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Night of the Living Dead


Title: Night of the Living Dead
Year Of Release: 1968
Running Time: 95 minutes
DVD Released By: Alpha Video
Directed By: George Romero
Writing Credits: John A. Russo & George A. Romero

Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman
Taglines:
1. They keep coming back in a bloodthirsty lust for HUMAN FLESH!
2. Pits the dead against the living in a struggle for survival
3. They won't stay dead.
4. They're coming to get you...again!
Alternate Titles:
Monster Flick (USA) (working title)
Night of Anubis
Night of the Flesh Eaters

Review Date: 6.26.05 (updated 1.1.10)

Shadow's Title: "The Movie That Scared the Living Sh*t out of Me"

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 Night of Living Dead

Characters
Barbra – She and her brother drive into the country in order to visit their father’s grave. Things go sour and Barbra ends up running through the countryside for her life and ultimately hiding in an abandoned farmhouse with some others while hordes of dead people try to break down the door.
Ben – This poor guy was just passing through the area when things all went to hell. A classic case of being in the wrong area at the wrong time. Eventually he ends up seeking shelter at the same abandoned house as Barbra. Since she is an emotional wreck, he takes charge.
Harry Cooper – The epitome of the words sniveling weasel. Hell, that appellation just might give sniveling weasels a bad name. Harry and his family took shelter in the abandoned house when ghouls overturned their car. Basically, he whines, bitches, moans, complains and criticizes nonstop.
Helen Cooper – Harry’s wife. She is so fed up with his cowardly ways that she seems ready to push his ass out the front door just so that the ghouls can have him. Her main concern is seeking medical attention for their daughter, Karen, who was bitten by a ghoul .
Karen Cooper – She spends the majority of the film sleeping, an activity I was completely unable to perform after the first time I watched this movie. It seems she was bitten by a ghoul and wasn’t feeling too well afterwards. The poor thing, I think a rabid dog bite would have been better.
Tom – This guy was another one of the dorks that was hiding in the cellar when Ben and Barbra arrived at the farmhouse. Unlike everyone else who sought shelter from the ghoul onslaught in that house, Tom is a local and he claims to know the region quite well. Munched.
Judy – This here is Tom’s idiot girlfriend. She contributes NOTHING to the film. In fact, she complicates matters when she insists on rushing out the door so she can be with Tom when he and Ben make their big attempt to fuel the truck. This only results in disaster. Munched.
Johnny – Barbra’s brother. It is while they are at the graveyard in the beginning of the film that they are attacked by a member of the dead come back to life (no, not Jerry Garcia) and Johnny takes a tumble as well as a fatal blow to the noggin on a grave marker.
The Ghouls – Dead people with the sheer gall and audacity to not stay dead. Worse, they do nothing except walk around in a complete daze without contributing to society, yet still expect to be fed by others! Ghouls? In my part of the country, we call people like that welfare abusers!!

 

The Plot Hold your cursor over an image for a pop-up caption

It's tax time again so soon?A car winds it way along a road somewhere in the Pennsylvanian countryside…seemingly forever as the opening credits are shown. It finally turns off the main road and onto a dirt road that ultimately leads to a hilltop cemetery. As the vehicle pulls to a stop, we see that brother and sister Johnny and Barbra are the only occupants. The subject of the “time change” is broached and Barbra notes that it is 8:00 PM and still light outside. Johnny says that it means little, as they still have a three-hour drive in order to return home. Some more banter is exchanged and we learn that they are here at the request of their mother (back in Pittsburgh), to visit the grave of their long deceased father. How long? Johnny claims he doesn’t even recall what the man looked like.

As they get out of the car, a voice on the radio mentions something about coming back on the air after a technical problem, but Johnny ignores it and switches the radio off before exiting. That was clue number one that something is already very, very wrong. The two make their way through the cemetery, trying to locate their father’s grave. Some bickering follows and then Barbra finds the headstone for which they are looking. As they contemplate the grave – and Johnny moans about having to buy a bouquet of flowers each year when they perform this ritual, we hear the sounds of wind and thunder beginning to stir…which is never a good sign in such films. Lightning begins flashing and as Johnny looks around, he sees another man in the distance, walking slowly among the graves.

Johnny is getting impatient and wants to leave. He begins to recall the time when they were kids visiting this cemetery and Johnny jumped out from behind a tree to scare Barbra. She doesn’t like his train of thought and it is obvious she is still frightened by the memory. Johnny teases her, scaring her even more. “They’re coming to get you Barbra,” he says. He points to the other man walking in the cemetery. “Look! There comes one of them now!” He has no idea how right he is! He continues to tease her and then runs away as the other man approaches. Barbra tries to walk past with some dignity but…the other man suddenly attacks her, and boy he doesn’t look to good, having a pallid complexion and sporting a wanting, desperate grimace the likes of which are rarely seen outside of a whorehouse’s waiting room when it’s full of sailors who’ve just put in to port.

