Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pittsburgh: Home of the Zombie

Pittsburgh is truly a city of firsts. Just to name a few, Pittsburgh is home to the first Big Mac sandwich, the first robotics institute, and the first World Series game. However, for me, all these firsts pale in comparison to George Romero's epic first: "Night of the Living Dead," the first modern zombie film.

Before "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), a shoestring independent effort shot in Pittsburgh by locals, zombies were, well...kind of lame. They appeared in a handful of films, including "White Zombie" (1932), and "I Walked with a Zombie" (1943). These "old school" zombies were usually dead people resurrected to do the bidding of their living masters. For example, the zombies in "White Zombie" were put to work on a plantation. Hey, no overhead, that's a great business strategy. Note to self...

Anyway, George Romero and co-writer John Russo came up with the idea to give the walking dead in their film (originally titled "Night of the Flesheaters") an extra punch. These zombies would not submit to mortals as the zombies of yesteryear once did. Nay, they would bite the hand of the living...right off! By making their zombies cannibals, not only did Romero and Russo scare the hell out of millions, but they also created an entire genre of horror film: the zombie movie.

Following the realease of "Night of The Living Dead," and again upon the release of its uber-bloody sequel "Dawn of the Dead" (1978), the world caught zombie fever. Directors the world over created their own variations on Romero's theme. Canadian director David Cronenberg's films "Shivers" (1974) and "Rabid" (1977) owe a lot to "NOTLD." Italy spawned dozens of zombie movies in the wake of "Dawn of the Dead," including Umberto Lenzi's "Nightmare City" (1980), which was the first movie to feature fast-moving, weapon-wielding zombies, and Lucio Fulci's "Zombie" (1979), "The Beyond" (1981) and "City of The Living Dead" (1980). Spain's Jorge Grau directed "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie" (1974). France's erotic filmmaker Jean Rollin helmed "The Grapes of Death" (1978), and the racy "Zombie Lake" (1981), featuring Nazi zombies and lots of naked women. Portugal's Amando de Ossorio directed "The Blind Dead" (1971) and its sequels, featuring zombie knights from the Inquisition back to wreak vengeance on sinners. In other words, everybody.

In the 42 years since the release of "NOTLD" the horror world hasn't had a more significant (or influential) breakthrough than the zombie film. George Romero is still making zombie movies today, and the number of zombie films just keeps on growing. Hopefully, the zombie film will never die.

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