Saturday, October 19, 2013

Halloween 2013: Horror in Time: "Night of the Living Dead (1968)"

"They're coming to get you, Barbra."

Ahhhh, Real Zombies!

      Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 horror film. It's the first in the Living Dead series and the first film to portrayal zombies as they are today, with a formula often copied by other zombie films, shows and games. Direct by zombie master George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead) and written by Romero and John A. Russo (Santa Claws), the film follows Barbra (Judith O'Dea) who, after zombies attack here and her brother (Russell Streiner), finds herself trapped in an old farmhouse with Ben (Duane Jones), husband and wife Harry (Karl Hardman) and Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and teenagers Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) and attempts to survive the night of the undead dudes. Uh, that's not very catchy.

Well, that's just embarrassing.
Curse of the Zombies

      I think I've said before that I'm well and truly sick of the zombie genre. I don't think The Walking Dead is all that good, World War Z is still likely to end up on my year's worst list and the best zombies in a video game were the fast zombies in Half-Life 2 (Though The Walking Dead was great). The biggest problem nowadays with zombies is that no one is really doing anything that original with the concept. But, after seeing Night of the Living Dead, it's at least evident as to why the formula is overused. Night is as basic a zombie story gets. A group of strangers finds themselves trapped in an old farmhouse that's slowly being surrounded by zombies. And yet, being the first film to do this pays off. Night of the Living Dead still feels fresh and smart even after 40+ years and countless clones. In fact, it puts modern day zombies to shame. Here, the zombies are slow moving and maybe caused by space radiation. And they're scarier then all they're fast-moving counterparts now. Except for those ones. And here, it's all thanks to some true talent behind the scenes. Romero is really a master, here especially. 

When People Attack

      Those looking for zombie action shouldn't really look here. Yes, there is some, but at it's core Night of the Living Dead is about the people. Though again tried countless time afterward, Night nails the drama that comes with a group of strangers with varying opinions facing an almost certain death. In the short 1 and a half the movie lasts, you do get invested in the characters, even though not all of them have more than one real trait. Ben and Cooper's arguing is tense, made even more tense when combined with the film's terrifically unsettling atmosphere. A scene of dread settles over the house and it can be felt in every scene. The black-and-white filming is also great and help the make the film more disorienting. You don't always get a good grasp for where you are in the house, combined with the radio speaking in the background, makes things a little bit more unnerving. The film might have set up a ton of zombie imitators, but here, the question of what happens next is always in your mind, even through one or two slow bits. It all leads up to a great ending that will stick long in your mind.

The highest of terror.
The Verdict

      Night of the Living Dead is a great zombie movie, the granddaddy of all others and still better than most. Thanks to Romero's direction and the characters' great relationships, the film is perfectly unsettling and often tense enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen. Other than one or two slower bit, the film is a great movie that reinforces why zombies are such a popular villain today. Night of the Living Dead (1968) gets 5 stars out of 6. 

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