I’m proud to have a new piece over at Signal-Horizon regarding the resonance of horror’s second “golden age,” namely Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Amityville Horror. Check it out here, and feel free to like them on social media and sign up for their newsletter. I’ll be writing more articles for them in the future, so stay tuned.
As a kid, I used to watch horror movies with my dad, typically on Friday evenings, rented from Blockbuster. One of his favorites was Night of the Living Dead, and I credit that initial viewing experience for getting me into horror. There was so much about the movie that I loved and still love, especially the opening, when Barbara (Judith O’Dea) stumbles around the graveyard and encounters the film’s first zombie. Of course, there is also that famous “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” line, one of the most classic quotes in any horror movie. After seeing that movie as a boy, I was hooked.
Romero’s work resonated with me a lot more when I grew older. Upon first viewing, I didn’t realize the significance of Romero choosing a black male lead, Duane Jones, for Night of the Living Dead in the late 1960s, or the significance of that final shot, when Ben is shot in the head by redneck vigilantes and then his body is burned. In college, I hung a poster on my dorm room wall of the young zombie girl who killed her parents in the film. Imagine a movie with that type of scene hitting in the 1960s!
I didn’t see Dawn of the Dead until college, but I was struck by its campiness and cartoonishness (the blue zombie make-up and bright red blood) coupled with the not-so-subtle commentary on consumerism. However, my favorite installments in Romero’s zombie legacy may be Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead. The zombies are a lot scarier, smarter, and angrier, for one, but the social commentary pushes deeper and really makes us think about ways in which human beings are worse than the monster/other. Day of the Dead raises the question whether or not human beings would be able to survive an apocalypse-like scenario without killing each other or resorting to militarism or fascism, and Land of the Dead railed against the 1 percenters before Occupy Wall Streeters ever pitched tens in Zuccotti Park. It was one of the perfect films for the Bush age, shortly before the economic crash and bailout. Diary of the Dead is worth watching, too, and I only wish that we could witness a final installment in Romero’s zombie canon, especially in the Trump-age.
Romero is part of an important wave of American horror movie filmmakers from the 1960s and 1970s, the likes of which also included Wes Craven, Tobe Hopper, John Carpenter, among others, who realized, as Mary Shelley did while penning Frankenstein, that horror is a wonderful vehicle for exploring social commentary. As I noted in another blog post, horror is undergoing a wonderful revival now, and it is mostly thanks to independent filmmakers and indie studios like A24. However, if it wasn’t for films like Night of the Living Dead, shot in Western, PA. on a shoestring budget, with no household names, the horror films generating buzz today probably wouldn’t have been possible. Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and other small-budget films from that time caused studios to take risks and made them realize there is an audience out there for smart, boundary-pushing horror movies.
I’ll forever be grateful to my dad for getting me into horror, specifically through Romero’s work. A few months ago, Gravel published a poem I wrote about Night of the Living Dead. In honor of the filmmaker, I’ll share it again. Check it out here.
When I was young, I used to watch horror movies with my father. I have memories of seeing Night of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, Fire in the Sky, and other movies with him. Since then, I’ve always loved horror movies, specifically ones from the 1960s-1980s that offer at least some character development, interesting plot, and at times social/political commentary. As a writer, I also know how difficult it is to suspend reality and make the setting and situation work, no matter how outlandish the story may seem on paper.
Here’s an overview/commentary on some of my favorite horror movies.
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead
Zombies have been popular over the last few years. The high ratings of AMC’s show “The Walking Dead” prove that. But Romero’s brilliant zombie films started the trend and how we think of zombies on the big screen or TV. What separates Romero’s films from the rest, though, is his social commentary. You can view Dawn of the Dead as a statement against consumerism. The zombies do flock to the mall, after all, and wander around aimlessly. Day of the Dead warns against militarization, and one of his more recent films, Land of the Dead, highlights the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor in the U.S. My favorite, though, is still Night of the Living Dead. I love the 1968 black and white version, especially the beginning of the film where the young woman and her friend are in the graveyard and encounter a stumbling, groaning zombie. I still love the line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”
John Carpenter’s Halloween
This is the film I re-watch every October, and it still holds up. I love the scenes shot from Michael Myer’s point of view, as he stalks Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends. I love the fact there is no rational for why Michael does what he does, other than pure evil. None of the sequels or remakes hold up to the original.
John Carpenter’s The Thing
I just re-watched this the other day for the first time in a few years. The setting and effects are still spectacular and eerie, especially as the paranoia overtakes each of the characters in the film as they question who or who isn’t the shape-shifting alien.
I also re-watched this recently. The scene where Carol Anne speaks through the TV and the white noise gives me chills. What’s especially effective about this movie is the character development. We want the family to survive, and we grow fond of them as the movie progresses.
This is the only horror movie that generally scared me. A lot of the scenes stick with you after you watch it, even the notion that a 12-year-old girl can suddenly become possessed by a demon. There’s also a lot of good points about faith and doubt raised in this film. In the extended version, the scene where a possessed Linda Blair walks up and down the stairs like a spider makes my skin crawl.
These are just some of my favorite horror films. There aren’t too many recent ones I’ve enjoyed, as it seems many of them rely on high body counts and flat characters, as opposed to rich character development, an intriguing plot, and effects that aren’t overdone.
My girlfriend and I plan to watch a few of these and some other favorites during these days leading up to Halloween.