Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Synopsis: There is panic throughout the nation as the dead suddenly come back to life. The film follows a group of characters who barricade themselves in an old farmhouse in an attempt to remain safe from these flesh eating monsters.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Our culture is obsessed with zombies; I wanted to watch the film that started it all.

Leah’s Review:

I’ll start with two confessions. The first is that I don’t like horror movies. The second is that I really wasn’t interested in seeing “Night of the Living Dead”. This has to do with my first confession and because this particular film looked lame and campy. However, I watched it because I knew it was a classic and very instrumental in revolutionizing the horror film genre. The most surprising thing about this movie was how much I enjoyed it.

Part of what is brilliant about “Night” is how it’s able to subtly change the story’s tone. Roger Ebert puts it perfectly in his review:

“The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying.”

I found myself going from kind of enjoying the campy/scary feel of the film to being genuinely on the edge of my seat with fear.

“Night” was a very low-budget film. This is clear from the moment the movie begins. But honestly, I think it’s one of the things that makes this film great. Director George Romero was able to do so much with so little and use his limited resources to do some truly creative things. The way the film was shot was brilliant. The use of 35mm black-and-white film gives the film a very “documentary” vibe and therefore a more realistic feel. I think that’s another aspect I appreciated about the film- it felt real. The characters in “Night” react and behave the way you’d expect real people to act in that situation.

While watching this film, I kept thinking about how audiences in 1968 would have reacted to it. People had never seen a horror movie quite like this before. Watching it now, I recognize many tropes and “cliches” of the horror genre (which are used really well in this film, I might add) that were not commonplace in 1968. And then- there’s the zombies. Our current culture is so overly-saturated with zombies with seemingly every horror movie, tv show, and video game involving the undead. As such, most people now have an understanding of how zombies function. But those watching “Night” in 1968 didn’t have this common knowledge. There hadn’t been too many zombie movies before this. There are scenes that were frightening to me, but must have been so much more-so for the original audiences. Without giving too much away, there’s a scene where a character is bitten by a zombie. Because of my zombie knowledge, I instantly assumed they would definitely turn into one at some point. So when this does inevitably happen, it was a scary moment- but I wasn’t shocked. I can’t imagine watching this scene in 1968 or how terrifying it must have been.

There’s so much more I could say about this film. I recommend reading Roger Ebert’s full review as it completely captures the feeling of the movie. And I would also recommend watching “Night”. Because it’s truly fantastic. (But maybe wait to eat your supper until afterwards)

Brent’s Review:

When selecting films for this list, I knew I wanted to have horror movies included on it. However, both Leah and I scare easily, so I had to choose wisely. I settled on “Night of the Living Dead” as a pseudo- research project: our culture is obsessed with zombies, so I wanted to see the primary text that inspired it.

“I wasn’t disappointed, but it took some time to get there. The film’s beginning has a very campy feel. I’m sure the first half of “Night” would’ve fit right in with a double feature of other B-horror flicks like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”. The characters are bland; the dialogue is serviceable, but the acting is poor; the horror isn’t gruesome at all. In fact, the first zombie attack isn’t remotely scary. However, the film makes a hard-right turn into horror about halfway through. The acting improves and several plot-threads unite in the climax to provoke genuine horror. “Night” contains one of the best climaxes in any horror film I’ve seen, including images that were genuinely scary for me in 2017; I cannot imagine the horror it provoked in 1968.

My favorite aspect of this film is that it is grounded in “reality”, if that’s possible for a zombie film. My favorite scene involves the survivors watching a television news broadcast in which a scientist confirms that radiation from Uranus is causing strange mutations to reanimate unburied dead, who have turned into cannibals. This exposition is followed with a beautiful exchange between the characters about getting a nearby truck to a gas tank. These characters don’t care about how they got where they are, they just care about how to survive.

I have one more comment to make, but it will require spoilers. Feel free to stop reading now if you’re intrigued; I highly recommend this film.

I turn now to describe one feature of the film that Romero claims was accidental, but cannot be ignored: “Night” becomes an allegory for racial tensions in America in the late 1960s. Released months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Night” holds the distinction of being the first film to cast a black actor (Duane Jones) in the lead role regardless of his race (that is, his race is not a plot device). Furthermore, Jones is cast against an all-white cast and an all-white zombie horde. The film ends as he is the lone survivor throughout the night, only to be killed and burned in a pyre by an all-white mob tasked with cleansing the countryside… a mob that looks and acts an awful lot like a lynch mob.

Romero claims these tones were accidental, but they make the final moments of the film work. Without this allegory, the film is sad. With it, the film is shocking.

Horror is a vehicle to explore anxieties and tensions on a macro level just as much as it is on a micro level — “Night” works on both levels.

Up Next: We’re watching “Casino” which is both a Martin Scorsese film and mob-movie…I wonder who chose this one???

Peace out, kids.


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