3) Let zombies chow down on others.2) Run like hell.How to survive a zombie attack in three easy steps: 1) Misdirect the attention of the people near you.Barbra struggles with the stranger as Johnny comes to her aid. He pulls the stranger away from his sister and the two then continue to struggle until they both fall, the stranger smashing Johnny’s head on a headstone. Johnny is out of the game. BEGIN SPOILER: Since we all know that this stranger is a zombie looking to chow down on some fresh human meat, the fact that he now turns his attention away from Johnny to gaze eerily at Barbra means that Johnny must no longer be in the realm of the living. Gee, I hope I didn’t spoil anything with that last sentence. :END SPOILER

The creepy stranger turns to Barbra and begins to approach her. Wisely, she proceeds to ambulate as fastly as possible in the other direction, known is B-Movie terms as “running like hell.” Naturally, she takes a spill on her way back to the car. It wouldn’t be a horror flick without some broad tripping while running. She reaches the car and climbs in, but there are no keys! Johnny had them! Uh oh! She locks all the doors as the Creepy Guy arrives and starts banging on the windows more violently than your most aggressive street corner spit-shine bum. The Creepy Guy gets wise and picks up a large stone with which to bang on the glass. Three hits and Voila! An open window. As he reaches in to grab his prey, Barbra releases the parking brake and the car begins to roll down the hill. Creepy Guy is soon left behind. The car eventually crashes to a halt against a tree. Barbra looks back and sees Creepy Guy still advancing in her direction, so she decides to get out of the vehicle and hoof it once again.

A quick run through the brush brings her to a paved road. She follows the road, never slowing for an instant, but looking back several times to see if the Creepy Guy is still after her. Next we see her running across a field. I don’t know why she left the road…maybe it ended? Anyway, she spies a house in the distance and quickly heads in that direction. She tries the front door but it is locked. She circles the house looking for a way in and as she rounds one corner she sees Creepy Guy making his away across the field toward the house. That guy is relentless. Seriously, he’s like some encyclopedia salesman from hell, who just won’t take no for an answer. Finally, she locates an open door and rushes into the house, closing it behind her.

Whew! Time to collect your breath. Barbra finds herself in a small kitchen. Through the kitchen she finds a dark and empty living room. Thunder and lighting can be seen and heard, respectively from outside. She rushes back into the kitchen and retrieves a knife from a drawer for use as a weapon…I somehow doubt she is contemplating food preparation at this point. She then begins to explore the house. In one room she finds a broken vase on the floor, which would seem to indicate that something fishy might have taken place here. She slowly makes her way through the house and a false scare in one room with some stuffed and mounted animal heads surely had half the audience in the theater soiling their undergarments post-haste back in 1968. There is a banging sound from outside and we see that it is Creepy Guy trying to find a way in. Barbra looks out a window and sees him. Oddly enough, when she looks outside, it seems very dark. However, when we see Creepy Guy, there is still light outside. When we return to Barbra, there still seems to be plenty of light entering the house through the various windows.

Now Barbra tries to use a nearby phone to call for help, but predictably enough, the line is dead. Somebody neglected to pay their bill! She rushes out of the room, but not before having to return to grab her knife. She moves quickly through the bottom of the house, looking out windows. She sees Creepy Guy again and NOW it is dark outside. Damn, the sun went down in less than thirty seconds! Barbra also sees more creepy-looking people shambling their way through the trees and towards the house. She runs through the place some more and finds the staircase leading to the second floor. She slowly ascends the stairs and as she reaches the point where her sight is even with the floor on the second level, she sees a horribly disfigured body at the top of the stairs. I mean, it is jacked up something fierce – skin torn away from the face, revealing much of the skull underneath. The camera zooms in on the frightening visage and this sudden shock no doubt secured the placement of poop in the other half of the audience’s drawers. Barbra lets out a scream and heads back down the stairs, the further contents of the upper level no longer interesting her. In fact, it now seems that Babs has no real interest in remaining in the house at all, as she rapidly opens the front door and runs out onto the porch…no doubt planning to continue across the lawn and down the road.

However, on the porch she is suddenly blinded by the headlights of a vehicle. A man stands before her with a tire iron in one hand. They stare at one another for a few brief seconds before this new stranger notices Creepy Guy not far away. Then he grabs Barbra, pushes her back into the house and follows her, shutting and locking the door behind them. This is Ben, though he won’t introduce himself for a while yet. He then begins to rush around, making sure the house is secure. He tries talking to her, explaining that his truck ran out of gas and asking if there is a key for the fuel pump located a short ways away from the house (PLOT POINT). He tries the phone…still dead. Barbra, quite shaken by the events of the last half-hour, is non-communicative but a glance she throws towards the stairs alerts Ben to the fact that there is something upstairs that needs looking into. He finds the body and returns downstairs. He stresses that they need to get out and go where there are some other people. He begins looking for food that they can take with them. Barbra gets splashed by some blood leaking over the stairs from the body up top and runs into the kitchen where Ben is looking for useful items.

"Your partner died before giving up any secrets, so now I’m gonna ask you – do you have any damn Gray Poupon?"She finally decides to talk and asks him what is happening. Before he can answer, some voices draw them to the front window. Outside, two of the creepy people are smashing up Ben’s vehicle. He then asks Barbra if she has seen any others and she freaks out, saying that she doesn’t know. Ben rushes out and proceeds to beat the tar out of the people vandalizing his truck. As he is doing this, one particularly thrashed creepy person enters the house through the kitchen and stumbles towards Barbra, who does not see him approaching. Ben returns to see the guy and pulls Barbra out of the way before struggling with the attacker briefly and impaling his head on the tire iron. More of the creeps are approaching the house, so Ben closes and locks the door. Then he pushes the body of one attacker out the door and off the porch, where he lights it on fire. The fire seems to frighten the other creeps, who retreat from the flames.

