Author Brian Kaufman joins us today with an article of one of his favorite movies: Night of the Living Dead.
As a horror fan (and a genre writer), I enjoy a scary movie. I’ve seen literally hundreds of them. One stood above the others as a truly frightening experience. Because the film was revolutionary (and because I was young), Night of the Living Dead had a lasting effect, both on my writing and my life.
My first encounter with the movie came through a negative newspaper review, which noted that the film departed from the traditional horror film (as typified by the Universal Studio monsters). NOTLD had no comedic elements. No schlocky reminders that the film was, after all, just a movie. And the hero dies. A drawing accompanying the review showed movie-goers, ostensibly children, fleeing the theater in tears.
The following summer, I took a date to the drive-in. She wore a sweater over her blouse, but it was late August, and that sweater was coming off for sure. Then the movie started. I’d recognized the name from the review I’d read, and thought, good, this could be fun. Maybe she’ll get scared!
Let’s start by saying that the title sequence scared me. Black and white film. A car driving a deserted road. Plain title lettering. No reason to feel dread, except, I did. As soon as Bill Hinzman, the graveyard zombie, killed poor Barbara’s brother, my date buttoned up that sweater. I was unseasonably cold myself, and settled in to endure the overwhelming sense of impending doom.
Film over, we drove home in silence. That night, I had my first zombie nightmare.
The dreams are all the same. It’s late afternoon or early evening. The sun will be down soon, and I have a limited amount of time to secure my surroundings and find weapons. Only the setting changes. In one dream, I was in the storage room of a museum. In another, the attic of a fast food restaurant.
In one particularly bad dream, I was on the top floor of an office building. The zombies were shambling down the hall, and coworkers barred the door. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Then, the pounding started. Someone on the other side of the door begged us to let him in. One coworker asked, “Is that Bob?” I tried to remove the bar, but coworkers pulled me way. The man outside shrieked, “They’re eating me!” I woke up screaming. My poor wife, half asleep, began screaming, too.
Meanwhile, I kept watching zombie movies. What scares you can also fascinate you. All this, thanks to that first black-and-white film, which clearly altered my DNA.
When I began writing horror, I wasted no time wondering what kind of monster I’d portray. Being eaten would surely be a horrible way to die. The relentless, unstoppable nature of zombies adds to their dread. And zombies are mindless. Evil has always struck me as thoughtless and irrational.
Novel writing is a lonely, arduous task. That’s why I chose a subject I could obsess over. It’s easy to maintain interest in a project that infects you. Dead Beyond the Fence was a moderate success, though the million or so zombie movies and books since then have taken the genre to new places. My second zombie story, for example, Mary King’s Plague, took the undead to 17th century Scotland.
I still have occasional zombie dreams, though time and nostalgia have altered the way they are viewed. I look forward to the setting sun. A good weapon makes me smile. (Sometimes, chaos is fun.) As for Romero’s classic, my older self finds that some of the strings are showing—bad acting, script flaws, lapses in logic. No matter—Night of the Living Dead still affects me, marrow deep. Best horror film ever.
Brian Kaufman is curriculum editor for an online junior college. He has published five novels, two textbooks, and a number of novellas. Kaufman lives with his wife and dog in the Colorado mountains, dividing his time between various passions, including writing, blues guitar, and book-hoarding.
According to legend, when plague broke out in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1644, city officials walled up a tenement neighborhood to contain the outbreak. When the walls came down months later, soldiers found dismembered corpses. Today, Mary King’s Close is one of the most haunted places in the world.
“Mary King’s Plague” – a novella. Betrayal. Forgiveness. Redemption. Zombies.
The dead have risen, and there’s no safe place. Coworkers Kevin and Angel take refuge in a college town research facility, where a handful of desperate survivors battle the plague and each other while searching for a cure. Meanwhile, Angel has a secret that will affect everyone in the facility. “Dead Beyond the Fence” includes a bonus novella, “Dread Appetites.” Seven months have passed, and the dead still walk. Will the world ever return to normal?