Night of the Living Dead (1968)

 

They keep coming back in a bloodthirsty lust for HUMAN FLESH!...

 

Jurassic Mark

SCORE: 3 Stars

Night of the Living Dead was shocking in its day. Yet NOTLD will fail to shock today's young audiences. Here are several reasons why:

1. Young viewers are accustomed to the "Scream" movies where terror involves a slasher leaping in front of the camera with the simultaneous Dolby digital speaker erupting inside the adolescent's ear. This kind of filmmaking has firmly established that loud, unexpected noises startle people. Hmmm.

2. The "Scream" type movies are actually horror spoofs. And, as horror spoofs, I like the Scream movies. The writers have a sense of humor and Scream I, II, III serve as pleasant diversions for those of us who watch too many dramas. Pleasant, yes, scary, no. 

3. Lets talk about real horror. Witness teenagers reaction to the re-release of The Exorcist. Widely acclaimed as one of the most disturbing films of all time, adult audiences were subjected to childish laughter from younger audiences. Critics were baffled. Why would anyone chuckle in a scene where a pre-pubescent child jams a crucifix into her vagina, screaming, "let Jesus fuck me?" 

On to the film. I'm not surprised Night of the Living Dead exists. I'm a little surprised it was released in 1968. According to movie history, Night of the Living Dead was the impetus of the modern MPAA rating system: X, R, PG, etc.

What would NOTLD rate today? It would be a solid "R." It contains about the same amount of gore as the Scream movies. Audiences with an imagination will find the 1968 film far more creepy. Younger audiences will just laugh. 

In an early scene, we grasp the mindless persistence of the "living dead." If you've ever seen a horror movie where the monster/serial killer (fill in the blank) stumbles along in slow motion, yet manages to always stay in dangerous proximity to the hero/heroine, that filmmaker owes a debt to director George Romero. It's classic manipulation. It's classic suspense. 

I like Romero's concept. The humans have the brains and the speed, but the zombies have overwhelming numbers. And, Romero uses the numbers game to increase the tension. Initially, we are introduced to one zombie (quite dangerous). Then there are rumors received through radio and television transmissions. There might be tens of thousands, perhaps millions of the living dead. And, like any good zombies, they want to eat your flesh. If you get bit by a zombie, you become a zombie. Any less and I would have been disappointed.

Our small group of humans is played by actors ranging from above average to actors who would have been better cast as zombies. They hole-up in a rural home. They fight amongst each other. An African American (Duane Jones) is clearly the most intelligent, effective zombie combatant. Jones seems oddly out of place. Black actors did not enjoy those types of roles in 1968. The casting of Jones is not an accident. Romero easily turns a monster movie into social commentary. The brilliant documentary style ending will leave you with a hollow feeling that firmly reiterates Romero's theme. 

Night of the Living Dead is a low budget film that is far better than equivalently funded films such as the Blair Witch Project. Blair Witch had a very well organized marketing plan that produced big box office profits. It wasn't scary. Night of the Living Dead is scarier, more socially relevant, and is still considered a classic 34 years after its release. 

And, if you want to watch NOTLD as a comedy, it probably works that way too. If that sounds like a compromise, what can I say? Night of the Living Dead works on multiple levels. Give it a try next Halloween. And ye shall be blasphemous if you rent the colorized version. This film was released in "glorious" black and white. It should be viewed that way.