Night of the Living Dead
George A. Romero
Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea
10 out of 10 brains
Reviewing George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 2013 presents a difficult challenge, especially for an avowed zombie movie fanatic. Despite its flaws, nothing short of a perfect score suffices, not only because Night of the Living Dead laid the foundation for our favorite horror movie sub-genre, but for its influence on filmmaking generally.
The film opens with a brother and sister visiting their father’s grave. A shambling man soon kills the brother in broad daylight, and his sister, Barbara, fighting bouts of hysteria, flees to a nearby farmhouse. The movie then examines the actions and interactions of a group of survivors holed up in this farmhouse, trying to survive the siege of a growing zombie horde. The hero, a black man named Ben, tries to rally the survivors, engaging in various failed attempts to subdue their attackers and conquer their fears. It all culminates in one of the greatest horror movie endings, a must-see for any fan of the genre.
Despite having to rely on a miniscule budget of $114,000, and an inexperienced cast, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead holds up remarkably well 45 years after its original release. The modern audience must forgive the inclusion of many horror movie clichés, as they could not have been considered clichés in 1968: Night introduced many genre conventions; some revered and imitated, others now mocked as “clichéd” or “campy.”
In spite of a low budget and some moments of unintentional humor, Night of the Living Dead conveys a sense of dread, unmatched by few movies released since. Scenes displaying a young child-zombie stabbing her mother to death or zombies slowly devouring human entrails create just as much discomfort and unease today as they did nearly half a century ago.
In addition to subverting contemporary genre conventions and establishing a new benchmark for horror movies, George A. Romero deftly navigates themes of racism, sexism, and other societal ills without providing any direct dialogue or commentary on such topics. With Night of the Living Dead, Romero gave license to future horror movie creators to include important and relevant political and social themes, allowing the genre to transcend original goals of silly frights and cheap scares.
Overall, Night of the Living Dead is a wonderful piece of filmmaking history, serving as the impetus for the zombie movie genre. Any fan of the modern depiction of the zombie owes a debt of gratitude to George A. Romero and should watch and re-watch not only Night of the Living Dead, but the remaining catalog of Romero’s films.