Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Night of Terror #23: 'Night of the Living Dead' "Remix" by Bird Peterson

When I heard that some entity (I didn't know at the time whether "Bird Peterson" was a person or a band, turns out it's just one guy) was doing a live score/"remix" of Night of the Living Dead I was unsurprised (the movie is in public domain after all) but skeptical as to how such a thing would work. Unlike almost every other movie I've ever seen with a live score, Night of the Living Dead already HAS a soundtrack, and even though it's all cheap stock library cues I've always loved it.

Maybe I can explain why. Night of the Living Dead is one of those movies, like Psycho or The Wild Bunch, that changed its genre forever and made every subsequent (zombie, in this case) movie different than it was before. So it's effectively a "once in a lifetime" kind of movie, one that could never ever be duplicated once it came out - the seismic impact it had on the form made sure of that. And a big part of what makes it still work is George A. Romero's use of the same schlocky music cues we've heard a million times before, but laid over a kind of storytelling that no one had seen before: Brutally violent, naturalistic, unsparing, and bleak. Every time I watch the movie I'm struck by how perfectly it stands between the schlocky monster movies of the past and what came after, like some strain of creature feature DNA that's impervious to all known treatments.

Anyway, the point is that even though Night of the Living Dead's score isn't a Bernard Hermann masterwork or anything like that, it still always struck me as an integral part of the piece. So a new electronic score is a pretty touchy prospect. It was good on its own but it robbed the movie of some of its immediacy, so I felt more at a distance from it. One interesting thing about the new music is that it blocks out some of the dialogue, so the movie's set-pieces about characters fighting to survive seem to stretch even longer.

I probably wasted too much space talking about the music though because you could soundtrack Night of the Living Dead with Kidz Bop compilations and it would still be pretty damn terrifying. Zombies are a pretty big thing in pop culture nowadays and I've mostly gotten sick of them (which wasn't a huge leap because I was never that interested in them in the first place), but here in the original zombie movie they remain as frightening as ever.

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