By no means did Romero invent this subgenre of the Horror experience, but never before had a Zombie Movie been so prescient. Never before had a film of just about any kind set such a formula used by film after film from virtual mirror-image films like Zombie 2: The Dead Are Among Us to actual remakes like Savini's 1990 Night of the Living Dead to such greatly respected (and seemingly unrelated) films like Resident Evil and even Shyamalan's Signs! It's easy to consider Night of the Living Dead a Classic just for its influence alone!
But how does Georgie-boy's vision stack up as a movie on its own? Is it just some midnight drive-in schlock that could easily be forgotten without its many heirs? No, not really! I can't promise you that you're going to want to watch this instead of, say Gone with the Wind, and it pretty well takes an Iron Constitution to stomach some of the more horrific scenes! However, this is a well acted film with real heroes and realistic struggles. It's also more proof that "Budget" doesn't actually mean "Magic!" Is it the "Greatest Movie Ever Made?" No... but I'd definitely state that it's the greatest movie of its kind ever made!
The plot of this film revolves around a mysterious radiation re-animating the recently deceased. They awaken confused as Morrissey's sexual identity and hungrier than John Goodman an hour after a Chinese Buffet!
Our story primarily focuses on the survivors holed up in one farm house as a microcosm of what must be happening throughout the planet. Ben is our take-charge and professional leader. He's given a seriousness and dignity by actor (and PhD) Duane Jones. His counterpoint is Judith O'Dea's Barbara who is faced with such horror that she can barely speak or move. They and the Cooper family along with teen joy riders Tom and Judy find themselves under siege by the dead who are afraid only of fire, can only be stopped by the destruction of their slow brains. They're also motivated by an insatiable desire for food and no matter what you do to them (shy of decapitation, head-shots or cremation) they won't stay dead! They keep coming back in a bloodthirsty lust for HUMAN FLESH!
In a lot of ways Night of the Living Dead is much more a Drama than a "Horror Flick" either by intent or simple lack of funds. Much of the action is described by character after the fact like an old Sophaclese Greek Chorus than is actually seen. The tense claustrophobia of the house is only expanded into the world by sporadic and frightened news broadcasts linking them to the pervasiveness of the horror. Further, the Ghouls provide a crisis which our actors must react to. This truly isn't much different from the aftermath of Nuclear Holocaust or Alien Invasion. The Crisis details are almost arbitrary, while the Acting itself is paramount.
Make no mistake, though, while this is a drama in most cases, this really is about Dead People coming back to eat the living! Night of the Living Dead pits the dead against the living in a struggle for survival! That might sound very "B" movie to you, and you might just be right! In fact, it's downright gruesome at times as the dead feast upon the bodies they can catch. Don't watch this while you're eating your Spaghetti and Marinara! The film is black and white and occasionally grainy, but a string of intestines drippping blood is hard to mistake, partner!
The film also is of a very limited budget and many might not be comfortable sitting through a film with the occasional bad (and jumpy) edit or melodramatic moment. This is a Zombie film, and while it's a particularly good Zombie film, you're still not going to get out of this without some Horror Movie clichés!
To a much greater extent, though, this film is timeless. Unlike its sequel Dawn of the Dead which is so firmly set in the 1970s that it might as well have starred Frampton and the BeeGees, Night of the Living Dead could virtually be a story of any time. The main hero, Ben, is an African American (which is commonplace now, thank God, but in 1968 was a rarity). There is the occasional "dated" moment involving fashion or the manner of speech of one of the newscasters, but beyond that, you're looking at a film unstuck in time. If a similarly budgeted movie were made today independently without studio backing, it's hard to imagine it being all that much different.
So far beyond Romero's culpability in the occasional cliché, Night of the Living Dead succeeds in establishing a great many new standards that have been re-used in his own series as well as in a great many others from quasi-unofficial-sequel Return of the Living Dead to the more-recent classic 28 Days Later...! In hindsight this film might seem a little more clichéd than it really is. Heck, after so many imitators even Charles Dickens might seem derivative if being read the first time. Rest assured that many of the accepted Zombie formulas started here. You may have seen some of this before, but to 1968 audiences this was all brand spanking new!
Four Stars out of Five for Night of the Living Dead! As horror, drama, classic, or indie this film really delivers. There might be a little black humor, but there's no goofy schlock like its latter-day namesake! There's a lot more guts than glory here and more downers than smiles to be had. The pessimistic cynicism of the writing (by Romero with pal John A. Russo) is the exception-less rule. You won't feel uplifted or affirmed after this needle-in-the-eye, but you will respect so much being made of so little, and a transcendent good film being made by a filmic artist for almost no dough. Enjoy (but, um... avoid the "Laugh Track" version if you love me)!
|What's New?||Alphabetical Listing of Reviews!||SearchThisSite:||Advertise With Us!||About...||Lynx Links:||F*A*Q|