Imagine a time when zombie films as we know them today didn’t exist.  Moreover, imagine that the concept of uncontrollable, flesh eating corpses, and brutal gore shown on screen, was so far outside the scope of the horror genre as to be completely unthinkable.

That’s the world film critic Roger Ebert lived in when he attended an afternoon matinee of Night of the Living Dead in the summer of 1969.  People were so in the dark about the shocking nature of this groundbreaking film that the theater was packed with little children looking forward to taking a break from Chicago’s summer heat, and watching something along the lines of Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.  Needless to say, that’s not what they got.

Here is a snippet of Ebert’s review in Reader’s Digest (Junes, 1969):

“There was almost complete silence.  The movie had long ago stopped being delightfully scary, and had become unexpectedly terrifying.  A little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, was sitting very still in her seat and crying.

I don’t think the younger kids really knew what hit them.  They’d seen horror movies before, but this was something else.  This was ghouls eating people – you could actually see what they were eating.  This was little girls killing their mothers.  This was being set on fire.  Worst of all, nobody got out alive – even the hero got killed.”

The poor parents.  Their simple plan to get some peace and quiet by shipping their children off to the movies for the afternoon turned into a lifetime of nightmares and therapy sessions.

What is your first memory of really being scared by a zombie film?


  1. I saw “28 days later” when i was 12 or something, it was not that frightening, but more thought provoking

  2. Kirkimus Prime

    I’ve really got to think about this one. My earliest memory of a zombie movie was either “Dawn of the Dead” or “Return of the Living Dead.” I had seen both during a marathon during Halloween when I was, I don’t know, maybe 13. I only caught the tail end of “Dawn,” and I remember the bikers getting torn apart. I had seen gory movies before and since my mother is a doctor I had seen all of her text books so I knew about the gorey bits in the body. But there was just something about that scene that struck me just right. I honestly believe it was the soundtrack that sold it, though, because every time I hear an out-of-tune synthesizer my heart starts racing. I’ve seen the same scene later without the soundtrack, and nothing; no response at all.

    When I saw “Return” I remeber a couple of things that frightend me. The first was the advanced effects used for some of the zombies; some of them were so disgusting, so horrible, that they lingered in my head for days. The “Tar Man” and the talking torso were the worst. Then there was a scene where the heroes came around the back of an ambulance to find a zombie… um, little-person picking at the head of an EMT. I don’t know why, but that diminutive zombie terrified me. And then there was the part where one of the infected humans burns himself alive in the crematorium… that was a powerful scene when you’re a kid! But what was worst of all; all of this happend in MY HOME TOWN! Yes, I live in Louisville, KY, and for a while I actually believed I could point out the warehouse where this movie was apparently set. That just drove it home for me. Literally.

  3. i was about… hmm… maybe 6 or 7 when i bought Resident Evil: Directors Cut for the PS1, and i remember putting it in, and watching the live action scenes with Chris, and Jill, and everyone, and i started playing so i was like, alright, find my partners, get out, mind you i was 6 or 7 and i didn’t know what the hell the “M” stood for on the case, and… welllll, when Kennith’s head rolled on the ground, and that zombie stood up and attacked, i shit myself.

  4. actually resident evil 4, I watched my brother play it, then i checked every corner and when i had to pee i even checked in the shower

  5. I remember being really scared by “Day of the Dead” when I watched it for the first time. It wasn’t so much the idea of being eaten by Bub, but the grim immersion into what life would actually be like during a zombie outbreak.

  6. My hometown university had a TV channel, and one of the shows I remember watching over and over as a kid was a film and media class with snippets of the original NotLD. Especially the mother-daughter basement scene. I saw Dawn years later and was hooked, but always wondered about the images from that uni show. Then one night after moving to Japan Night came on the satellite TV. I stayed up all night and actually watched it twice when it rolled around 6 hours later in the program cycle!!

  7. Dawn of the Dead on video at the age of 12. Life altering moment, I can remember who I watched it with and what I was wearing, seeing as I can’t remember a single birthday when I was a kid then that film must be a solid memory. Been a zombie buff/fan ever since.

  8. I know it was not a zombie but when I first saw IT I thought he was a zombie and I had to break the movie just so I could sleep. And good luck ever getting me out in the rain again!

  9. The baby in DOTD, quite creepy.

  10. Zombie killer/victim

    for me it was probably the first resident evil when it came out as before then i hadnt actually seen any zombie horror films and i was like 8

  11. It must have been Roger Ebert’s review that was the teaser that brought me to that zombie flick and made a zombie-maniac for years to come. All I know is I read that review in Reader’s Digest and couldn’t get the theater fast enough. It did not disappoint.

  12. My kids have been exposed to zombie films from such a young age, that they honestly believe that zombies are real, and sometimes you have to deal with them. Like a heavy snowstorm. They aren’t scared.. As evidenced by the time my then 3 year old daughter would have clubbed me in the back of the head with a 3 pound sledgehammer had I not approprately responded to her query of, “Daddy, are you a zombie?”

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