Film Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Directed by George A. Romero, written by George A. Romero and John A. Russo, and starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, and Judith Ridley.

"Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 independent black-and-white horror film. Ben and Barbra are the protagonists of a story about the mysterious reanimation of the recently dead, and their efforts, along with five other people, to survive the night while trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse.

"Chaos descends upon the world as the brains of the recently deceased become inexplicably reanimated, causing the dead to rise and feed on human flesh. Speculation rests on a radiation-covered NASA satellite returning from Venus, but it only remains a speculation. Anyone who dies during the crisis of causes unrelated to brain trauma will return as a flesh-eating zombie, including anyone who has been bitten by a zombie. The only way to destroy the zombies is to destroy the brain. As the catastrophe unfolds, a young woman visiting her father's grave takes refuge in a nearby farmhouse, where she is met by a man who protects her and barricades them inside. They both later discover people hiding in the basement, and they each attempt to cope with the situation. Their only hope rests on getting some gasoline from a nearby pump into a truck that is running on empty, but this requires braving the hordes of ravenous walking corpses outside. When they finally put their plans into action, panic and personal tensions only add to the terror as they try to survive."

Made on a $114,000 budget, this is, arguably, where it all began. It's the one that started it all. It's kind of like the first one, that started biting and spreading the infection. Even to this day, Living Dead stands the test of time. The Library of Congress has even since placed it on the National Film Registry as a film deemed "historically, culturally or aesthetically important." Night of the Living Dead has had a more substantial influence on the modern zombie archetype than any other zombie movie ever released. Even still, the movie cause a tizzy and considerable controversy in its release, due to its extreme graphic nature (well, for its time). The MPAA hadn't been established until later that year, meaning that the movie received no rating, thus allowing any person of any age to see it. "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them", complained Roger Ebert. "They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else." Even though Roger Ebert criticized the matinée screening, he admitted that he "admires the movie itself."

There are also a few inconsistencies in the film, namely the representations of running and walking zombies, the fact that some of them use rocks and other objects as blunt objects, and that they fear fire when they shouldn't feel pain at all. It's still creepy as hell, with low-budget cinematography and the classic black and white adding to the scare. This flick frightened people to death back in the day, and though may seem a bit cheesy today, is pure nostalgia now. I'll give Romero tons of credit for his early work. He did some amazing, creative things. I just don't approve of how everyone believe he created the undead and is the final authority on the definition of a zombie. Technically, White Zombie, in 1932, was the first true zombie movie (which I've already reviewed), and even before that, you could argue that Mary Shelley technically created the first zombie with Frankenstein's monster in 1818. But it's not his fault people are ignorant. His guilt lies in his own delusions of superiority, namely in the cases of his dispute with co-writer John Russo's attempts to make his own sequels to their story.

"Return of the Living Dead sparked a legal battle with Romero, who believed Russo marketed his film in direct competition with Day of the Dead as a sequel to the original film. In the case Dawn Associates v. Links, Romero accused Russo of "appropriat[ing] part of the title of the prior work", plagiarizing Dawn of the Dead's advertising slogan ("When there is no room in hell [...] the dead will walk the earth"), and copying stills from the original 1968 film. Romero was ultimately granted a restraining order that forced Russo to cease his advertising campaign. Russo, however, was allowed to retain his title." Hence the reason Romero's sequels no longer feature "Living Dead" but simply "Dead" in the titles, as opposed to Russo's "The Return of the Living Dead" sequels. He has also since, in interviews, shown his distaste for any zombie movies deterring from his own "zombie rules" mapped out in his movies. All this aside, you can't deny the legacy left by Night of the Living Dead, and its now four sequels. This is horror in top form and should be revered. Since the copyright has since expired, you can watch the entire movie for free right here on YouTube. And I don't care what anyone says, the ending is absolutely perfect.

Best quote: "Well...the television said that's the right thing to do."
And of course: "They're coming to get you, Barbara."