Of the Deads!
By Kristin Battestella
Start your New Year off and running with this quick inventory of those trend setting Romero and friends zombie classics!
Night of the Living Dead (s) – For horror enthusiasts, the z word brings one thing to mind-Night of the Living Dead. The original 1968 zombie classic by George Romero set the bar for scares, silent styled filmmaking, and social statements in horror. You can’t be a fan of the genre without having seen this picture. And yet, the 1990 remake, rewritten by Romero and starring Tony Todd (Candyman), isn’t half bad. Maybe not a classic, but this modern analysis of society and zombies is a perfect introduction for closeted horror fans.
Dawn of the Dead – This 1978 sequel to Night of the Living Dead from George A. Romero has a lot of subtle humor thanks to Ken Foree (Kenan & Kel) and Gaylen Ross (Creepshow) holding out against a zombie infestation in a very, very sweet mall. I mean, wow, did malls like this really exist back in the day? Our local malls have none of this magic- just clothing shops and empty spaces. But here, rednecks use the reanimated dead as target practice, the government and media are nonexistent, and the ills of people- not zombies- ruin this little retail paradise. Yes, there’s fun, nostalgia, and great zombie effects. However, the somber social statements, serious reflection, and the dynamics of what plague can do to people are just awesome. Seriously, nowadays the best place to survive zombies would actually be a dang Wal-Mart- groceries and guns!
Day of the Dead – George A. Romero gives us a bleak look at science versus the military in this 1985 second sequel to Night of the Living Dead. The cavernous underground but confined setting is great for intimate threats and limited places as Lori Cardille (Ryan’s Hope) and Joseph Pilato (Pulp Fiction) adversely cling to some semblance of civilization. Once again, it is the people behaving badly- not the zombies- that creates all the problems. This is a lovely study into what makes the undead how they are, if they are still human at all, or if they can or should be tamed. Who is the real animal here? Is the zombie invasion some sort of punishment or judgment against us or a humbling reason to restart humanity back on the right track? Despite great gore and fear, the pace may seem slow to some. There isn’t a lot of humor here, which helped Day’s predecessor Dawn of the Dead, but we are watching the breakdown of society thanks to flesh eating monsters, remember. This is clearly a stressed, unhappy situation, and it makes for great horror film.
Return of the Living Dead – John Russo’s 1985 split sequel to Night of the Living Dead brings a little too much punk to the series- yes, these fashions have not stood the test of time. Thankfully, self- reverent humor, a dang intelligent set up, tongue in cheek fun, and a sweet ending go a long way in the whole eating brains of it all. Brains! Brains! Not only do we have characters ironically named Burt and Ernie, but there’s still some social analysis and sexy balancing the gore, too. While some may not like this departure from the seriousness of the original or Romero’s follow up series, you have to be able to laugh at all these zombies at some point. Others new to the somewhat confusing franchises might like the fun nostalgia and a comparison marathon as well.
But it’s Iffy
Return of the Living Dead Part II – This 1988 sequel from John Russo’s Night of the Living Dead spinoffs is played all for the laughs, so much so, that I’m not sure why its rated R. Sure, there’s some kids using weapons against the undead and the usual violence, but compared to its precursor, the nudity, horror smarts and all out gore are lacking here. The quips and zombies are fun, and the guts and gore we are given are good when we get it, but it doesn’t seem like enough. The straight comedy approach with only hints of military secrets and societal hysteria aren’t expanded enough to keep things interesting. A step down from first in this offshoot series, yes that would be fine- but this is almost a parody of the franchise at this point. It is strangely funny that James Karen and Thom Matthews inexplicably return from the Return of the Living Dead, but the gag doesn’t last. I’d much rather writer and director Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves) been allowed to make a proper Part 2 instead of reducing it all to a dumb teen comedy remake. Pity.