George Romero has made a career out of creating zombie films. On the anniversary of his first film The Night of the Living Dead (1978) he returns with George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2008). The plot has the young filmmakers with hand-held video cameras filming their adventure as the dead “return” to roam the countryside. True to the storyline first created by Romero, friends and family members “bitten” by zombies have to be killed to prevent them from becoming zombies, or “re-killed” after they “return” after hapless accidents, etc. The dramatic tension is thus created as survivors have to struggle with the tension of the realization that they have to kill the zombie that looks like their mother or their best friend, or they have to kill their mother or their best friend who has just been bitten by a zombie to prevent them from becoming a life-threatening incredibly ugly monster.
A sense of humor is essential in viewing zombie films. Few people suspect that such films are a profound comment on the nature of reality—but they are—and such is often the profound expression inherent in art. In Romero’s latest version of comic-horror, the film that the young filmmakers are shooting is entitled The Death of Death meaning, I suppose, that zombies are doomed to roam the earth forever feeding on the living who then become zombies ad infinitum. Stories have been written about people unwisely making a bargain with the devil to avoid death. The point of such stories being that death is natural and not being able to die would not be the escape from the fear of death that we might imagine.
What some of us can see in these films is a metaphor for the human condition. In P-B, humanity exists in an unconscious state not unlike the staggering and lurching zombies in Romero’s films. Behaving in a self-destructive way, people are driven by desires and cravings that create a horrific horror story where they are indirectly “preying” on each other. Whereas zombies only “destroy” the living human beings, humanity today is destroying both each other and the planet.
Until we awaken from our somnambulistic state, we will all live paralyzed by the fear that something horrible awaits us unseen and lurking in the darkness of the next moment. And we will be right.
References and notes are available for the essays in this blog.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.