Living Dead is a blanket term for various films and series that all originated with the seminal 1968 zombie movie Night of the Living Dead created by George A. Romero and John A. Russo.

After the film's initial success, the two creators split in disagreement regarding where the series should go and a contract was drawn up. Any future Romero films would lose the "Living" prefix and simply be referred to as Dead movies and Russo, who wanted to branch the series off into literary territory, would retain the rights to "Living Dead" (though fans nevertheless refer to Romero's as Living Dead films). Thus, both series would be considered canon and each would be able to do what they liked with the continuity of the projects.

Romero's Dead series

  1. Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)
  2. Dawn of the Dead (Romero, 1978)
  3. Day of the Dead (Romero, 1985)
  4. Land of the Dead (Romero, 2005)
  5. Diary of the Dead (Romero, 2007)
  6. Survival of the Dead (Romero, 2009)
Living dead


Labeled Trilogy of the Dead until Land of the Dead, this is considered by most fans as the one true series. Each film is laden with social commentary on topics ranging from racism to consumerism. The films are not produced as direct follow-ups from one another. The films' only continuation is the epidemic of the living dead, the situation advancing with each film, but with different characters and even moving the time ahead from the last to the time in which they were filmed despite the world's progression being the only interlocking aspect of the series. They are different stories telling how different people react to the same phenomenon ranging from citizens to cops to army officials and back again. There are no real happy endings to the films as each takes places in a world that has gotten worse since the last time we saw it, the number of zombies ever increasing and the fate of the small amount remaining living always in the balance.

Official reports of the fifth film, which premieres on September 8 at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, is that it will not continue the depiction of the progress of the world; instead it will go back to the beginning of events from the first film, but will be nonetheless contemporary as the sequels are. Romero does not consider any of his Dead films sequels since none of the characters or story continue from one film to the next. Only the premise that there are zombies is the same.

Film critic (and avid Romero defender) Danél Griffin, who writes online for the University of Alaska Southeast, has speculated that Romero's segment of Two Evil Eyes, an anthology film co-directed with Dario Argento, serves as a kind of prequel to the Dead series. The segment, based on Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", deals with metaphysical experiments that cause the dead to return to life. Though Griffin admits that Romero probably did not intend the film to be seen as part of the series, he writes that like Romero's official series, the segment "concerns zombies and uses them to represent the rich class’s pathetic attempts to exploit the feeble and then turn on each other as they fight for the bones." Griffin further argues that Romero's segment "might explain the metaphysical events that ruptured the relationship between the living and the dead that would compel the latter rise in the first place".[1]

Dead series remakes

  1. Night of the Living Dead (Savini, 1990)
  2. Dawn of the Dead (Snyder, 2004)
  3. Day of the Dead (Miner, 2008)

The films that originally made up Romero's trilogy have all have been remade in order, with the remake of Day of the Dead still in production. However, these remakes do not follow on from each other and are entirely different films. This is because they were all made by different people and have no real link between.

The official Night of the Living Dead remake, released in 1990, was produced for two reasons. First, a rival company was planning a remake which Romero did not want to see happen without his involvement. Second, it was seen as an opportunity for the original creators to finally get some money back from the name Night of the Living Dead. The film saw another team-up with Tom Savini and Romero, though not in the same roles, as Savini directed the film based on a script by Romero.

The Dawn of the Dead remake also received mixed feelings, with common criticisms such as the altering of the "rules" by having the zombies running rather than the standard slow lumbering. However, reviews were generally favorable, with Romero himself stating that it was "much better" than he had expected, but he considered it an action movie rather than a horror film.

A remake of Day of the Dead is expected to be released in 2008 and directed by Steve Miner.

Russo's Living Dead series

Russo actually has two separate series that claim the Living Dead name. The first was Return of the Living Dead, which originated as a book written by Russo. It was later adapted to a film by Dan O'Bannon, which spawned its own series of movies, with a total of four sequels. This could be seen more as a spin-off of Night of the Living Dead rather than sequels, as the first movie treats Night of the Living Dead as a movie that was based on real events in Return of the Living Dead's universe. The first two films in this series differ from Romero's Living Dead films in that they are not serious and employ silly humour, as well as using different zombie "rules."

