Friday, 4 January 2013

Review - Night of the Living Dead (1968 - Dir. George A. Romero)

Let's kick off this (stupidly long) season with the film that started the whole sub-genre. I know there were zombie films before this, but Romero defined zombies as the flesh-eating shamblers that we all know and love. Credit where credit's due.

Okay. It's incredibly influential. It's got a smidgen of social commentary in there. It has a black protagonist, and the fact that he's black is not commented on (remember this was made in 1968). But is it any good now?

Yes. I can happily say that it is still a good film. The first act is my personal favourite as it is actually proper scary. There is something incredibly unnerving about a relatively make-up free zombie trying to smash his way into a car with a rock. He is fairly slow moving but there is a strong urgency to his actions. You can easily imagine that he has very recently died and now he wants some flesh. 

The first part of the film also has the strongest sense of being real. We see Barbra (Judith O'Dea) get attacked with her brother in the cemetery. But then, after she has sought refuge in a local farmhouse, she recounts the whole incident to Ben (Duane Jones). This just wouldn't happen in films now. Show you something. Then tell you about it. However, this technique enhances the realism of the film greatly. The cinéma vérité style bolsters this feeling even more. Add to that the grainy black and white film it was shot on and you've got a huge great realistic cake with realism sprinkles on top.

This is a blessing and a rating-lowering curse. The first part is so convincing that when some new characters are introduced in the farmhouse, and their acting is not up to scratch, it all starts to look worryingly amateurish. Which it is. But it spoils the feeling of watching a documentary that has recently been unearthed. It starts to pick up again when many of these Mary's dads have been killed.

At least the zombies get to do a bit of munching. Compared to the zombie antics in more recent films - the shark eating zombie in Zombie Flesh Eaters perhaps - these are positively polite. You could take them home to have tea with your gran. Granted they eat some barbecued humans, including entrails, but at least they wipe their mouths with a napkin afterwards and ask if they can leave the table. Possibly.

The ending is fairly bleak and the assassination of Martin Luther King (1968) added further poignancy. It finishes with some quality news reel type footage of a sheriff going about the business of containing the zombie menace. Shoot them in the head. Didn't work though did it...

(Average score for the season so far = 7)

If you like this you could also try:
The Plague of the Zombies, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead.


  1. Something tells me it was a little more powerful and impactful in 1968. As you say, since then, the zombie idea has been copied countless times.

    If you want to read my review:

    1. Yeah in 1968 this will have been really hard to stomach. Current zombie films with their emphasis on the special effects have made this seem rather quaint.

      From reading your review I think the political subtext would have been more obvious at the time. Whereas the subtext of Dawn of the Dead is still very relevant today.

  2. This is the granddaddy of all modern Zombie films. It's hard to imagine nowadays the this film was the ne plus ultra of gore. All zombie films after this need to bow down to the greatness of Romero and company.

    I actually tried to talk my Mom into going to the auditions for this film-filmed in Evan City PA, about 15 miles to where my family was living at the time. Oh well...I could have been a zombie extra in a Romero film...that's a dream for all Pittsburgh area wannabe actors!

  3. Without this we wouldn't have been blessed with such varied delights as The Beyond, Braindead and Nightmare City. (Okay we could maybe live without the last one.)

    That's a real shame about you not being a zombie. Couldn't you have tried again when he filmed Dawn of the Dead?