I’m a huge fan of zombie movies and I think it’s about time I pay my respects to the master of zombie horror: George A. Romero. Romero has made other films besides zombie movies such as the vampire film Martin and the original Crazies, but I think his greatest accomplishments lie in his Dead series. So, what better place to start than his 1968 debut film, Night of the Living Dead.
Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) are visiting their father’s grave when suddenly a strange man (Bill Hinzman) comes out of nowhere and attacks them. Judith manages to escape to a farmhouse where she meets Ben (Duane Jones), who is also on the run from these creatures, Harry (Karl Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman), Tom (Keith Wayne), and Judy (Judith Ridley). These strangers are now forced to stand together to defend themselves against the horde of undead outside and possibly get to safety.
This film was made on a shoestring budget of$114,000. In terms of film making, that’s practically nothing at all. The fact that it’s not only still terrifying in certain respects, went on to become a cult classic, and pretty much single handedly redefined the horror genre is pretty incredible. Even if you’re not a fan of this movie, you have to admit that it is important. I am not one of these people. I’ve loved and appreciated Night of the Living Dead since the first time I saw it.
While this is a zombie movie, it does have a unique social commentary that was quite important for the time and is still today. Made during the Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X era, there are subtle and not so subtle racial issues. This plays well in this movie and never feels like it is overpowering the zombie horror aspect of the story.
Watching this movie with a critical eye may cheapen the experience a bit since the acting and a lot of the editing is less than spectacular. This is understandable due to the budget and available talent at Romero’s disposal. The editing, however, can be so choppy at times that it’s almost laughable. In one shot, a character will be sitting a certain way going through a motion, and in the next shot this is totally ignored and the character is sitting different or doing something else.
Where Night of the Living Dead really shines is in its third act. After all the set up and planning, the action and horror really begins. For a movie that was released in 1968, the violence and gore must have really cause a ruckus. I read an article written by film critic Roger Ebert in which he talked about the silence that blanketed the theater. There was even a girl in the row next to his that was crying. Even today, with all of the other great zombie films, Night of the Living Dead still strikes me with a horrific feeling every time I watch it.
This is an old film, but a great film. It’s cheap, gritty, violent, and gory. Everything a zombie movie should be. This is the movie that launched George Romero’s career, changed the face of horror, and created a set of rules for the zombie genre that are still in play today. Night of the Living Dead isn’t just an important movie, it’s also a great movie.
I’m excited for my next review. Very excited. I’ll be continuing my reviews of Romero’s Dead franchise with the greatest zombie movie ever made… Dawn of the Dead.