The pop culture obsession with zombies shows no signs of abating, with The Walking Dead currently shambling through its fourth season and somebody, somewhere still trying to get an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies off the ground, to say nothing of the never-ending stream of low-budget direct-to-disc films clogging up Redboxes and VOD listings across the planet. With new generations of zombie media come new generations of fans, many of whom have no idea about the history of their new favorite monster. And so it is with great relief that we now have Birth of the Dead, a documentary about George A. Romero’s classic film from which all these clumsy, stumbling living corpses first sprang: Night of the Living Dead.
Thankfully, Birth of the Living Dead prominently features among its interview subjects George A. Romero himself. After giving a brief background of Romero’s work with commercial/industrial/educational film production company The Latent Image, where he honed his technical chops before tackling his first feature film, Birth of the Living Dead spends a good amount of time talking to Romero about the production of the film. Additional talking heads include Romero’s Night of the Living Dead collaborator Chiz Shultz, film critic Elvis Mitchell, fiercely independent filmmaker Larry Fessenden, Shock Value author Jason Zinoman, The Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd, Spike Lee collaborator and film editor Samuel D. Pollard, and Pictures at a Revolution author Mark Harris. The interviews alternate Romero and Shultz’s memories of putting the film together on the cheap with stories of how and when subjects first saw the film and how it impacted their lives and the culture at large.
Director Rob Kuhns wisely keeps the film’s focus narrow, concerning himself almost entirely with the production of the film and how it commented (purposefully and otherwise) on the culture of the United States at large during the late 1960s. This element of the film alone would make it required viewing for anyone curious about how the Romero-styled zombie story came to be and what kind of ideas and subtexts were built into the concept of the modern zombie from its inception. Each interview subject brings their own personality and talent to the lively footage, giving the viewer a well-rounded look at what the film means both to the individual fans, the filmmaker, and to the genre.
There are plenty of unexplored avenues for curious fans to continue researching on their own, but as a quick overview about one of the most significant horror films in cinematic history, Birth of the Living Dead is very informative and highly entertaining.
Birth of the Living Dead is currently playing at cinemas around the country and is also available on VOD. For more information, visit the film’s website at http://yearofthelivingdead.com.