Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Director: George Romero

For reasons that even I don’t understand, not only did this blog pass its fifth birthday two days ago, this is the thousandth post. So, to mark the occasion, I had to find something special. Had to be something big, cos why waste a milestone post on something crap… and, well, a film that kind of reinvented a classic horror monster single-handedly—really, how much of what you “know” about zombies is really because of this film?—while never actually using the word “zombie” seemed big enough for the task. Before I start, though: how hilarious is it that, given all the debate in recent years over running zombies and whether or not they should exist, the very first zombie in Romero’s first zombie film is actually seen running (or jogging at any rate) after a car? Not just that, he uses a rock to break into it before it takes off (and let’s not forget the ones who bust into the house at the end, nor indeed the undead child in the cellar). Funny how the dead are only just learning to use tools in the third dead film…

Anyway, I have a longish history with this film, which would’ve been one of the first horror films I ever saw back in the mid-90s… my video shop had a typically shabby Hollywood House tape of it (also bearing Mr Coppola’s Dementia 13, if I recall rightly), which left a lot to be desired as did pretty much everything HHV issued, but the film itself was amazing. Still is, of course. You can tell it’s one of those films where they were operating on a stupidly low budget (which seems not to have extended to affording continuity; some scenes are amusingly uncertain about what time of day/night it is), but that the people making it had evident ability to overcome it and were determined to make the best damn film they could with it; it’s an actually terrific bit of independent filmmaking irrespective of genre. Apart from rewriting the zombie rulebook, Romero also pulls off the feat of having a horror film with a noticeably black hero whose blackness is never actually highlighted, and infuses the whole thing with a hellacious “everyone dies in the end” grimness I don’t know that any horror film before it had pulled off. Romero’s dead films have always left room for critics to read certain attitudes and statements about society into them, and Romero himself hasn’t exactly discouraged that; Dawn of the Dead is pretty open on that front, and I know there are those who’d say it’s better than Night for that reason. Still, while you can make that case and while you can also read some sort of state-of-the-nation subtext into this film if you really want, there’s a certain purity of overt purpose to Night; whatever subtexts you may find in it, its real mission is to be a cheap, shit-scary film about a disparate group of people trapped in an isolated location by an outnumbering force they can’t stop. As someone else called George once said with far less justification, “mission accomplished”.

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