NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

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Night of the Living Dead The Criterion Collection are re-releasing the 1968 George A Romero horror classic, 'Night of the Living Dead'. Its 96 minutes long and has been digitally remastered, plus it comes with supplementary bonus material which includes interviews, tv spots, trailers, bios, featurettes, and two distinct director's commentaries. Want to know more? Then please check this out.


Night of the Living Dead (The Criterion Collection)


THE STORY:
Don’t cry, Barbra (Judith O'Dea). Please don’t cry. I know you’re scared because I’m scared too. But please, try to keep calm, relax, and do your best to ignore whatever’s going on outside. Come on, I know you can do it! Block-out any thoughts you might have about your dead brother or that grotesque ghoul who killed him, without even acknowledging his army of followers who chased us all the way here, to this old abandoned farmhouse situated in the middle of nowhere. 

Can you do that for me, Barbra? Can you push these thoughts to the back of your mind? If so, then get up, grab a pile of wood, and help me fortify this antiquated abode. After all, there are at least twelve of these poisonous people camped nearby, maybe more, and even though they’re slow, mute, and scared of fire, they’re very persistent and want to get in here to rip us apart. 

But then again, that’s most probably why what next transpires murmurs and moans when Harry (Karl Hardman) suddenly pops up and says to me, ‘Hey, Ben (Duane Jones)! What are you two doing? There’s four more of us downstairs hiding in the basement. Want to come join us?’. As a group of stranger's get acquainted - a TV show keeps us updated - victims and killers catch alight - and at the end of the day, the National Guard are completely out of sight.




THE REVIEW:
When I first told my friend Meagan that I was going to review this 1968 George A Romero horror classic, she said to me, ‘What for? That film is totally overrated! All it is, is your bog standard zombie flick where a group of people hide away in a rusty old cabin from an army of zombies’. ‘Precisely’, I quickly replied, ‘But more importantly than that, it also set the standard for every single zombie film that’s followed in its footsteps’. 

Night of the Living Dead
Now the main reason why I said this is because I like to think that on a certain level we’re both partly right. Meagan’s right because ‘Night of the Living Dead’ does come across as a fairly conventional film for its genre, standard even. Whereas I like to think I'm right because I agree with what she’s said, although I do acknowledge some other factors which aren’t immediately apparent.

After all, this film is a fairly two-dimensional film, as it assembles a cast of no-name two-dimensional characters interacting with a very lucid two-dimensional story-line. On top of that, due to its low budget, it doesn’t take much to notice its flaws, such as a couple of dodgy camera moves, jump-cuts, and screen misdirections. That said, however, if you are willing to overlook these errors, I like to think that the opposite is also true, especially if you take into consideration how it was made as well as the films socio-political commentary. 

Now where the editing is concerned you might like to know that it was masterfully put together by using techniques we now find in television commercials. It isn’t initially apparent, mind you, but upon closer inspection, I’m sure you can make out that a quick-cut will take place as soon as an action occurs and the actor exits the frame. Not the scene, the frame, and this gives the overall impression that there’s an actual flow of continuity within that particular segment. Here, check out the following clip to see what I mean...




In regards to the films socio-political commentary, well, try to think of it as a drunk Auntie who has a grudge against her intoxicated husband. She wants to say something to him but she doesn’t want to do it directly. So what she does instead is imply what she wants to say by asking a series of indirect questions. Questions such as: (1) Why are people racist? (2) How come some couples can’t communicate properly? And (3) What will happen to us once the nuclear bomb has dropped? Which, in many ways, perfectly sums up this adventure and why people are so attracted to it! What will happen at the end of days? Why are people so cruel to each other? And most importantly of them all, what’s worse? Man's hatred of man or man's hatred for themselves? Keeping in mind that this is a survival movie where no one survives except for those people in charge or behind the scenes! Come to think of it, what does it also say about society’s relationship with the media? Should we believe everything they tell us or should we just presume the more confident character is always correct? No. No we shouldn’t. But then again, who should we trust? Only ourselves? Our family? Our friends? Or someone completely different? Like the living dead! 

Night of the Living Dead
Anyway, that’s enough of that for now. So for the time being let us have a break by checking out the following filmic facts: (1) This low budget flick was first released in Pittsburgh on the exact same day the Guyanese government took over the BGBS, AKA the British Guiana Broadcasting Service. It was on the 1st of October, 1968. (2) During pre-production this movie had three different working-titles: 'Monster Flick', 'Night of Anubis', as well as 'Night of the Flesh Eaters'. As a matter of fact, when it was first released, 'Night of the Flesh Eaters' became its official title, until it was changed because another film also had the words 'Flesh Eaters' in its title. (3) The majority of this movie was shot on location throughout the American state of Pennsylvania. This includes Pittsburgh, Zelienople, Butler County, Evans City Cemetery, plus Carson Street, South Side, and Ash Stop Road, without forgetting that a couple of shots were recorded at Karl Hardman's TV Studio, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, 'If it doesn't scare you, you're already dead!'.  (5) According to George A Romero, he was partly inspired to create this flick after watching the 1964 Vincent Price classic, 'The Last Man on Earth', which was loosely based on the book written by Richard Matheson entitled, 'I am Legend'. The only thing George did differently though, was to tell his story from the beginning of the plague instead of how it ended. (6) If you listen very carefully you'll notice that nobody uses the term 'zombie' in this movie, more often than not the 'walking dead' are referred to as 'ghouls' or 'the dead brought back to life'. The main reason for this is because George Romero didn't think of them as zombies. To him, this was the name given to Haitian witchcraft where a magical being controls the living with the use of potions and such. (7) Another 'happy accident' associated with this film has to do with its casting. Originally the part of Ben was written for a white man, but eventually the filmmakers cast a black man for this role, Duane Jones, simply because he was the best actor to have auditioned for them. (8) After this adventure groaned at a goon, Duane Jones starred in the 1972 fantasy film, 'Ganja & Hess'; Judith O'Dea starred in the 1978 TV movie, 'The Pirate'; and Karl Hardman starred in the 1996 z-list horror flick, 'Santa Claws'.


Night of the Living Dead


In closing, I would just like to acknowledge something else I really enjoyed about ‘Night of the Living Dead’. It's simplicity. I really enjoyed its simplicity, saying so because it set up a pretty straightforward premise and got us to care about a cast of pretty straightforward characters. Well, one of them was a man of action, while another was the damsel in distress. Then we got the high school jock, the sexy blonde chick, the old school coward, the maternal mum, and of course, the kid, suffering from an off-screen injury. More or less every single one of these character's are archetypical by nature and we can associate with them without needing an additional backstory. 

Along similar lines, I can say exactly the same thing about those ‘televised inserts'.  Not only because most people watch TV, but on top of that, there’s a good chance we’d be doing the same thing if we were also locked away in an old house hiding from troubles. What’s more, these televised scenes nicely broke up the narrative and conveyed a great deal of exposition in a very associative and charming manner. Come to think of it, that’s the perfect word to sum up this horror classic. It's charming, and well worth the watch.

RATING: B

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