Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Night of the Living Dead (Original) and Anchor Steam

This week I decided to make a special pairing.  Since I started this blog I knew I would have to review the original 1968 version of Night of the Living Dead.  I was pretty nervous about trying to review a film that been reviewed so much by people much more experienced and better trained than myself.  This is the type of film that gets reviewed in classic cinema courses.  On the other hand to have a zombie blog and not review this movie would be an insult to the very genre.  So I spent the last two weeks trying to figure out what beer should be paired with the grandfather of all zombie movies.  I thought Yuengling would be the most appropriate since it is the oldest brewery in the US.  But, Night of the Living Dead isn’t the oldest zombie movie.  White Zombie, starring horror icon Bela Lugosi, came out in 1943 and there were several others after that.  Night wasn’t the first, but it was the one that changed everything.  I read a review a while back that said “it was the film that changed horror from family friendly to disturbing and nihilistic”.  I still haven’t seen a lot of pre 1970 horror so I’m not sure about how true that is but I’m willing to bet it’s true enough.  This information, while interesting, still didn’t get me any closer to finding a beer to pare with the movie….then it dawned on me!  Anchor Brewing Company’s Steam beer.  It’s not the oldest but it was the unique product of American innovation in craft beer.  A beer that changed beer.
Steam beer was originally a product of inadequate refrigeration equipment in breweries in of West.  Without refrigeration in the California heat the brewing process was increasingly difficult.  The result was a beer fermented with lager yeast but at warmer ale like temperatures.  Steam beer also known as California Common was originally considered cheap low quality beer.  During the 80’s anchor revived the style making it even better and more unique.  Still only a handful of these beers are brewed around the country.  While the style itself didn’t take over the way Pilsner did it still stood for something special.  It was creation of something never tasted.  The 80’s felt the rise of creative brews and a revival of old styles not tasted in years.  Leading the way in the west was Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing Company.

So I start the movie and the familiar cemetery scene flashes before me.  There’s something comforting and classy about a black and white film for me.  My parents were just born in the 60’s so I’m a bit detached to be making statements about 60’s culture.  But that doesn’t stop me from having this flowery vision of post Leave It To Beaver America.  That flowery vision is soon crushed by the reality of this film.  Barbra is paying her respects as her brother Johnny teases her about ghouls (zombies) in the quickest foreshadowing I’ve ever seen.  Within minutes Johnny meets his demise from the first Zombie of the movie.  Zombies are one for one at this point.  Go zombies.  Barbara gets to the car but without the keys she is only able to coast down the road a bit.  She ends up at a small farm house where she meets Ben.  Ben is a (gasp) African American man who’s taking charge boarding up windows and dispatching the undead in the area.
Now to the beer.  It’s a perfectly clear light amber.  Somewhere between a deep yellow and copper color.  It’s just over moderately carbonated with a nice mousy head.  The aroma is unmistakably lager like.  Big notes of sulfur take are apparent with each sniff.  This is lager yeast or so help me!  I hate to say this but the first smell reminds me of Heineken.  Now I haven’t had this beer in a long time and the reacquaintance leaves me feeling the fuzzy nostalgia normally associated with pleasant boyhood memories.  But instead of ball games or picnics I’m dreaming of the clean lager flavor backed by layers of rich malt.  With a big first gulp I’m back there.  The flavor splashes across my tongue with a softness that I usually don’t find in the beers I drink.  It’s malt driven with large bubbles of carbon dioxide that gently irritate my tongue.  Hoppiness is very low with the smooth grainy flavor of the malt leading the way.  The fruitiness in the Ale portion of this beer really comes out in the second pint.
After a few run ins with the shambling dead five people emerge from the basement.  Now things start getting good!  There’s Harry Cooper your prototypical irrational and bossy white male with tag along subservient wife (typical of the times I hear) and “seen and not heard” daughter Karen.  The daughter has actually been bitten and is horribly sick in the basement.  Things don’t look good for Karen.  Tom’s uncle owns the farmhouse that they’re all hiding out in.  He wouldn’t think of going spending the end of the world without his girlfriend Judy.  So he invited her own over for the festivities.  Here’s where the really juicy conflict arises.  It’s selfish survivalist on the surface with this underlying tone of….yep, you guessed it.  Good old fashioned racism.  Being the bleeding heart liberal I am I spend the next hour or so waiting for Harry Coopers violent demise.  And no I don’t wish that all people that don’t hold my personal beliefs be eaten alive by hordes of undead corpses.  But I don’t mind cheering when they take a nibble out of them in a horror film.

There is some really racy stuff in this movie!  I.E. A black man slapping around a hysterical white woman in 1968!  Pennsylvania is a swing state but I still wouldn’t feel safe.  After an hour of Harry Cooper being uncooperative and combative Ben finally solves the problem with a bullet to the gut.  Shocking.  As frustrated as I was with Harry Cooper’s attitude I was much more upset with something else.  Barbara.  The useless hysterical woman runs, screams, and has mini mental breakdown from the first zombie to her demise at the end.  Never before I have I seen a main character be so useless.  The Denzel Washington from The Bone Collector would be able to do more than this girl did, and he was a quadriplegic in that movie.

The movie was excellent.  I never feel like watching a black and white movie when I have the option to watch a movie with today’s budget and production standards.  This movie is different.  This movie is filled with groundbreaking concepts and well shot action scenes.  The gore and the zombies, while subpar by today’s standards, still hit a chord deep down on some level.  This movie is a special experience that everyone should be a part of at some point.  Not just zombie fans or horror fans, but any movie fan would enjoy this movie.  A couple of beers make it even better.
While this beer is really good it’s not a style that I drink a lot of.  That being said it’s better than any cheep fizzy lager you could find.  For anybody out there that drinks Bud or Miller try this beer.  It would make a good summer beer for those days when you need something light but still flavorful.  It’s only a low 4.9% and so in my opinion that makes it a session beer.

The Beer:
Aroma – 6/10
Appearance – 4/5
Taste – 7/10
Palate – 4/5
   Overall – 15/20
Total = 36/50

The Movie:
Production – 4/5
Plot – 5/5
Gore – 3/5
Zombies – 5/5
  Overall – 4/5

1 comment:

  1. love the artwork.. not very zombish but still :)