Back inside it is clear that they are now trapped in the house for the time being. Ben tells Barbra to turn on some more lights, which when you think about it, is really a stupid thing. The creeps were drawn to the headlights of his car, and though they smashed them, the house lights could still attract them. Ben finds a hammer and nails and tells Barbra to look for some wood with which to board the place up. She just stands there with that blank look upon her face. He almost gets mad and then realizes what she is going through and softens up; explaining that he knows she is scared but they will have to work together in order to survive until help arrives. She seems to understand and goes off to search for wood.

As she looks in one room, she triggers a music box that draws her attention for a few seconds. Meanwhile, Ben has found numerous things to use in his efforts to fortify the house, including some boards and an interior door removed from its hinges. Barbra returns to the kitchen with some small pieces of wood and then helps him nail the door across the doorway and windows that leads outside.

Some time passes and the two have done a decent job of boarding up the place. Ben tries to engage in some small talk again while dismantling a table. He relates how he came to be driving the truck he was in, the story including an attack he witnessed by fifty or sixty of those “things” on a tanker truck and a diner. He describes how he drove right through them, and how they did not try to get out of his way. Barbra then chimes in and tries to explain what happened to her and Johnny in the cemetery. It’s a rambling, near incoherent story and it helps illustrate that poor Barbra is still in mental breakdown territory. She nearly looses it as she describes the attack by the very first Creepy Guy and Ben advises her to calm down. She concludes her story by stating that they have to wait for Johnny, and maybe then should go out and get him. Yeah, denial is not a river in Egypt. She gets pretty insistent and even makes a run for the door, but Ben stops her and says that her brother is dead. She responds by slapping him. What does he do? He slaps her right back. Good thing this isn’t the south, cuz zombies or not, those idiotic losers from the Klan would have showed up about now to lynch Ben for striking a white woman. Well, in this case, the crazy bitch had it coming! Anyway, she passes out and Ben catches her before she falls to the ground, placing her on the couch.

The new self-heating Lazy-Boy recliner.Ben now tries the radio and after fiddling with the dials for a few seconds, tunes into a news broadcast. He goes back to nailing up more boards and listens to the news while he works. The announcer mentions an ongoing crisis and reveals that cases of mass murder have been reported across the area, from small towns to big cities. Eyewitnesses report that the attackers look like normal people but appear to be in some sort of trance. The authorities know little else at this time. Ben looks outside again and sees more of the attackers approaching the house. He douses a chair with lighter fluid and then makes a torch from some rags and a table leg. He pushes the chair outside and sets on fire, which causes the attackers to retreat once again. He returns to boarding up the house as the radio announcer says that the President of the United States is convening a meeting with his cabinet to discuss the sudden crisis. Barbra continues to snooze while Ben boards up the joint even further.

Eventually she awakens as Ben takes a rest from his efforts and lights up a smoke. He pokes around in a closet and finds a rifle, which he quickly grabs along with some ammunition. He returns to Barbra and shows her the gun he found along with some shoes that he gives her. It seems she lost her own footwear somewhere along the line – probably when running through the bushes from that first creep. The radio announcer says that attacks have now been reported in Texas and is advising people to seek shelter and remain there. Ben again tries to talk to Barbra. He says that the place is boarded up good, they have a weapon with bullets and plenty of food. They should be all right until someone comes to get them. Who he thinks is going to show up is anybody’s guess. He informs Barbra that he is going upstairs to check things out and assures her that he can be back down in a jiffy if anything tries to break into the house. After he leaves the room, the radio announcer now reports that murder victims appear to have been partially devoured by their killers. Talk about peckish!

Upstairs, Ben passes by the body at the top of the stairs, which seems to have been a woman. He pulls it away on a blanket down the hallway and into one of the upper level rooms. Downstairs the announcer on the radio confirms the reports that murdered people are being devoured by their murderers. With conclusive proof of this, the whole crisis takes on a “ghastly” new aspect – the attackers are ghouls!

As she is sitting there listening to the radio, Barbra hears something and looks over at the door that leads to the cellar. Uh oh! No one checked the cellar! The door swings open and two men come rushing through. Barbra screams and Ben comes running, but it is soon apparent that these guys were hiding in the cellar. Ben asks how long they have been down there and wants to know why they didn’t come up to help him board the place up, especially once they heard the racket he was making. The older of the two men is more interested in what the radio is reporting but explains that they had no idea what was going on up in the house and didn’t want to chance running into “those things.” Ben finds some holes in what he is saying and wants him to get his story straight. Some more arguing takes place before the new guy suggests they all go downstairs before “those things” find out that they’re in the house (too late!). Ben assures the newcomers that the place is secure but the older guy argues that the cellar is the safest place. The other guy, whom the younger man refers to as “Mr. Cooper,” is doubtful the fortifications will hold as “those things” managed to turn over his car (maybe they wanted to service it?).

