Night of the Living Dead (1968)
They won't stay dead.
Year of Release: 1968
Running Time: 96 minutes (1:36)
Director: George A. Romero
Duane Jones ... Ben
Judith O'Dea ... Barbra
Karl Hardman ... Harry
Marilyn Eastman ... Helen
Keith Wayne ... Tom
Judith Ridley ... Judy
Kyra Schon ... Karen Cooper
Charles Craig ... Newscaster / Zombie
S. William Hinzman ... Cemetery Zombie
Bill 'Chilly Billy' Cardille ... Field Reporter
Russell Streiner ... Johnny (uncredited)
George A. Romero ... Washington Reporter (uncredited)
The dead come back to life in this eerie, gruesome horror flick guaranteed to give you at least one bad night's sleep!
Night of the Living Dead centers on a group of people taking shelter in an abandoned farmhouse to escape the clutches of a band of murderous zombies. This film is not for the squeamish.
This one just goes to show that, you really don't know someone, until you've lived through a zombie apocalypse with them. That's when the truth really becomes plain, and is it ever ugly. Not only that, but when the budget's low and there's no executive producer around thumbing through the script looking for things to strike from the record, still more knowledge comes to light. The kind of knowledge you'll never get from any movie conceived in a large studio, with a script that's been passed around like Heidi Fleiss. So many filthy, money grubbing hands touching it, leaving greasy finger prints all over it, putting in their -2 cents an scissoring anything that might take butts out of the seats. So let's not squander this opportunity. First things first, sometimes crazy white bitches just gotta be slapped. Nothing else gets the job done quite like a good tooth loosening. Second, nothing intimidates a pack of zombies more than a flaming barcalounger. Well, maybe Bruce Campbell. But that's it. An third, even with a zombie epidemic spreading across the nation, the government is still deluded enough to believe it truly has control. But if we take anything away from Night of the Living Dead, let it be this: the second amendment is a good thing. Now, I know I've ridiculed the NRA and the GOP a lot, lets face it, humor just lends itself better to the Republican party than the Democratic party because so much of what they believe is antiquated nonsense. But here's the reality of the situation, an I'd like to cite a quote from one Barack Obama here if I may, an I may, cause the first amendment is pretty cool too: "And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." This was in reference to rural folks. But I ask you this, at the climax of the movie, who was it again that came to the rescue of these feeble, unprepared excuses for humans? Why, it appears to be those people that cling to their guns an their religion. Their guns for certain anyway. An guess what the people without guns are clinging to when everything is said an done? Looks like the stomachs of an icky batch of zombies from here. And could it be, that the "people who aren't like them" Obama refers to, are the zombies? Is he saying the antipathy towards zombies is unjustified an bigoted? Looks to me like he's advocating zombie-geddon. He should be ashamed, an I'll tell you something else, he'd better not expect me to pull any zombies off him when that day inevitably comes. He's had it as far as I'm concerned.
Night of the Living Dead begins with a pair of siblings driving towards the cemetery that houses the corpse of their departed father. Or does it? Not long after their arrival, a chalk faced galoot attacks the sister (Barbra), an big brother (Johnny) has to get rough with 'em. Like most big brothers, Johnny's used to having to beat the crap out of guys that try to get friendly with his sister, but something about the way this one tries to rip his face off an eat it weighs heavy on his mind. Until a few moments later when his mind weighs heavy on a tombstone an it starts lookin' like the Liberty Bell an Barbra has to run like a homosexual from Utah. She makes it back to her car but by now the zombie's really got a thing for her, an he digs it when chicks play hard to get. So he picks up a brick an busts out the window just before Barbra's able to release the emergency brake an the car goes careening down the hill until it impacts a tree. God damn women drivers, leave it to them to find a way to crash a car that's still in Park. Unharmed, she gets out an beats cheeks until she's able to find a house where she tries to contact the police. She knows the score, all these pasty white guys roaming around, clearly the British are coming! But the phone's deader than her pursuer, who's now outside on the front lawn with a few friends. The good news is, the zombies all walk like they have eggs in their sphincters an their existence hinges upon not breaking them, so they're pretty easy to outrun an also easy to get the drop on. About that time, someone does. His name is Ben, an he's kicking zombie ass years before Bruce Campbell can even pick up a boomstick. Ben tries to get the low down from Barbra but she's working on her own version of how to behave as a zombie an doesn't even have the decency to pull her head out of her ass for the ten seconds required to tell him everything she knows. Meanwhile, the zombies are outside busting out the headlights an putting dents in Ben's truck, so he has to go outside an put dents in their skulls until they settle down an behave themselves. Then another gets inside the house an he mistakes its forehead for a lug nut an tries to unscrew it with a tire iron, only he uses the wrong end an ends up having to shake its brain off the tip. After a quick once over, he makes like Zelda Rubinstein an determines that the house is clear, an drags the corpse outside, lights it on fire, an checks to see if anyone else wants to be a hero.
