There’s an old bit of conventional wisdom about there being only seven stories in the world that we tell over and over and over again. Each generation seems to remix, re-engineer and retell the same plots, whether they feature Batman, Frankenstein, or Eliza Doolittle. It’s the nature of art. Artists take the ideas of others, build upon them, mix and remix them and make them their own. There’s no Tarantino without Sergio Leone. There’s no Breaking Bad without Scarface and Cool Hand Luke. And there’s no Blade Runner or Alien or Ex Machina or even John Carpenter’s Dark Star without 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In fact, director John Carpenter –whose influence can be seen in the films of Christopher Nolan and Jeff Nichols, among many others — was influenced by, among others, the films of Howard Hawks, John Ford, Dario Argento and others. Carpenter is no slouch when it comes to remixing the works of others, which is why it’s disappointing to hear classic horror director suggests that The Walking Dead is a rip-off of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and other zombie movies on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.
Frankly, The Walking Dead is no more a rip-off of George Romero’s work than Halloween was a rip-off of Psycho. Carpenter borrowed several elements from Psycho (as well as Night of the Living Dead) and helped create the modern slasher film. But that didn’t make his work a “rip-off,” either. Carpenter, who’s quick to acknowledge his own creative debts in the same WTF interview, combined old and new elements to create original art. That’s the way the system is designed, and it’s exactly why the intellectual property system is set up in a way to allow artists to build upon existing ideas through the fair-use exception, otherwise the zombie genre would have began and ended with Night of the Living Dead.