Review – Birth of the Living Dead (2013)

botld-review

Anyone with an affinity for the original black and white horror films from the ’30’s through to and including the ’60’s can remember growing up seeing Night of the Living Dead on some local or cable late night channel playing endlessly during the Halloween season for what seems to be a seasonal-annual nostalgic broadcast event across the country. NOLD is an important part of our film history, where as in the time it was produced, we were living in a far, far different world than we are here today.

The 1960’s had our country tied up in cross country race riots, the Vietnam War, hippie war protesters, violent protests against the government as well as the police, Martin Luther King’s speeches and national debates on equal rights to say the least. Those were dangerous days for anyone to live in no matter who you were or where you lived, be it in the north, south, east or the western parts of the country. 

Depending on how old you are today, these events in our country’s past might only be remembered as references to a period of time our country went through seen only in your old history schoolbooks or in films viewed in class on those rickety old 16 millimeter projectors that we were shown in our history classes long ago.

So, what does all of those years during the ’60’s of violent and unsettling American History have to do with the making of a lone, micro budget independent horror film called “Night of the Living Dead” being produced by a commercial director in 1968 Pittsburgh, PA? Well, according to what George A. Romero stated in exactly the very first 2 minutes of this documentary… not too much.

george-romeroRomero states: “It was no big thing man. Nobody knew if we were even ever going to finish this movie. It was just like a bunch of people getting together and we were going to try to make a movie… and none of us knew that it was ever going to get finished… let alone become something as well known as it is.”

So… According to Romero, by himself, in his own words in the very 1st 2 minutes of this documentary, he states that he was just a guy who got together with some close friends (who, in fact, all pitched in $600 a head) to make a horror movie because they wanted to. That is pretty much the end of this cinematic story right there, but, for some reason, Director Rob Kuhns wants to spend the next 76 minutes of our time telling us something different. 

AGAIN within the 1st 2 minutes of this film setting up the so-called “film history experts” to dissect in their exhaustively long-winded personal incite into the subliminal racial nuances, social ramifications along with political agendas and overt statements regarding the portrayal of the Vietnam War on society that seem to fill this “Orwellian” statement of racial social oppression and hidden political conscientious that were all supposedly contained within a little known horror film at the time.

Relax man… It’s just a damn Horror Film. Chill….

But NO!! Hold on now… It’s not that simple…. We, according to these “film experts” as well as Director Kuhns, actually have no idea what we have been truly seeing unfold right in front of our eyes this whole time just sitting in front of the television during every Halloween for the past 50 years. 

We MUST now be “educated” by these “experts” in their film theory, film criticism and cinematic image dissection for the next 70 minutes so they can explain to us, the dumb, uneducated audience who just want to watch an old horror movie, that we really don’t understand how politically or socially important NOLD really was to our social and political culture back in the 1960’s, and what sheer “genius” it took to master such new and innovative cinematic film making techniques to tell such a multi-level, socially-impacting story, with such a small and limited budget, all this coming from a local Pittsburgh, PA. based Director making his very 1st film!

Ah…. no. Let me quote Mr. Romero from the very 1st 2 minutes of this documentary AGAIN.

Romero states: “It was no big thing man. Nobody knew if we were even ever going to finish this movie. It was just like a bunch of people getting together and we were going to try to make a movie… and none of us knew that it was ever going to get finished… let alone become something as well known as it is.”

In essence, Romero directly states later in the film: “You buy a camera, write a script and make a Horror Movie.”

There is so much old B&W newsreel footage of 1960’s Civil Rights protests and abuses of law enforcement mixed with grainy combat footage of the Vietnam War that you would swear that you are watching a vintage episode of “60 minutes” on CBS instead of a documentary of a low budget horror film! Cut to Romero, cut to the Huey Helicopter gun-ships swooping in and firing rockets into rice patties, cut back to a few frames of slow moving, poorly costumed, bad acting and poorly lit zombies, cut back to a few still frames of Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy, all the while this films “experts” are putting all of this into their context for you to understand.

dawn-of-the-deadOf course, naturally and without fail, being this is a documentary about a film that was shot in Pittsburgh, you KNOW you have to include footage of an old steel bridge near the point with a tugboat coal-barge slowly moving upriver, the Incline’s passing each other, a past Romero television commercial shot for locally produced Iron City Beer, and without missing a beat, Fred Rogers in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, complete with the theme song and closet/sweater changeover! If it were not for those shots I am positive that the audience might have thought they got lost somewhere in Las Vegas! Whew… Good strategic thinking on that one.

