If you love horror and zombies, then you love George A. Romero, therefore you’ve seen the TRILOGY OF THE DEAD, and if not you should, because all the zombie philosophy and evolution come from these.
Life after death has always been an obsession for the human being. Death is something that really scares and disturbs us, so we’re constantly trying to figure out, in one hand, how to reach eternity, and on the other, how to revive a dead body. Religions appeared due to this obsession, in order to give people some hope, to make us think our lives have a meaning and are worth. I’m not going to focus on this, because my aim is not to start an eternal discussion which never reaches any conclusion. Everyone is free to feel and think as they please.
Anyway, literature has also echoed this human concern, apart from religious propaganda, of course. Particularly, focused on our topic of discussion, and completely subjectively speaking, I find necessary to mention two classic works to be considered essential pillars for the birth of the zombie world:
– FRANKENSTEIN; OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS – Mary Shelley (1818)
– HERBERT WEST – REANIMATOR – H.P. Lovecraft (1921-1922)
The conclusion, at the end of the day, is that, you cannot defy the forces of Nature, and if you get to trick it, sooner or later, everything will turn against you, as you are reviving flesh, but not the soul. Surviving instinct prevails and is stronger than any feeling.
You might find a complete waste of time people analyzing zombies movies, or more exactly, the zombie evolution and development through Romero’s eyes, but to tell the truth, the creatures evolve, as the world also keeps changing, not only special effects are better, but also human minds are not so innocent, therefore, zombies instinctive reflections/reflexes improve.
It’s been the first time I’ve seen these movies by myself, and really enjoyed the experience, observing many things blood and guts hadn’t let me noticed before.
Once this said, here I go, explaining my vision and my experience with these marvelous films.
THE ORIGIN – NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
It is true people were getting used to the unknown and horrible with previous stuff, such as all those Hammer films factory had delivered, yet I can’t really imagine the reaction of people when sitting at the theaters watching all these creatures walking dumb and slow towards their target: fresh and living human flesh.
Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny visit their father’s grave at a remote cemetery in Pennsylvania. While he is pissing her off, making fun of her fear of such places, they don’t notice a weird pale guy is approaching them. Barbara manages to escape from his sudden attack, but Johnny’s fate is worse and dies while trying to defend his sister.
During her getaway, the scared girl finds out a farmhouse, where she intends to hide from the creature and others coming. Once here, Ben (Duane Jones), also running away, will try to isolate the house from these ghoulish freaks. Barbra, deep in shock, is unable to understand anything, until he explains what’s going on: the dead are now alive, and their only aim is feeding with human flesh.
At some point, they will discover they’re not alone in the house, as there’s a married couple with their sick daughter, and two teenagers. Unfortunately they won’t come into terms, and instead of joining strength to find a way to escape, tension will bring out arguments and division: ones deciding to stay downstairs in cellar, others just staying in the house. Chances of surviving are few anyway, and a superior state of mind is essential, but not all can cope with such situation.
Romero’s work here is outstanding. Filmed in black and white, helps to disguise the lack of budget and gets a more impressive effect, just with few shrilling spotlights, and a disturbing soundtrack.
Nowadays I don’t think many people, in their middle age, of course, might feel scared while watching this film, yet positive it’s distressing. Whenever you stand in front of something that you sure know it’s not going to end disastrous, you feel uneasy. Romero is a master creating a suffocating atmosphere, increasing the message that there’s no way out.
Here we’re standing to a kind of introduction to the zombies. We see they’re dumb but constant, just walking in search of food, restless. Here we also learn how to get rid of them for good, by shooting or hitting with some sharp weapon right in their heads. And of course, it’s important to rely on media and something really important that everybody seems to forget: to stay focus and cold, so you can think of strategies.
Seems that the main failure is the inability of people to organize, to join strength and skills for the same purpose: surviving. If by any chance, you end up with people totally different to you, and don’t manage to share same point of view, the end is almost sentenced and you’re doomed to become one of these walking dead.
SPREADING AND UPRISING – DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
First thing to say, this is personal favorite, I’ll never get tired of seeing Roger and Peter running crazy by the galleries of the mall, and Flyboy, the dumbest guy I’ve ever seen.
Here we find society in chaos for the major uprising of the zombies. Mass media deeply involved in endless discussions and arguments and Army applying martial law on the streets in a useless attempt to protect people from the infected and at the same time from people themselves.
The dead uprising is present on an apparent global scale, and there’s nothing much to do bt trying to survive.
Again the action takes place in Penn state. On the sets of a local TV station, the pilot of the company, Stephen (David Emge) is determined to escape with his girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross) with the help of the TV helicopter.
Roger (Scott Reiniger), a close friend of the couple who works in a SWAT time, will join them together with his mate Peter (Ken Foree).
The idea is to reach a remote place away from the flesh eaters, so Francine can carry a normal pregnancy and deliver their child as peaceful as possible. Unfortunately, zombies have become a plague and have spread throughout the whole country, becoming an almost impossible task to find a final place to crash. Beside, lack of fuel will oblige them to stop and seek for shelter in a huge mall, where they’ll manage to turn into the closest place to a home possible under such circumstances.
Unfortunately, this unreal happiness won’t last forever, due to a motorcycle gang led by Tom Savini (Master!!) discovering their shelter, and chaos will strike back reckless.
