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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sean Kelly

My Thoughts on Birth of the Living Dead

birthofthelivingdeadThe history behind of production of George A. Romeo’s Night of the Living Dead is revealed in the new documentary Birth of the Living Dead.  Using new interviews with Romero, and a wide variety of film experts, the film goes through the process of Romero making the film in 1968 and how it helped to make zombies into one of the most recognizable horror film monsters.  The documentary also goes into how Night of the Living Dead tackles the issues of the time, including the Civic Rights Movement and the Vietnam war.  Throughout the film are various animated re-enactments, which were illustrated by Toronto-based artist “Ghoulish” Gary Pullin, who also designed the film’s poster.

Birth of the Living Dead is not a film that particularly gives any new information about Night of the Living Dead, but it is still a very interesting watch.  I did like the history of how George A. Romero came to make the film, which included the interesting fact that Romero used to work for Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood and even directed a short film of Mr. Rogers getting a tonsillectomy, which Romero jokingly says was the most frightening film he has ever made. 

Night of the Living Dead was produced fully independently, with many of the cast and crew playing multiple roles.  The documentary discusses how zombies weren’t really that big in horror films before Night and the Living Dead and that it is Romero who can be credited with creating the modern undead interpretation of the zombie, which used to be a more magical voodoo creature.  The film also goes into the casting of a black man in the lead role of Ben, which was considered to be a big deal at the time.  In hindsight, Romero wishes his played up the racial angle a bit more, since he thought at the time that he was being “hip” by not at all referencing Ben’s race in the film.

Night of the Living Dead was also arguably the first horror film is be aimed primarily at adults.  Prior to this, horror films were marketed towards kids and it was not unusual for parents to just drop off kids for a matinee horror film.  Night of the Living Dead changed all that and the film features quotes from a Roger Ebert review, where was noting the kids running in horror.  In a bit of an ironic twist, Birth of the Living Dead features many scenes in a “Literacy Through Film” class, in which many of the kids seem to be clearly enjoying the film.  It just goes to show how much the times have changed.

When it was first released, Night of the Living Dead was primarily shown at drive-ins and grindhouses and it took some time for the film to truly take off.  Even though, Night of the Living Dead ended up being a huge hit for Romero, he never saw any of the film’s profits, since a simple blunder in retitling the film, from its original title of Night of the Flesh Eaters, resulted in the lack of a copyright notice and the film ended up in the public domain.  This why there are so many bootleg copies of the film, as well as a few unauthorized remakes.

The element of Birth of the Living Dead that stands out the most are the many re-enactments of certain scenes from the film, which were illustrated by “Ghoulish” Gary Pullin.  These moments really do add a lot of substance, to what is otherwise a fairly straight forward talking heads documentary. 

Overall, I would say that if you are a fan of George A. Romero and are interested in the history of Night of the Living Dead and how it influenced zombie films in the years to come, Birth of the Living Dead does a pretty good job.

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Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).