Night Of The Living Dead
“They’re coming to get you, Barbra.” Are you familiar with this line? I am willing to bet that you have heard it somewhere before. It is the iconic line from George A. Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead.” This is the film that started it all. At least as far as the popularity of zombie films is concerned. The year was 1968 and movie audiences were about to be shocked in way that they never have before. You have to remember that this was a time when movie goers still could be shocked. It had been seven years since Hitchcock put audiences over the edge when he changed the face of Horror with “PSYCHO” and the poor, unsuspecting people had no idea what they were in for when they sat down to view Romero’s new opus. Especially, the children. The film was released on October 1st of 1968 and did not receive an MPAA rating until November so all the time in between there were no restrictions as to whom could purchase tickets. This caused outrage as this film would continue to do for several years due to its over the top graphic violence
The film opens with siblings Barbra (O’Dea) and Johnny (Streiner) driving to a cemetery in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania to visit their father’s grave. Johnny is teasing Barbra as he knows that she is afraid of cemeteries. As Barbra is trying to brush off Johnny’s taunts she is attacked by what at first appeared to be an old man wandering in the cemetery. Wrong. We have just seen our first zombie. Attempting to rescue Barbra, Johnny is killed by the zombie forcing Barbra to run for her life. Arriving at a house seeking refuge, she encounters Ben (Jones) as he pulls up in a pickup truck and drags her inside the house while several other members of the undead are closing in on them. Meanwhile, hiding in the cellar are an angry married couple, Harry (Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Eastman), their daughter Karen (Schon), and teenage couple Tom (Wayne) and Judy (Ridley). All end up working together to board up the house as it is coming under attack by hundreds of zombies wanting to get in and devour the living inhabitants. Survival and possible escape is now the main focus of the people trapped within the house.
“Night Of The Living Dead” was one of, if not the first, films to cast a Black actor in a lead role. Casting Jones as the hero was, in 1968, potentially controversial. At that time, it was not typical for an African American man to be the hero of a film when the rest of the cast was composed entirely of Caucasian actors and actresses. Social commentators saw that casting as significant; on the other hand, Romero said that Jones “simply gave the best audition.” Due to low budget, “Living Dead” was filmed on 35mm black and white film allowing Romero to use chocolate syrup as blood much like Hitchcock had done previously in “PSYCHO.” Upon its initial release, critical response was very negative towards the film. This level of violence and gore had not been experienced by most people and was referred to as pornography and Variety Magazine referred to it as an “Orgy of Sadism.” It goes without saying that Romero reached the level of shock and awe that he was hoping for. After all was said and done, years later, despite its initial criticism for its explicit content, “NOTLD” eventually received critical acclaim and was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
This is one of my favorite Horror films of all time. (Hence the Review) Despite its age, the effects and images still hold up today and have the ability to deliver that shock value that today’s audiences crave from a good Horror film. It may move a little slower than the films of today but it delivers acting performances that keep you involved and the gory payoffs make it all worth it. If I am home on a quiet rainy afternoon, this is often my “go to” film. Truth be told a film becomes considered a classic for a reason. This film helped to define the silver age of Horror and is worth a screening by anyone that has appreciation for the genre.