Feeling pretty good about himself, he begins boarding up the place. He tries to get Barbra to help, but she's changed her theme song to "Falling to Pieces" by Faith No More an her usefulness is matched by that of a saw horse, as the only thing she's capable of doing is helping to hold a door as Ben nails it to the wall. Once that's finished, Ben an Barbra both go over their back stories an Barbra starts freaking out when she realizes Johnny's still up at the cemetery. Like most guys, Ben ignores the hysterical woman, only she gives him a metacarpal paint-brushing an he has to remind her that this is a man's world with his own retaliatory strike. Then Ben realizes he kinda misses having the white noise, even if it's just babbling hysterical woman noise, an turns on the radio. While he's lighting a fire, we get some more exposition about the zombies via radio, only like most news broadcasts, it really just exists to make the public think things are still under control an the broadcasters really don't know much about what's going on as yet. It's kinda like the eight hours of news coverage on election day before a single vote has been cast. So with his fire blazing, Ben drags the La-z-boy outside an puts the torch to it to put the fear of God into the persistent fucks an they all shuffle around making noises like they should have used Preparation H. Zombies an Jahova's Witnesses: no matter what you do, there's just no keeping 'em off your porch. Back inside, Ben is still reinforcing the windows an doors, an while looking for more materials, he comes across a gun. He's also starting to feel bad about that whole female battery episode an pulls some shoes out of a closet for Barbra, who lost hers some time ago. He then goes upstairs to look for more zombie repellant when the basement door creaks open an a creepy bald thing peeks out from around the door like in Communion. Barbra flips out an Ben rushes back downstairs to see if she needs another jaw jacking, only now he finds someone he'd like to sock even more. Cooper, being the skulking rat that he is, thinks it's safer downstairs in the basement. Ben, having gone through life with a full head of hair, an thus concussion protection, asserts the more logical notion, which is to stay upstairs where they have access to the radio and many escape routes if necessary.
This lively debate continues until a pair of hands come through a window an start putting the squeeze on Ben's jugular. All he's able to squeal out is "Harry! Your hands are freezing!", only he realizes it's not Harry, an after freeing himself he pumps a few rounds into the prick before realizing that the only way to bring them down is to pop 'em in the noodle. Cooper uses this event to bolster his position, but Ben tells him to go skulk in his dank hole, cause he's boss upstairs. Tom (a younger guy that heard the announcement on the car radio an decided to hole up here) wishes that everyone could just get along, but Cooper's butt hurt an doesn't wanna hear it. Downstairs, it doesn't seem like Cooper's wife (Helen) likes him much more than Ben does, on account of him being a complete idiot, an she wants to go upstairs to listen to the radio cause reruns of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar are gonna be on soon. Upstairs, Helen tries to make polite small talk with Barbra until Ben can get the television downstairs, but her PTSD's off the charts by this point an she just lays there petting the sofa an babbling incoherently. On television, everyone's bummed when they find out Hogan's Heroes has been preempted for coverage of the end of the world, an for the first time, the general consensus in the scientific community is that the bodies of the recently diseased are returning to life, with an attack of the midnight munchies. They also learn that rescue stations have been setup, an Ben wants to gas up his truck an make for the nearest one, but Cooper doesn't think they can make it on account of having three members of the inferior gender with them. Oh, and his ill daughter in the basement too. Mostly that. Not that misogynistic thing from before. So, in a surprising twist, intelligence prevails, an Ben an Tom prepare to make for the gas pump while Cooper tosses Moltov cocktails out the upstairs window to distract the zombies, but Tom's fool of a woman missed Cooper's misogyny speech earlier an bolts out the door with them to "help". Unfortunately when they get to the gas pump, like most men, Tom can't hit the target with the liquid spraying nozzle an the torch Ben left laying on the ground ignites the truck. Then, in a move of supreme idiocy, Tom an Judy (Tom's woman) try to move the truck before the fire gets any worse, only it doesn't have to get any worse, it just has to reach the gas tank. Which it does, an promptly explodes the truck an its two hapless passengers. Ben is able to make it back to the house, but finds the door blocked, an once he's able to bust in, Cooper's waiting with the gun. We'll cut it here to preserve the ending, Night of the Living Dead is the most famous movie ever made to drop into the public domain, so here's a Youtube link if you wanna give it another spin:
