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Movie Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

February 1, 2011 5 comments

Black and white images of horror.Summary:
Dead bodies start inexplicably returning to life.  The horde slowly bears down on an old farmhouse full of a random group of survivors.  The night wears on, and eventually only one person is left.

Review:
George Romero’s classic is essentially what jump-started the cult fascination with zombies.  It established a lot of the unofficial rules for zombies–you have to destroy their brain to destroy them, they’re slow moving, etc…  I guess its status as a zombie classic left me with certain expectations.  Some were met; others were not.

It is filmed in black and white and makes excellent use of shadows.  The soundtrack is exactly what is to be expected from an old horror movie, and honestly some modern horror movies could learn a thing or two from it.  The collection of a bunch of strangers in one house to fight off the hoarde is now considered to be a trope, but it was interesting to see the collection of characters assembled by George Romero.  There’s the terrified woman, the cowardly man, the brave intelligent man, the brave man who’s a follower, and the person who’s been bitten.  The decade certainly shows in the characterization as none of the women are the kick-ass female character we’ve come to expect in modern times.  That was a bit disappointing.

I was completely shocked to see that the role of the last survivor went to a black actor.  This was incredibly progressive for the 1960s, and he was truly there as a man who just happened to be black, not the requisite black guy.  It was refreshing and pleasant to see, particularly in such an old movie.  ‘The zombies though, just didn’t look like zombies.  They were rather gaunt, but none of the decay or general zombie-look we’re used to in modern movies was present.  Also, when they say slow-moving, they mean slow-moving.  I’m pretty sure the actors were mostly moving in place for a lot of the shots.  That was a bit too slow-moving for my taste.  Another interesting factoid, the word “zombie” is never used once in the movie.  The dead.  The living dead.  The arisen dead.  But not zombie.

By far the most frightening scene and one that is repeated in zombie movies to this day is when the arms reach through the boarded windows at the people inside attempting to hold the boards on.  The clawing hands and moans of the undead sent shivers down my spine.  The movie is worth viewing for that scene alone.

Overall, viewing this classic it is understandable why it came to be one.  Although certain aspects of zombies have been improved upon with time, the ground-work is evident here.  I highly recommend this film to any fans of the horror genre or those interested in the presence of 1960s culture and mores in film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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