A LOT more arguing ensues over where they should all hide (and I do mean LOTS). At one point a female voice calls up from the cellar, shouting “Harry!” Cooper replies to it, so that must be his wife (probably just checking up on him…you know how wives want to track your every damn move). There is a scare moment when Ben passes by a boarded up window and hands reach in to grab him. With the help of the younger of the two other men (who is named Tom), he fights off the attacking ghoul and shoots it…but the thing doesn’t go down. Another shot…and the thing still does not fall. One last shot to the head manages to finally put the ghoul down for good. The commotion seems to have drawn the attention of numerous more ghouls, who slowly make their way toward the house. Some of them are looking quite ripe and were no doubt in the beginning stages of decay when they were prompted to get up from their eternal sleep and begin stumbling around like an army of drunks. One female ghoul is even buck naked. A shot of another female ghoul shows it grabbing a bug off the side of a tree and chowing down on it. Yech. Damn bug-eaters.

Back inside the house, Ben wants to nail up more boards, but Harry argues again on hiding in the cellar. Ben tells him to go ahead and get into the cellar. Harry says he’s gonna take Barbra with him, but Ben yells at him to leave her…as well as anything else that is upstairs. Harry tries to appeal to Tom and then explains that he has a child in the cellar that needs food. Ben tells him off, pitying his child for having a stupid father. Harry heads for the cellar door, threatening to not open it again once he has closed it. Tom is leaning in Ben’s direction and wants to stay up top. He calls up his girlfriend Judy from the cellar before Harry can close the door. Then Harry shuts the door and bolts it from his side. Tom tries to reason with Harry through the door, but gets no response.

"The living dead are overrunning the earth, civilization is on the verge of collapse and NOW you decide to inform me that I’m not her father?"In the cellar, Harry returns to his wife Helen and daughter Karen. Poor little Karen is laid out on a cot, sleeping. Helen asks about Tom and Judy, and Harry explains that they have elected to remain up top. He then tells her about Ben and Barbra. Helen notes that it must have been Barbra that they heard screaming and Harry is instantly defensive, once again repeating that he wasn’t about to take any unnecessary chances. Ya think he feels slightly guilty for not helping earlier? “Of course not, Harry” Helen says, which seems to indicate that she sees through his bullshit and recognizes him as the first class chickenshit he is. Then he asks about Karen, who is beginning to run a slight temperature. Harry spouts off some more of his BS about how the others will be proven wrong and will be pleading with him for entrance to the cellar. Again, Helen sees this for what it is: the sign of a little man trying to act big. Helen wonders if the people upstairs know the reason why these attacks are taking place, and Harry fills her in on what he heard on the radio. When she hears that there is a radio upstairs, but Harry has boarded them into the cellar, she nearly goes ballistic. More arguing and sniping ensues…typical marriage stuff. Helen calls up to Tom and says that if Judy comes down for a few minutes, she and Harry can come up. No doubt she wants Judy to keep an eye on the snoozing Karen.

Judy is not thrilled at the prospect, but Tom says that they all need to work together, so she agrees. She goes down to the cellar while Helen heads up with Harry. When Tom sees Helen looking at Barbra, he explains to her that the other woman has lost her brother (Barbra is still in I-refuse-to-talk mode) and then heads off to help Ben with the television. Helen lights up a cigarette, which gets Barbra’s attention. Quiet she may be, but there is a good chance she is a nicotine fiend. Helen introduces herself and tries to assure the other woman that she means no harm. Harry comes storming through the room, criticizing Ben’s job at boarding up the windows and then grabs a cigarette from Helen. I guess we know who the real nicotine fiend is. Harry engages in some more bitching and moaning, which only earns contempt from his wife. She advises him to do something to help the others.

At this moment Ben and Tom enter the room with a television and begin setting it up. Harry harshly tells Barbra that she had better pay attention to whatever is said on the TV. This just annoys Ben even more, who tells Harry in no uncertain terms that as long as he is upstairs, he will take orders from Ben…and that includes leaving Barbra alone. Tom steers the yelling away from another massive argument by turning the television on. Ah…the good old days before cable TV and the exorbitant prices that go with it, when all you needed was a pair of rabbit ears to tune in your favorite channels…all six of them…with loads of static…when they were even broadcasting…hell, I’ll take the cable!

A newscaster reveals that the wave of murders is taking place over the “Eastern third” of the nation and that the “creatures” committing these deeds are feasting on the flesh of their victims. The initial reports of this flesh eating were discounted by the authorities due to the fragile mental states of the people relating the news, however the sheer number of incidents coupled with medical examination of the bodies made it clear that such grisly details were quite true. The newsman then gets an update from Washington that states that the dead are returning to life to kill…and feast upon, the living. He then goes on to say that no longer are people advised to seek shelter and hide. Rather, safe locations under the protection of the military are being set up and people should make their way to the closest one. The anchor then mentions the President’s high level meeting and mentions that it included people from NASA. This may be connected to some space probe sent to Venus but destroyed on purpose when it returned to Earth due to high levels of radiation aboard. The news then cuts away to several reporters trying to interview a group of “experts” on the very subject. We know these guys are experts because one is in a military uniform and others are wearing white lab coats. See? Experts! Despite the barrage of questions from the reporters, nothing much is learned. Still, oddly enough this news “footage” obviously took place during daylight hours, so it could not have been a live report. Then again, this is years before CNN would have reporters under every rock.

