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George Romero's Night of the Living Dead created the zombie apocalypse as we know it

Night of the Living Dead (1968) was a curiously accurate portrayal of the zeitgeist. 

Few artists of any kind can be said to have created a genre. Filmmaker George Romero, who has died aged 77, was one such artist. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) is universally acknowledged as the first modern zombie film, although the term is not used in the film itself. Romero’s Zombies, living dead humans, motivated by a need for human flesh, are a science fiction concept, distinct from both the creatures of Haitian folklore from whom they took their name, and the magically resurrected henchmen who had featured in earlier horror films.

Romero’s picture, which has spawned two remakes and five sequels, as well as countless imitations in numerous media, established the idea of a “zombie apocalypse”. An event after which hordes of the creatures mindlessly hunting the few survivors of the cataclysm that had created them. It also introduced the conceit that said hordes had to represent something. That they would be a grand metaphor of some kind. In, for example, Dawn of the Dead (1978) the action takes place in a deserted shopping mall, and the resemblance between the stumbling zombies and the shoppers who once filled the place forms part of Romero’s critique of consumer capitalism or, if you prefer, of mindless consumption.

Romero had, perhaps ironically, perhaps not, cut his filmmaking teeth on commercials. Nevertheless, he was an eclectic young man with a passionate interest in film and its history, and he always intended to start making distinctive features for the cinema. More, he was prepared to use unorthodox methods, and risk his own money, in order to do it. Night of the Living Dead was made for a vanishingly small sum, by a company owned by Romero and several friends, and shot in the vicinity of Pittsburgh, where they’d attended Carnegie Mellon University. It took tens of millions of dollars before the end of the sixties and is now seen as having put American Horror films back on the map, after more than a decade in which European filmmakers had dominated the genre.

Interviewed by Mark Gatiss in 2010, Romero commented that with Night he and his collaborators “... decided from the beginning that we were going to push the envelope a bit, that we weren’t going to cut away”. The film pushed the envelope in other ways too. Its lead actor, Duane Jones, was African American. Romero acknowledged this as “damn near a complete accident, [he] was the best actor from amongst our friends”, but the casting gave the picture, already imagined by Romero as expressing “anger that ‘peace and love’ had not worked,” that the Sixties had failed, extra resonance which was exploited in shooting and editing.

This is never more powerfully true than when, in the film’s final moments, its lead is killed by a redneck who cannot distinguish between Jones’s character and zombie he has spent the film fighting. In a horrid irony, Romero and Jones were driving the first ever print of the film away from their editors, when they heard on the car radio that Martin Luther King had been murdered. It’s the film's curiously accurate portrayl of the zeitgeist, not its unflinching violence, that has meant that, despite initial sniffy reviews, Night came to be seen as important American film, and in 1999 it was declared “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress.

Romero made other films, aside from the six installments of his "the Dead" series (a seventh, which he had written but did not intend to direct, was in production at the time of his death). Perhaps the most immediately successful was the Stephen King-scripted black comedy Creepshow (1982), a homage to EC Horror Comics of the 1950s, which was very distinct from earlier, largely British attempts to film them. Martin (1978) though is Romero’s non-zombie masterpiece. Seized as "obscene" during the UK’s "video nasty" panic of the early 1980s, it’s the lyrical story of a dangerous young man who may, or may not, be a vampire. As with "the Dead" films, the story’s currents run deep, the film is a showcase for concerns about the behaviour, and treatment, of young men and of the dangers of romanticising certain behaviours, and of toxic masculinity. Romero’s reported favourite of his own films, it demonstrates how far he could move from his signature series while remaining within a single genre and his own style. Martin, like "the Dead" series remains profoundly influential, even on people who have never seen it, only its imitators of which, again, there are so many.

George Romero died surrounded by friends and family, after a short battle with cancer, listening to the soundtrack to John Ford’s 1952 film The Quiet Man. His work, and his ideas, walk among us yet. Undead undead undead.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.