“No One Could Ever Truly Feel Safe Again”

Not much of a horror fan but sad to hear of the passing of George A. Romero. A re-post of a short piece I wrote in 2011 about Night of the Living Dead which reads the film as a commentary on the tumultuous era in which it was made.

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

Released the year after the Summer of Love, when the counterculture lost its warmth, George A. Romero’s low-budget landmark, a genre-definer about the undead feasting on the living, can be read as a parable of a culture run amok, feared by those with no desire to join it.

Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) are young adult siblings headed to a desolate Pennsylvania graveyard to place flowers on their father’s resting place, the way good middle-class children do. Conservative Barbra has no problem with the pilgrimage, but Johnny grumbles about such customs not being his scene. Suddenly he has an out, but not one he’d hoped for: A boneyard zombie seizes and murders him. Barbra escapes to a nearby house, empty except for a bloody corpse, but how long will she be able to stay in one piece since more and more of the undead surround the home? Misery loves company and the terrified woman gets some when a few other members of the living, including resourceful Ben (Duane Jones), also take shelter from the marauders in the humble abode.

Trying to find out what’s turned the formerly sensible world upside down, Ben gets a radio working and listens for information. Did a recent space probe emit radiation that is making the dead rise? Is it something else? The answer isn’t clear, but one thing is certain: A meat-loving legion is cannibalizing the uninitiated and is still plenty hungry. The radio announcer reports that “frightened people are seeking refuge in churches, schools and government buildings.” But none of these traditional bastions of respectability can provide much comfort in a society gone insane.

In one chilling scene, a small child, possessed by the zombie madness, approaches her cowering, pleading mother with a sharp object in hand and demonstrates precocious butchering skills. The following year this scene would be repeated with scary precision for real by sons and daughters of the middle class answering to a zombie named Manson. The dead would rise and the culture would change forever, and no one could ever truly feel safe again.•