HORROR RETROSPECTIVE: Romero paves the path for modern zombie films

By Luis Castilla

Zombies, as we know them, would not exist without George Romero’s 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead.”

The film had a small budget of $114,000, forcing Romero to make more from less.

The entire film takes place in a single house, forcing the cast to be resourceful and creative with whatever materials they can get their hands on to protect themselves from the invading horde of the undead.

As the cast explores the house, characters are introduced and wrinkles are added to the plot. 

A fixed camera also creates the illusion of being in a tight, enclosed space, making viewers feel claustrophobic.

Although Romero was not the first to make a zombie film, the first being 1932’s “White Zombie,” he  did popularized many characteristics zombies are known for today like eating human flesh, transmitting disease through bites and death by destruction of the head.

Aside from creating the modern zombie, Romero also inspired countless franchises with his film.

The popular zombie-survival-horror video game series “Resident Evil” is a primary example of Romero’s influence as it utilizes a single zombie-infested environment and fixed camera angles.

Another notable franchise which has taken inspiration from Romero is “The Walking Dead.” 

Romero, however, did not like the show because he felt that gore should not be the main focus.

“Night of the Living Dead” also features a black man playing the lead, making him the first black actor to play the lead in a horror film. 

Ben, played by Duane Jones, is a resourceful, responsible and intelligent man who takes charge as leader of the group.

When Ben is on the brink of being rescued at the end of the film, Romero subverts audience expectations by killing him off. 

This is one of the first times the trope of killing off the hero before they are rescued is used.

The film ends with the grisly scene of Ben being carried to a pyre where his body is burned. 

 “Night of the Living Dead” was released near the end of the civil rights movement. 

The film is a metaphor for the black community enduring the unending hate of white Americans in the form of zombies and its ending serves as a reminder that the battle is not yet over.

“Night of the Living Dead” remains the backbone of all zombie media. 

Though it has not aged as well as other films of the era due to its low budget, watching the film is a right of passage for all fans of the horror genre.

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