Enjoy Halloween with Mildred
VERY SPECIAL Zombie World Tour post
Night of the Living Dead
According to Wikipedia, there have been four million, nine hundred and seventy eight thousand, six hundred and five words written about George Romero’s groundbreaking film Night of the Living Dead. That may be a little high, I’ll have to Google it.
One person whose career took off after writing a review of the film had this to say in 1969:
“There were maybe two dozen people in the audience who were over 16 years old. The rest were kids, the kind you expect at a Saturday afternoon kiddie matinee. This was in a typical neighborhood theater, and the kids started filing in 15 minutes early to get good seats up front. The name of the movie was “The Night of the Living Dead.”
I went to see it because it’s been a long time since I saw my last horror movie. I vaguely remember some stuff from the 1950s, like “Creature from the Black Lagoon” or “Attack of the Crab Monsters.” They were usually lousy, but it was fun to see them.
But that was 10 years ago. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about violence in the movies…
At this point, the mood of the audience seemed to change. Horror movies were fun, sure, but this was pretty strong stuff….
End of movie.
The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying. I don’t think the younger kids really knew what hit them.”
I remember reading the condensed version of Roger Ebert’s review in Reader’s Digest and being frightened just from the words. No way I ever wanted to subject myself to seeing it. I have a cousin who thought it would be hi-LARious to take me to Return of Dracula (yeah, the one with the throat cutting scene) when I was four and it scarred me. I related to Ebert’s dismay of extreme violence on the big screen. This was the sixties, folks, and the subsequent public outcry (that of course helped sell tickets) was real.
Having obviously overcome that fear enough to become the Zombie Maven of Chick Flicking Reviews*, of course I have to write about the most venerable, iconic, beloved, OFTEN DISCUSSED zombie film of all time, right? No pressure.
If you have not seen this movie, you should. Begin with the trailer, which is a laugh riot. Yes, it is a fuzzy black and white, the acting is somewhat amateurish, and there is no stereo sound. Get over it. You can find it in any horror movie collection DVD, or free on-line, or at a more enlightened friend’s house. Be sure the room is dark, there are no interruptions, and for goodness sake DON’T have food. Seriously. You’ll thank me.
NotLD was filmed on the most extreme of shoestring budgets by a bunch of people who were used to making industrial films and advertisements and this shows in the overall style and feel. In one of the most agonizing mistakes of modern film history, there was a snafu with the copyright of the film, and Romero ended up not owning it. As a result, there are about six bazillion versions on VHS and DVD, running the gamut from too-dark-to-see to sharp-and-glitzy. My favorite is the Elite Entertainment’s Millennium Edition, mostly because it’s cheap but more importantly there’s a nice Romero commentary.
The story begins with a brother and sister leaving flowers on a grave. Within a few minutes you will hear the most quoted horror movie line EVER, and then the fun starts. (A while later you will hear the SECOND most quoted horror movie line ever.) All of the by now well-worn tropes of zombie movies began with this film. There are a group of people. They’re confused and frightened by the ghastly reanimation of dead people who try their darndest to feast on living human flesh. They try to survive trapped in an enclosed space (typically a farmhouse). Information trickles in via social media. The slow and dimwitted zombies are not called zombies. There are many gruesome deaths and re-deaths. Perhaps most importantly, there is A Socially Relevant Message. This is one of the things that sets NotLD apart from previous horror movies, and one of the things that make this movie great.
A lot has been made of the leading man being African American, and if you read up on NotLD you will notice conflicting theories about the statement Romero was making there. He says there was no conscious effort to make a statement using a black actor, and legions of fans will argue there WAS a statement and each one will have a slightly different take on what that statement was. Personally, I don’t care what Romero says on the matter, it was and remains a huge deal that he cast Duane Jones in the lead and even if he didn’t mean to, he did create a discernible difference in American culture, beyond changing how people make and understand horror movies.
Romero went on to make five more “Dead” movies, with varying degrees of success. He had more money and access to better tools but most fans, myself included, consider this his finest film and I am grateful he made it.
- George Romero – IMDB
- Night of the Living Dead (1968) – IMDB
- Night of the Living Dead (1990) – IMDB
- Roger Ebert on 1968 Audience Reaction
- Roger Ebert Review on 1990 Movie
- Night of the Living Dead (film series) – Wikpedia
- Return of Dracula (1958)
*’Tis true she really is. And we LOVE her for it! -CFR
I think that Romero _not_ casting Jones in the lead as a statement was a pretty good statement in and of itself.