There is panic throughout the nation as the dead suddenly come back to life. The film follows a group of characters who barricade themselves in an old farmhouse in an attempt to remain safe from these bloodthirsty, flesh-eating monsters.
Let's take a trip back in time before getting down to business with this review, shall we? The year is 1968, and the term "zombie film" hasn't caught on yet. Sure, there are people who have heard the word "zombie" before (after all, these things have been a staple of voodoo for centuries), but at this point in time, nobody thought of a zombie as a flesh-eating reanimated corpse. Enter George Romero and his debut film, a film which terrorized audiences and single-handedly revolutionized the horror genre as we know it.
Fast forward to 1969, and we find ourselves in a time where everyone and their mother knows what a zombie film is - everyone knows about the slow, methodical shuffle, everyone knows that zombies hunger for human flesh, and everyone knows that destroying the brain is the only way to take one of them down. Countless imitators would soon follow, and over the course of just a couple of years, an entire new subgenre of horror was born. How many films have done this since the beginning of film? Not very many, that's for damned sure.
We begin this monumental film with a brother and sister pair consisting of Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O'Dea), two young folks who have set out to lay a wreath on their father's grave. There, they quickly discover that bizarre things are afoot when a strange, shambling man attacks them and kills poor Johnny. Barbra is able to escape, however, and she quickly finds herself in a modest farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, and there, she soon meets fellow survivor Ben (Duane Jones). The two realize that it is in their best interest to quickly put up some sort of barricade between themselves and the ever-growing group of "crazies" outside, and as news reports trickle in through the radio, the two discover that those people banging on the windows and doors are not insane or deranged... they're dead, and they want to dine on human flesh.
After spending some time barricading themselves inside the house and discussing their current situation with one another, our heroes come to another realization: there are five people hiding in the basement, people who thought that locking themselves down there would be a better idea than boarding up the place and looking for a way to get to one of the nearby rescue stations. These people - Harry (Karl Hardman), his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman), and their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon) as well as teen lovers Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) - have differing opinions on what to do over the course of the night, but Harry is particularly outspoken and insists that everyone should lock themselves down in the basement; after all, there's only one way to get down there, and they could easily barricade that up. Ben insists that the basement is a deathtrap, and the two butt heads on more than one occasion over what the group should do. As the number of zombies outside grows larger and the tension inside grows thicker, our merry band of travelers realize that the zombies may not be the most dangerous thing out in this neck of the woods.
Again, this is the film that basically created the zombie genre as we know it today. Think about that for just a second: everything that you know about zombies in cinema comes from this film. Can anyone say the same thing about any other genre that exists today? This was a once in a lifetime occurrence, and I haven't seen this sort of thing happen since then and I don't expect it to happen again anytime soon. We're quickly approaching the fortieth anniversary of the film's theatrical debut, and the things that Romero did in this film are still being emulated today. That alone should speak volumes about how monumental this film was and how timeless it is.
None of this would have happened had the film not been rock-solid in every regard, and that is the best way to describe Night of the Living Dead. Everything that a horror fan could possibly ask for from a genre release is present in this film: you've got an intriguing storyline that still holds up today, you've got genuine tension between the characters, and of course, you've also got a horrifying film that delivers the scares as easily as it did on its original release date. Again, this is a testament to the quality of the film: it's forty years old, everyone has seen it time and time again, and the general concept has been done in countless other films... yet it's still as fresh and relevant today as it was back then.
How about the gore that Romero and crew put on display for us? Granted, this film isn't exactly on par with Hostel in that regard, but considering the boundaries and limits of mainstream horror back in the sixties, the stuff that was present in this film was extremely shocking... and once again, I find myself saying the same thing: these effects are still as effective today as they were on its original release date. There's some truly disgusting moments here, and I can only imagine what audiences must have thought when they saw this in the theater for the first time.
I haven't even went into detail about the acting yet (superb save for a few weak moments), I haven't touched upon the subtle yet poignant social commentary (brilliant), and I sort of skipped over the beautiful cinematography. Really though, with all of the praise that I've heaped upon the film thus far in the review, is there anyone out there who hasn't seen this and hasn't been sold on it yet? I didn't think so. 10/10.
- added 09/23/2004, 02:16 AM
Ahh, the first Romero Zombie-Horror-Fest movie I
ever saw. It is dear to my heart simply because I
saw it when I was nine, and the image of these
ghoulish creatures fighting over the intestine's
of supposed people has stuck with me to this day.
I got it on DVD when I could afford it, and I
watch it every Halloween or when I'm feeling blue.
A true screen classic. I will admit, Barbara's
hysterics might be a little overdoing it, but I
suppose Romero knew what he was doing. I agree
with the first comment (above) Tony Todd did an
exceptional job at Ben. Barbara, however, there
actually should have been a middle ground...she
takes a vow of silence in the first one, and in
the remake, she takes on a bit of a different
face--horror movie hero. Of course, for a classic
movie, one ought to check out Night of the Living
Dead. For a good movie, I don't know. Go look at
the remake. ...=). I stick with the '60's version,
however. Go figure. =D.
- added 03/07/2005, 02:28 AM
This movie fucks with you. From scene one, your
expectations are changed. Barbara's competent in
the beginning, but then she finally breaks down (I
would've sooner). Ben -- whose race is never ONCE
mentioned -- is right about things, he has his
shit together. But in the end, the cellar is the
hiding place, the same one he argued about. The
two young kids, who always live through these
things, are some of the first to die. This movie
teaches us that NO ONE is safe. Not from the
undead, not from eachother, and definitely not
from The Man. This movie reflects the decade it
was made in -- innocence breaking, distrust,
paranoia. Romero is the master of his craft, and
this proves it. With bare bones for a budget, he
made what is now the de facto "bible" for modern
zombie movies. Shoot 'em in the head, right? My
only real gripe is minor. The music sometimes
sucked, but it was from a stock library. I can let
that go. Go see this movie. Posthaste,
immediately, right NOW!
- added 08/31/2005, 10:00 PM
Not only is this film required viewing for all
movie fans, it is the definitive zombie film for
the ages. George A. Romero crafted one of the
most surprising and viceral experiences of his
time, using both a low budget and inexperienced
actors. This film proves that anyone with the
drive can create a film, even one that changes
history. This film is constantly shifting gears
and redefining perceptions. "Night of the Living
Dead" will always be the king of zombie horror.
- added 12/18/2005, 01:57 PM
this is a great film. I bought the DVD for $1 at
Wal-Mart (thank you Digiview... I also bought The
Bodyguard... I love Wal-Mart... though not as much
as Best Buy). anyway. I saw it awhile back at
Poltergeist's house, he got the VHS for a dollar
around Halloween. It was an excellent movie, I got
scared a few times (which is rare, very few movies
can creep me out, the exeptions are Evil Dead,
Castle Freak, Ju-On: The Curse 1&2, and Ju-On: The
Grudge 2). It was fairly slow, however. That was
it's only draw-back. Definatly 9.5/10.
grain of sand
- added 01/05/2007, 07:45 AM
my grandma introduced me to this as my first
horror film when I was in 3rd grade, ever since
I've had an affinity for the walking dead and know
this movie scene by scene. favorite movie of all
- added 04/24/2007, 11:24 AM
THE zombie film period
- added 06/11/2008, 04:11 PM
Does anything even need to be said about this
movie besides 10/10?
- added 06/11/2008, 05:46 PM
Yes, this movie also owns my mouth 10/10
Bliss From A Dead Embrace
- added 01/30/2009, 02:15 AM
This film started an entire genre. True genius.
Back when people were still creative. 10/10