Pop Junk’s 31 Days of Halloween: #2 Night of the Living Dead

In 1968 little known Director George A Romero would write and direct a little known horror flick about the terror of human cannibals and the dead reanimated and returning to life in order to roam the earth for living flesh to eat.  This premise seemed odd enough to work in the hay day of 50’s and 60’s sci-fi and horror but little did anyone know how revolutionary and ground breaking this film would be.

The film begins with Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny reluctantly visiting their dead mother graveside at a Pennsylvania  cemetery.  They pout and whine as Johnny teases Barbara using what would go on to be a very famous line in horror and cinema “They’re coming to get you Barbara”  Then seemingly out of nowhere a reanimated corpse (known to most but never said a loud) a zombie attacks them and kills Johnny in the process. Barbara flees to an isolated farmhouse where a group of people are already holed up, most notable is level headed Ben (Duane Jones).  Bickering and panic ensue as the group tries to figure out how best to escape, while hoards of undead converge on the house; news reports reveal that fire wards them off, while a local sheriff-led posse discovers that if you “kill the brain, you kill the ghoul.” Through the night the group fights flesh eating zombies and themselves until there is one last remaining survivor.

There’s so much to cover with this flick and condensing it down won’t do it justice but here goes.  First I want to mention that casting of African-American actor Duane Jones in a lead role in 1968 was unheard of and yet so perfect for this movie.  Among the horror this becomes a character study and what Romero really thinks of society and the way we treat each other.  Casting Duane Jones really tapped into the vein of the 1960’s with equal rights being center stage and Romero said his piece on the matter with this move.  This also just helps create a general tension between Ben and the asshole of the group Harry Cooper.  Half way through the movie you forget there’s a zombie apocalypse going on outside and you just become riveted by these two characters and their general disinterest for one another.   

Romero’s use of natural locations and grainy black and white gave his gore fest a very organic and almost documentary feel and tone.  Along with that this flick is set randomly in the middle of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania; this was Middle America at war, and the zombie carnage seemed a grotesque echo of the conflict then raging in Vietnam.  On top of those messages I think the ending to this movie is an all timer.  I’ve stated on this countdown that I love Dawn of the Dead, but it’s in the endings that makes Night of the Living Dead shine over it’s sequel.  It’s absolutely stunning to see a main character survivor a total nightmare of a situation only to be killed in the very last frame by an idiot  mistakenly. (maybe!?)

Not being a child of the 60’s I never really truly appreciated this movie until I was older because as a kid this movie didn’t scare me.  Oddly enough now it does because Romero brilliantly highlights that it’s not the monsters lurking outside that we should be afraid of, it’s each other. Ghost and goblins aren’t real and shouldn’t scare you, it’s what people will do to each other in the face of fear is what is truly terrifying.

For myself this flick is a requirement around Halloween and zombie lovers around the world can’t deny a tip of the cap to the first and the original zombie flick.  Night of the Living Dead ushered Zombies into pop culture lore and today pretty much uprooting Dracula as everyone’s favorite horror menace.  In closing I do find it funny that while I finish this review on the night before Halloween I rush the ending so I can start the newest episode of “The Walking Dead’ realizing revolutionary this film was. 

 

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~ by ATOM on October 30, 2011.

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