The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Saturday, June 25, 2005

And now for something completely different-- zombies!

I love horror movies. Not brain-dead slasher movies, but horror movies with brains and a heart. I'll avoid the cheap joke in that sentence. Although Japan has taught us a couple of lessons lately, the horror film is largely an American original, and an underappreciated contribution to world cinema.

One of the most prominent horror filmmakers of the last fifty years is George Romero. In 1968, he helmed the project 'Night of the Living Dead,' (originally titled Night of the Flesh-Eaters) which has become, in spite of its shoestring budget and grainy black and white cinematography, a revered classic. Not only for its genuine scares and claustrophobic atmosphere, but for its trenchant social commentary on race and class in 1960's America. This is also true of his sequels, which create an original, if bleak, American mythology.

Romero claims to this day that they cast a black American in the lead role for one simple reason: he was the best actor in their pool. And that's what makes him such an admirable American. Romero has always been committed to his hometown of Pittsburgh, and put the welfare of his community ahead of profit or fame. He has always insisted on this, at the cost of working within the Hollywood system and making heaps of money. Even when it meant that he couldn't make movies-- the brilliant Dawn of the Dead was made in 1978, and Day of the Dead in 1985.

The shame of it all is that forty years on, he's still noteworthy for casting black men in lead roles. It's sad that this is the aspect of Romero's work that attracts the most attention-- the simple fact of casting minorities as strong characters is still seen as groundbreaking.

His latest-- and probably last-- zombie epic (Romero is 65) opened this weekend, to largely positive reviews. It will be the first time I've seen one of his films in the theater, and I just wanted to bring it to your attention. In the twenty years since the last installment the country has changed a lot, and Romero has continued to combine horror with social commentary. Many reviewers have made note of Land of the Dead's overt statements on post 9/11 America, the new class struggle in America, and of course, race issues.

If your stomach can take the gore, give it a look-- cast your vote as a consumer for an American original.