The tough part about rating this one is knowing how much to factor in the historical significance, without going overboard. Additionally, one must also not allow its age to weigh in too heavily either. An that goes both ways. You must be careful not to give it too much credit for being as good as it is, and still being that old. Nor should you judge its shortcomings too harshly, considering it's as old as it is. You got that? It's got potential age discrimination in both directions. So, I'll ever so carefully try to judge it for what it is, without letting too much of those two aspects seep in. So beginning with the acting, it's not too bad. Duane Jones and Judith O'Dea are both pretty good. Judith Ridley an Karl Hardman, not so much. They're a bit wooden, but only a bit. Nowhere near bad enough to judge the overall film harshly for it. The zombies are... well they're zombies. Tough to do a zombie wrong, although not impossible. The plot is adequate, nothing special. This would be another one of those instances where to a certain degree it needs to be looked at in the context of 1968, but not too strongly. Because back then, it's far closer to originality than if one looks at it from a modern perspective where it's been done time without number. But, while it wasn't the first time movie with zombies, it was the first time they'd become cannibalistic, an the first time that sort of thing was shown so graphically. Before Night of the Living Dead, the only truly graphic gore in movies was coming from Herschell Gordon Lewis. Anybody unfamiliar with his stuff would have been horrified by the special effects in Night of the Living Dead, although, compared to Lewis' stuff, it's pretty tame. Particularly because of the lack of colorization. The plus side of shooting in black and white is that the special effects are much easier to give a realistic appearance to. If you make a bad special effect in color, everyone knows it, but if you make a bad special effect in black an white, at least in terms of gore special effects (nothing can shield a man in a rubber suit from ridicule), there's a good chance no one notices. I really don't much care for black and white movies; I try to be as fair as possible with them, but that negative aspect has to come to bear at some point.
The soundtrack is vintage 1960s public domain. It's loud, obnoxious, an does little to enhance the mood. Quite honestly, I think they missed a great opportunity in that particular area. This movie shouldn't have a soundtrack at all. Not only would that have saved money on the budget aspect, but I believe it would have given the movie unparalleled atmosphere. Besides, if you really know how to use sound effects, they can be inserted at pivotal moments to serve as cues for things that may be about to happen. All I can think of is the Teenagers from Outer Space episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when the soundtrack starts playing. Loud obnoxious soundtracks are bad enough, but when they're public domain and were previously used in a movie that's drastically different, it really diminishes the quality of the scenes during which they play. While horror and science fiction blend together fairly well, these two particular movies are very clearly defined as science fiction and horror, respectively. An that soundtrack is very science fiction, it just doesn't fit here. The shooting locations are pretty good, then again, it'd be tough not to be. You've got a house, which you can call three settings, as there's the floor at ground level, an upstairs, and a downstairs. The area surrounding the house, and the cemetery. However, the plot calls for nothing more, and the plot needs nothing more, so the lack of variety is in no way considered negative. Just adequate. If I were judging it as a "fun" movie, I'd make the case for it by pointing out how much heart it's got. Much like The Evil Dead, you've got a shoe string budget and a small group of people with a lot of ambition, who made it happen. But we're not judging it as "fun", it's good enough that we have to look at it as a truly good movie, an perhaps judge it a little more harshly for its faults. That said, "fun" movies, at least on my grading scale, can and often do score higher than movies that're "good." I suppose the reason for that is, most movies that I consider to be "fun" are good, but that's only my personal opinion. "Good" is something accessible to the majority of people, not just me. Another difference is that a "good" movie can always be recommended to everyone, where with "fun" movies, that's usually not the case. Looks like I've stayed off tangent long enough to avoid the central issue, which is the fact that I'd consider Night of the Living Dead over rated. Still, it's mandatory viewing material for all horror fans, and for people interested in the history of cinema, because this one's a benchmark event.