Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Night of the Living Duder

There are some SPOILERS coming up. If you haven't seen Night of the Living Dead by now... well holy shit, you need to get with the program. I mean, come on. It's the 90s!

In 6th grade, my fascination with horror was still going through its growing pains. My mind had already been poisoned by a number of accidentally amazing moments. Catching Girls Nite Out in the middle of the night while I was supposed to be sleeping, seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street on video with my sister Lora, going to the drive-in with Lora and her future husband to see Creepshow 2 are just a few important things that happened to me. Another monumental event took place on Saturday, October 31st, 1987. All day, I saw commercials advertising a midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead on TV. I don't know why but something told my 11-year-old brain that this was a must-see.

We had just moved into these creepy apartments in Jupiter, Florida called Jupiter Sound Apartments. The place is one of those motel style dealies that was designed to make me uneasy for no reason whatsoever. I only had two friends which I made relatively quickly in the whole neighborhood. Oops, make that no friends. One was Timmy who had just moved to Alaska and the other was Jeff who I caught stealing $10 (my life savings) from my dresser while we were hanging out. My older sisters were now both married and out of the house. So needless to say, my Halloween night was wide open.

Staying up late was no problem. I was already wired from inhaling untold amounts of candy. Just before midnight rolled around, my parents called it a night and I was left alone to face the black and white terrors of George Romero's classic film. From start to end, I ate up Night of the Living Dead. The downer ending where Ben survives a zombie plague but falls prey to dickhead rednecks was truly shocking. But the two scenes that affected me the most were when Tom and Judy met their fiery fate at the gas pump and when Karen takes a trowel to her mother. I was totally fucked up about Tom and Judy's death scene. This cold feeling in my stomach came creeping in like when Travis shot Old Yeller. It seemed totally unfair to me that they got blown up and then consumed by the zombies.

Karen killing and then devouring her mother on the other hand, scared me in the best way. I was exhilarated and oddly happy during that moment. Don't read into that one, Mom. It was also apparent to me that the scene was kind of weird and beautiful. I don't think I had a word for it then but thanks to the freaky sound design, Helen's death is pretty friggin' surreal. Her sped up screams opened up a part of brain that I didn't know existed. Ever since then, I have appreciated directors who use horror as a place to air their freaky cinematic ideas (whether intentional or not) and push the limits of what a typically low brow genre like horror can be used to express.

So yeah, that was a magical night. It is indeed a big turning point. The next day, all of my G.I. Joes were no longer fighting Cobra and vice versa. Instead, these two warring factions had to unite in order to fend off a zombie horde. Soon I would be sneaking peaks at Fangoria magazine at the drugstore, reading Stephen King novels by the truckload, and eventually renting as many horror movies on VHS that was humanly possible.

Skip to 4:00 for Tom and Judy's demise:

Skip to 1:50 for Karen's big moment:

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