Horror cinema is the house the undead built. Zombies, ghouls, and vampires have been abundant on screen since the birth of film, but it wasn’t until 1968 that the undead became the scariest thing of all: us. When George A. Romero released Night of the Living Dead that year, the postmodern horror era began. No longer were monsters relegated to living in faraway castles; now they were our friends, neighbors, and family. As horror hit closest to home, we saw the undead become perfect vessels into which filmmakers could project our sociopolitical reality. The representations of racism, capitalism, fear of science, declining cities, and war in these films are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago—and perhaps even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down. Importantly, the undead also allow us to transcend the unknowability of life after death and, ultimately, ask us to question what it means to be alive.
This section of Horror: Messaging the Monstrous is anchored by the quintessential (and unabashedly political) “Dead” trilogy from the father of the modern zombie, George A. Romero, as well as Stephanie Rothman’s sun-soaked bloodsucker classic The Velvet Vampire. Underseen works like Bob Clark’s Deathdream are included alongside contemporary films like Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In and Rob Jabbaz’s The Sadness. There’s also the essential demonic cabin-in-the-woods nightmare of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead …because Bruce Campbell’s Ash lives forever.
Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Curator, and Brittany Shaw, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film, with Caryn Coleman, guest curator.