The documentary “Birth of the Living Dead” is a nifty little tribute to that granddaddy of the modern zombie movie, George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Writer-director-editor Rob Kuhns (he also produced with wife, Esther Cassidy) enjoyably recounts how, in 1967, Romero and an assortment of Pittsburgh locals shot a micro-budget chiller that would unexpectedly change the face of horror films.
The shocking “Night,” which Romero shot, edited, co-wrote and directed, spawned an endless parade of zombie pictures — including numerous made by Romero himself — along with comic books, video games and TV shows such as current hit “The Walking Dead.”
Kuhns intriguingly explores how “Night” so aptly mirrored its time period — that tense, chaotic era of racial unrest, anti-Vietnam War sentiment and an increasingly anti-authoritarian vibe. That the subtext-heavy movie’s lead hero, although written colorblind, was portrayed by an African American actor (Duane Jones) proved especially groundbreaking.
Filled with lively, candid interview clips with a jaunty Romero, plus smart chats with film critics, authors, filmmakers and others, “Birth” efficiently tracks “Night’s” guerrilla-style production, roller-coaster theatrical release, wildly varied critical response and eventual status as a highly profitable — if accidentally copyright-impaired — cult classic.
Footage of a Bronx, N.Y., schoolteacher showing youngsters “Night” for a Literacy Through Film class is also fun. But talk of Romero’s post-"Night” career, as well as new testimony from the film’s other original participants (nice postscript with “graveyard zombie” player Bill Hinzman aside), is surprisingly scarce.
‘Birth of the Living Dead’
MPAA Rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes.
Playing: At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood.