Hello Geeks and Ghouls, Famous Monster here. Well, it’s finally October and you know what that means? Breast Cancer Awareness 5Ks? Good guess. Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Delicious, but no. Halloween? YES. Horror movies? DOUBLE YES!
Welcome to 31 Days of Horror, where I’ll cover at least two noteworthy horror films a day for the entirety of the month. That’s 31 Days of Horror and 62+ scary movies perfect for a cold, dark October night. Be sure to visit Geeks of Doom every day this month for a double-shot of chills and thrills!
Today’s double-shot of flesh-eating, brain-draining zombie horror features George A. Romero‘s 1968 cult classic, Night of the Living Dead, and satirical sequel, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. Two films that should give you plenty of food for thought – or is that thought for food?
George A. Romero‘s monumental horror film Night of the Living Dead redefined the word ‘zombie.’ While the word itself is never used – the term used in the film is ‘ghoul’ – Romero’s low-budget film introduced the idea of zombies as reanimated, flesh-eating cannibals. Early zombie movies like 1932’s White Zombie involved the living enslaved or enchanted by a Voodoo witch doctor.
The catalyst for Romero’s zombie apocalypse is not of this Earth comes not from a chemical spill or ancient voodoo ritual, but rather outer space. When a meteor strikes the earth, its radiation turns the recently deceased into flesh-eating zombies.
As the living dead swarm, a group of frightened survivors, including Ben (Duane Jones) and Barbra (Judith O’Dea), find themselves trapped in an old farmhouse. With limited resources, and a clash of personalities, the group will have to work together to fight the undead hordes. Will they make it through the night, or will they be dead by dawn?
That Creepy Scene:
Harry (Karl Hardman) hurls Molotov cocktails from an second-floor window to keep the undead from approaching the farmhouse while Ben and Tom (Keith Wayne) go to refuel Ben’s truck. Fearing for Tom’s life, Judy (Judith Ridley) follows him. Tom reaches the gas pump but accidentally spills the fuel, setting the truck ablaze. He and Judy try to escape; but the truck explodes, killing them both.
The undead descend upon their charred remains and begin ripping Tom and Judy apart, engorging themselves on human flesh. To this day, after years of desensitization from more explicit, more violent horror films – this scene still makes me sick to my stomach. Watching the zombies lick and suck on bones and slurp down intestines and human organs is so vile and disturbing, it’s as if Romero is filming real cannibals.
Well, what can you really say about George A. Romero’s 1968 film that hasn’t already been said before? More than 40 years after its initial release, Night of the Living Dead is an undisputed classic, revolutionizing the horror genre and championing low-budget, independent cinema. In 1999, Romero’s flesh-eating zombie flick was added to the The Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
The casting of Duane Jones, an African-American, as the star of the film was controversial in 1968. At the time, it was irregular for an African-American to be the hero of a film when the rest of the ensemble was composed of whites – and yet Romero picked unknown stage actor portraying a non-stereotypical black man who, in one scene, bitch-slaps a white man and takes command of the situation. It wasn’t Romero’s intention to make a huge political statement, he cast Jones because the man “simply gave the best audition.”
After surviving the night in the farmhouse, Ben is killed by a member of the posse, who mistakes him for a zombie, and placed onto a burning pyre along with other dead bodies. The senseless death Duane Jones’ character had added resonance with the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. In many ways, Night of the Living Dead was one of the first real subversive horror films – I mean, how ironic is it that the resourceful black hero survives hordes of undead zombies only to be gunned down by a redneck posse.
Following the scenario of Night of the Living Dead, the United States is completely devastated by a phenomenon which reanimates recently deceased human beings as flesh-eating zombies. Despite efforts by the U.S. Government and local authorities to control the situation, society has collapsed and cities have been abandoned, overrun by hordes of the undead. A small group of survivors from Philadelphia escape the city and barricade themselves inside a shopping mall to battle the flesh-eating zombies in a mecca of consumerism.
Before Dawn of the Dead, special effects and make-up artist Tom Savini had worked on film such as Deranged: The Confessions of a Necrophile and Romero’s underrated vampire movie, 1977’s Martin. With Dawn of the Dead, Savini became one of the biggest names in the make-up business since the legendary Dick Smith (The Exorcist).
Heads stabbed with screwdrivers, scalps sliced off by whirling helicopter blades, chunks of flesh ripped from necks – if you can dream it, Savini can achieve it, in disgusting detail. Savini also starred in the film as Blades, the leader of a motorcycle gang who breaks into the mall to seek refuge, but most of his time on the set of Dawn of the Dead was dedicated to creating inventive ways to kill people – a job that I am still envious of!
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