Saturday, September 5, 2009

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead; horror, USA, 1968; D: George A. Romero, S: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman

One evening, girl Barbara and her brother Johnny go to the cemetery to visit the grave of their father. But there they are attacked by a zombie who kills Johnny. She runs away and hides in a house in the valley. There she meets the African American Ben who just ran away from a real zombie army. On a television, the reporters announce how zombies attacked the whole country and that the reason may lie in the radiation of a defect satellite, as well as that they can only be killed with a shot in the head. The owners of the house, Mr. Cooper and his family, as well as Barbara, are killed by zombies. In the morning, only Ben stays alive. But he is shot by the police who mistake him for a zombie.

Unusual camp horror "Night of the Living Dead", that was shot for only 144,000 $ but grossed over 20 million $ at the box office, was heavily disputed during its premiere yet achieved cult status with time and inspired a whole series of zombie films. The sole story about zombies admittedly falls under the unappreciated horror genre and does not seem like a high concept, but a sole topic or high concept do not constitute a film alone. Director George A. Romero wasted his career later on with cheap sequels, but here he has a sense for the creepy, already manifesting a relaxed tone and opulent mood in the ironic exposition on the cemetery, deepening it with unusual camera angles, while it only starts to wear off towards the overstretched finale. The messages of the film underwent various interpretations: some saw the zombies as an allegory for people who are so inhibited by an ideology (Communism, religious or ethnic fundamentalism...) that they become soulless, mindless killers (on Television they are even described at first as a "sect that is committing mass murders") while others deciphered it for consumeric, bankrupt society that is destroying itself. One thing though, and the ending underlies that specifically, is an obvious symbol, namely that the "monsters", the zombies, look almost like "us", and seem like a mass agitated. They are evil, but they also show at the end how quickly the "good" can become evil too when faced with the same situation.



cinemarchaeologist said...

I think NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is maybe the greatest horror movie ever made, and one of the greatest movies made, period. It, along with its sequels, collectively offer one of the bleakest looks at humanity ever committed to film. The dead don't destroy the living in those movies--the living destroy one another, because of their selfishness, their stupidity, their greed, shortsightedness, and general unwillingness to get along. They're an inexhaustibly rich vein of study and commentary.

Romero didn't waste his career, though. There are a few duds in his filmography (THE DARK HALF), some entertaining-if-not-particularly-great spook-shows (CREEPSHOW), but no one who says in the biz as long as he has can claim a pound free of pooches. Romero made a string of great movies over the years--THE CRAZIES, KNIGHTRIDERS, MARTIN--and even his living dead sequels are, for the most part, great to good. The first, DAWN OF THE DEAD, is arguably as good as or even better than NIGHT, and while DAY OF THE DEAD and LAND OF THE DEAD clearly fall several rungs short of the earlier efforts, they're still well worth a look, and DIARY OF THE DEAD, his most recent (until the release, later this year, of SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD), was his best film in over 20 years.

Marin Mandir said...

Wow, that's a fantastic look at it. You really managed to analyze and figure the hidden messages in the story.

For such a 'spontaneous' small budget film, they managed to really make the best out of it. I wouldn't call it "the greatest" horror movie ever made, but it's definitely one of the best ones of the 60s.