“They’re coming to get you, Barbra!” teases Johnny, as he and his sister visit their mother’s grave – when suddenly they are attacked by walking dead ghouls (they are not ‘zombies’ in this film). Barbra manages to escape to a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. However, as Ben and others take refuge there, they are glued to news reports of these ‘things’ coming alive everywhere.
Will they be able to survive a night from these ghouls? Or will other factors affect their deteriorating chances of survival?
Dir: George A. Romero, USA, 96 minutes, 1968.
Filmed on a shoestring budget ($100K) and packed with social and political commentary, this groundbreaking cult classic became one of the most successful independent films ever made. It has been remade many times, with directors such as Tom Savini and Chad Zuver tackling their own versions of this famous story. The original 1968 version was inducted into the American National Film Registry in 1999 in accordance with its criterion of being ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant,’ along with such films as A Streetcar Named Desire, My Man Godfrey, and Laura.
George Romero continued to make Living Dead films starting with Night‘s sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978). His final film, Survival of the Dead (2009), would be the sixth instalment of this series.
With its striking cinematography, chaotic music and its low budget charms, there is plenty of fun to be had watching this film – despite the incredibly bloated middle section. This part of the film made the experience a bit too demanding in terms of attention span by today’s standards of horror films. Culturally and historically an important ‘zombie’ film, it nevertheless doesn’t merit revisiting too many times alongside your favourite horror movies
I had not seen a horror film prior to this one – ie, where ‘zombies’ figure importantly – my nearest filmic reference being Hitchcock’s The Birds. I am not convinced (by Living Dead) that I would want to see any more films of this genre.
Considering its origins and rough production values, and within its own uncompromising, unsubtle context, it was a thoroughly enjoyable film. The chiaroscuro B&W lighting cleverly heightened the tension and shock potential and the editing was mostly sharp and ‘clean.’ Some scenes unashamedly hilarious – eg, the ghouls chomping on their victims’ flesh and bones. Body count was suitably high! A truly shocking, nihilist, ending – Ben (main protagonist, reluctant hero and only survivor) being summarily shot and killed, in the mistaken, unquestioning, belief that he must have been a ghoul. The influence of the film is still being felt today (53 years after its release) in the ‘zombie movie’ genre.