View Full Version : Would this work as a primer for the Living Dead series?

01-19-2010, 12:42 PM
I wrote this up for a friend who had never seen a zombie film before, and wanted to start with the Living Dead series since he's heard such good things about it. Unfortunately, I wasn't very good at explaining things, and once I got beyond the six Romero films, he got confused by all the titles I was throwing at him. So, I figured I'd put my thoughts on paper and hope they came out clearer. I realize the inclusion of... certain films may infuriate the purists out there, but I was trying to be as comprehensive as possible. Feel free to share your thoughts. Essay starts now:

A long time ago (1968) in a land far away (Pennsylvania), a thrilling saga began. But I'm here to talk about the Living Dead series. Anyway, most people think of George Romero as king of the zombie flick, and some of the people I know cite his zombie series as “the one that doesn't suck,” referring to other horror series natural propensity to become increasingly putrid with each sequel. Unfortunately, I then need to ask them if they've seen all of Dead films. Some would proudly proclaim that they've seen all five (soon to be six, once Survival of the Dead is released). I just laugh, shake my head, and lay this sucker on them: “There's sixteen films in the Living Dead series.” That's right, ladies and gentlemen: SIXTEEN (soon to be SEVENTEEN). That's almost as much as Freddy and Jason's exploits combined, nearly twice as many as Michael's, and going on three times as many as Leatherface's. You see, most people only make the connection between the five core films (the ones directed by Romero) and, occasionally, the remakes. In actuality, it's a bit more complicated than that.

While the original Night of the Living Dead was certainly Romero's baby, what most people don't realize is that he didn't write it alone. He had the help of the considerably less successful John Russo. Because of an absolutely idiotic blunder on the part of the distributors, Night of the Living Dead, one of the most sacred of modern horror classics, was never copyrighted. Aside from the ramifications concerning the payment of those involved, this also gave anyone free reign to make a sequel or remake. Surprisingly, though, in the decade that followed, no one did. At least, not on film. In 1977, Russo decided to cash in on the effort by writing a sequel novel, Return of the Living Dead. This little footnote to the franchise would have rather large ramifications seven years later. The next year, the first sequel to NotLD, Dawn of the Dead, was released, and became a huge success. Fast forward to 1985, and a rather unusual situation presented itself. Realizing the Dead franchise wasn't so dead (*rimshot*), Russo decided he had as much a right as any to have a sequel made. Romero didn't see it that way, and after much legal finagling, they came to the conclusion that Romero would continue his own series with “of the Dead” at the end of each title. Meanwhile, Russo would release his little projects with “of the Living Dead” somewhere in the title.

Thus was born The Return of the Living Dead, an adaptation of Russo's 1977 novel, released the same year as Romero's own sequel Day of the Dead. Of course, it was an adaptation of the novel in the same way The Lawnmower Man is an adaptation of Stephen King's short story. That is, it's not an adaptation at all. The storylines don't bear even the vaguest of similarities, and while the novel played the zombie angle as straight as Romero's films, RotLD was little more than a slightly morbid comedy. And somehow, some way, it rocked. I think it may have something had to do with Linnea Quigley spending half her screentime completely naked. In the film, it is said that Night of the Living Dead was based on real events, and the Return series is therefore a sequel to these “real events”. While the original film suggested that radiation from a satellite caused the dead to return, RotLD makes it abundantly clear that the culprit was a chemical agent known as 245 Trioxin. Also, the NotLD plague was apparently a local affair, quickly suppressed and kept under wraps from the public at large, as opposed to Romero's films, which show the same epidemic continuing worldwide over the course of around 37 years. For those who keep track of such trivialities (*coughMEcough*), we now have two divergent timelines, each stemming from the 1968 masterpiece. In 1988, Return of the Living Dead Part II was released, and firmly established “BRAINS!” as a zombie's favorite word. In 1990, Romero, feeling that he had made some errors in the script of the original NotLD (the characterization of the frustratingly useless Barbara being chief among them), did what few directors ever do: he wrote the script for a remake of his own film. While he neglected to direct, he produced the thing as well. What resulted was surprisingly forgettable (other than the appearance of Candyman Tony Todd as Ben). Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, I suppose.