Ben thinks they should use the truck he was driving to head for one of these safe stations, if only the pump outside wasn’t locked. Helen wants to make the attempt because these it would mean medical attention for Karen. It seems the closest of these safety stations is in a town about seventeen miles away. Tom knows this because he and Judy are locals and know the area well. Tom relates a brief story on how he and Judy came to be in this house, having sought shelter after hearing the first reports on the radio and finding the dead woman upstairs before the Coopers arrived and they all decided to set up camp in the cellar. Suddenly Harry is griping about the idea of making a run for it, trying his best to poke holes in the notion. The sudden cut in action would seem to indicate a spot in the film were some footage might have been excised.

Archival footage from the very first Larry King show.The newsman on TV is interviewing another “expert” who strongly suggests that people seek immediate medical attention, no matter how minor their injuries may seem. Ben asks Helen how bad her daughter was hurt and she tries to stammer out an answer but Ben sends her back down to the cellar to look after Karen and to send Judy back up top. Meanwhile the “expert” on TV is relating a story on how a limbless cadaver came to life in a morgue. He informs the newsman that the reanimation of the dead takes only a few minutes after death, so the bodies of the deceased need to be burned as soon as possible after croaking. Helen heads down the cellar stairs where she swaps places with Judy. Karen has said nothing and only now voices the fact that she is in pain. The poor kid, she isn’t looking too good.

Ben formulates a plan: he wants to make some Molotov Cocktails and use them as weapons against the ghouls in an attempt to fuel the truck outside. Harry mentions a key ring in the cellar, which may contain the key that unlocks the gas pump. Tom and Judy quickly set to work gathering what they need while Harry begins moaning about the plan. He is afraid that when someone makes a run for the truck, the door will need to be opened and that could let some ghouls into the house. Ben agrees and picks the best defensible door as the one through which to make their escape attempt. Tom returns with bottles for the Molotov Cocktails and the key to the pump. Ben admits that the truck is one he found abandoned and he is not accustomed to operating it. Tom assures Ben that he can handle the vehicle easily. So Harry will lob Molotov Cocktails at the ghouls from the second story to drive them away from the house after which Ben and Tom will make the dash outside. Then Harry will close the door until they return from fueling the truck. At that point they will worry about getting everyone into the truck and getting away.

Tom and Judy now share a personal moment, discussing various things and Judy is plainly worried about Tom having to go outside. She is none too thrilled with the idea of leaving the relative safety of the house, either. Tom tries his best to reassure her.

So the gang is prepping for the big maneuver. Judy takes Barbra downstairs to hide in the cellar with Helen and Karen. Ben and Tom remove the boards from the door while Harry goes to a second floor window with the cocktails. Judy and Tom share a meaningful look then POW, Harry begins tossing cocktails. The ghouls are driven back from the house, a few going up in flames themselves, and Ben and Tom race out the door. Tom fights his way to the truck and starts it while Ben watches over with the rifle. Judy confirms her status as a total moron when she decides that she MUST go with Tom and promptly runs out the door. Harry, being the man he is, quickly closes it behind her. Judy jumps in the truck’s cab while Ben hops into the bed. They make their way to where the pump is located, Ben fending off ghouls with a torch as they go. Inside Harry is damn near having a fit because he cannot see what is going on too well.

The trio reaches the barn where the gas pump is and quickly set to work, but the key won’t unlock it. Ben solves this by shooting off the lock with the rifle. Tom grabs the nozzle and in his haste, manages to spray the side of the truck with gasoline. This is almost instantly lit ablaze by the torch lying on the ground where Ben discarded it. So all in all, we have one idiot moment after another. I think the Marx Brothers could have planned and executed a better, safer escape plan than these dorks. With part of the truck on fire as well as some gas that hit the ground, Tom realizes that they need to get the truck away from the pump. He jumps back in (remember that Judy was in the cab this entire time) and pulls away…the back end still in flames. Ben yells at them to get out. Tom brings the truck to a stop a short distance away and jumps out, reaching back to help Judy, who’s jacket is caught on something. KABOOM! The truck goes up in an explosion as the fire hits the gas tank.

Ben watches from the gas pump and Harry sees the fireball from the house. Soon enough the ghouls are drawing near to Ben’s position. He picks up the torch and fights his way back to the house. He bangs on the door, but inside Harry is torn between opening it and bolting himself into the cellar. Ben is forced to kick the door down and he sees Harry standing in the doorway leading to the cellar, an indecisive look on his face. Ben shoots him a look that could drop a Bantha at twenty paces and then turns to secure the door, ghouls hot on his tail. Harry finally decides to help him and together they get the door boarded up again. No sooner is this accomplished than Ben starts punching Harry all up and down the house. It's not really an ass beating, but it is kind of close. More like a severe bitch-slapping.

I’ve heard of finger foods, but that is ridiculous.Outside, the horde of ghouls has now converged on the burning truck. Greedily they pick at the cooked remains of Tom and Judy, pulling pieces of flesh and entrails from the scorched cab and devouring them in a display of ghastly gluttony. They fight over the choicest bits of intestine, gnaw on bones and generally wallow around in the grass with their meal more than your average German Shepherd. A Sunday afternoon picnic, this is not!

