I first watched Night of the Living Dead on a big screen TV at my aunt’s house on Long Island. Summers there were spent watching slasher movies rented by my aunt at the urging of my older brother who fancied himself a fan of the genre and even an amateur filmmaker whose contribution was footage of me lying in a pool of blood, poured from a jar of La Choy sweet and sour sauce. I was a reluctant viewer who watched the movie with my hands held over my eyes like blinders, peeking out of the corner of my eyes when I thought it was safe, only to quickly divert my gaze from the stampede of zombies feasting on human flesh.
Things haven’t changed much. I recently saw the movie last Halloween for an outdoor screening but despite my advanced age, I still watched with the same wary eyes from my youth. And despite the movie’s age, which was released in 1968, the film retains all the unease borne from the realization that family ties won’t save you from a zombie’s hunger pains nor would perseverance in the presence of armed townies anxious to exterminate the undead uprising.
And last night I learned the news that George Romero, Night of the Living Dead’s brainchild and director, had died. A few hours before, I was watching this summer’s action-packed blockbuster du jour loaded to the hilt with car chases and cool catch phrases which now stood in stark contrast to the grainy, black and white film that creepily made its way into the mainstream with zombie fun runs and pre-packaged costumes for kids. A low-budget legacy that will undoubtedly, like the zombies, outlast us all. RIP George Romero.