For any horror fans well versed in their history, Rob Kuhns Night of the Living Dead expose Birth of the Living Dead, will probably come off as a little basic. For anyone mildly interested in the film or its cultural context, the film could be potentially intriguing, though never altogether fascinating. Energetic perhaps, but never fascinating.
The story of Romero’s infamous guerrilla-shoot is recalled by a host of interviewees; producers, academics, horror filmmakers (the wonderful Larry Fessenden), and Romero himself who appears extensively to chuckle and lovingly gibber about his crew. Granted Kuhns utilises archive footage excellently and quotes rigorously from interesting sources, the late Roger Ebert’s surprisingly dismissive review for instance, but something’s missing here. Apart from Romero, there’s few original crew members and fewer celebrity appearances, but perhaps this is all in the name of guerrilla filmmaking since what self-respecting underdog needs the involvement of the mainstream horror genre? That aside, it would have been lovely to see a few more familiar faces.
Kuhns goes to great lengths to prove the cultural validity of Night of the Living Dead by exploring the political climate of the late 60’s. Here lies one of the strongest elements of the documentary: extensive use of vintage news footage and interviews is blended with footage from Night to highlight how part of the 60’s zeitgeist Night really is. In examining how the collapse of faith in the American government came about and how Romero critically engaged with it, Kuhns’ primary objective appears to be validating Night as a cultural artefact ranked with the likes of Easy Rider. Which he achieves gloriously, but seems to carry on reiterating rather than engaging with.
Lovingly crafted, informative, but eventually slow, Birth of the Living Dead misses out on some great opportunities to expand on the legacy of George A. Romero’s zombie masterpiece. It does however prove what a miracle the film is in production terms, and serves as a gushing testament to the spirit of Independent filmmaking.
Dir: Rob Khuns
Stars: George A. Romero, Larry Fessenden, Gale Anne Hurd