It’s nearly Halloween: what better time for a scary movie? George Romero’s scary flick Night of the Living Dead, which many regard as the progenitor of the zombie craze we live with today, was made 40 years ago. To mark the anniversary of this cult classic, experts on Romero and his films gathered at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh on October 6, 2018.
Among those in attendance was Romero’s widow Suzanne, who said “George made one horror film: Night of the Living Dead. What makes a good from a great film is layers. Today we are totally about the cerebral layer,” she said in remarks that opened the symposium.
Explaining what she meant by the cerebral layer, Mrs. Romero told the sparse audience her husband (who died last year) “was a storyteller. He told stories in a way one could enjoy and think about it.”
Night of the Living Dead was shot in Pittsburgh, so that the movie became very much a part of the community there. Peggy Ahwesh, who worked with Romero on the 1981 film Creepshow, recalled an incident when Stephen King was on the set of that picture. “There was incessant dog barking in the distance. George directed someone to silence the barking so that filming could continue. A few minutes later the barking abruptly stopped.” Ahwesh relates that at this point Romero said “I hope they didn’t have to kill it!” Romero, said Ahwesh, “was like a mench,” a good person with the qualities one would hope for in a friend.
Isabel Pinedo of the City University of New York related her experience of watching the film for the first time. “A friend threw her popcorn when the zombies were eating the entrails. I had never seen such a visceral reaction to a film- the visceral is what makes an impact on our memory,” which is one reason the film is iconic with regard to post-1960 horror films.
The panel engaged in some dispute as to whether or not the movie should be classed in the horror genre. “We called it a scary movie, not a horror movie,” said Pinedo. “It was the only film Romero made I found scary.”
Adam Simon, creator of the TV show Salem, said Night of the Living Dead “was clearly something different. It’s horrific but not a horror movie. There is a funny connect between abstract and intellectual ideas and the horror genre – it’s a natural carrier of ideas in a way ordinary drama is not.”
“Genres are weird because they are permeable,” explained Tom Gunning of the University of Chicago. “In horror, normality is threatened by the monster; Lovecraft defined the horror genre as weird. Romero seems to be interested in genre itself.” Ahwesh amplified on that. “Romero was somebody who early on appreciated fracturing the illusionistic narrative.”
Whatever it is, Night of the Living Dead has made its mark said Simon. “It was one of the most successful films of 1968- it made as much money as Rosemary’s Baby. Romero was totally attuned to the avante garde.”
Honouring film directors is all the rage now. Baltimore is currently hosting events to celebrate hometown boy John Waters who is 72. George Romero died at 77.
The website Romerolives.net is a rich source for Romero fans. Several events are upcoming in Pittsburgh this month to honour his memory.