In the house, Ben turns away from the window and the ungodly feast taking place outside. Helen wants to know if it’s 3 AM yet, as there is supposed to be another news broadcast at that time. Like I mentioned earlier, this is clearly the days before cable news networks would be broadcasting 24/7. Barbra then decides it is time for her to speak some and babbles about the time and leaving the house. It is more than obvious that her mental state may be irrevocably damaged by this whole affair. Ben then asks Helen if she is familiar with the area at all. The ensuing exchange tells us that the Coopers were trying to find a motel for the night when the ghouls attacked them and overturned their car. Their daughter was bitten by one in the process and they were forced to run quite a ways in order to find shelter. Then Ben realizes that Barbra has a car, even if her brother was the one carrying the keys. He asks her where it is but is interrupted by some commotion outside – but it is just the ghouls partying it up.

They flick the TV on and the newscast is now reporting that the odd radiation brought back to Earth is increasing and that all persons who die during this crisis will return as flesh-eating ghouls unless their bodies are disposed of by cremation. The government is also letting people know that the ghouls can be killed by shooting them in the head or by a strong blow to the same area. The radiation has reactivated their brains, so destroying the brain will kill the ghoul. Then the news switches to a “live” report from a search and destroy mission in Pennsylvania. Odd that at 3 AM in the morning, the “live” report shows a bright sunlit day. Nope, I’m wrong – the footage is from a filmed report. A reporter is interviewing a local police chief who relates some stories about encounters with the ghouls as well as advice on how to deal with them. The news continues to report when suddenly the power goes out…

 

Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.

 

Ben goes down to the cellar to see if that is where the fuse box is located, but Harry thinks the problem is being caused by fallen power lines. He tells Helen that he needs to get the gun from Ben as two people have died “on account of that guy.” Ben returns just as the ghouls decide that snacking on the remains of Tom and Judy have in no way satiated their endless hunger. They begin pounding at the doors and windows, only now they are using tools – rocks and pieces of wood. The glass in the windows is soon broken and ghouls are reaching through to try and undo the barricades. Ben is trying to push back the ghouls and manages to drop the rifle in the process. Harry grabs it and points it at Ben. He orders Helen to get in the cellar, but Ben jumps at him and the two men struggle. The rifle is dropped again and this time Ben is the one who picks it up. He aims it at Harry and fires. Pow. Harry stumbles his way down to the cellar where Karen is still laid out on a cot. He makes his way to her but falls dead when he reaches her.

It is about this time that the army of ghouls begins to make some serious progress in their efforts to storm the house. The boards are beginning to come lose and the doors are starting to budge under their assault. They reach through and grab Helen by the hair. At this point Barbra FINALLY gets up off her ass and helps free Helen from the ghouls’ grip. Helen races down the cellar stairs and finds…Karen munching on a piece of her father. It seems that bite she received earlier from a ghoul has ultimately transformed her into one of the undead. Upon seeing this fresh meat enter the scene, GhoulKaren abandons her dad and begins stalking her mother. Helen backs away and trips. GhoulKaren takes up a gardening spade from the wall and approaches the fallen Helen. In a sequence reminiscent of the shower scene in Psycho, GhoulKaren dispatches Helen.

Scenes from the new play, "Death and Re-animation of a Salesman."Upstairs Ben and Barbra are fighting off the ghouls, but are losing the battle. The walking dead manage to bust the front door open and who should be standing there…but Barbra’s brother Johnny! Naturally, she freezes in shock. GhoulJohhny grabs her and despite her efforts, she is pulled outside by the ghouls to meet her grisly fate: fresh food for the ghouls. Ben is now alone and cannot prevent the ghouls from invading the house. They begin pouring through the doors and windows like salesmen from hell as he slowly backs away towards the cellar door…where GhoulKaren has appeared behind him. She attacks him, but he manages to fend off the child ghoul and bar himself in the cellar. Try as they might, the ghouls cannot get the door open. It seems the cellar was the safest place after all.

In the cellar, Ben finds the bodies of Harry and Helen. None too soon, I might add, as Harry has just reanimated as a ghoul and is getting up off the floor. Ben quickly shoots him three times, putting him down for good. Soon after, Helen’s body opens its eyes and Ben shoots her, too. Trapped in the cellar, there is nothing Ben can do but wait and hope the ghouls are unable to break in. Eventually, they give up and begin dispersing.

Let Lil Shadow's long night of no sleep begin. Morning arrives and we see a large search and destroy mission underway by the local authorities. They’re sweeping the countryside and clearing out those pesky dead people who refuse to stay dead. The police chief seen earlier on the news rounds up some men to check out the house. Ben hears their approach and makes his way out of the cellar back up into the house. Moving slowly, he approaches the window so he can look outside. The chief and his men are dropping ghouls like flies and when they see movement in the house, they assume it is another ghoul. They take aim…and…POW. Ben is shot dead. Several still shots (done in the fashion of a photographic expose) portray how his body is gathered up by men with meat hooks and thrown into a big pile with the rest of the ghouls. Then we close with a live shot of the pile going up in flames.

 

The End.