In 1993, Return of the Living Dead III came out and took the series in a surprising direction. That mother was DARK, man. While Romero's films have a theme of general bleakness for the future of humanity, RotLD3 was a very personal tragedy, dealing with a young man who uses Trioxin to bring his dead girlfriend back to life. While it still has plenty of gore for the hounds, it is by far the most touching film in the series. After this, though, the Dead series took an unusually long eight year hiatus (the longest since the NotLD-Dawn gap). In 2001, the Dead greeted the new millennium with the Russo-produced Children of the Living Dead, easily the most often forgotten installment in the series. It is somewhat unique, however, in that it is the only film thus far to have a single, easily distinguished zombie as the main villain of the story (the deceased serial killer Abbot Hayes). It apparently takes place in the RotLD timeline, as the zombie outbreak of 1986 is referenced (it should be 1984, but it's obvious what they meant) and those of 1969 (the “true events” upon which NotLD were based; should be 1968) are even shown. Despite this, no mention is made of Trioxin, nor is it the catalyst for the epidemic in the movie's main story (a surviving zombie-in-hiding, Hayes, is responsible for spreading the infection). Three years later, the remake of Dawn of the Dead was released. Apparently, though, it does not take place in the same continuity as the NotLD remake, as the zombie outbreak is recent and completely unknown to the characters involved. Romero, seeing that the time was right for another undead social commentary, released Land of the Dead, the fourth and, apparently, final installment in his original zombie series.

This was followed by (God help us all) two SyFy original movies later that year, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis and Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave. They follow the story of a group of teenagers who have the unlikely bad luck of stumbling into two separate Trioxin zombie outbreaks. They sucked. Let us speak no more of them. Worse than them, and most appalling to the hardcore fans, though, is the absolutely execrable Day of the Dead 2: Contagium. Most people tend not to include this in the list of films because it was made without either Romero or Russo's involvement. I include it simply because the makers had gotten ahold of Day's copyright, and thus were legally entitled to make a sequel. It sucks, though. It sucks so, SO hard. The plot isn't worth getting into. As for where it fits into the timeline, well, let's just say one of the movies MANY weaknesses is that it can't possibly be a sequel to Day of the Dead! At first, I thought it may fall in RotLD's timeline, since the zombie outbreak of '68 (at least they got the year right) is unknown to the public and all is well. In addition, a military biological weapon is the cause of the zombie outbreak. However, the dialogue in the film suggests this is a virus, instead of a nerve agent like Trioxin. The symptoms of the infected are also notably different, including a bizarre psychic link between the infected. Ultimately, it seems to exist in yet a third timeline, which it only shares with the original NotLD. The following year, 2006, saw someone FINALLY taking advantage of NotLD's public domain status for something besides selling piss-poor DVD transfers. Night of the Living Dead 3D benefited from the talent of the vastly underappreciated Sid Haig and a surprisingly solid cast of unknowns. The story tried its best to be something different from the original, and succeeded in becoming my favorite rendition of the story, despite the ridiculously cheesy 3D effects.

Figuring the franchise had been milked enough for the time being (six films in three years!), the Dead took a year off. 2008 saw the release of Romero's Diary of the Dead, which reboots his franchise, as the zombie plague is an unknown phenomenon instead of a 40-year-old crisis. The same goes for the Day of the Dead remake, also released in 2008. It does not follow from Dawn '04, despite sharing a lead actor (as another character), and stands on its own. That brings us to the present. And now, in 2010, Romero's next film, Survival of the Dead, a direct sequel to Diary, will hit theaters. To recap:



With NotLD90, Dawn04, NotLD3D, and Day08 (in other words, all the remakes) each having a separate continuity. Now, was that so hard?


I need a drink.

A Dumb Question
01-19-2010, 01:34 PM
It's a good start, but...um, you totally forgot to discuss the original Day of the Dead. Also, I'm surprised that you did not even give Fulci's Zombi 2 and Zombi 3 a mention. Finally, Children is a sequel to the 30th Anniversary Edition of Night, which you also forgot to mention.