Usually people act dumb under extreme situations, but here these four people know what they have in hands, especially Roger and Peter, in good shape, trained and skilled in tactics of assault and defense. Flyboy’s advance is his ability to pilot the helicopter, but Francine is wise enough as to learn how to drive it.
If Barbra was a dumb and scared girl, closest to a flower jar, Francine is the opposite, smart and with a strong personality, constantly ridiculing Flyboy. She acts cold, and stays focused, and quickly gets the respect from the guys. I like that!
I love the mall thing. Malls have reached Spain late, comparing to many other countries, and we don’t consider them the heart of our lives yet, although it seems it’s the trend in the future. A mall is just a single place where you can find EVERYTHING. It implies both consumerism and globalization, two concepts really establishing in the period the movie was filmed. It’s funny when the characters are wondering why zombies are there if there’s no food available, and one of them replies the creatures are moved by old routines…
What’s the lesson here? Zombies have some kind of memories and act accordingly in order to keep motion. Also they are sound and flesh sensitive, they immediately detect a real human being close to them, excited by their need to feed, they’ll follow the trail just like dogs.
Regarding living humans, my theory of groups is demonstrated, a well designed plan is required for survival and people organized have more chances. However we find something here. Human being is greedy, no matter extreme circumstances, we want the best regardless, and if someone has it, we want it even more. Instead of joining, motorcycle raiders want to get everything for themselves no matter if they have to kill other people. It’s a shame. How can World survive if we hate and fight each other?
Changing the subject, although budget was still tight, in Dawn of the Dead we see an upper level. With Tom Savini as the special effects and makeup artist, more bowels, blood, and disgusting stuff are highlighted. Zombies, although still blue, are more real, or at least more rotten, and disgusting.
Still, although zombie uprising is the driving plot, human coexistence and survival as well as changes in society are the main subjects Romero wanted to deal with.
THE HUMAN FAILURE – DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)
No doubt this is the most pessimist part. Apparently it wasn’t as good received as the previous ones, despite the fact that is the most disgusting and bloodiest at the same time. But its dark and suffocating vision didn’t convince audience so enthusiastically.
Day of the Dead goes far beyond the fall of human rule leaving place to the total zombie invasion. I think Romero tries to explain why, by means of his own world recreation, humans fail in their struggle against the menace of the walking dead, which implies why society would fail when facing a global threat: failure to communicate and incompetence to organize, bringing out chaos and driving society to fatal collapse.
Down in Florida, close to the Everglades, there’s a hidden military bunker, one of those former storage facilities, a huge underground basement inhabited by a series of civilians and soldiers. Dr. Logan aka Dr. Frankenstein (Richard Liberty) is carrying on several experiments with zombies in order not only to record patterns of conduct, but also to re-educate the creatures in human habits style. His main achievement is Bub (Sherman Howard), capable of understanding and performing basic commands.
All the routines at the bunker are suddenly altered due to Major Cooper’s decease. Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) takes command, and he’s not the kind of guy you can reason with, everything must be done in his way, and a tough dictatorship is established under deathly punishment threaten, and hell, he really means it!
Due to these circumstances, the whole group is definitely divided into civilians and doctors on one side, and Army troopers, carrying guns, on the other.
People are under so much stress, overworking shifts catching zombies for their disposal or research, depending on their characteristics, sooner or later lethal mistakes occur, letting chaos get in the bunker, with fatal consequences.
Again, there are many lessons here, regarding zombies behavior. For the first time, we see in Bub, some kind of hope, regarding educative therapy applied on the creatures. Nevertheless this might have side effects, in fact, they happen, a smart zombie can be really dangerous when running free and has access to weapons or any other tools, they bite, but they can also shoot you in the head too. And also, they can develop some kind of emotional attachment.
Human being, in society, can be destructive, no matter the situation we can be involved in. Power is too attractive sometimes you can lose the track, becoming a pain in the ass for the rest, unable to stop you just because you got the right devices they fear you. Eventually, the risk of those oppressed revolt against you can become a reality, and then the game turns into the strongest law, or let’s fight against each other.
Regarding characters, although they’re not as interesting as in Dawn of the Dead, there are some worth mentioning: Captain Rhodes and Sarah.
Rhodes is a sonofabitch of huge dimensions, ready to use the gun against anyone opposing his decisions. He’s in command now, and nobody fucks with him without consequences.
Sarah (Lori Cardille) is the only woman at the bunker, and is constantly humiliated by other soldiers. Lack of basic human needs brings to this, she’s in some way harassed and treated disrespectfully. Still she copes with everything and proves to be the real survivor and a strong character, features we cannot apply to her lover, Miguel, a completely weak asshole.
Romero again uses Savini’s skills together with Gregory Nicotero, for all the special makeup effects, and this time, scenes of butchering are disgusting to the max.
There have been more releases of the Dead, by Master Romero, yet never at the same level as the first three. Adjusting to current era at the time of filming, society is always depicted as ruined and chaotic, rich over the poor, everybody annoying each other, and law of strength constantly present in his visions.
Just one thing remains to say: When there’s no more in Hell, the Dead will walk the Earth, and if Romero is right, please Lord help us, because we’ll be reaaally fucked up.