FiLM REViEW: Night Of The Living Dead, 1968

The orgy of horror continues! With a classic from 1968, the year my dear Teresa was born; the Summer Of Love, and zombies! This has become a cult classic. And it’s not hard to see why.

Brother and sister, Barbara and Johnny, are visiting the cemetery, to pay their respects to their deceased father. At the graveyard a lumbering figure approaches, and it all turns from dull day out to spooky weirdness. In an instant.

A visit to the cemetery…

What’s notable about this is how it does a lot with very little. Barbara flees from the graveyard assailant, and after crashing her car ends up in a house, empty save for a rotten corpse at the top of some stairs. She’s soon joined by Ben. Barbara, in shock, is mute. Ben sets about securing the house, fighting off a few zombies, setting a couch on fire to keep them off, and hunkering down defensively.

Ben finds and switches on a radio. We hear a voice describing what’s going on. Barbara momentarily comes out of her shell, only to get hysterical over the fate of her brother, Johnny. When Ben goes upstairs, Babs sits silently on the couch, getting freaked out by the newscaster and his reports of zombie cannibalism.

Numbers at the house grow.

Two men then come up from the cellar. So now there are four… no, wait, there’s a family downstairs. Oh, and the girlfriend of the other guy. So it becomes three in the basement and four upstairs. And tensions grow between the two parties. It’s simple enough, but fairly realistic and well done.

The kitchen sink aspect, of everyday life going horribly awry, and the ‘Alamo’ vibe of defending the homestead, combine very effectively. The ‘verité’ aspects are further enhanced by use of the radio and TV reportage interjections. And elements of the direction, from tilted/angled camera work, right down to the movie being shot in stark black and white, add up to a simple but powerful formula.

Will any of the normal folk get out alive?

And it’s a formula that’s been hugely influential. Spawning a franchise and countless rip-offs or homages. The cast are all obscure unknowns, only a few of whom would continue to work in the industry, unlike director George Romero, for whom the movie launched a whole successful career.

Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ripley) are progenitors of the ‘classic’ young himbos and bimbos that would become future horror movie staples; Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) is the uptight dad, whilst Helen (Marilyn Eastman), his wife, is, like Judy, very gorgeous. Their immobile injured/ill daughter turns out, surprise surprise, to be infected.

Fighting off the ghoulish hordes.

Having learned from the radio that a civic response is getting underway, and rescue centres are opening up, an attempt is made to escape. Only Ben survives to return to the ‘ranch’, where the zombie siege gradually intensifies. A short scene of cannibalism at the burnt-out escape truck ensues, and is, whilst risibly primitive by todays standards, special-effects wise, nonetheless pretty disturbing.

Interestingly there is no mention of the z for zombie word. Instead the walking cadavers are referred to as ‘ghouls’. How ironic then, that Night Of The Living Dead should spawn, usher in, or re-animate a veritable zombie invasion!

The Cardille segment…

The segment with ‘chief McLellan’ is great, with TV personality Bill Cardille as himself, interviewing the head of a posse of ghoul-hunters. History has, with incredible irony, seen the rise in the US of zombie legions who, instead of being hunted by such vigilante posses, are instead those self same gun-toting rednecks; it was these ‘ghouls’ that besieged the US Capitol after Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. As Partridge might say, at this point, you couldn’t make this stuff up!

… where he interviews ‘chief McClellan’ is great.

As the siege reaches its climax, young miss Cooper finally arises from her sickbed… to butcher and feast upon her parents! As primitively done as it is, it’s still a potent shocking scene. And it makes this movie, along with Hitchcock’s Psycho, an antecedent to the whole slasher genre, as well as zombie movies galore.

The end of the movie is an absolute classic. I won’t spoil it for those who don’t know it. Dark as pitch! And perfect Halloween viewing.

Black and white gore-shocker!

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