a huge impact outside of movies. He ran the literature department an Antioch College for years; he was the Executive Director of the Black Theater Alliance, and taught acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York among many, many other things. There is a terrific documentary about Jones on YouTube, featuring – among many other – the amazing African American author Tananarive Due.
There’s an amazing documentary about the making of the movie as well.
It’s called Birth of the Living Dead, and it’s on Amazon Prime. Lots of behind-the scenes stuff, great interviews. If you really want to dig in, this is a great place to go.
There’s even a Broadway Musical!
Jordan Wolfe wrote it, and it did very well Off-Broadway. It might have done even better, if the pandemic hadn’t come along. You can hear it on Spotify, and there are a few clips on YouTube. Click here for a taste on zombieworld.net.
Even years after his death, George Romero is still missed and deeply appreciated.
Romero died in 1988, and the age of 77, and tributes to hear appeared from vitually everyone in horror.
James Gunn, who’s running all of the DCU now, said, Night of the Living Dad “not only scared the living hell out of me, but it was so incredibly DIY I realized movies were not something that belonged solely to the elites with multiple millions of dollars but could also be created by US, the people who simply loved them.”
Horror director and produced Eli Roth said, ““Romero used genre to confront racism 50 years ago. He was both ahead of his time and exactly what cinema needed at that time.”
Joss Whedon – a controversial figure these days, said quite rightly, “No one mined the zombie metaphor like Romero. (After he invented it.).”
Stephen King said, “George, there will never be another like you,”
Jordan Peele, who has turned into one hell of a horror director himself, said it best in his tweet that had a picture of Duane Jones, gun in hand, ready to go the distance. All he said was, “Romero started it.”
Indeed he did, and it all began with Night of the Living Dead.
There’s tons more on zombie culture, movies, TV, books, and every other damn thing (literally), at ZombieWorld.net.