10 Horror Films That Changed the Genre

'Night of the Living Dead'
Watch out, Mr. Romero! That zombie's about to take a bite out of you at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival. © Jorge Uzon/Corbis

Director George Romero was sick of making TV commercials, so he and some friends decided to make a horror movie. It was 1968, and the success of exploitation movies like "Blood Feast" was apparent. But instead of a plotless gorefest, Romero created something original and terrifying, a movie that started a new subgenre and changed the direction of horror movies.

The Universal Monsters had gradually turned mainstream horror into a genre for kids. Horror movies were regularly shown as Saturday matinees [source: Ebert]. "Night of the Living Dead" depicts a group of strangers stranded in a farmhouse besieged by corpses that want to eat their flesh. It's brutal and unforgiving, and there's no happy ending. And it wasn't just a monster movie — Romero and writer John Russo touched on contemporary issues like the Vietnam War, the collapse of the traditional family and distrust of authority.

The shocking ending portrays the blithe, dehumanizing effects of racism. In fact, Romero's casting of a black actor (Duane Jones) in the lead role without altering the script to make the movie specifically about race was itself groundbreaking in American movies [source: Pedestrian Productions].

"Night of the Living Dead" is above all else a zombie movie, and it completely defines the way modern audiences see zombies. Earlier zombie films were based on black magic and mind control. Romero's vision of the walking dead led to two iconic sequels ("Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead"), multiple spinoffs ("Return of the Living Dead," "Zombi 2") and countless zombie movies, video games, comic books, horror novels and overall pop culture pervasiveness [source: Stein]. Zombies are everywhere, and that's probably most evident in the success of AMC's "The Walking Dead" TV series.