Birth of the Living Dead Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Film distributed by First Run Features
Written and directed by Rob Kuhns
2013, 76 minutes, Not Rated
Premiered on November 16th, 2013
George A. Romero as Himself
Larry Fessenden as Himself
Mark Harris as Himself
Gale Anne Hurd as Herself
Elvis Mitchell as Himself
Samuel D. Pollard as Himself
Chiz Schultz as Himself
Jason Zinoman as Himself
For all the symbolism and revolution fans and fanatics have found in Night of the Living Dead since its release in 1968, George Romero seems fairly adamant that all he wanted to do was make a movie. For all the reverence that Birth of the Living Dead gives unto Saint George, he’s still just the guy who loves zombies.
It’s perhaps the best underdog story for aspiring filmmakers to hear: a plucky college dropout has a great idea and a great script. He scrapes together $6,000, finds an abandoned farmhouse, enlists a crew of eager volunteers and creates a movie that still inspires legend fifty years later. But the truth lies in the struggle to get this movie made; that’s what being an artist is about and this documentary honors that struggle with entertainment and respect.
Birth of the Living Dead keeps the story moving, but writer / director Rob Kuhns does get a tad carried away at certain editing points. There is a moment or two of unsteady cuts during the one-on-one interviews that could have used a bit more grace. The use of comic-book-like animation keeps the more technical sequences relatable. The revisits to adults tormented by Night of the Living Dead as kids is hilarious. A grown, large man talking about wetting the bed for months is a testament to this movie’s impact. I can’t express how jealous I am of the children in Literacy Through Film program in Harlem that got to learn how to zombie as part of their curriculum. That teacher is a goddamn genius.
The subject matter is thorough. The timeline of Civil Rights runs right down the middle of Night. Filmmakers and historians weigh in heavily in how the casting of Duane Jones as the unexpected hero. The final editing was done the day before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. The growing awfulness of Vietnam contributed to the “bleakness of culture” that was gradually infecting America. It truly felt that the world was being overrun by terrible things and no one was safe from ruin. Yet the underlying theme of all of his interviews is that Romero “just wants to make movies”. There was no ulterior motive in casting Jones; he was a classically trained actor who nailed the part of Ben and was willing to do the film. The dialogue between newscasters and police crew were ad-libbed because the volunteer actors were indeed local newscasters and police officers and Romero let them have their fun. He never set out to be brilliant; he set out to do what he loved.
Now, despite all his protests, let’s not dismiss that Romero IS the creator of zombies as we know it. Zombie movies before had solely dealt with the voodoo-type controlled humans; the man invented our contemporary concept of the zombie. I’m not familiar with anything as revitalizing to the genre save 28 Days Later in 2002. That’s a span of 34 years to create something as brilliant as Romero. He can’t “aww, shucks” that away.
Birth of the Living Dead covers the Night of the Living Dead’s copyright debacle, the disappointing reviews, the relegations to vaudeville theaters, but I won’t get into all of that. The documentary does Romero’s masterpiece more justice than I could anyway.
The most poignant part of this movie is the final interview with Bill Hinzman, who passed away just last year. He’s the original suited zombie you meet in the graveyard right after our protagonist’s brother famously teases, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” Hinzman’s revealed at a huge rally for a zombie walk, giving the opening speech to incite the walkers. He speaks of the time he had, and how whenever he’s feeling down on himself, his wife sends him out to a zombie rally. To be a part of the big thing that overtook America all those years ago, and still holds our passion today is a gift that Romero gave to all zombie fans. It cost him dearly, and no one in that film got the glory they truly deserved, but Birth of the Living Dead reminds us that there is only one original. There was only one man, doing what he loved, and what he still loves, that changed our lives forever. No matter what we do, even if there is no glory in it that we can see, if our heart is in it, it will change the world.
Thank you, George.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screening.