 

Review


Every now and then a movie comes along that changes the cinematic landscape. Something that turns traditions and conventions on their ear…indeed, even creating new conventions in the process. Star Wars virtually created the special FX laden "event" picture. Halloween jump-started the slasher subgenre. Raiders of the Lost Ark forever raised the bar for action films. Toy Story redefined what an animated film could be...though the jury is still out on if that was a good thing or not, as traditional cell animation seems to be a thing of the past as far as Hollywood studios are concerned these days. That however, is a topic for another day. The legacies of these films are such that the movie-making industry would be very, very different if not for them. And while the argument can be made that such seminal film moments were inevitable and would have occurred sooner or later, one must still credit those that did manage to accomplish something unique first, whether by sheer accident or through possession of foresight that no one else exhibited.

In just such a manner, George A. Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, not only heralded a new age of horror movies, it spawned untold imitators and helped to create a whole new genre of film making: the zombie movie, complete with an entirely new set of traditions for the living dead. While zombie films had existed for decades beforehand, the walking dead in those films adhered to a different model. Sure, they were dangerous as all hell, but more often that not they were controllable in some way. With Night of the Living Dead, horror fans were introduced to a new type of zombie – the type that stumbles around looking to eat the flesh of the living and were positively not controllable in any way. Just why the re-animated dead want to chow down on us living folk has never really been explained over the years (as far as I know). It is just one of those immutable laws of modern cinema. Zombies eat people. Period. The zombie movie field exploded in Italy after the resounding success of George Romero’s follow-up to Night of the Living Dead, 1979’s Dawn of the Dead, known there as Zombi. Unofficial sequels followed as well as numerous copycats, most suffering from a severe lack of skill in both the writing and directing departments, yet despite such setbacks the "Italian Zombie Movie" is as recognizable a genre among horror fans as the slasher film.

While the credit for that sudden eruption of Italian zombie flicks in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s is best directed toward Dawn of the Dead, the second film in the Romero’s Dead series, that sequel would not have existed if not for the pioneering work laid down by its predecessor. Filmed in Evans City, Pennsylvania by first-time director Romero on a budget around $114,000, the original Night of the Living Dead is now considered a classic of the horror film genre and sits at number 93 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Thrills list.

This is a masterpiece of horror cinema, plain and simple - a true trendsetter. Much has been said over the years on any allegorical and/or social themes that may or may not be on display in the movie. Putting all that aside for now, the simple truth is that Night of the Living Dead is a very effective and chilling horror film. The idea is both simple in conception and execution, but the end results are ninety-plus minutes of classic horror that, arguably, can get no more terrifying than they already are.

The Storyline.
If ever there was a streamlined, straight to the point plot for a movie; it’s this one. The film wastes no time in getting things going and rarely pauses to allow the beleaguered audience time to catch its breath. Neither is time wasted on numerous story threads or subplots. The action is always centered on the group of people trapped in the farmhouse, with only brief glimpses at the outside world achieved through their television set and radio. This is a masterful touch, as it really puts the audience in the house with the characters. The viewer knows nothing more than they do, and will only learn what they learn, when they learn it and no more. This really heightens the sense of claustrophobia that comes with being trapped, as well as the dread of a strange and unknown horror unfolding outside. The anxiety and fear are almost palpable, and while there are no fancy cinematic set pieces, that fear slowly builds through the words, actions and reactions of the characters to events around them rather than through poorly wrought FX sequences that plague so much of modern horror films. Here the terror is Human in nature, even if the adversaries are deceased. Seeing the living dead relentlessly stalking their prey is far more chilling than any CGI boogeyman or monster in more recent movies.

Characterizations & Acting.
While none of these people are going to win an Oscar, the acting here is quite good. Better still, the writing that brings these people to life is absolutely top notch. These characters behave exactly like real people would under such circumstances. There is no wisecracking joker, no macho bully, no airhead females (though Judy comes damn close) nor any of the other stereotypes foisted upon the horror genre by Hollywood over the years. This is a group of very different personalities that are all quite frightened and dealing with the situation in their own ways. Good qualities and bad qualities come out in everyone. No one person is wholly bad or good – just trying to survive the best they can. For some that means rising to leader, for others it means slipping into near catatonia. For still others it means more negative than positive attributes are shown while under pressure. In other words – they’re real people. The two standouts are Ben and Harry, who approach the problem from very different angles. Ben is more proactive, trying to find a solution that will cover any developments, while Harry wants to hide from the crisis and wait things out. Both men are believable in these roles as nerves fray, tempers rise and things get heated. The others are not shortchanged, either. With the exception of Karen, who sleeps through most of the film, they all behave in very believable ways. Their motivations are understandable and their fears more than appreciated. It is this Human element – the development of the characters and their interaction, that contributes the most to the film’s success. Sure, zombies are scary as hell, but seeing people slowly lose their grip as the crisis unfolds with each new terrifying revelation only serves to intensify the sense of fear that pervades the film.

An interesting side note about the casting of Duane Jones in the lead role of Ben is that somewhere along the line somebody got the idea that director Romero was trying to make some type of social statement on the role of African American males in “White America.” Over the years this notion gained momentum until it was nearly accepted as fact. That is, until Romero himself came forward with the truth: Jones was cast simply because he was the best actor who auditioned for the role. That fact made more of a statement than any subtleties in the film could ever do.

