Released: October 1st 1968
Directed By: George A.Romero
Starring: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones
Reviewed By: George Nash
Produced on a mere budget of $114,000, you wouldn’t be alone in approaching Night of the Living Dead with a degree of scepticism. But refrain from damning it to a cheap, B-Movie grave just yet folks! George A. Romero’s independent feature is arguably one of the most important and influential horror films ever made.
Admittedly, Night of the Living Dead may infect first time viewers with a sense of the ‘seen it all before’ and appear disappointing to those who have grown up on the subsequent zombie franchises, countless sequels and clichéd genre conventions. But prior to the numerous (insert any word here) Of The Deads of the modern era, Night of the Living Dead truly is landmark of horror cinema.
The film follows a group of everyday simpletons, including Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Ben (Duane Jones), who, after a returning probe fills earth’s atmosphere with radiation, find themselves fighting for survival in a rural Pennsylvanian farmhouse under siege by the living dead. Their solitary hope for salvation comes in the form of a posse of armed red-necks intent on restoring social order. Simple enough plot, right? But this is a story about so much more than it appears. We soon see order and rationality break down within the confinements of the farmhouse and it rapidly becomes apparent that nowhere and indeed no one is truly safe. It is the grainy black and white, anti-Hollywood components and growing negativity that will certainly eat away at you long after the credits have finished rolling.
Perhaps for financial restraints, the film is restricted in the amount of grotesque explicitness on show compared to its successors. So if you’re expecting gallons of the red stuff, the movie will ultimately fall short. Yet there remain scenes of genuine discomfort (cue a zombified girl attacking her own family). But it is Romero – now considered one of the fathers of the genre – and his co writer John A. Russo who are the film’s most radical feature serving up a bitter dish of flesh eating zombies, questions of humanity and a pinch of Vietnam hysteria. And in the most unsweetened fashion imaginable, they deliver the film’s most profound and most terrifying aspect in one of the bleakest endings to ever grace cinema.
Despite a continued success and popularity among avid fans of horror, Night of the Living Dead remains perhaps Romero’s finest and most influential work through the films ability to combine the fictitious with the very real. Beneath its fleshy exterior, there lies at the films core an underlying social commentary of contextual America that continues to shock audiences. Quite simply, Night of the Living Dead just refuses to lie down and die. The original and best.
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