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George Romero, 77, dies

MalaCloudy Black

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As a child, I remember vividly when I would sneak out of bed to go watch Jaws or whatever horror movie was playing on cable.  I also remember vividly when I fell out of love with the genre.  Maybe I had become desensitized or maybe there were just so many other things that intrigued me more, but alas, horror was not really my cup of tea anymore.

Then I woke up at 2.30 in the morning to the sound of a radio DJ talking about how the unidentified assassins were conducting mass homicide.  With blurred vision, I watched as a black man boarded himself up and chuckled about his fate.  I knew I had to find out whatever this was and devour it entirely.

To this day, that is one of my favorite scenes in all of film.  I'm eternally grateful for what Romero created.

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Night Of The Living Dead is the archetypal horror movie, it's practically perfect in every way.

The zombie thing is overdone, and I'm never particularly inclined to watch any zombie movie or TV show these days, but in my late teens/early twenties I was obsessed with them, and I don't think anyone ever topped NOTLD. The closed was Romero one-upping himself with Dawn, really.

What NOTLD got right, for me, is that the zombies aren't particularly scary in and of themselves - they're lumbering and easily avoidable. What makes them scary is a combination of things;

1. The Uncanny - as a living corpse, they are just human enough to make people reluctant, even if just for an all-important split second, to shoot them. Compare NOTLD to a similar "people trapped by encroaching terror" film of the time in Day Of The Triffids, and the difference between an inhuman monster and one recognisably human makes a huge difference. When it comes to a point, explored more in later zombie movies, where characters have to make the choice whether or not to kill a zombie that was once a friend, family member or loved one, it's a brilliant plot point.

2. The Unknown - while there's one scene of speculation about the cause, at no point does Night of the Living Dead dwell on the cause of the zombies. There's no origin story. They're just there. That's far scarier.

3. The Inevitable - it's not just that there are zombies after you, it's that there a bloody loads of them, and you're trapped in an enclosed space. Again, the individual zombies aren't scary, it's the encroaching, inevitability of it all, coupled with the inherent claustrophobia of being stuck in the cabin, that makes them scary. They just keep coming, and you can't do anything about it, and you can't go anywhere. That's the essence of what makes a zombie movie scary, that I think is lost in later movies that try to take a wider approach. Zombie movies should be claustrophobic.


What's brilliant about Romero, though, is that he more or less invented the zombie movie as we know it - there had been reanimated corpses and zombies in movies before, but they were usually the result of voodoo rituals, or of Plan 9 style alien plots and atomic experiments; Romero created the archetype of the shuffling, cannibalistic horde - and, ten years later, was comfortable enough to use that format as a vehicle for satire and social commentary, without compromising the horror of the concept. Dawn Of The Dead as a metaphor for consumerism still holds up brilliantly today.

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