Night Of The Living Dead
Something different today, very different, the first of its kind in fact. A groundbreaking masterpiece of film and one of my favourite horrors of all time. It’s George Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead!!
The premise of Night of the Living Dead is simple, a group of people gather in a farmhouse and attempt to survive against onslaughts of the ‘living dead’.
For such a low budget film ($114,000), the impact that Night of the Living Dead has had on cinema is startling. Yes, it created the modern zombie, although the word is never used in the film, and we all know how popular zombies have become. It also was groundbreaking for African Americans within horror cinema with Duane Jones portraying the protagonist, Ben. The film sets up a more traditional ‘white’ hero in its opening scene but then turns completely on its head. The film depicts many of its white characters as useless, annoying, weak and ultimately, the antagonistic characters, especially with the character of Harry (Karl Hardman) who constantly acts as a hinderence for all the other characters in their attempt at survival.
In such a racially important year as 1968 in America, Night of the Living Dead, with its heroic depiction of Ben, offered even more cultural significance than Romero possibly originally intended.
The brutality of this film is also a key element. You tend to find that the more low budget horror films of this time are the more brutal, offer the more disturbing images and stick in the mind longer. Many similarly brutal films will be coming up. In this film however, it’s particularly memorable, not only for the images of the ‘zombies’ bloodily eating what we assume to be newly killed humans but also the brutality shown towards Ben at the end of the film. I won’t go any more specific than that for those who haven’t seen it, but if you have, you definitely know what I’m talking about.
The cinematic style that Romero incorporates into the film is also fantastic, the grainy black and white camera not only adds perfect realism but adds to the chilling atmosphere of the entire film. The use of the camera also, with its extreme close ups and its dynamic moments is also brilliant to watch. The film creates such a suspenseful, confused and creepy atmosphere, the likes of which had never been seen before in horror film and for that, Romero deserves huge plaudits.
It also gave us one of the most well known quotes in horror movie history, ‘They’re coming to get you Barbara’ which is said in the opening scene when we first learn that radiation from a crashed satellite could cause the dead to raise from their graves. Barbara (Judith O’ Dea) is not unexpectedly, rather scared, especially considering that her and her brother are in a cemetery. From that opening scene to the final scene, Night of the Living Dead is a film to be greatly admired and enjoyed as a terrifically brutal and atmospheric horror, as well as being socially and culturally relevant.
The performances are also worth a mention. In low budget films, especially horror, you tend to find that the performances aren’t exactly excellent but this is an exception. Duane Jones is excellent as Ben, allowing the audience to identify with his character as a strong willed, emotional man who, underneath, is just as afraid as the rest of the characters. Judith O’ Dea as Barbara plays a beyond terrified and useless woman perfectly and Karl Hardman is excellent as the set-in-his-ways Harry who refuses to let anyone else tell him what to do, despite it being the right thing. A shoutout goes to the extras who played ‘the dead’ also. The makeup also deserves a shoutout, very well done for such a low budget.
The film came out at a time when, in American society, the fear was moving on from radiation to man itself…’man is evil’ in a sense. This film is a perfect blend of the two. The radiation creating the ‘living dead’ and the ‘dead’ themselves representing man, as well as the evilness and brutality of the townsfolk representing the evil nature of man also.
Ultimately, Night of the Living Dead is an excellent a fantastic and important film in horror history that both chills and entertains and begs to be admired. George Romero is a horror legend for a reason.
The next American film we have is what I like to call the first full-blown ‘man is evil’ horror. That is the period in horror history that we are in now. The next film however is not American, but it does star Vincent Price. Made in 1968, set in 16th Century England and focussing on a brutal Witchhunter.
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The Journey Continues Tomorrow