Nearly five decades after its premiere, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead stands alone. Few movies, let alone horror movies, have spawned a genre and been so closely studied. The film birthed the modern idea of "zombies" as shambling, ghoulish cannibals versus mind-controlled victims of voodoo. Night of the Living Dead also made some cutting commentary on modern culture, race relations, and pushed the boundary of what was acceptable in horror movies far outside of the American comfort zone. Variety called the film, "an unrelieved orgy of sadism," echoing the outrage of parents and reviewers nationwide.
Since then, the trend Night of the Living Dead started has spawned hordes of imitators, homages, and sequels. The Library of Congress even selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. The zombie-craze started by Night of the Living Dead has even spread (bled?) into the ivory towers of academia with books like Professor Daniel Drezner's Theories of International Politics and Zombies and countless other works across both the hard and social sciences.
Due to some rather bizarre fluctuations in copyright law and fumbles by the film's distributor, Night of the Living Dead passed into the public domain and so is easily viewed online or in any of the many copies circulating. Some argue that it was this accidental openness that partially accounts for the film's legendary status but, this view fails to take into account both the movie's original impact, and the lasting influence of its composition.
Romero passed in July of this year, 2017, so he lived to see the profound influence his vision would have on the world of horror and the world at large.
Happy 49th Anniversary Night of the Living Dead!