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Night of the Living Dead

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Nearly half a century after its release, George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) remains a titan in the zombie film pantheon. The story begins with Barbra and Johnny, a sister and brother who are visiting the cemetery where their father is buried. Their tender moment is interrupted with an attack by a pale stranger. Soon, Barbra's holed up in a farmhouse along with a small, panicky group of other people trying to survive one of the most unpleasant nights imaginable.

With this film, we witness the transformation of the witch doctor's drugged slave (from films such as "White Zombie") into the figure of raw horror that is now standard in zombie flicks: the flesh-eating automaton. Of course, the hungry dead have been a staple of fiction for thousands of years, with ghouls and vampires appearing in stories as far back as the Arabian classic, One Thousand and One Nights. In the early 20th Century books such as The Magic Island (1929) by W.B. Seabrook and stories by H.P. Lovecraft introduced mainstream America to the idea of zombies. Seabrook's tome purported to expose voodoo cults in Haiti, and Lovecraft thrilled fans of his horror fiction with "Herbert West: Reanimator", a tale credited with giving the zombie archetype much of its shape as a form of incoherent violence, though its mobile dead aren't labeled "zombies".

In addition to the pure entertainment of gorey thrills and the grotesque humor rampant in "ZomCom" (Zombie Comedy) films, such as that of Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" series and "Shawn of the Dead" (2004), the genre has also provided a platform for socio-political commentary. Film critics have noted the postcolonial issues evoked by "White Zombie" (1932) and "Revolt of the Zombies" (1936).

In what seems to be a more intentional, coherent way, "Night of the Living Dead" also uses the zombie theme and a rip-roaring horror plot to explore a terrifying menace, which some film critics have interpreted as being the potential for the American status quo to turn individuals into mindless consuming machines, destroying anyone who tries to resist them.

The Science

Angela Smith

Angela SmithAngela Smith, professor of Gender Studies and English at the University of Utah, discusses her scholarship on monstrous bodies and how we can better understand politics and culture through films such as “Night of the Living Dead.”

 

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Angela Smith

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