Then, in 1998, Russo went back to the original Night of the Living Dead to reshoot extra sequences into the film. This version, which was officially named Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition, added a subplot, alternate opening, and new score. Children of the Living Dead was then produced as a direct sequel to Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition, as it followed up on scenes that were newly inserted.

Romero's vs Russo's Zombies

While the two kinds are similar in appearance, there are certain distinguishing details:


  • Romero's films never explicitly explain how or why exactly the recently dead begin to rise at all. Instead of being spread like a plague by contamination, the phenomenon presents itself in any human that has died from any cause (except those which destroy the physical structure of the brain). The first animated corpses appear in many locations simultaneously, quickly reaching pandemic levels. Characters speculate about an airborne virus, divine punishment, radiation from a satellite sent to Venus, or that "there's no more room in Hell". Bites from these reanimated creatures are uniformly lethal because of overwhelming bacterial infection, similar to a Komodo dragon. It is suggested in Day of the Dead that amputation of bitten limbs may prevent victims from dying, but while the treatment is attempted, its success is never conclusively demonstrated.
  • The state of zombification seen in Russo's "Return of the Living Dead" series is induced by the chemical compound Trioxin, which is found in a gaseous state at standard temperature and pressure. Depending on the film in the series, Trioxin zombies may or may not be able to contaminate living humans with Trioxin via bite. If a zombie corpse is stored for too long in a sealed container, the decomposition process will generate noxious gases containing trace amounts of Trioxin, so the drum can only be safely opened in a sealed lab environment. The requirement of Trioxin exposure makes containment to a specific area or group of people somewhat easier than Romero's plague.


  • Romero's Zombies have very limited to no memory of their previous life. But they all remember how to walk, and how to use their hands for several tasks (such as opening doors or holding something or someone). They recognize a lot of objects like cars, houses and other structures and they recognize the doors to enter in them. They also kept the instinct of eating and biting.
  • In Day of The Dead, the zombie dubbed 'Bub' is experimented with by the scientist Logan and recalls how to use a razor, telephone, and a book. Also, when Capt. Rhodes walks in the room, Bub salutes him, and later in the movie shoots him with a pistol.
  • The Zombies in the "Return of the Living Dead" series retain their full memories as of their time of death, whether or not they were reanimated immediately or after long interment.


  • Romero's Zombies initially lack full cognitive function and act only on a single drive: the need to seek and consume living flesh. Night of the Living Dead depicted zombies eating animals as well as humans, but later films implied the hunger was exclusively for human flesh. It should be noted that the zombies have no true physiological need for flesh, nor can their expired digestive organs derive sustenance from it at all. The animated dead retain vague impulses derived from former living behavior. For instance, zombies often return to specific locations they frequented when alive (in examples from the original Dawn of the Dead, hordes of zombies are compelled to congregate in a shopping mall, and one zombie knows where to find the secret hideout containing its still-living former companions). Lacking immediate victims to hunt, zombies will often fumble through crude motions reminiscent of life activities, often when prompted by a familiar artifact such as a telephone or car. With stimulus, it is possible for some specimens to begin to remember more of the common activities they performed while alive and achieve a basic functioning intelligence. In Day of the Dead, the zombie nicknamed Bub was "educated" into docility by Dr. Logan, learned how to operate a handgun and even developed a childlike affection for its instructor. In Land of the Dead, the zombie known as Big Daddy developed sophisticated cognitive function on his own, felt affection and empathy for his fellow zombies and devised crude strategies for bypassing the defenses of the living humans who had destroyed many of his fellows.
  • In Russo's universe, if bodies are still in good condition when they are reanimated, then the resulting zombies really are capable of the same things as normal living humans. Basically, they are like normal humans but with an uncontrollable need to eat brains, which ease the great and constant pain felt from their own decomposition. Depending on their own intelligence, from the previous life, they can actually resist their need for eating brains to the benefit of survival and to elaborate some "brain hunting" tactics. This goes as far as posing as a normal living human like a cop signaling cars to stop on the side or like someone calling friends or people and asking them for help, basically anything to attract and trap new living fresh brains when they get close enough.