And Diary is arguably set between Romero's Night and Dawn, albeit adjusting the timeline (as all of the sequels have done--the original Dawn is set shortly after Night, after all).

Some friends and I once made a "Diagram of the Dead." It went something like this:

Branch A: Romero
1. Night of the Living Dead (1968 or 1990--either can be canon)
2. Diary of the Dead
3. Dawn of the Dead
4. Day of the Dead
5. Land of the Dead
6. Survival of the Dead (specific placement in saga unknown)

Branch B: O'Bannon
1. Night of the Living Dead (based on real events)
2. Return of the Living Dead
3. Return of the Living Dead Part II
4. Return of the Living Dead 3
5. Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis
6. Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave

Branch C: Russo
1. Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition
2. Return of the Living Dead novel (continuity in question)
3. Return of the Living Dead film (heavily retconned)
4. Children of the Living Dead

Branch D: Fulci
1. Zombi (Argento's cut of Dawn of the Dead)
2. Zombi 2
3. Zombi 3
4. Other Italian films labeled "Zombi" (loose continuity at best)

Branch E: Taurus
1. Day of the Dead (in name only)
2. Day of the Dead 2: Contagium
3. Day of the Dead remake (same producers connected)

Branch F: Stand-Alones
1. Flesheater (by actor from NOTLD)
2. Dawn of the Dead remake
3. Shaun of the Dead (directly inspired by Romero)
4. Night of the Living Dead 3-D

01-19-2010, 01:55 PM
Well, a lot of that is fan conjecture, as the ROTLD franchise has never been named as an official continuation of the Dead franchise.

Furthermore, all of the Dead remakes (including the multiple NOTLD ones) are disconnected from each other and Craptagium is its own film.

Zombi 2 was a cash-in on the success of Dawn and none of the sequels are related to it aside from the title, with one being about birds.

One could try and spin that story, but it would not be accurate in the least, in fact causing more confusion when everyone else gives them the actual facts.

A Dumb Question
01-19-2010, 02:47 PM
Zombi 2 and Zombi 3 were both made by the same director, and they were both released as unofficial sequels to Argento's Zombi: Dawn of the Dead. There are technically no other sequels, although zombie films such as After Death and Killing Birds have been marketed as sequels outside of Italy.

The reason that I personally listed "branches" instead of "continuities" is because only Romero's films are canon, and the Return series only uses NOTLD as a source of inspiration rather than a true predecessor. The other branches are merely classifications, not necessarily timelines.

01-19-2010, 02:50 PM
Which is why I said that they are "sequels" in name only.

Fulci didn't complete work on Zombi 3 as well, with his total contribution to the final cut being minimal.

A Dumb Question
01-19-2010, 02:57 PM
He was still involved enough at the beginning for it to have legitimate claim to being an official sequel to his previous film. Of course, trying to reconcile a timeline out of the "Zombi" films is sorta hopeless. I guess if you watch the films in reverse order, you can kinda pretend that there's a progression happening...

01-19-2010, 04:09 PM
I didn't include the Zombi films because I was somewhat confused by the copyright issues. Were Zombi 2 and Zombi 3 official sequels to Dawn over in Italy? By that, I mean, did the same company distribute them that distributed Dawn over there? If not, I wouldn't really consider them "official enough" (however much sense that makes) to mention. At least the people behind Contagium had the rights to the "Day" title, however much the movie sucked. Either way, they apparently can't market the Zombi films as having a connection to Dawn here in the US, or you'd probably see some mention of it on the DVD cases.

And I did mention the original Day, but it was sort of swallowed up by my discussion of RotLD.

CotLD was a sequel to the 30th AE of NotLD? I never heard that before. I figured it was a sequel to some version of NotLD's events, considering the mention of a zombie outbreak in '69, but I never made the connection specifically to the AE. Could you tell me where you heard that?

Yes, Contagium really is its own film, but the opening scene is, like in CotLD, an obvious reference to the events of NotLD, with a zombie outbreak in '68. I just stuck it in the RotLD timeline because of the similarities between the methods of zombification (i.e. secret government chemical weapon in gaseous form that Contagium fails to name).

