As I sit here on this first Halloween evening of the third millenium, waiting for the first ghost, ghoul, goblin, or trick-or-treater to appear at my door, I feel compelled to share the tale of a film that has scared the living h3ll out of me more times than I care to remember…
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Filmed on a shoestring budget (reportedly $114,000) by first time independent film maker George Romero, Night of the Living Dead became a cult hit, spawned countless imitators, and became a staple of late night monsterfests for over thirty years.
The first time I saw this landmark film was on television, back in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, before the days of videotape. As a black and white movie in the early days of color TV it is a wonder I stayed tuned. As it turned out, I’m glad I did! It was the most original and frightening horror film I had ever seen. Viewers today may not recognize its originality due to the myriad copycats that have followed in its wake, but it was the first and arguably the best.
The story concerns a handful of people who find themselves under attack by an army of zombies – corpses who have risen from their graves. A young woman, Barbara, whose brother has been seized and killed by the zombies in the opening scene, takes refuge in a lonely farmhouse with a stranger, Ben. They eventually find five other persons in the house - a family of three and a young couple. Barbara is stunned and cowers inertly while Ben busily boards up the openings in the house. The zombies try to enter the house at every opportunity and the inhabitants vote to see where to hole up. The family opts for the basement while Ben stays upstairs with the inert Barbara. The young couple… no… you have to see it for yourself!
Throughout the night, the news media keeps up a steady flow of vague reports via radio and television. It seems like the entire world is overrun with zombies… This helps give Night of the Living Dead a realistic feel. Despite the fact that the news media does not know what is going on, they are never at a loss for words – something that will not be lost on viewers today!
The black and white photography, amateur camera work, and unknown actors only strengthen the impression that the unthinkable is actually happening! The strongest character, Ben (Duane Jones) is a welcome addition to the film. He gives the viewer someone to root for with his solid performance. Watch for the little girl. She also puts in a memorable performance. The rest of the cast is competent, but the zombies are unbelievably scary. The amateur acting helps strengthen the credibility of the film. The film’s ending will leave you stunned…
For a ‘60s horror film, Night of the Living Dead has a large amount of graphic violence, including eating of victims, realistic organs, plenty of blood (Bosco chocolate syrup), destructive blows, gunshots, stabbings, and burning of bodies.
Night of the Living Dead shows that it takes more than money to make a good film, it takes a director with vision, one like George Romero.
See this film!
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