Director: George A. Romero
Writers: John Russo and George Romero
Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon, Charles Craig, Bill Heinzman, George Kosana, Frank Doak, Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille, A.C. McDonald, Samuel R. Solito, Mark Ricci, Lee Hartman, Jack Givens, R.J. Ricci, Paula Richards, John Simpson, Herbert Summer, Richard Ricci, William Burchinal, Ross Harris, Al Croft, Jason Richards, Dave James, Sharon Carroll, William Mogush, Steve Hutsko, Joann Michaels, Phillip Smith, Ella Mae Smith, and Randy Burr
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Release Date: 10/1/1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
While enjoying a Sunday afternoon at the cemetery, Barbara (Judith O’Dea) is attacked by a ghoul (Bill Heinzman)—one of thousands in the area—and seeks shelter in an old, abandoned farmhouse. Shortly thereafter, fellow survivors Ben (Duane Jones), Harry (Karl Hardman), Helen (Marilyn Eastman), Tom (Keith Wayne), and Judy (Judith Ridley) band together in the same location; but fail to reach an agreement over whether to hide in the cellar or remain upstairs.
Budgetary limitations notwithstanding, Night of the Living Dead earns its reputation as the quintessential zombie film. Especially terrific are the many tropes introduced in this feature, which would forever solidify public perception of the cinematic zombie as a mindless, lumbering creature with a palate for human flesh.
By thrusting a group of strangers into an emergency situation, Night of the Living Dead evokes a feeling of intense dread from the audience without relying upon copious gore and violence. Any claustrophobic undertones stemming from the farmhouse setting are further accentuated by the looming zombie threat, which generates a gradual sense of “being surrounded” as the flesh eaters continue to multiply and organize well into the “dead” of night. Also worth praising, an ominously primitive soundtrack embodies the hellish and mysterious nature of the zombie plague—an effect that, when coupled with black-and-white film, culminates in a spooky, if not surreal, viewing experience.
Similar to The Walking Dead (a series inspired, at least in part, by George Romero’s original concept), Night of the Living Dead employs the modern zombie theme in order to provide a penetrating study on the human condition. Though diametrically opposed to each other, Ben and Harry possess a nuanced and realistic set of motivations, attributes, and personal flaws with which the average person can relate; likewise, the supporting characters are conveyed as genuine, sympathetic individuals despite making a number of seemingly obvious mistakes (e.g. spilling gasoline on a lit torch and extending compassion toward a zombie child). While Romero’s direction leaves much to be desired on a technical level, Night of the Living Dead—frequently dismissed as little more than a schlocky, B-grade horror production—should be commended for examining how ordinary people react under pressure.
Night of the Living Dead is marred by a nihilistic ending, which serves only to shock and offend viewers of a sensitive inclination. That being said, intellectual horror fans will appreciate Romero’s thought-provoking, albeit disturbing, commentary on the human inability to cooperate and maintain civility in times of crisis.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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