I indicated that all the remakes take place in their own individual timelines. It seems as though the upcoming remake (again?) of NotLD will be in its own timeline. As for Origins, it's still too early in development to tell, but I guess it will be either a prequel to the original NotLD or yet another standalone film.

While I know Romero said Diary and NotLD take place concurrently, I'm not buying it. The disparate technology is too evident. I'll believe that, somewhere out there during the course of Diary, Barbara and Ben are holing themselves up in a farmhouse, but it's not the same Barbara and Ben that we know and the farmhouse has a telephone and a television from 2008, not 1968. Dawn, Day, and LotD had the advantage of not really specifying in the films themselves how long the zombie crisis had been going on, so it could be a couple years like Romero says, or it could be decades. But to say that Diary takes place at the same time as the events portrayed in the original NotLD is ludicrous.

With the exception of Contagium's placement (which I indicated that I was unsure of in the essay), my timeline is sound and supported by references in the films themselves.

A Dumb Question
01-19-2010, 06:13 PM
CotLD was a sequel to the 30th AE of NotLD? I never heard that before. Could you tell me where you heard that?Various places. And it makes sense. Russo made COTLD only a few years after the 30th Anniversary Edition, which is his official version of the original film. Some of the same people were even involved.

But to say that Diary takes place at the same time as the events portrayed in the original NotLD is ludicrous.Then how about the Romero-scripted remake? Surely that would be less absurd.

01-19-2010, 06:21 PM
Then how about the Romero-scripted remake? Surely that would be less absurd.

I never thought of that. Still, the handheld cameras from 1990 weren't nearly as compact as those seen in Diary. That said, you're right, the remake being contemporary with Diary would be much less absurd. Hell, compared to the timeline shenanigans from the Friday the 13th series, it's downright plausible.


I can't remember, though, was the remake supposed to take place in 1990? It wasn't a period piece from the late 60s, was it? It's been years since I've seen it, so I can't remember.

That said, I am looking forward to SotD. The zombie genre has been done to death so thoroughly that I'm not expecting anything new, but hey, it's a Romero film, so I'm kind of obligated to go in all starry-eyed and shit.

A Dumb Question
01-19-2010, 06:38 PM
It's certainly set in the present day. The revamped Barbara makes that very clear.

01-19-2010, 06:44 PM
It's certainly set in the present day. The revamped Barbara makes that very clear.

Okay, then. I'm actually curious, though: does anyone know the answers to my questions about the two Zombi sequels? I don't know much about their legal background.

A Dumb Question
01-19-2010, 07:07 PM
Legal issues are a bit more...lax in Italy. They're not official--they don't legally have to be official there.

01-19-2010, 07:27 PM
Legal issues are a bit more...lax in Italy. They're not official--they don't legally have to be official there.

So they weren't produced by the Italian distributor of Dawn? Thanks. That's all I needed to know.

01-21-2010, 08:07 PM
I altered the essay a bit. I forced myself to watch Contagium again (I threw up for a few hours afterwards) and realized that the mysterious gas could not be Trioxin in any way, shape, or form. I have thus altered the diagram to show it in its own timeline. Also, I've altered a few wordings here and there, along with a couple corrections.

01-21-2010, 08:15 PM
Branch C: Russo
1. Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition
2. Return of the Living Dead novel (continuity in question)
3. Return of the Living Dead film (heavily retconned)
4. Children of the Living Dead

I'd advise anyone to stay away from the 1 and 4th entries here. In fact, since Return of the Living Dead is in the O'Bannon brance, I'd say just avoid the Russo branch altogether.

01-21-2010, 08:43 PM
I'd advise anyone to stay away from the 1 and 4th entries here.

I know this is blasphemy, but the 30th Anniversary Edition is my preferred cut of the film, if only because the acting is awesome in its awfulness.

A Dumb Question
01-21-2010, 09:35 PM
Well, it's no more blasphemy than you favoring the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre over the others. :p

Steven Lloyd
03-19-2010, 12:46 PM
I can't remember, though, was the remake supposed to take place in 1990? It wasn't a period piece from the late 60s, was it? It's been years since I've seen it, so I can't remember.

Having recently watched NotLD'90, I can tell you that the reporter on the radio that Ben listens to in the basement says that it's 1989.