30 Day Horror Review – ZOMBIE FILM – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A group of people hide from bloodthirsty zombies in a farmhouse. (Surprisingly short IMDB synopsis)

The 30 Day thing is coming to a close! This is the final category – Zombie Films – and I had to include something directed by George A. Romero. So here’s the first in his series of Living Dead films. He’s supposed to have developed in his works what everybody thinks of as a zombie – the shuffling, moaning manifestations of the undead. I’ll give it a look and let you know what I make of it.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbra…!”

Review:

The film starts with Barbra and her brother Johnny, who have driven many, many miles to lay a wreath on their father’s grave. I could tell Johnny’s her brother because he starts teasing her in a British accent about this graveyard she’s so afraid of. But I have to wonder, if zombies aren’t yet a thing people talk about in this world, then what, exactly, are the things that are coming to get her? Ghosts? Bats? Vicious jackalopes?
Anyway, a guy who’s been shuffling around in the background suddenly attacks Johnny. Barbra escapes to a nearby house, leaving her brother behind, but fair enough, he WAS teasing her. Anyway, the place Barbra enters doesn’t have a working phone, and there’s a body upstairs, so she goes to run out of the house, but there’s more of those shuffling ne’er-do-wells outside. A dude called Ben helps her back inside, and he at least seems to know what he’s doing, but as you’d expect, this is only the beginning of their ordeal, blah blah blah, zombies zombies zombies.
Well, it looks like this film has a decent budget. I mean, OK, it’s in black and white so they can get away with using ham and chocolate syrup for most of the gore, but there’s also the scores of undead to be made up, the car explosions… it looks pretty well made. And near the beginning, I was pleased to see the clever use of Dutch angles as Barbra runs for her life, to indicate the fact that her whole world has just gone topsy turvy.
The zombies themselves are never referred to as such. Mostly the characters call them ‘those things’. They’re your typical, or should I say original slow-moving zombies, and they go around chomping on living people and (from the looks of things) converting their victims into zombies as well. Some of them look pretty ghastly, but others look like ordinary guys and gals – which makes sense, as they can’t have been dead for very long. It takes news reporters and scientists a while to work out what’s going on. First they describe it as a “sudden, general explosion of mass homocide”; next they tell people that “Murder victims show evidence of being partially devoured by their murderers”; and finally the word goes out that “The unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims”. I can imagine how terrified audiences must have been at the time. Zombies hadn’t really done this sort of thing before, and there certainly weren’t tens or hundreds of them spilling out onto the streets.
Actually, this 60’s film is revolutionary in many ways. Brief frontal nudity, matricide, cannibalism and cruel, violent death is shown – no wonder Reader’s Digest told people they’d be turned over to cannibalism if they watched it. And the main character is a black guy and it has nothing to do with the fact he’s a black guy. In fact, I think it was a bold move for the filmmakers to cast actor Duane Jones when racial tensions at the time still ran high. But Ben is a cool character, and the actor does a fine job. Really, that’s all that needs to be said. At the end, Ben is unfortunately shot dead by the reinforcements. Another one for the fire. I don’t know if they just haven’t checked he’s a zombie (similar to Jeff being shot on sight in Cabin Fever) or if there’s some kind of racial commentary going on. Either way, it made me yell ‘Noooooo!’ at the screen.
There are some other characters – the obnoxious guy who storms all over the place demanding to be heard; his wife who clearly doesn’t think of him as fondly as she did when they were first married; their daughter who’s been bitten by one of ‘those things’; a cautious young buck who just wants to protect his girlfriend; and of course, Barbra herself. I appreciate that at first, she helps Ben to board up the windows, which is more than Janette Scott’s character did in The Day of the Triffids, but the rest of the movie, she moves between hysteria and catatonia. Basically, she’s a bit useless. She even faints at one point. Oh, you women!
It’s funny… I know I like the film, but I don’t love it. The only part that really interested me was when Ben and Mr Cooper were arguing about whether to hole up in the basement or not. You know, the power struggle. Going off the few bits of zombie film and TV I’ve seen, power struggles are a bit of a recurring theme. After all, the will to survive at any cost does strange things to a person, and when everyone’s losing their head, there has to be a leader to take charge and make the right decisions. Good old Ben, standing up for himself. He makes a better leader than Mr Cooper because he doesn’t care so much about being right. He just wants to make sure everyone lives. AND THEY SHOT HIM, THOSE BASTARDS!

Final Verdict:

Worth looking at, for prosperity if nothing else. On paper, it’s an excellent film, but we’re at the end of the month now, and I feel very tired and slightly weak from lack of sunlight. (Oh great, now I’M going to turn into a zombie!) My attention honestly started to wane by the end – it’s not the movie’s fault, it’s just a bit slow by today’s standards. I’ll give the other two zombies films on the list a look, and then we’ll know where we are.

Rating:

6 ½ jam sandwiches.

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