Nicholas Rombes at berfrois:
For some students in the class, Night of the Living Dead opened the door to an angle they had not considered before: that a film could be political without being “political.” More to the point: the most ideological films are the ones where ideology remains, on the surface, invisible. I’m not sure if we read Robin Wood’s potent essay “George Romero: Apocalypse Now” in that class or in a future one, but at some point in one of those classes we circled round to Woods’s claim that what the film is really about is subversion, the subversion of basic norms of bourgeois society. “The young people,” Wood writes, “whose survival as future nuclear family is generically guaranteed is burned alive and eaten around the film’s midpoint. The film’s actual nuclear family is wiped out; the child (a figure hitherto sacrosanct) not only dies but comes back as a zombie, devours her father, and hacks her mother to death.” This is the reading of the film as subversive and progressive, in line with most film theorists’ own politics.
But the horror genre is notorious for biting back and for being wonderfully resistant to narrow political readings. In fact, you could say that far from suggesting a progressive vision, Night of the Living Dead is a conservative, even reactionary piece of work, a film where the very hope of a progressive, multi-racial future ends in violence, with a gunshot. Zombies know no politics. They are driven by unnameable, mindless desire. Through this lens, the film is yet another variation on the age-old fuck-and-die archetype, except here the codes are racial rather than sexual. For daring to “take charge” of whites in defense of civilization–for this transgression–Ben must die.