Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Gospel of the Living Dead

Baylor University Press, 2006, Kim Paffenroth

In 1968 a young Pittsburgh film-maker named George A. Romero released a horror film that would continue to influence the genre, delight moviegoers and critics alike, and redefine the zombie both as a monster and a symbol, for the next 40 years. That movie was, of course, Night of the Living Dead, which was followed by the loosely linked Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), and Diary of the Dead (2008).

Gospel of the Living Dead is an intriguing little nonfiction tome, released in the wake of the fourth Dead movie, which closely examines the themes explored by Romero. For such a slim book (195 pages, including 58 pages of appendix and index), there is a surprising amount of apparently well-researched, thoughtful and interesting material packed inside. Fans of Romero’s zombie films should already be familiar with the oft-discussed themes of rampant consumerism and human nature vs. survival; this book digs far deeper, examining such topics as religious philosophy (most notably comparing the entire Dead series to Dante’s Inferno), scientific responsibility, disease, war, humour, racism, sexism, and others, as well as looking at the influences upon Romero’s work and his influence upon the work of others.

The text in this book is well-presented, engaging, and eye-opening; this reviewer was certainly prompted, upon completing the book, to immediately re-watch the first four Dead films with new eyes, as it were. It was a quite wonderful experience, and I’d encourage any serious zombie fan with even the vaguest interest in the deeper meanings of the genre to go and order a copy of Gospel of the Living Dead for themselves. I’ll be interested to see if this book is re-issued with new material in the wake of the just-released Diary of the Dead.

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