I’m telling you… this film was a LONG, LONG, VERY LONG, slow-moving, over analyzed, redundant 76 minutes that I thought would never end, and so far I’ve only covered about the 1st TEN MINUTES!

Romero HIMSELF stated in this film that to this day HE DOESN’T KNOW what created the zombies in his own films, (and he doesn’t care) yet we will get countless socially impacting (guesses) defining what these experts (think) Romero was actually doing throughout NOLD on a socially unconscious level. That is, besides, in HIS words, just making a horror film, NOT a socialist commentary about the times they were living in at the time the film was being made. Can’t a Horror Film JUST be a Horror Film? According to Romero: “Yes.”

THE EXPERTS: SEND IN THE CLOWNS.. er… ZOMBIES:
If it were not for these elitist film theory professionals interrupting the film ever 30 seconds or so to chime in with their self inflated, egotistical, condescending expertise, I may have never been able to make sense, let alone even try to enjoy Romero’s story in this film without their “highly insightful” input interruptions popping up every minute by minute:

CHIZ SCHULTZ: WHO? WTF? Smh… NEXT!

JASON ZINOMAN: CRITIC, NY TIMES: This guy has horror film history pouring out of his ass and a true gift of the obvious and uselessly irrelevant nonsense. Looks like he isn’t old enough to shave yet along give any film commentary of any substance on any film that has been released within the past 5 years. Smug, know-it-all, talks and talks and says absolutely nothing. NEXT!

CHRISTOPHER CRUZ: WRITER/FILMMAKER/TEACHER?: OK… this is just priceless horseshit that CAN NOT possibly be true, but lets get on with this anyway…. At just 19 minutes into this film, we see Cruz showing a screening of NOLD in a suspiciously empty looking classroom supposedly located in The Bronx (Romero’s hometown), to a very small class of about less than a dozen 8-9 year-olds. Mind you, there are NO BOOKS to be seen on the classroom shelves or desks.

These “students” go on in great detail, both verbally and physically describing how zombies walk around eating human flesh and suffer from rigor mortis. Cruz states: “The students are learning LITERACY through making movies.” I GUESS, according to Mr. Cruz, having these children pretend that they are zombies and walking around the classroom stoically groaning is somehow teaching them HOW TO READ!! 

What the Hell is wrong with using SESAME STREET to do this? AT HOME? ON PBS FOR FREE? That’s sure as Hell how I learned my ABC’s. Not by watching 50 year old Horror Films about zombies!

If that’s true, Who the Hell is Funding this Advanced Scholastic Literacy Education Program?? Is this “educational” course churning out a bunch of 9-year-old Spielberg’s and Scorsese’s and DeNiro’s who can’t even read or write a script? Is there something wrong with reading and writing Dr. Suess stories? Does the Alphabet not work anymore? Someone PLEASE make sense of this ridiculousness for me…. Oh wait, more experts….

LARRY FESSENDEN: WRITER/DIRECTOR: Some of his (non) Oscar-Winning and unrecognizably forgettable films include The Last Winter, Habit, I Sell the Dead and Stake Land. Never have I seen nor have I ever heard of these cinematic epics. You can not take this guy seriously at all as any type of “authority” on anything that is not perched right in front of him to describe in the most obvious of terms! Believe me I tried too take him seriously, but I just can’t! I just can’t do it. 

He sits there, reclined and somewhat dismissive, waving a limp hand about oh-so carefree in the air, spouting off the all-so subtle inner-nuances of what makes NOLD such a classic horror film, describing what we are seeing on screen, as it happens, as if we are all to dumb to know is actually happening in the opening Graveyard scene and need a narrated play-by-play of the ensuing action to make the obvious comprehensible.

