Night of the Living Dead
This is set up as disrespect for the dead (and blasphemy), or a childish fantasy, with a gag from Orphée thrown in for good measure, but it’s essentially related to Repulsion by way of The Birds. The psychological motif is prepared by Ben’s striking resemblance to Sean Connery in Marnie (one shot is devoted to North by Northwest and two to Psycho).
With the theme established, Romero has a dreamlike texture governed by Barbara’s absent mind which plays out very dramatically. Polanski seems to have taken something from this in turn for The Tenant, a fine point of zombielike stillness, real or imagined.
The virtuosic TV sequence (Malle recalls the first handheld shot in Atlantic City) introduces the Alien & Zombie War theme from Plan 9 from Outer Space. The premonitory destruction at the end of Zabriskie Point is a variant.
The high point is the scene of roasted cannibalism, which gives a visceral form to hysteria and provokes Barbara to speech. The sequence of stills at the end is like the seizing-up of madness, and the last shot of a bonfire is the last word of a related poem by Jorge Luis Borges, “Susana Soca”.
Night of the Living Dead is a great burst of prophecy, and at the right time. An ignorant delusion animated much of what we now call the Sixties, that certain operations of contemporary art on the one hand, and The Liberation of L.B. Jones, say, on the other, meant that anarchy had come. This form of reaction laid the ground of Postmodernism, which in many of its aspects is daily heard to be a response to “the Sixties.”
Now, the truth is that the Sixties and Seventies were a time of great developments in the cinema, which suffered in the crossfire and finally, in the Eighties, ended up in the vestpocket of the financiers or CFOs.
What’s the difference between a UFO and a CFO? One beams you up and probes your ass, the other downsizes you and gets probed by asses.
The right time, because Romero was able to film this with a sense of humanity that became a rare commodity not many years after it was still possible to put together Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake.
Forty years ago Samuel Beckett said “humanity is on its knees.” Unless you count survivals like Romero’s Tales from the Darkside series, nowadays it’s “to the right and slightly to the rere” of what it was back then.
A large-scale study for Tales from the Darkside. E.G Marshall’s performance there is a sterling exercise in gamesmanship on the brink of madness, and here he plunges into stark lunacy. Though it lacks nothing, it makes you regret not seeing him in Krapp’s Last Tape.
The Dark Half
The writing self is carefully made manifest whom Borges identified in Whitman, for example. The stratagem at play is a square realization of a nom de guerre as spiritual defensor, plied as a horror mystery. The great turn is on the mystique of the writer or any artist, an insoluble problem.
Dickens had to be on call, he tells us, to his muse, in constant readiness. That is humorously depicted as an unconscious struggle, pencil in hand.
The “psychopomp” is figured forth by way of The Birds, and all of it may be taken by critics safely as propounding nothing in their ken beyond surface apparitions belonging to the métier. Dali’s or Elvis’s twin is cited.
Romero’s masterpiece is akin to Losey’s Eva in its divulging of known facts as tangible fictions, in the laboriousness of its elucidation (the stuff of art itself for witness), in the droll handiwork. The milieu recalls Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone (“George Stark” is from Oxford, Miss.), Hutton achieves both persons. The Fly has something relative to the theme (Mailer’s wounds) in Cronenberg’s version, and is also cited.