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Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead

1968, Dir. George Romero

Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea

I think that every single one of us, if pressed, can come up with childhood events that shaped every detail of their current lives, major and minor. Without getting into heavy psychoanalysis, this theory applies to B and horror movie buffs. None of us just woke up one day and said, "I'm a horror buff"; or "Gee, that Jack Frost movie seems like a good rent". Are we born or made?

When I was a wee 'un, my parents would take me along when they went grocery shopping. In said grocery store, there was a video rental near the exit. As they were getting their items rung up, I would, trance-like, head over to the video store and peruse the horror section. Every time. Usually once a week. Similarly, when my parents went to the local video store to rent something they took me along, promising to rent me a Nintendo game. Every time, as they checked out the new releases, I would gravitate to the horror section and look at everything. I must have read every horror video box in that store multiple times, I was even known to the proprietor as "the horror buff". I remember paying particular attention to The Serpent and the Rainbow, for the image of the white faced corpse rising from it's coffin transfixed me. My young mind was thoroughly freaked out and I pondered over and over again what that picture could possibly imply. (Years later, when I actually watched the film, I was still totally unprepared for the horror that awaited me ... Is that Bill Pullman?! AAAAA!!!!!!) These experiences certainly had something to do with my dubious tastes nowadays.

Around the same time period, I remember going to a family gathering at the home of some distant relative. Being a child at a family gathering, of course I didn't have jack to do. So I wandered about until I spotted the family video collection. There was one video that had been taken off of the shelf and placed on top of the TV. It was Night of the Living Dead. I looked at the pictures of the creeping ghouls on the back cover and my little mind exclaimed whatever the 8 year old equivalent of "holy fucking shit" is. That image stayed with me; planted the seed, if you will.

It was actually many years until I saw NOTLD. My first horror movie was Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors, and I watched it surreptitiously at a friend's house. That may actually have more to do with my development, or at least with my deep respect for the work of John Saxon, but that's a topic for later.

When I finally got around to watching NOTLD, it hit me hard. It was and is, for me, the ultimate horror movie. A typical review won't do it justice and I'm not going to degenerate into fawning over it; I'll just leave all discussion of it's merits at that statement: For me it is the ultimate horror movie. Perhaps it's my childhood video box experiences and the thoughts they provoked that make it so, in the same way that a strange and irrational fear of the water enables Jaws to scare me. But NOTLD does it for me every time.

In the winter of 2001, I took a film analysis course. A large part of the grade for the quarter was a project that entailed an oral presentation, a 10 page paper, and a storyboard analysis dealing with any film you chose. If you guessed that I picked NOTLD, you get a star. One night, at work at the campus Media Center, I was diligently scribbling away at my storyboards when a younger female coworker ambled over and asked; "Watcha watchin'?" "Night of the Living Dead", I replied. "Oh.", she said, shrugging nonchalantly; "I watched that at a sleepover when I was like, nine." The movie that still blows my mind even after the exhaustive viewing required by said project doesn't even cause a ripple of fright in that girl. WHAT'S WRONG WITH HER?!?!?!?!?!?!

Not a damn thing.

Screwy, ain't it? I don't know how to explain, however people become horror buffs or B fans, they just do. And sometimes, they just don't. It is a selective disease, but I'm glad to be afflicted.

Over at the Bad Movie Report, the redoubtable Dr. Freex says of Evil Dead II: "If you haven't seen it, I envy you the ability to watch this and be amazed for the first time". I'd like to appropriate that line and direct it towards NOTLD. Go rent it, but beware the anniversary edition DVD for if you fall prey to that all my pontificating is undone. Trust me. Rent it, turn off the lights, indulge in the whole cheesy horror movie viewing scenario. And if that strange impulse lurks dormant inside you, it's about to wake up. And it'll be hungry. Best of luck.