Based on material so thin it’s practically anorexic, even at a nippy 76 minutes Rob Kuhns’ documentary Birth Of The Living Dead feels as slow as one of George A. Romero’s carnivorous shuffling fleshbags.

Charting the creation of arguably one of the most influential and groundbreaking films (not just horror films) of the ‘60s, Birth Of The Living Dead feels more like a DVD extra than a feature film proper as it recounts the oft-told tale of how director George A. Romero and his rag-tag bunch of plucky Pittsburgh filmmakers reinvented the horror genre with the low-budget classic, Night Of The Living Dead.

At the time Romero was directing beer commercials and short segments for creepy American kids TV icon Mr Rogers and dreaming of making his feature debut with the Bergman-esque and ludicrously titled Whine Of The Fawn. When he unsurprisingly couldn’t attract investment for his Virgin Spring-inspired magnum opus about two teenagers living in the Middle Ages, Romero turned his attention to horror.

Raising a miniscule budget of around $100,000 from friends and local businessman, drawing on his love of EC horror comics and heavily influenced by Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Romero and co-writer John A. Russo’s bleak, gritty, grainy, black-and-white grindhouse vision of an America at war with itself seemed torn from the nightly newsreels, commenting on racism, civil rights, the government, vigilantism, American imperialism and the war in Vietnam.

While Kuhns’ film is mildly entertaining and takes great pains to allow modern horror disciples like the documentary’s executive producer Larry Fessenden (Wendigo, The Last Winter) and Gale Anne Hurd (producer of The Terminator, Aliens and The Walking Dead) to place Romero’s masterpiece within it’s late-60s socio-political context, Birth Of The Living Dead is a little light on detail, content to allow the 74-year-old Romero (the man with the BIGGEST SPECTACLES IN THE WORLD!) to regale us with the same tales of guerilla filmmaking (the entrails being wolfed by enthusiastic extras were raw offal supplied by an investor who was a local butcher, the copyright issues that meant Romero never saw a penny in profit, etc.) he’s been dining out on for 40 years and are already familiar to most horror fans.

Little is made of the film’s real legacy, how it changed our cinematic landscape, ushering in a wave of bleaker, gorier, more realistic, more political horror movies and there’s no discussion of Romero’s subsequent work or his Dead sequels. Similarly there’s no real acknowledgement of writer John A. Russo’s contribution to the project or he and Romero’s legendary falling out, Kuhns instead devoting far too much of the film’s slender running time to a creepy, inner city, elementary school teacher who screens the R-rated film to a class of bloodthirsty third-graders as part of a literacy programme.

For a film chronicling the genesis of that cultural catch-all touchstone, the carnivorous, flesh-eating zombie, Birth Of The Living Dead really needs more meat on its bones.

 

VERDICT: [rating=2]

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