  • Romero's zombies are slow and shambolic without exception. In interviews, George Romero has attributed this quality to rigor mortis, and to the poor condition of their ankles. A sheriff in Night of the Living Dead sagely suggests that their limited mobility is due to the fact that "they're dead, they're all messed up."
  • Russo's Trioxin-contaminated zombies can run if not physically injured and display quite normal mobility if not too rotten.


  • In Romero's series, zombies never get much beyond basic grunts and groans. The aforementioned zombie Bub makes a praiseworthy effort to say "Hello Aunt Alicia," but the result is largely incomprehensible. Big Daddy in Land of the Dead was able to crudely laugh after finding a jackhammer.
  • In the Return of the Living Dead series, a zombie can speak normally (even if its lungs, trachea, and facial muscles are largely missing) but any conversation will tend to lean towards their attraction to the listener's brain, how good it must taste and the need of eating it soon.


  • Romero's zombies will remain animated until their brains become severely damaged. A zombie's mobility may be hampered by structural damage, but such damage will do nothing to reduce the "life force" driving the body. Body parts severed from an undead brain will become inanimate.
  • In contrast, a typical Russo zombie simply cannot be deactivated short of complete destruction. Any severed body parts will still remain animate, resulting in two or more moving parts. Therefore, decapitation produces both an animate head and an animate body wandering around still trying to catch a living human. There is only one exception: electrocuting the undead until they cease to move or squirm. See Return of the Living Dead Part II. In the third film scientists invented an endothermic chemical dart that freezes the brain, incapacitating the zombie, but its effective duration is wildly unpredictable.

Unauthorized sequels/remakes and parodies

There are also some other films that have been released as sequels to various films in Romero's Living Dead series, most likely to ride on the name recognition that Romero's films enjoy. They have been produced because due to various mix-ups with the copyright and ownership of the movies, Romero himself owns only Dawn of the Dead from his four films.

These include:

  • Zombi 2 (known as Zombie in USA) (Fulci, 1979) is a film that was already in production when Dawn of the Dead was released, but was renamed to be a sequel upon its release (Dawn of the Dead was titled Zombi in Italy). This movie has a history of official and unofficial sequels itself. See Zombi series.
  • Hell of the Living Dead (known as Virus in Italy) (Mattei, 1980).
  • Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (Clavell, 2005), while billed as a sequel as Taurus Entertainment holds the original's copyright, it has no actual ties to the original Day of the Dead or the series (although the prologue is set in Pittsburgh, 1968).
  • Night of the Living Dead 3D (Broadstreet, 2006) is a remake/reimagining of the original film made in a 3D format. The original's status as public domain made it possible to produce this film without the involvement of either Romero or Russo.

There have also been ultra-low budget parodies such as:

Also, there have been films that pay homage to the genre:

  • Shaun of the Dead, a film about an unmotivated slacker who must cope with a zombie uprising, in London, while trying to sort his life out. Features numerous references to not only Romero films, but several other horror/science fiction movies too.

Romero, it has to be noted, is often positive of derivations of his work, stating that any new film in the horror genre is a step forward, whether completely original or a 'copycat'.

Living Dead in other media

Although the majority of the Living Dead media has been films, there has been times when related projects have been released in other media. Specifically, there have been a handful of books and comics books that take place in the Living Dead universe. As with the films, some of them are officially endorsed while others unofficially use the universe.



  • The Death of Death was a story by Romero that appeared in issues #1-6 of DC Comic's Toe Tags from late 2004 to mid 2005. It was drawn by Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos, with covers by famed horror artist Berni Wrightson. Romero's story is actually based on an unused script for a sequel to his Dead films; the miniseries therefore follows his similar tropes: Extreme gore, social commentary, evolving zombies, and the heroes riding off in the end into an unknown fate.
  • Escape of the Living Dead (2005), written by John A. Russo, takes place between the events of Night and Dawn, and it explains that the zombie hunters were able to kill most the zombies, but a few had been kept "alive" in a military base for study, but they inevitably escaped and started it all over again.


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