Night of the Living Dead and zombie mythos

Night of the Living Dead is often credited with the creation of the modern zombie and everything that has followed has been influenced by it. Though I was familiar with it and have seen all subsequent Romero movies, I had actually never sat down and watched the whole thing from beginning to end. Thanks to YouTube, now I have.

Since it never came up in the sequels (that I remember), I had always assumed that the dead began to rise from their graves for no apparent reason at all. Perhaps it was the apocalypse. Maybe “there is no more room in Hell.” Who knows? This, to me, is the most terrifying aspect of zombie movies (or any horror, I guess). The “supernatural”, unknown explanation is always the thing that keeps me up at night. It’s one of the things I don’t like about stuff like 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead (apparently…I haven’t read the comic and have seen just the first season), and even Dead Rising (though I still love them all). I just don’t want too much science in my zombies.

Now I have learned, through Night of the Living Dead, that there was an explanation in that film, as terse as it was. Apparently, a satellite that had passed very close to Venus entered the earth’s atmosphere, bringing a strange radiation with it that affected the brains of the recently deceased. There weren’t even any zombies crawling from their graves! Only those corpses above ground were on the loose. So, my zombie world is shattered. Did this (limited) explanation carry through the Romero cannon, or am I just conveniently forgetting it?

I don’t believe they discussed it in Dawn of the Dead (Romero’s version). I think the tagline “when there’s no more room in hell, the dead shall walk the earth” was the focus in that entry in the series.

Subsequently, Dawn is my favorite. I prefer my zombies to be born of fire and brimstone and less Astro Zombies.

I don’t think any of the subsequent Romero movies continue with that bit of explanation. Plus, I never got the impression it was all that definite in NotLD anyway.

That’s right, no conclusive reason for the dead rising is ever given. The Venus probe is as close as we get to a first cause but it’s never mentioned again. Presumably because Romero realized that it’s just not important to the story he was telling.

There are other potential first causes offered up in Night as I recall - the virus that gets mentioned on the news and I swear I’m forgetting something else. Implied supernatural I guess.

It’s better left up to the imagination in Romero’s universe. That isn’t to say that every zombie story should work like that. His work - the early stuff - was better for it though.

Yeah, the whole probe thing is just speculation on behalf of the media, or at least that’s how I saw it. The “when there’s no more room in hell” tagline, is actually a quote from the movie, but it’s one of the main characters quoting his grandmother (or something like that), and certainly not a very trustworthy source for the reason for the apocalypse (not that anyone in this thread said it was, mind you).

Anyway, I’m with kentdog: keep the geeky science out of my zombie movies, please. I hate those threads where people have endless discussions about how a real zombie might be possible, because it’s not, but that’s the premise of zombie movies, and if you don’t accept the basic premise of a movie, then I don’t know why you even bother watching (this is not directed at anyone here, it’s just me venting pent-up frustration). Why isn’t anyone questioning the existence of vampires and werewolves and having endless discussions about how those creatures could, theoretically, really exist? Why aren’t people picking apart Santa Claus: the Movie because it features Santa Claus? Because it’s stupid, that’s why!

Thirded. There’s no zombie explanation that can bear careful scrutiny, just skip it.

Why isn’t anyone questioning the existence of vampires and werewolves and having endless discussions about how those creatures could, theoretically, really exist?

I take it you didn’t follow the debate about vampire population dynamics in Buffy and Twilight then.

Well, no, but I stand corrected. For the sake of my frail mind, I won’t be clicking on those links, but I will mention that the vampires in Buffy and Twilight are too girly for my tastes.

Seriously. My wife sometimes gets into these moods where she wants to grill me over zombies and I hold my own for awhile but eventually I have to throw my hands up and say, “Because magic, that’s why”.

Now that I think about it, it’s not that terse of an explanation. I really like the scene where the reporter follows the military General and the scientists to their car. The scientist is obviously convinced of the cause, but of course the General doesn’t want to say too much. That military/science conflict is fully explored in Day of the Dead, so it was cool to see it’s origin here.

As far as delving into vampire mechanics, Peter Watts did quite a good job in his novel Blindsight. (check out the Our Vampires Are Different subsection) It works even better because it isn’t directly about vampires.

Yeah, but I think he fudged that by making them extinct predators that were passed down through folk tales as vampires. I liked that he explained why crosses would work against them, that was cool, but they probably don’t respond to garlic or holy water.

In Danse Macabre, Stephen King talks about how horror films mirror cultural touchstones of their times.

So I always thought the Venus probe thing in NOTLD was that, it was the space exploration era after all. Most conventional horror films make at least a half assed effort to give some explanation ‘why?’, that was Romero’s. That would explain why, years later when the space program novelty wore off, he jettisoned that idea for Dawn of the Dead. In the post-Exorcist horror era, ‘no more room in Hell’ has a lot more cachet.

I like the way Dresden Files does vampires. You have to admire the chutzpah of someone who calls the land of magic “The Nevernever.” Vampires just are. No, they aren’t human. Yes, they are really bad to be near.

For Walking Dead, I don’t remember a real explanation. The CDC guy said there was something infecting everyone, but that isn’t really an answer. You carry it with no issue till you die, but if something bites you you still get a massive infection and then die? That “infection” might as well be called “leprechauns” for all the sense it makes.

I’m with the crowd that says keep science out of my supernatural. Unless it’s the science of the supernatural itself. Like Constantine–there were rules to the way the supernatural operated. Same with Dresden, or Mike Carrey’s stuff. I seem to normally be okay with that.

Agreed. The trouble with introducing too much science is that, given enough information, the viewer will start working through it in their head and not get into the movie as much as they should. Keep it light. Like, paper thin.

I just prefer the approach that leaves it all as a mystery. It’s the zombie apocalypse! People have too many immediate issues to worry about without trying to pin down how and why there are zombies.

I agree. I actually think the Romero films do this very well. Sure there’s speculation on the tv and radio, but no one seems to actually know, which seems plausible since, as you say, it’s probably difficult to mount a major research project to look into the reason for the apocalypse, when people are dying by the millions in the streets.

The Walking Dead plays by Romero rules. In lots of other zombie fiction, the zombie’s bite passes the infection. But with Walking Dead, you’re already infected and the zombie bite is really more analogous to poison that kills quickly, at which point you were going to become a zombie anyway.

I’m pretty sure that’s not Romero’s rules. At least, I can’t remember anyone dying from something other than a zombie bite coming back, in any of his films.

Also, if that is the case, I guess that’s just another reason why Land of the Dead sucks.