17 Aug Review – Night Of The Living Dead

FlixFling contributor, Matt Bussy reviews Night Of The Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead is a classic for two reasons: it’s the first real zombie horror movie and the first successful low-budget horror movie. It cost $114,000 to make, featured unknown actors, and was filmed not in a big Hollywood studio but the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania. It’s also been remade two times (one of which was in 3D) but neither of them can compete with this one. It might seem too dated for 21st century horror fans because of its grainy black and white cinematography and wooden performances. It might be hard, but do your best to not think that way! You might not get scared but you should realize how huge a classic this one is. To understand the movie’s brilliance you have to imagine it’s 1968. Zombie movies have never been made before. Suddenly a movie comes out where flesh-eating dead people have been brought back to life and want to, well, eat you alive. A movie like this had never been done before!

The thanks goes to co-writer/director George A. Romero, who went on to direct five more Living Dead movies (except his latest one, Survival of the Dead, went right to DVD sadly). He’s the inventor of this horror genre. You know how to kill a zombie you have to shoot it in the head? He created that rule. You know the way zombies walk with their shoulders up and their heads down? He created that rule too. He created all of them! You don’t have to agree with me but I still get freaked out by Night of the Living Dead because of how simple everything feels. Take the beginning, for example. Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner), both brother and sister, are visiting their father’s grave in an empty cemetery just before the evening. They look around and see a man walking by himself in the distance. Ok. No big deal. Except that there’s something about this guy that’s just creepy. The two are walking back to their car when suddenly the man attacks Barbra. Johnny gets the guy off her but then trips and cracks his head on a gravestone. Barbra runs to the car but the guy breaks in. She gets out and runs away. The guy chases her! She makes it to an empty house and locks herself in. She looks up the stairs and sees the corpse of a half-disemboweled woman.

Just look at the simplicity of this scene. There are no special effects or over-the-top gore. It’s just a dead guy chasing a woman because he wants to eat her. The simplicity works even more as the story goes on. More zombies arrive, of course, and a man named Ben (Duane Jones, who’s African-American, by the way. Keep that in mind!) comes to the house and boards up the doors and windows. Barbra (who’s in a state of shock) and Ben then discover a group of survivors that are hiding in the basement. One of these “survivors” is a teenage girl who’s been bitten by one of the zombies…I think you know what will happen to her. How naturally frightening is it to be trapped in a house where people are trying to get inside from the outside? What’s worse, this is a house in the middle of nowhere. Romero taps into our fear of inescapability so brilliantly here.

I also love Night of the Living Dead because its hero is black. The world was super surprised by this choice of casting and a huge political understatement was interpreted in the movie by cinephiles. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated a few months before the movie’s release, which made a lot of people think that Romero intentionally cast Duane Jones to show his support for civil rights. The director, however, has denied this and claims to have casted the actor because he gave the best audition. Whether there’s a political message here or not, the choice to make the hero black is original, different, and certainly brave at the time of the movie’s release. Just look at horror movies nowadays. Are any of the heroes or heroines African-American? Never! The black character usually gets killed off first!

Low-budget horror movies seem to be the most popular in Hollywood at the moment. A fourth Paranormal Activity movie is coming out this October and last year’s Insidious, which cost only $1.5 million to make, ended up making almost $100 million at the box office. Night of the Living Dead didn’t just start the zombie genre. It started the low-budget horror genre. See it for those reasons only.