I’ve already covered zombies, with Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, but I felt it only right to go all the way back to the film that started it all, the film that changed the very meaning of the term “Zombie” and gave us all a genre of horror movie that remains popular even to this day.
I’m talking of course about George A. Romero’s 1968 masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead
Year Released: 1968
Written By: George A. Romero, John A. Russo
Directed By: George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea
Poor Barbara. When she and her brother Johnny go to visit their father’s grave, Barbara feels a sense of unease while traveling through the cemetery. Johnny makes light of this, poking fun at her by saying “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” But Johnny’s words will serve, not only as a warning of things to come, but also as some of the last words Johnny will ever be alive to say.
A man of pale complexion in a disheveled suit shambles toward them and attempts to bite them. Johnny valiantly tries to save his sister from the overpowering creature, but dies in the process. Barbara flees the horrible scene she has just witnessed and takes refuge in a nearby farm house. It is at this farm house where she meets a small group of people fighting back against the reanimated corpses outside, it is at this farm house where everything will change forever. Not just for Barbara, but indeed, for the world.
What can you say about this movie that has not already been said? It changed the way we talk about zombies forever. Prior to this film being made, the definition of zombie was steeped more in voodoo lore than the realm of reanimated corpses hungering for human flesh.
When all is said and done, this is still a 1960s horror film, and due to that fact the acting is less than stellar. In the case of the two leads, Duane Jones (Ben) and Judith O’Dea (Barbara), however, I feel the acting still holds up fairly well.
The creature effects are lacking, in terms of blood and gore, as this was made before blood and gore on film was even done, let alone as commonplace as it is today.
The revelation that there is something very, very wrong happens right away, with the attack at the cemetery, and allows the suspense to build throughout the rest film. The tone of the film is full of fear and dread and uncertainty as the characters clearly have no idea what is going on around them, nor how far it reaches or when –or if– it will end.
The character of Ben, portrayed very well by actor Duane Jones, holds the distinction of being the first African American character in film to be shown as a strong and cool-headed leader in a cast of mostly white actors. This was a controversial decision in 1968, but one that paved the way for more of the same in later films.
Should You See It:
Absolutely. Even if you’re not a huge zombie fan, you should still see where the whole thing started.