Monday, July 17, 2017

Trauma of the Living Dead

I was saddened to hear of George Romero's passing yesterday. What a career he had — and what a driving force in the horror field. But if he had made no more movies after Night of the Living Dead, I suspect Romero might still have attained legendary status. Night scared the daylights out of countless moviegoers, including my mom (and possibly my dad), and it traumatized me years before I even got to watch it....

1968:

I remember that first TV commercial for Night, or at least a portion of it — a brief shot of one of the undead gnawing on a human hand; a shot of a desiccated, staring skull; a shrill, nerve-shattering scream. I was eight or nine years old at the time, and that advertisement cost me serious sleep over a couple of evenings. In fact, this movie looked scary enough that I was pretty sure I didn't even want to see it.

But then the kicker: Night of the Living Dead came to one of our local drive-in theaters on a double bill with Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster. Now, whatever my feelings about flesh-eating zombies, I was by this time in life a serious daikaiju geek, and the opportunity to see a Godzilla movie at the theater was not one to pass up. Naturally, I asked my parents if they'd take me. They answered with the dreaded "maybe."

What happened was that Mom and Dad went to the drive-in to check out the movies, to see if they were "okay" for the likes of me. Well, the next day, Mom very firmly told me I could not go. Night of the Living Dead was just way too much. Those zombies were eating people! I assured her I didn't want to see Night of the Living Dead, I just wanted to see Ghidrah.

"You're not going anywhere near that drive-in theater!" was my traumatized mother's reply.

And so, no Ghidrah for me that go-round. In fact, much to my dismay, it was years later before I got to see it — well into high school, if I remember. As for Night of the Living Dead, I believe I was in college when I finally got to experience that treat. By then hardly traumatizing, but it certainly entertained me. And to this day, it remains one of my favorite horror movies. My most memorable experience with it was Halloween 1983 — my first in Chicago — when Night played on a double-feature with Eraserhead at the sadly long-gone Varsity Theater in Evanston. And just a few years ago, the Rives Theater in Martinsville — where I saw the majority of the horror and monster movies of my youth — Night played as a midnight movie at Halloween.

Yeah, I don't know how many times I've seen it now, but I'll probably watch it quite a few more times before I pass on over myself. Not to mention the original Dawn of the Dead, which also rates among my favorites.

Thanks, George, for those treasured memories you've provided. I remember you for those, but I know many folks who will remember a warm and genuine soul who touched their lives in many other wonderful ways. R.I.P.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

When I was younger I was always horrified when I met kids whose parents wouldn't let them watch certain movies or read certain books/comics/magazines. My parents never put any kind of censorship like that over on me. I recall one of my pals was forbidden to so much as look at Mad Magazine while I had them by the stacks.

My parents allowed me to read anything I wanted (including Playboy) or watch anything I wanted (including all monster movies).

I would likely have been traumatized if I'd seen NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as a kid of eleven (which is how old I was when it came out). They did drop me off at the theater to see THE THREE HEADED MONSTER that year, though. It was playing a double-bill with another kaiju film. But I do remember that GHIDORA horrified me. Scared the shit out of me. Especially the opening credits. HOLY HELL!!

I have read stories about kids who went to see NOTLD and their parents hadn't screened it to see what it was about. And then picking up the kids only to find them quiet, like someone had slipped them some kind of downer. Yeah. Traumatized. Hell...I was in my 20s before I finally saw it, and it just about did me that way.

Not sure I'd have wanted to see it as an eleven or twelve year old kid. Zombies eating guts were just not my bag, man. In this case, your parents likely did the right thing.