Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Bill Cardille, Kyra Schon
Screenplay: John A. Russo, George A. Romero
96 mins. Not Rated.
Night of the Living Dead is perhaps the most famous name in the world of zombies, as is its creator George A. Romero (Bruiser, The Dark Half). He brought the modern zombie into the fold. Previously, the term “zombie” was used in voodoo films for someone under the control of a curse or possession. The modern-day cannibalistic zombie is a product of 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, which is the story of a night of terror as an unknown source causes the dead to rise up and feed on the flesh of the living. Much of the zombie lore was created in this film, and much more was refined ten years later in the first sequel, Dawn of the Dead. Barbara (Judith O’Dea) is one of our leads, who is visiting her father’s grave with her brother Johnny when they are suddenly attacked and Johnny is killed. Barbara escapes toward an abandoned farm house where she meets Ben (Duane Jones) and several other survivors. Now, they must hold up in the house while hordes of the undead prey on them in a night of shocking terror.
I love this movie. I love this premise. The originality is less noticeable in today’s age, but this movie was incredibly envelope-pushing. The idea to have a film limited to one very comfortable place and having such horrible things happen to these people as they deal with an unimaginable situation coming to light before their eyes is just staggering. The fact that George A. Romero was able to take this story and use it to show the real fears of the 1960s was another reason it stuck with us.
Lead actor Duane Jones also began a recurring theme of strong black characters in Romero’s Dead series. This would continue throughout the original trilogy.
While the cast and crew are mostly comprised of people who knew Romero is noticeable, but the performances are still strong enough to carry the narrative.
I remember reading an article from Reader’s Digest written around the time of the release where the writer warned against viewing the film as it was cannibal pornography, promoting the consumption of human flesh. I remember finding it to be an odd fear. That was 1968. The world was changing. The space race was currently being run. We had fears of government secrets, wars on the horizon. It was a scary time to be an America. It was a scary time to be human.
Night of the Living Dead began a series (or several series) of zombie/undead films and franchises that still exist and influence popular culture and cinema today. It still stands the time as a film that touches on fear, paranoia, and death in a way that few films since have been able to touch on. I love this movie, much more now than when I was a kid. I don’t entirely think younger audiences will understand that impact, but I don’t think that it feels aged. It is still relevant to our world, and it is still majorly unnerving.
-Kyle A. Goethe
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