Night of the Living Dead turns 50 and how it changed a genre


 George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead premiered in theaters 50 years ago and changed not only the horror genre but in some ways, society.

Night of the Living Dead was instrumental for giving us a new perspective on the world of the undead. Today, zombies have become ingrained in our culture. The image of the shambling, moaning, brain-eating creature can be identified a mile away and appears in our books, movies and video games. It wasn’t always that way, however.

Zombies used to just be the subservient victims of magic used to steal a person’s soul, but one movie and one man changed it all and created one of the biggest horror sub genres that exist today.

I remember hearing in an interview once that in 1968, with the finished reel of Night of the Living Dead in Romero’s car, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed and suddenly the movie that featured a controversial black lead became even more important in seconds.

In 1968, a black lead in a movie was practically unheard of but to Romero, he just made a horror movie with his friends with heavy social commentary. There’s no way he could have ever known what it would become and what it would do for the industry.

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They’re coming to get you, Barbra

We all know the story by now: Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O’Dea) are visiting the grave of their father when radiation brings all of the recently deceased back to life with an insatiable taste for the living. Barbra finds an old farmhouse and shuts herself in alongside Ben (Duane Jones) and a family hiding in the basement.

What ensues is a fight for their survival not only against the “flesh eaters” but each other as mistrust and paranoia begin to take over. It had no happy ending for anyone and hit heavy in our minds of what was happening during that time.

Image courtesy of Continental Distributing

As if the social commentary wasn’t important enough, out from Night of the Living Dead sprung the zombies of the future; slow, homicidal and relentless. George A. Romero never believed in the idea of a fast flesh eater, so they were never included in any movie he directed. While naturally zombies have evolved over the years like all other monsters, it is credited to Romero and this movie that started it all.

I have always loved Romero movies. Many of his later films receive a lot of hate and criticism over their quality or story, but he never let anyone else dictate his vision. His stories always had layers and wove two tales: the straightforward plot of the movie and the underlying issues that plagued society at the time the movie was made.

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So, here is to another 50 years of a timeless movie like Night of the Living Dead, to the use of movies to act as a representative and a mirror to society’s problems and here’s to George A. Romero, a man we miss immensely.

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