10th May2014

‘Birth of the Living Dead’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Birth-of-Dead-poster

In 1968 a young college drop-out named George A. Romero gathered an unlikely team – from Pittsburgh policeman, iron workers, housewives and a roller rink owner – to create a low budget horror film that would revolutionise the industry, and spawn a new flesh eating monster that endures to this day…that film was Night of The Living Dead.

There has been somewhat of a resurgence of horror documentaries recently, no doubt inspired by the success of Best Worst Movie. One of the more recent efforts is Doc of the Dead, from the makers of the well-received Star Wars docu, The People vs. George Lucas. But whilst Doc of the Dead does find a huge chunk of its running time devoted to George A. Romero and his zombie trilogy, it also takes a look at the entire zombie oeuvre.

However Birth of the Living Dead, from director Rob Kuhns and producer Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix (Fessenden is also one of the interviewees in the docu) focuses solely on the film that started it all. The one film that kicked off the modern movie zombie as we know it. The zombie movie that is the forefather of EVERY zombie movie made since. Romero’s 1968 black and white classic, Night of the Living Dead.

Birth of the Living Dead, is the story of how they managed to pull off the greatest guerrilla shoot of all time. This documentary includes exclusive new interviews with the godfather of zombie films George A. Romero himself, as well as brand new animations created by Gary Pullin. Put together with 60’s archival footage this film shows just how politically charged the film was, set against the backdrop of race riots and Vietnam the film challenged the establishment and had enormous fun doing it.

Of course for horror fans some of the details surrounding the film are common knowledge, but Birth of the Living Dead still has enough new tidbits of information to be of interest to anyone with even the slightest interest in not only the film but the genre. It’s also a interesting look into just how “naive” Romero and co. were when making the film…

Today many critics and film theorists analyse the movie in terms of its relation to Vietnam and racial tensions of the decade yet, at the time, Romero admits that they weren’t really thinking of the film in those ways – for example the character of Ben was never specifically written for a black actor and the script was never changed when Duane Jones was hired (for what became an iconic role) either. It’s only after the fact that anyone on the production truly realised the the cultural and racial impact that Night of the Living Dead had.

And that’s the one thing you can truly take away from Birth of the Living Dead. The idea that a small film lensed independently in Pittsburg by ad-man turned director George A. Romero could, ultimately, change the face of not only the zombie movie but the entire horror genre.

Birth of the Living Dead is released on DVD and VOD on May 12th, courtesy of Solo Media.

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