Tuesday, February 16, 2010

FILMS I LOVE - Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

If you can watch "Night of The Living Dead" on an old, 10" black and white television, huddled under a tent made from your own bedding, I'd highly recommend you do so. The more intimate the viewing, the better.  In fact, I believe it to be one of those rare horror films that doesn't necessarily benefit from audience participation.  It wants to scare you in a much deeper, more personal manner.

The story is simple:  A young man and woman, brother and sister, stop by a cemetary to pay respects.  It is eerily quiet.  There are no other mourners (Sometimes a small budget can be a blessing in desguise.).  As the young man teases his obviously frightened sister with the imortal line, "They're coming to get you Barbara", a shabbily dressed man approaches and attacks her.  Her brother is killed in the scuffle, forcing her to retreat to a nearby farmhouse where she encounters a small group of characters with similar stories.  After discovering a television, not unlike the ideal one I mentioned earlier, they learn from the local news that the recently deceased are "returning to life and devouring the flesh of their victims".  It 's pretty grim stuff, and having grown up on the camp of "Channel 20's Thriller Double Feature", I was ill prepared for the loss of humanity "Night of The Living Dead" portrayed.  It shook me.  Normal people reduced to mindless, souless killing machines.  We were the monsters here, our friends and family. 

What's equally interesting about the film is the manner in which it develops it's story.  For all intents and purposes, "Night" starts off as a pretty fun, campy affair.  Its zombies are stiff and clumsy.  It's easy to find them amusing and for the most part all the characters can do is watch helplessly as more and more of the ghouls shamble towards the farm house.  But there's one particular scene near the middle of the film where director George Romero signals the fun's over.  It's shortly after a failed escape attempt has left a young couple dead in their pick up truck after it had burst into flames.  As the flames die down the ghouls slowly approach and begin tearing at the charred bodies, devouring them part by part, organ by organ.  It's a long sequence and it's filmed by an unflinching camera.  Roger Ebert described this transition in his review, stating that the film had gone from being "delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying".

Some argue (and justly so) that the films sequel, "Dawn of The Dead" is the superior film.  And while it's story is larger in scope, it's social commentary more deliberate and it's SFX vastly improved, it's hard for me to agree that "Dawn" is the scarier film.  There's something about it's predicessor that just stuck with me.  Perhaps it's a scene near the end where a mother is killed by her own daughter with a trowel?  Yeah, that'll do it.



  1. What about Night of the Living Dead 3D with Sid Haig?

    Good review, Kevin, though I agree that "Night" is the scarier, more atmospheric film, I love "Dawn" more. Gotta give "Day" some love too.

  2. What ABOUT Night of the Living Dead 3D with Sid Haig?

    I think it's the childhood attachment that pushes "Night" ahead of "Dawn" for me. "Dawn"'s clearly the better film, but I find myself revisiting "Night" far more often.

    As for "Day", I'd argue that it's the least of the bunch, including "Land". It's just a bit too over the top for my liking. Not that I'd mind sitting down with it again. I think I've made it quite clear my standards are lowered by the presence of zombies! I did sit through "Undead" after all....

  3. Any interest in checking out "The Crazies" when it comes out?

  4. If it's got zombies, I'll give it a shot. I'm there. How about this weekend?