MARK HARRIS: FILM HISTORIAN: This is his 1st and ONLY credit listed on IMDB. Never heard of him, probably never will again. Another expert in the obvious. NEXT…

SAMUEL D. POLLARD: PRODUCER: Another one who can read between the lines with his own over complicated, far-reaching specific film incites that have NOTHING to do with the film.

ELVIS MITCHELL: ?: He has 28 credits on IMDB as “Self”, what ever the Hell that is? This guy just BLEEDS arrogance and social, political and Hollywood Bound-Detroit Found elitism. His whole attitude is so self absorbed in his own nothingness that again, here is someone who talks and talks and says absolutely nothing but the obvious, but delivered to us with such disdain in his face from within his own self-proclaimed professional insightfulness it seems as if he is being bothered being in this film: “How dare they put him in a documentary! There MUST be a celebrity late-night party going on somewhere that I can crash – I must go immediately stand to someone at least semi famous and wait for the paparazzi! Elvis is leaving the Documentary!”

I am only at the 40 minute mark…

GALE ANNE HURD: PRODUCER: The biggest name to have associated with this documentary. She seems very stiff, almost zombie-like (pun int.) in her delivery to be forcing the words out of her tightly-clenched mouth, trying to think of something that’s nice and relevant to say about NOLD. You Know Gale… It’s the classic 1960’s horror film that made your “The Walking Dead” cable television series possible! Jeeze.. at least smile a little for the camera, would ya? These zombies are making you stinky rich! Show some respect at least to ole George for what your current career project owes to him! At least try to fake some appreciation!

OK… So at the 1:10 mark, what are we left with?

CAST/CREW of NOLD INTERVIEWED: 
George A. Romero, Bill Hinzman (archive footage).

CAST/CREW of NOLD (NOT) INTERVIEWED: 
Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille, John A. Russo, Kyra Schon, Russ Streiner, Judith O’Dea and anyone else involved with the film. 

The filmmakers were not even “Coming to get Barbara!” for this film and she’s available!!

Instead we just get George recounting the same ole story he has probably told a million times, over and over again to millions of fans. I would have put Romero and Hurd in the room together and see how that went, kind of like a “before and after” retrospective on how the zombie phenomena which was (created by) Romero and (reignited today by) Hurd! Now THAT would be an interesting 76 minute film worth watching for fans new and old and would add a totally new evolutionary element to the (original) NOLD story! Oh well, It was just a thought…

Ah… Well… Maybe they should have asked, oh Hell, I don’t know…. Tom Savini if (HE) would have any amusing or interesting stories worthy to contribute to this film based on his long working relationship with Romero… ON A ZOMBIE FILM! It’s not as if he didn’t gain most of his early film career notoriety by: 

A) Working with George A. Romero! 
B) Working with George A. Romero, in Pittsburgh, on the SEQUEL to NOLD: that being the film DAWN OF THE DEAD.

I know we are supposed to root for the home team, but no one is clapping if they are all put to sleep after more than an hour and nothing really happens or we don’t buy into their experts disjointed, over-reaching and irrelevant, if not just plain wrong suppositions as to why this film is enjoyed by true horror fans year, after year, after year.. 

This is the same “film expert insider-dissection-retrospect-formula” that ran wild in 2013’s ROOM 237, a documentary on Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film The Shining, based mostly on the Stephen King novel. This formula didn’t work well for them either…

Sometimes Rosebud is just a childhood sled. Sometimes a rose, by any other name would still smell just as sweet, and sometimes, just sometimes, a Horror Film is just a Horror Film and NOT a social commentary of metaphorical images and actions to only be noticed and interpreted by a very select few. **PASS**

review submitted by Joseph Jobe

Written by
Ash Hamilton is not only the owner of Horror-Fix.com, but also one of its major contributors. A long time horror movie enthusiast, Ash has lent his personality to radio and television and continues to support his favorite genre through his writing and art. He also loves beef jerky and puppies... and low-grade street-quality hallucinogens.

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