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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Day 365: Night Of The Living Dead

Night Of The Living Dead
Good night and good luck

This is it. The end. The 365th movie review. They said it couldn't be done. I didn't even think I would make it this far, but we made it. I've seen movies about vampires, werewolves, monsters, animals, serial killers, aliens, killer clowns, ghosts, demons, Satan, and my favorite, zombies. I have seen classics, independents, movies I've always wanted to see, and movies I wish I had not. I will be taking a much needed break in the coming days, but I will be doing at least a few more posts, which will include a “Best Of” awards ceremony and Razzies for the worst. I want to personally thank each and every one of you for helping me, whether it was procuring certain movies, helping me with research, correcting some mistakes, and spreading the word. Without you, I would have stopped a long time ago. Without further ado, here is the final review for 365 Days Of Horror.

Night Of The Living Dead is a 1968 zombie movie written and directed by George Romero (Dawn Of The Dead, Creepshow). The movie stars Judith O'Dea (The Pirate, The Ocean) as Barbra and Duane Jones (Vampires, To Die For) as Ben. Barbra and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner, The Majorettes, Night Of The Living Dead 1990) drive to rural Pennsylvania to visit their father's grave. Johnny is annoyed to be there and entertains himself by teasing Barbra. He playfully chases Barbra, pointing to another man in the cemetery and warning, “They're coming to get you, Barbra!” The man, a zombie, attacks Barbra and then struggles with Johnny who cracks his head on a gravestone. The man chases Barbra to her car and smashes the window with a rock before she is able to pull the emergency break and roll down a hill. The car crashes and Barbra flees to a nearby farmhouse where she discovers a decomposing body upstairs. When she leaves the house, she is surrounded by zombies and is saved by a man named Ben who brings her back inside. Barbra is traumatized by the events and goes into shock while Ben tries to secure the house by boarding up the doors and windows. It is revealed that a group of people have been hiding in the house's cellar the entire time. The group is made up of a young couple named Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) as well as Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman, Santa Claws) his wife Helen (Kyra Schon) and their daughter, Karen, who has been bitten by a zombie. The cowardly Harry tries to explain why he did not help Ben when he heard him upstairs, but Ben does not believe him. Harry insists that they are safer in the cellar, but Ben rebuffs him, claiming it is a “death trap”. While Harry and his family stay in the cellar, the rest of the group listens to the radio and television for information. The problem is widespread across the entire East Coast and the murderers, who appear to be the recently deceased, are cannibalizing their victims. While there is no definite explanation, it is believed that a space probe returning from Venus that exploded in the Earth's atmosphere may have been contaminated with radiation. A news report reveals that a rescue center has been established nearby and, with the farmhouse becoming increasingly surrounded by the undead, the group agrees to make a run for it. Ben, Tom, and Judy make a run for a truck near the house while Harry throws molotov cocktails at the zombies. Tom accidentally spills fuel on the truck, causing it to eventually explode, killing himself and Judy. Ben runs back to the house, but is unable to enter because Harry refuses to unlock the door. Ben is forced to break down the down, and after securing it, assaults Harry. Harry threatens to shot him, but Ben takes his gun and shoots Harry, who stumbles down the cellar. With the plan failing and zombies surrounding the house, how will Ben and Barbra survive?

Welcome to the gun show

Night Of The Living Dead is the movie to which all other zombie movies are compared. While there were zombie movies previous to this one, like White Zombie and King Of The Zombies, Night Of The Living Dead set the standard for the modern zombie films. George Romero crafted a horror movie that is both smart and graphic, appealing to all types of horror fans. The combination of suspense, thrills, and action makes the movie an intense and gut-wrenching experience. The movie's graphic nature was shocking at the time as we see the zombies tearing at and eating human body parts. Before NOTLD, most zombies were simply the product of voodoo and mind control. Romero created zombies that are far scarier with added aspect of cannibalism. They are violent monsters with an insatiable hunger and virtually limitless numbers. Despite being in black and white, the movie is still quite gory and bloody, especially for a movie in the 1960's. The movie cleverly leaks out bits of information about what is happening, putting the audience in the same position as the characters, causing us to relate to them. By doing this, we learn why there are zombies and how to stop them. We also learn that armed posses are combing the area, a foreshadowing of things to come.

"Oh, tombstone. You're such a great hugger."

More importantly, though, the zombies in Night Of The Living Dead are not the true monsters. As is now common among Romero and other zombie movies, social commentary is in full effect. Romero's casting of a black man in the hero role was seen as slightly controversial at the time. By doing so, the audience is forced to deal with their own personal feelings of prejudice and race. This is one of the main themes of the movie as hatred, mistrust, and deceit are all at work in the movie. Harry is a coward who is clearly out of his element, but refuses to listen to Ben, despite clearly being in control. Harry thought the best idea was to hide and hope for the best while Ben is proactive, boarding up the house and getting the radio and television to work. We all hope to be brave like Ben, but we secretly fear that at the moment of truth, we may be more like Harry. It was disappointed that Barbra was virtually useless for most of the movie and even Romero himself has stated that he was unhappy with the way she was written. The acting is good all around which helps make the movie emotional and believable. 

These flash mobs are ridiculous

Night Of The Living Dead was George Romero's feature-length directorial debut, but you would never know it. Scenes are shot with a competent confidence with a mixture of interesting angles that help convey a sense of frantic horror. The film opens up like any normal event, but quickly disintegrates into an uncontrollable horror that never ens. Less than ten minutes is all it takes for the movie to become a dire struggle for survival. Rather than having the movie take place in an easily recognizable area, Night Of The Living Dead takes place in a rural area that could be just about anywhere. Shot in central Pennsylvania, the natural open setting is all the more terrifying because it appears to be calm and comforting. The movie has a good amount of action and scares that still make modern audiences jump. The musical flourishes are great and make certain scenes far scarier than one would initially expect.

"Hey, put Cougar Town on."

Night Of The Living Dead was not the first zombie movie, but it did manage to completely change the genre. Bland mind-controlled zombies were replaced by the living dead who's only motivation is to feed on the living. The movie established new rules, like shooting zombies in the head, that are still followed to this day. The movie is shockingly violent and gory, still capable of scaring modern audiences. The story is great from the intense and frantic beginning to the brutal, depressing ending. The movie is full of important social commentary that still resonates today. The acting is great and Romero's direction is perfect. Whether you're looking for a straight-forward and scary horror film, or a smart, thoughtful movie with lots of action, Night Of The Living Dead is an all-encompassing and entertaining movie. There is a reason why the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Unfortunately for Romero, but fortunately for you, the movie entertained the public domain because the original distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, did not put a copyright on prints of the film. The movie is now available through many different mediums, including for free on various websites. Night Of The Living Dead is an incredibly entertaining and incredibly important movie. Aspiring film makers, writers, and actors should watch the film as a blueprint for making a great movie on a limited budget. As for horror fans, it's required viewing. A movie like Night Of The Living Dead makes horror fans proud of the genre they love.

10/10

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