George A. Romero was the first man to put flesh eating hordes of the undead onto celluloid in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. Since then the pasty looking ones have taken on a life of their own (sic), with an endless army of the great exhumed hitting the big screen for our enjoyment and delectation.
Romero set the trend for the super low budget style of the zombie films we know and love today, creating the film on a budget of $114,000 and using a simple narrative, snappy writing, smart camera tricks and clever design and make-up to work with the constraints of his budget rather than against it. The end result was a film that took in a total of $30million worldwide.
Obviously, this seemed like the perfect amateur money making formula. But what the thousands of copy-cats failed to notice was that it was the immaculately constructed script and mythology that went into making Night of the Living Dead such an iconic, subversive piece of cinema, not just gratuitous brain-munching.
And so a new genre was born, the ultra-low budget, mainly god awful and predominantly straight-to-video zombie film. Here lies one of the greatest creations in cinema history, a place where you can enjoy a good 80 minutes of attention grabbing, nonsensical, cinematic bliss – with the most sublimely absurd titles known to man.
For the uninformed, here are some of my favourites:
- Space Zombie Bingo!!! (Three explanation marks, three!)
- Zombie Holocaust (simple, concise, effective)
- Zombie Strippers (for raising the bar of absurdity)
- Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! (a personal favourite and proof repetition gets you noticed)
- Zombie Honeymoon (never a good way to start married life)
- The Zombie Diaries (criminally undermined in the Bridget Jones series)
- Stubbs the Zombie in ‘Rebel Without a Pulse’ (no more explanation needed)
- Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui AKA Kung-Fu Zombie (because we all dreamed that, one day, someone would)
- Gay Zombie (because zombies swing both ways)
- Z: A Zombie Musical (who says the undead can’t sing and dance?)
- Zombie Vegetarians (representing team veggie)
- Get Along Little Zombie (a heartwarming tale of flesh eating youngsters)
- No. My Other Possessed-Zombie Girlfriend. (if there’s a better title out there, I sure as hell don’t know it)
And finally… A few more top zombie facts, zombie-fact-fans:
Although Romero was first to put flesh eating zombies to screen, the first big screen appearance of the zombie was in the 1932 film White Zombie, starring man-god Bela Lugosi as the wonderfully named voodoo master, Murder Legendre.
In writing Night of the Living Dead, Romero openly’ admits to ripping off Richard Matheson’s superb 1954 book, I Am Legend, which everyone should have read.
Despite having no end of trouble finding a distributor for the film (many of whom wanted a re-shot ‘Happy’ ending), Romero refused to change the original print or make cuts to get his film into cinemas and insisted it should be shown in its entirety.
The cause of the zombie outbreak is never explained throughout the film’s duration. This might be obvious to some but it’s a subtlety that lots of people miss – another reason why it is so great. The closest we get to an explanation is offered by a scientist citing radiation from a space probe – another nod to militant cold war tactics in the film.
The film was made using chocolate sauce for blood and cooked ham as a substitute for human flesh, with mortician’s wax as make up for the zombies.
There are nine characters named ‘Zombie-with-gun’ in sequel, Day of the Dead.
It has been remade twice, made 3d and treated in 2004 to produce a colour version of the original. All of these are rubbish.
Everyone can do a good zombie impression, with sound effects. But mine is best.