Movie Name: Night of the Living Dead
Studio: Image Ten
Release Date(s): October 1, 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
“They’re coming to get you Barbra!” Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and her bother Johnny (Russell Streiner) have made a trip into the country to visit the grave of their father. When Barbra is attacked by a strange man in the cemetery, she is forced to leave Johnny behind when he is knocked out. Barbra flees to a home where she finds herself trapped with a man named Ben (Duane Jones), a young couple (Keith Wayne and Judith Ridley), an older couple (Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman) and their sick daughter (Kyra Schon). As night falls, the dead surround the house, but the danger might really be inside.
Directed by George Romero, Night of the Living Dead was very polarizing. Unlike a lot of horror films, it was very, very dark. There was very little hope for the characters and some ordered legislation against films of the sort. Some reviewers felt the film pushed too hard with its revolting effects.
The movie is stark. Shot in black-and-white, this makes the movie even darker. Colorized versions of the film exist, but the black-and-white really boosts the horror. It also creates a contrast in that most black-in-white horror films are movies like the Universal Monster classics and that are much more mundane. Instead of mundane, you get out-and-out horror that stays with you long after the film. Scenes of zombies eating the insides of their victims were just new ideas.
The movie also becomes very political (unintentionally according to Romero). The idea of having an African-American main character who is facing off against the other white survivors was kind of shocking to viewers. Also the fate of his character in the end and the grainy images seem very much like some newspaper clippings of attacks occurring in certain parts of the United States. Romero claims that it is wasn’t his intent to make the movie about race, and that Duane Jones was simply the best actor they auditioned for the role.
Jones is backed by a nice supporting cast. O’Dea is memorable as the shellshocked Barbra and her jerky brother Johnny’s warning to her still is a great quote. The young couple is kind of forgetable, but who can forget the jerky Karl Hardman as Harry Cooper and the he and his wife’s fate at the hands of his daughter. In an interesting side-note, the actress originally tapped for O’Dea’s role was Betty Aberlin, a friend of Romero’s who went on to fame as Lady Aberlin on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood).
Night of the Living Dead is an interesting movie and an interesting period piece. It is way ahead of its time and was much more accepted as people came to understand it. It never uses the word “zombie” and it really brought about the flesh & brain eating zombies that populate popular culture today. The movie is in the public domain and can be found in many formats and collections. It was remade in 1990 with big changes to the story and of course followed by Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985). An animated version of Night of the Living Dead was released in 2009 in which the original audio is used by multiple artists to retell the story through animation.
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