May 27, 1979 [Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead]

I know a young man who thinks about George Romero's zombies all the time. Whenever he enters a room, a little careful part of his brain has him scope out all entrances and exits. He doesn't like to be alone, and facing a door or ground-level window makes things only marginally better. Outdoors isn't so bad, but there needs to be a lot of open space; even then, he keeps in mind that Romero's first victims were in a big cemetery, and could see Doom coming a long way off. When he confessed this fear to me we were talking about movies--not Romero’s, but something in my wide-eyed rush of words about whatever it was I couldn’t stop blathering about provided him an opening to tell me of his fear. One madman to another.

At first, I almost congratulated him. After all, here we are in a time when we've slopped around in every evil, twice, and come up grinning, everybody a smut aficionado--no matter if it’s sex smut or shoot-em-up smut or True Confession smut--a time ripe for Gonzo truths and Freudian fairy-tales, Thompson and Bettelheim staring down the slavering jaws of the Were-Nixon dreaming as it waits for Little Red Riding Hood. You'd assume that nothing could faze anybody under thirty any more. I thought it was good to see a little atavistic fear still tinkling the ivories of someone’s spine. Of course, though, the more that young zombie-phobe talked, the worse I felt for him. This fear dogged him silently in the underbrush of his life, always out of sight but never out of mind.

I have nothing new to say here, except to acknowledge how thoroughly George Romero understands the terror of evil--not just Hannah Arendt’s “banality,” all those wolf’s-head accountants tabulating Jewish ashes, one by one million, but the small dread that grows, the suspicion that everyone’s either dead or back--and wanting you dead. And this dread is in the rooms we sit in and the scenery we move through, and it comes at us, its shambling, E.C. horror comics/Karloff as The Mummy gait laughably slow--but so darn inexorable, like plate tectonics, so that you cannot escape the object of dread: consumption. In Romero's zombie movies, evil may be silly or slimy, but it is always as close as the dinner table or the shopping center, the personal and social feeding grounds. So when that young man admitted he was always thinking of zombies, he was just seeing Romero's version of the Post-Everything Age. In Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood--and I read John Huston is making a movie of that little fallen creature--Hazel Motes founds the "Church Without Christ," where "the blind don't see, the lame can't walk, and the dead stay that way." I wish Romero would convert, and leave that poor young man alone.


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