*** This feature will feature spoilers. For a little guide on what to expect without spoilers, check out our introduction ***.
The two films we’ve chosen for this month’s double bill are not typical of the time they were created in – but stand as noteworthy types of the genre, despite often exceeding or expanding it. Even with the gaping chasm between them, combined they allow us to come closer to understanding what horror as a genre is – at least as can be found with a very gentle excavation of the form in mainstream cinema.
George Romero’s fantastic “Night of the Living Dead” is as close to classic horror as you can get. Released in 1968, the independent feature is often considered the original presentation of zombies to a mainstream audience, and this despite not actually mentioning zombies at any point. The voodoo zombie of older films here is replaced with a more modern monster, the stand-out somnambulists that walk and yearn for a new level of violence and gore, but which camouflage themselves amongst a more usual, contemporary setting. Even if it wasn’t the first – it most certainly is the most remembered film of the genre.
It’s notoriety can best be understood to its originality at the time it was created. Outside of a multi-million dollar culture of cheap thrills horror, Romero’s film could appear to be simply one drop in a tsunami of shite, but it is anything but. Before Romero’s masterpiece, horror took place in deliberately scary venues, with danger subdued and left to reside in the shadows. Romero’s monsters take what scares us, takes those creeping fears that are so usully buried, and brings them to the surface. Put simply, the Zombies, as we know them now, were not only coming to get you – but they were like you too.
The success of this formula bred with this success. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead began an entire genre of movies, not only from Romero himself , who’s “of the dead” series is perhaps the most well known, but also the equally loved “Living Dead” series from Dan O Bannon and John Russo, who base their series on the suggestion that the original film was a real event – and introduce zombies as an altogether more terrifying foe, communicative and essentially unstoppable in their quest to nosh on your brains. Even beyond this particular clique, Romero’s work has inspired countless other retellings, reimaginigs and spoofs – and all obsessed with the same, simple monster.
Our other film, Rec
Since remade from it’s spanish origins.
One commentator argues that this film
Most specific to Romero’s ouevre is the notable inclusion of meaning, as each new film points towards a new feature of contemporary society which is expanded upon by the traditional framework of the horror film. This is most clear to see in the original Dawn of the Dead, where Romero places the zombie hordes in a shopping mall who, framed by the incessant commercialism that remains rife in society, continue to enact the anaesthetized behaviours of their former selves. Rarely however, does this habit towards meaning get in the way of a fun, camply violent romp – and perhaps it is this feature of the film, in which we are shown our vices while enjoying something equally as empty and full of surface delight, actually contribute towards a further, more complex feeling for the audience in relation to the movie. When this is later remade, this confused space is rearticulated without any of the potency of the original, sealing any of this complexity away.
This leads us to where “Rec” and Romero collide most prominently, within the less well received Diary of the Dead, in which the protagonist’s make them film as part of a documentary. Their experience of this world is seen through the lens of a camera, deliberately shown through within the movie. Obviously inspired by the sort of film-making rekindled with the success of Blair Witch Project, by no means does Romero succeed with this attempt, but this doesn’t impact significantly – we know what to expect in the zombie genre as much as we know what to expect from this found footage ordeals; bizarrely, it could be argued that Romero doesn’t ever bring anything new, but merely repeats what we’ve already seen a thousand times before – but does so at a point in which our society is so overly saturated and aware of itself that to do so now merely repeats the symptoms of society itself.
The most significant reason why this film fails is that it doesn’t speak to an audience of viewers as is usually understood, but an audience of new film-makers. The horror therefore is not in the flesh eating zombies, but the morality of filming, the naivety of those that approach the camera without knowing its potential violent affects. Because of this, many that watch the film feel above the horror, separated from its meaning as a kind of knowing spectator, where as the rest – a clearly diminishing number which are not truly inseparable from the “film-makers” I mean, what with our own tendency to capture and share many, often mundane, facets of our own lives – don’t find the traditional horror in the film authentic, or engaging. Therefore, it fails to engage any viewer as others in the series do, but fails in an ever shrinking space of uncertainty, a distance within which it could be claimed Romero is most astute, albeit merely ineffectual due to society’s flaws rather than the director’s own failure of vision.
This is where the baton is handed over – where a new breed of film-making can speak with this audience.
Undeniably, “Night of the Living Dead” shows it’s age, particularly when contrasted with the more modern horror style with which we have become accustomed. Everything from the cheap looking film stock to the dialogue and costumes scream that this film was made in a different era to today. The opening sequence, in which a couple end up stranded in a grave yard, has the hallmarks of every classic american – but it feels naff because it was so original, and as a result endlessly copied. That doesn’t say it isn’t any good any more – frankly, it still has the potential to be enjoyed beyond that naff, ironic experience that one can expect, simply as it is a well made film that stands the test of time to a certain extent.
This passage of time is worth touching upon again. Despite it’s originality and attention to social issues, in its original release, it was the film makers who were most criticised by the content of the picture – with a public supposedly unused to the “pornography of violence” on display, many children went to see the film without supervision, and the many more who saw this film from a distance, saw only it’s . Blinded by the apparent gratuitous violence of cinema and the shocking presentation of cannibalism, they failed to acknowledged the real horror taking place – the horror within ourselves.
One conclusion that needs to be drawn is that it should never surprise you how short sighted people can be, not because they are wrong necessarily, but because they only see things as they are now. In much the same way that those opposing inter-racial marriage are now rightly seen as moronic racists, those opposing gay-marriage today will in some future point be seen as the homophobes they really are. Not meaning to needlessly beat the drum of equality, but it is only through those pioneers who errode the fringe of consensus with cinema like this that we can grow and move closer. I’m not saying Night of the Living Dead
Hindsight is a remarkable tool for seeing the naked truth, and though there is no inevitable position in the future from which we can pretend to look back, there are social positions which in just over a decade of mainstream internet communication have already been eroded. Censorship is all well and good for protecting the young from things which will trouble them – but when adults are not allowed to discuss ideas openly, these taboos take on a repressive and dangerous power
This is why these films are important. Because they are, they go into places which we otherwise do not allow ourselves to go. They let us
Hell, without we wouldn’t have had the stupendous spoof Zom-Rom-Com Shaun of the Dead (which points throughout to seemingly hundreds of movies as diverse as and Rain Man)
How this film relates to social anxiety is played out in the final sequence – with the shocking. Despite the gruelling ordeal of the night before, he is dispatched like any other piece of rotting meat.
But people went to see it in their droves, becoming at that time, one of the most profitable horror films made.
Rather beautifully, due to an error by the distributor, the film now resides in the public domain, meaning anyone can access this for free. Download it, remix it, do whatever you like with it – as now it is our film.