Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The film that reshaped pop culture zombies

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Starring: Judith O'Dea, Duane Jones, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Reilly, and Kyra Schon
Director: George Romero
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When the dead rise to eat the living, a small group of people board themselves up in a house and attempt to hold out against an army of hungry zombies.

"Night of the Living Dead" is perhaps one of the most effective horror movies ever made. While its budget constraints are occassionally evident, and the acting leaves something to be desired at times, it still emerges as one of the scariest, most intense, films ever, with near-perfect pacing, great camera work, and sparse but effective set design and special effects. It's also arguably the most influential film of modern times, and many creators of horror and suspense films from the past 20 years probably owe quite a bit to Romero for inspiriation.

The key to the films success is that it incorporates a bit of the morality play aspect that exists at the core of most horror movies with a complete sense of claustrophobia and a certain doom. Although a national (possibly worldwide) disaster in unfolding, the action of movie is mostly confined to a single house, and the threats that those barricaded within come not only from the undead hoard outside, but also from each other as their various character flaws are explosed and amplified due to their situation. (Of course, it also features one of the most disturbing zombie flesh-eating scenes that have ever been put on fillm... if you've seen the film, you know what I mean, and if you haven't yet, you will know as soon as the moment happens.)

Despite recognizing this as a true classic fillm, I also admit it's not perfect. In addition to the acting, there's a couple of plot holes. I recently watched the movie again, and I still find the opening cemetary sequence strange beyond words, and I still am not certain what Barbara's ultimate fate is. (One thing I am certain of is that it's not a racist movie. I watched the film again, because I heard how it was supposed to have racist undertones throughout--undertones that are fully exposed at the film's climax--and since I'd never noticed that, I figured I'd watch the film again. Well, I'm here to tell you that anyone who finds racism in this movie is probably a racist themselves who are engaging in a bit of projection.)

This film is one of the most commonly found in the massive DVD multipacks, and it is a highlight of every package it's in; it plus one or two additional movies you're interested in will make the set worth its purchase price.

If you haven't seen this classic and are a fan of zombie movies and horror movies in general, this is a must-see. It's the original of the "modern zombie" and a damn fine movie to boot. The above is even more imperative if you're a filmmaker making low-budget pictures. THIS is what the low- and "micro-budget" movies should be like... completely free of padding and waste.

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