Ed. note- Hey, Death Ensemble isn’t dead. And despite the wishes of some, neither am I. What should die, however, is the zombie flick. There’s nothing new to mine from the undead, as my review of these two docs will assure you.- P.F.
Around ten years ago, when I first really started to get into zombies, they were cool. I had decided to write a zombie novel (which never got past the first chapter), and exploring the implosion of society through the lens of the undead was beyond intriguing to me. For a long time, I held true to zombies, meeting loads of Romero actors from his Dead saga, writing a zombie comedy with X Chris, read short story collections and novels. They became, for a time, my favorite monster. Flash forward a decade, and zombies are the most boring of all monsters. Whether it be The Walking Dead on AMC or the $1,000 backyard zombie film a few guys in my town put together, the market for the undead subgenre is so oversaturated that there should be a 10 year moratorium on zombie flicks. Given my current attitude, it shocks me that I watched BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD and DOC OF THE DEAD. What comes as no shock at all is that neither one impressed me, and they shouldn’t impress you either.
BIRTH focuses strictly on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the best zombie flick of all time and George Romero’s masterpiece. 15 years ago, I would have been thrilled with this doc, as it tells me just about everything I would ever need to know about NOTLD. Problem is, this isn’t 15 years ago. NIGHT has been put out on DVD about 25 times since then, and many of those discs carry commentaries and documentaries. Here, Romero tells about how he didn’t choose Duane Jones because he was Black, and how he and Russell Streiner, driving the film print to New York to show it to potential buyers, listened to the news on the radio about how Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. These would be awesome revelations, if Romero didn’t state them in about every single interview in which he discusses NIGHT. The thing is peppered with some outside perspectives as well, such as esteemed Elvis Mitchell (a Black man himself), and Larry Fessenden, who may have the coolest name of anybody currently in Hollywood, but is only on this doc because his production company made it.
Look, it’s never bad to see Romero waxing nostalgic about his first film and its impact. But unless you’re brand new to NOTLD or have been hiding out under a rock to evade the undead, you can pass on this. You’ve heard it all before, in a multitude of places.
At least you can glean some tried and true information out of BIRTH OF THE
LIVING DEAD if you’re a newbie, which gives the doc some value. DOC OF THE DEAD doesn’t even have that going for it. It’s as if the producers decided to throw a bunch of random stuff about zombies at the audience, with no real through line to hold it all together. It’s like a Rorschach of undead, leaving the audience to figure out just exactly what is the point of it all. People such as Tom Savini, the aforementioned Streiner and his screen sister Judith O’Dea and Robert Kirkman are on board, and for some reason the filmmaker seems to have a semi for author Max Brooks. Romero joins in (and let’s be honest, on what doc about zombies in the last five years has Romero not joined in?), on stage with Brooks and some authority on something or other, but Brooks can’t stop running his mouth, so Romero doesn’t say much. The only joy in the doc’s slight 81 minutes is the commentary of Simon Pegg, who provides some intelligent insights that are also funny.
You could avoid BIRTH if you know even a modicum about NOTLD. You can avoid DOC because it’s bad and doesn’t offer much of anything. And hey, at least BIRTH has some cool animated interstices between interviews.
Five years ago you couldn’t convince me that what I’m about to say would come out of my mouth, but the zombie subgenre needs to die. Either some paradigm must come along and change the way we’ve looked at the undead since NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or filmmakers should turn their backs on zombies for a long while. I’m a disciple of Romero’s, and when I’m telling you to skip two docs that feature him, you know it’s time to return the whole subgenre back to the grave and don’t let it dig itself out.