Thursday, June 05, 2014

Birth of the Living Dead (2013)

Brief, breezy documentary about the making of the landmark horror film that started the modern "zombie" subgenre. There are some interesting tidbits here, especially regarding George Romero's early career producing advertising films and how he translated that experience into making his first feature film (among other things, we learn that many of his clients ended up in the cast of the film playing ghouls!)

There's not too much new information here for serious enthusiasts of the film and the genre, but Romero is a delight to listen to, and his stories of getting the project off the ground and his subsequent efforts at finding distribution for it will be appreciated by independent filmmakers. There are the usual discussions of the film's subtexts in relation to the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam, but the makers avoid anything too substantive in this area, which is kept necessarily brief by the doc's short running time.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the discussion of the audience response that greeted the film upon its release in 1968, especially Roger Ebert's contemporary account of seeing it in a theater filled with children, dropped off by their parents for what they thought would be another routine Saturday afternoon monster flick, and who appeared traumatized by the film's shocking content.

Its shocking content was, of course, quickly surpassed by subsequent movies such as THE EXORCIST and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD retains its power as a film, and this documentary stands as a testament to the interest it still holds for viewers almost a half-century after it first appeared.

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