Monday, October 24, 2011

Night of the Living Dead (Romero. 1968)

"All persons who die during this crisis from whatever cause will come back to life to seek human victims.."


On a budget of $114,000, George A. Romero started one of the biggest box office trends in history with his controversial 1968 zombie masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. Judging by the countless zombie films that are released nowadays, I cannot honestly say that I was expecting much going in. I was plenteously surprised by a genuinely scary experience, and I have gained a whole new respect for this classic horror genre.

What surprised me most about Night of the Living Dead is that it did not seem to be dated. Most of the horror films from that time are unwatchable in 2011, but Romero's vision stands up to fans of the genre. There are six adults and one child trapped in a house in the middle of nowhere. The house is under attack by a group of stiff and mysterious looking people who we later find out are the walking dead in search of flesh to devour. This sudden uproar of undead is caused by some kind of radiation that has found Earth after an expedition to Venus.

Though the term "zombie" is actually never used in the movie, Romero helped create the new image of the zombie in film. Before this, the term had been used in horror and drama to describe a living person under the influence of a voodoo priest. Unlike the majority of those movies, the zombies in Night of the Living Dead are terrifying. Roger Ebert noted in an essay that he was shocked when he saw the film being played as a matinee in Chicago. He was not calling for censorship, but he did condemn parents and theatres for allowing kids to see a movie that will have them leaving the theatre with "tears in their eyes" from fright.

The film is shot in black and white, but has been remastered in color in some versions. I think I would prefer the black and white version (which I saw) because it increases the overall feeling of grit and paranoia. All color does to the film is add realism. Who really wants realism in a zombie movie? Night of the Living Dead is like a nightmare, and it looks like one.

One thing that is interesting about Night of the Living Dead is that it has been targeted by film scholars as a movie with a much deeper meaning. Some have argued that the relentless zombie assault is a representation of American's mindset toward the Vietnam War. I have also read that some culture critics think that the African-American protagonist could represent the recently murdered Martin Luther King. As a black character in film, Ben (played by Duane Jones) is strong, brave and caring toward all individuals. He is the lone survivor of the attack, but he is then killed on "accident" by an all white gang of rednecks. It may not have been on purpose, but it definitely resonated with people in that time period.

Romero's first venture into the zombie genre is an astounding success, but not because he was able to scare people in 1968. The true victory with Night of the Living Dead is that it remains scary in 2011. The flesh eating scene is particularly terrifying. This is a great movie and a must for true fans of horror.

Night of the Living Dead: A

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