Tag Archives: George Romero

1968 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, AND SPIRITS OF THE DEAD

In 1968 released one of the most relentlessly frightening movies ever made in Night of the Living Dead, but it took a couple of years for the midnight movie crowd to make it into an epic cult phenomenon. Seen today, it holds up effectively, even with our sensibilities jaded from countless hack imitations. Its grainy black, white, and gray palette serves its otherworldliness well during a late night viewing on big screen, which I how I first encountered it. Even Romero could never quite match it, although he continued to try for forty years.

The argument can be made that Romero’s best post-Night of the Living Dead films were outside the zombie genre (The Crazies, Martin, NightRiders, and Creepshow). Still, no one does zombies like Romero (as proved with his 1990 NotLD remake), and the movie closest to the impact of the original was its immediate sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978), which was a shock satire on Western consumerism, brutalizing in its late 70s comic book colors and deliberate plays on banality. Some claim Dawn is Romero’s masterpiece, although it lacks the original’s reinventing-the-wheel, rough-edged freshness. In 2004, Dawn was remade by who completely missed Romero’s acerbic wit. The underrated Day of the Dead (1985) was the third in Romero’s original zombie trilogy, but did not attain the cult status of its predecessors. Its financial disappointment seemed to render it a finale to Romero’s zombie oeuvre. However, Romero, who has always been a sporadic filmmaker, returned with The Land of the Dead in 2005, which was followed by Diary of the Dead (2007) and what looks to be his last film, Survival of the Dead (2009). Each of Romero’s zombie sequels has its equal share of fans and critics, but at the very least, he has tried to say something new with each entry.

Still from Night of the Living Dead (1968)None have attained the compact rawness of that 1968 yardstick, however. Duane Jones became a cult icon as the doomed protagonist Ben. Previously an English professor, Jones was the first African-American to have a starring role in a horror feature (the script does not specify Ben’s ethnicity). Judith O’Dea, as Barbara, is the eternal victim ( in Savini’s remake, the character is recast as a feminist femme fatale). Together, they hole up in a farmhouse and fight off the marching dead, but are inevitably at the mercy of hayseeds with guns. The shot-on-the-cheap crudeness and novice acting actually add to the mundane horror. It was riveting enough to create an entirely new genre, but predictably, its unique qualities have eluded pale imitations.

Elsewhere in 1968, AIP’s Wild in the Streets (directed by ) Continue reading 1968 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, AND SPIRITS OF THE DEAD

READER RECOMMENDATION: BRUISER (2000)

Reader Recommendation by Jason Steadmon

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jason Flemyng, , Nina Garbiras, Leslie Hope, Tom Atkins

PLOT: Henry Creedlow works to provide for and please his cheating, social-climbing wife. An event from a masquerade party takes on a real world tangibility, signifying his nobody existence but also allowing him to take forceful and violent control of an out-of-control life.

Still from Bruiser (2000)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: George Romero’s filmography has never shied away from the strange, but the lack of an explicit reason for Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: BRUISER (2000)

CAPSULE: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: REANIMATED (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Mike Schneider

FEATURING: Karl Hardman, Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea

PLOT: An animated recreation of the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated features a number of talented animators filtering Romero’s original vision through their own artistic viewpoints, expressing the universal messages therein in their own mediums.Still from Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (2010)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  While aesthetically intriguing and at times very eerie, there never was much that jumped out as being incredibly weird about Romero’s zombie movie.  Although it was the first of its kind in what is now a celebrated genre, Night of the Living Dead was always more of a message film than a meditation on the dead rising from their graves.  This animated version does indeed add some visual quirks, but there is no real strangeness here.

COMMENTS:  For fans of the zombie film, it doesn’t get much more better than the simple-yet-satisfying claustrophobia of the grandpappy of them all, Night of the Living Dead.  More than a horror flick, this grainy 1968 indie is a meaningful, smart work of art that pushes the boundaries of what the genre is capable of and what it can stand for.  So above any horror I can think of, this one definitely deserves an animated homage that explores it from a stylistic point of view.  And Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated doesn’t disappoint in that department.

Using a cadre of young, experimental artists, this exercise explores the original movie nearly shot-for-shot with different styles of animation.  The styles are incredibly varied: parts are simply still images, sometimes it’s a comic book-style series of cels, while at other times it takes on an anime quality. One artist takes the real footage from the film and animates over it to generate an eerie reality that blurs the line between realism and otherworldliness. The different mediums at work boggle the mind; whether it’s claymation, pencil sketches, Flash cartoons, or sock puppets, this project has something to evoke just about anyone’s personal aesthetic. It’s amazing what the creators do here to make you think of the movie in a whole new way.  The different animators break from the stark reality of the original to steep the entire world in a haunting, eerie mood that was not there before.  My favorite style, personally, is when they use the real life baby dolls to simulate some of the action scenes!  It doesn’t fit well with the other styles to create that perfect sense of dread and the unknown, but it’s just too funny to leave out!

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated is definitely a success in my book.  The unsettling black-and-white animation combined with the oddly displaced archive voices of the original actors creates a mesmerizing experimental film that goes beyond the norm and pulls off something that few people have.  The various styles of animation work fluidly together to pay homage as well as to press the boundaries of the original zombie survival template.  My only complaint would be that the ending is the most clinical part of the film, when I thought it should be a bit more erratic in style.  In those desperate moments before daybreak, Reanimated doesn’t hit any crescendo notes that the original did not already sound, making the last few scenes almost redundant if you’ve already seen NOTLD.  That caveat, compounded with this film’s lack of utter weirdness, knocks Reanimated out of contention for a spot on the List, although it must be considered one of the more impressive movies released in2010.

If you’re a fan of the original, or just a lover of experimental animation, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated has something for you.  It’s a very strong feature that builds upon Romero’s work with a love and a care that is both heartfelt and reverent.  Despite its lack of general weirdness, it is still one of the better films in a year devoid of cinematic life, and a must-have for any fans of the zombie sub-genre.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an ideal midnight movie for film geeks who don’t mind the animators occasionally taking some liberties or tweaking the material.”–Rob Gonslaves, efilmcritic.com (contemporaneous)