Some people may tell you that the best zombie film ever made is not Night of the Living Dead but I'm afraid that these people are deeply misguided. While Living Dead is not the first film that deals with the problems of the undead (many people sing the praises of I Walked With A Zombie but don't be taken in, it is interminable), it is undeniably the one which set the agenda for all the films that followed it. Night of the Living Dead is so responsible for the creation of its genre, in fact, that it's almost sacrilegious when any of the hundreds of films that have followed deviate too far from its basic tenets.
Just in case you are currently saving up all your loose change and stockpiling liver in a bin bag in order to make your own zombie film, Night of the Living Keith, here are what I consider to be its most fundamental teachings.
1. Undead ratio is important
The fact of the matter is, no matter how many of your friends you can get to dress up like Zandra Rhodes, zombies don't carry a story. For that you need your un-undead characters. Night of the Living Dead gets this key area right. Whilst the entire premise of the body of the film is that the protagonists are stuck in a house completely surrounded by zombies, it is within the house that we stay. It creates an atmosphere incomparable to those zombie films which are just a non-stop slew of zombie action. Those films thrive on terror, sudden acts of unexpected horror. Suspense is a lot more sophisticated. Whilst it relies on terror, it adds to it and makes it mean something. So consider that before you start pouring corn syrup on your mum's church slacks.
2. Pace yourselves
Suspense is the key to a good horror film. So take your time. There's no need to kill off all of your cast immediately because we all know that they will be eventually. So let's get to find out about some of the hopes and dreams that will be quashed as a result first. The other pacing note is, and I can't stress this enough, zombies should never run. Slow, grinding, inevitability and the building of layers of claustrophobia and hysteria is the key to a successful zombie film, not a load of people legging it about with their chin off.
3. Social commentary is always welcome
The zombie films of George A. Romero are notable for the wider points about society and social problems that they make, in amongst the Hell's Angels being eaten. Sometimes these were even done accidentally: the pioneering casting decision to make the leading protagonist in Night of the Living Dead black was taken for strictly meritocratic reasons: Duane Jones gave the best audition for the part. But ever since it has been looked upon by commentators and critics as one of the best film exploration of the civil rights struggle in 1960s America. Zombie zombie zombie teeth jugular blood spurt murder zombie films are all very well and good for a brief frightener, but they are unlikely to stay with you. And it's the ones that stay with you that will help you remember all of the handy survival hints that could come in so handy one day.
4. Punch hysterical women in the face
It's the only way they'll learn.
5. Children are little shits and will be the death of you