Saturday, October 14, 2017

Manic Movie Month: Night of The Living Dead (1968)

So yesterday was Friday the 13th, which does not happen all too regularly during the month of October, so it felt natural to me to lay down in my sofa, and put on a horror movie, can you guys guess which movie I watched? NO, not that one! I am not THAT predictable. No, instead, I searched my streaming platforms for some really old classics, and found myself choosing between two movies, "Night of The Living Dead" and "The Ape". While I was tempted to go with one of Boris Karloff's most infamous movies, the humble IMDB rating of 4,5 made me rethink my decision, so I went with the recently deceased legend George A. Romero and his breakthrough film.

Normally, I would put a spoiler warning here, but this movie is close to 50 years old, so just go ahead and read this would ya?

Released in 1968, "Night of The Living Dead" might be one of the first zombie movies ever, at least the first that gets some kind of grand recognition. This was released before we got the film rating system we have today, so even smaller kids could go and watch this movie, which definitely led to a lot of emotionally scared people that did not know how to comprehend the gore and terror this movie showed. So back then, it was a horrifying movie that sent a lot of people screaming for their lives, or simply enter fetal position thanks to the sheer fear they experienced. Pretty hard to imagine that it could happen after watching this movie.

It is pretty hard to judge this movie today though, because technology and film making has come a long, long way since the late sixties. We do not get any CGI or any crazy special effects here, nor any crazy stunts. Hell, we do not even get color. This movie is all about the story and those who make it up, trying to show how they cope with the situation and how they try to solve it, something very few movies today do.

So it all starts with our female lead Barbra (Judith O'Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) visiting their dead father in a cemetery, laying down flowers and all. And after some small chit chat and typical sibling provoking, a man shows up and starts attacking Johnny. Well that went fast, 5 minutes into the movie and we are already dealing with zombies, without any exposition or real character development. That is definitely something movies are not doing today.

Anyway, Barbra escapes and takes shelter in an abandoned farmhouse, where eventually Ben (Duane Jones) arrives and help barricading the place from the undead attack. They are not alone in the house though, because in the basement are another 5 people hiding out, a young couple and a man and wife together with their sick child. They all do not get along very well though, because Ben and Harry (Karl Hardman) are both trying to take the leader role, which leads to a hot dispute on what is the best strategy, staying on the main floor and be ready to counter attack, or cower behind in the basement without any possible escape route. This argument continues on throughout the movie, while the horde of slow walking zombies keep increasing in numbers.

Just a bunch of colorful characters, don't you think?
So while this movie does not really intimidate me all too much with its imagery and so (most of the zombies just look like normal people), it does build some good tension with the atmosphere, never letting the screen go too bright and always keep a sense of dread near our main characters, making the audience concerned for their well being. Romero does have a keen sense of knowing what the mood should be throughout the movie, and when it should shift, which is really effective.

I also like that the story is pretty much straight forward, never really steering off too much. It is just a group of people trying to survive a hellish night, not much else. We do get to see some footage of the zombie horde from time to time, and we also get some information from the tv broadcasting, but that is it, it is a tight and clean story that simply works. Although, I do think there are some weird points in how the zombies came to be. The explanation the movie gives us is that a satellite that orbited around Venus came back crashing down to Earth, releasing tons of dangerous radiation that made the dead come back to life. Kind of goofy, but then again, it worked back in the days.

Another thing I do not really like about this film is that we do not really get to know our characters all too much. With all the bickering and screaming going on, we do not get too much normal conversation between our characters. Hell, I forgot most of these guy's names, and there are only 7 of them. I know I said this was a simple story, but give me somebody that I can care about, so that when they die, I get upset. The only thing I really know about the young guy Tom (Keith Wayne) is that he is a clumsy dumbass who burned down the only vehicle available, killing him and his girlfriend (Judith Ridley) in the process. You deserved that death young man.

Then we have the ending, which I honestly do not know how to feel about. It got some good twists and turns, like the sick child (Kyra Schon) turning into a zombie, killing her mother (Marilyn Eastman) and father in the process (and feasting on their flesh of course). But at the very end, when Ben has lived through the night, I probably got the shock of a life time. We see rescuers go out on the fields, killing of any remaining zombies, coming up to this farmhouse where Ben has crawled out of the basement, sees him, and shoots him right between the eyes, dropping the alive count of our main characters to zero. And here I thought this was the first horror movie where a black guy survives and no one else does. It is a very confusing and grim ending, that I certainly did not see coming.

Ultimately, I can see why this movie has become a cult classic. While not very scary at all, it still fills you with a lot of uneasy feelings that makes it more tense. Romero does a great job with limited resources to create a great atmosphere, and you can just see that there is a lot of passion behind it all. Has it aged well? Not in every aspect obviously, but I still think it holds up fairly well close to 50 years after its release, which is a testament that the movie has some quality to it (and the fact that it has spawned several sequels and remakes over the years). With some more meat on the bones, it could have been a true feast for a flesh hungry zombie.

Rating: 7,5/10 Slow as hell zombies

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