Sunday, 24 April 2016

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

69. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990, dir. Tom Savini)

24/04/2016


I don't really watch horror films. This is partly due to squeamishness, but what I do watch doesn't lead me to them either. What some get from horror films I get from reading reports of abusive comments on the internet.

What I mean by this is how horror, more than any other genre of film, uses negative reactions from its audiences to achieve its goals, like how "Halloween" and "I Spit On Your Grave" raise questions over violence against women, and how the "Saw" and "Human Centipede" series (unintentionally) put their viewers under suspicion for watching what is essentially "torture porn."

However, like the characters in the "Scream" series, repeated watching of horror, like any other genre, creates certain expectations - people stuck in the middle of nowhere will be the first to die, mirrors are never to be trusted, and a filmmaker is trying to make a grand statement about the world if they are telling their story using zombies.

The last of these is the fault of George A. Romero's original 1968 "Night of the Living Dead," which is said to talk about everything from racism, and peoples' disregard for others outside their own class or ethnicity, to the Vietnam war, with its grainy monochrome imagery looking similar to news reports at the time.

Compare this with what someone said in a 2002 interview with the "Pittsburgh Post" newspaper: "When I was in Vietnam I was a combat photographer. My job was to shoot images of damage to machines and to people. Through my lens, I saw some hideous [stuff]. To cope with it, I guess I tried to think of it as special effects. Now, as an artist, I just think of creating the effect within the limitations we have to deal with."

Tom Savini was meant to have done the make-up effects for "Night of the Living Dead," but was called to Vietnam before shooting began. However, he later contributed to the sequel, "Dawn of the Dead," ten years later, and "Day of the Dead" in 1985. Savini was perfectly placed to then direct a remake of the original film, in 1990, even if the intent was to head off a competing production, and to make money from the concept of a film that was allowed to slip into the public domain.

What did Savini say with his version? Although the same themes from the original, but played down this time around, the progress in women's rights since the 1960s meant the central character of Barbara is a much stronger force than in the original, but incidentally close to the horror cliche of the "Final Girl." 

Many films are inspired by real-life events, but the best examples come from experience, rather than attempting to copy the real world. We are all aware of the other side of ourselves, and how that is acknowledged is crucial. Some people are constructive, and use it to tell a story, while others will give in to it, and fling abuse instead.

Regardless, I still feel a bit squeamish.

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