FX.
The special FX here are simple, some might dare say primitive. However, they get the job done and that is the important thing. The FX are pretty much limited to the area of make-up for the zombies populating the movie. Unlike later films which would showcase the walking dead in all their rotting, gut dropping glory, this film is dealing with the recently deceased, so the demands on the make-up are not as exhaustive as subsequent zombie flicks. Yes, there are a few ghouls that don’t look too fresh, but the make-up appliances are not over the top. Rather, they are restrained yet still adequately aid in portraying a person whom is no longer among the living. The stand out “FX sequence” (if it can be called that) is when the zombies converge on the bodies in the truck and enjoy some fresh BBQ. The blood and guts on display are enough to instill that sense of sickness and unease in people, yet not quite explicit enough to induce vomiting. The black and white photography helps downplay the visual aspects to the gore, as without any vibrant reds, it seems much more subdued that other gore-fests. As to whether all that was true back in 1968, I have no idea.

Music.
For the most part, the music here is uninspired and does not really stand out. The one exception is the music that plays during the “feasting” scene. I don’t know if it is better classified as a sound effect or as actual music, but whatever it is, it is creepy in the extreme. It pops up in other spots during the film, but it is during this particular sequence that is really manages to send chills down one’s spine.

Technique.
This is where George Romero shows us what an under appreciated master of the craft he is among Hollywood circles. As one reviewer said of Romero, he doesn't spell out character relationships like most Hollywood films. In other words, he doesn't waste any dialogue to show that two people are rivals, friends, lovers, etc. He relies on the way they act toward each other to do that. So what we get here, is a competently made and well-written film complete with horror, action, and drama that pleases on all fronts and doesn't make you feel stupid! The aforementioned method of transporting the audience into the thick of things by focusing the story on that one small group of people and no one else may have been because of budgetary reasons, but it works nonetheless. In addition, the black and white film stock makes the use of light, darkness and shadows that much more effective in the final product.

The Summation.
Yes, there are a few sloppy bits here and there, like the ebb and flow of sunlight in alternating shots or the “live” footage aired late at night that shows a bright sunlit day. However, overall the film transcends its meager resources and provides a viewing experience that is not soon forgotten. Its cinematic legacy aside, the film still manages to scare the hell out of people after all these years, which speaks volumes of the skill that went into its creation. Indeed, my life would probably be very different if not for this film. The film is old enough that it may be a turn off for many viewers, and the lack of color only adds to that, but any horror film buff owes it to themselves to see it at least once.

 

Expect To See:
Gore - Not a lot, but there is one scene with the ghouls chowing down on some recently roasted people and lots of guts and body parts can be seen.
Haunted Houses - While it has no unruly or playful spirits inhabiting it, the farm house where the main characters seek refuge is somewhat creepy.
Nudity - Almost none, though there is one female ghoul parading around outside without a stitch on. She must have died in the bathtub or something.
Violence - While the bloody results are often seen, the actual acts are hinted at or occur offscreen for the most part. Still, this film is not a sunny picnic in the park.
Zombies - This is the granddaddy of all zombie films, the one that defined decades of knock-offs both in the U.S. and in Italy, where the zombie film became an institution.

 

Movie Stats:
Shadow's Commentary:

Deaths: 8
Zombies dispatched: 11
Smokes: 4
Times Barbra has a breakdown: 2
Times people try to use phone: 2
Words spoken by Karen in film: 2
Number of times Ben punches Harry: 4
Age of Shadow when it scared him shitless: 4
Years Shadow went before watching this film again: 12

06 Mins - Look! The Tall Man….not.
09 Mins - How did she get from the road to the middle of a field so fast?
11 Mins - Brown trousers alert!
19 Mins – Eye movment from “dead” body.
44 Mins - A wooden stake? They’re not vampires, pal!
50 Mins - Helen does what wives do best...she reads Harry the riot act.
54 Mins - A TV! Now they can watch Laugh-In.
74 Mins - Bon Appetit.
92 Mins - Salvation has arrived! Then again…maybe not.


Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time harsh words are traded between Ben and Harry, take a sip of your beer. Just a sip, mind you. Trust me, keep it at that and you’ll be half crocked in no time.

 

Images Click for larger image

I had no idea Michael Jackson
was in this flick!



If only they had AAA.

"There's no use sulking. You'll get
paid scale just like the rest of us
on this film."


 
Who knew that zombies were
bug-eating tree-huggers?

"C’mon and open up! I gotta
go bad. This ain’t funny!"

How the hell are people supposed
to know where the safety
centers are when they cannot
read the damn text?!



 
"Stop and ask for directions?
Are you nuts?
We’re surrounded by zombies!"

 
This is what happens when you let
Johnny Storm borrow your truck.

I hope she doesn’t ask to
super-size it.

"I said I don’t wanna plant a garden!"

The NRA welcoming committee
prepares for the arrival of
the anti-gun crowd.

Never mind charcoal. For fast and
long burning fires that help bring
out the flavor of the meat, use new
Logzombies to heat your grill.

 

Immortal Dialog

Johnny teases Barbra in the cemetery.

Johnny: “They’re coming to get you, Barbra.”

Shadow’s comment: This guy is just plain mean to his sister…my kind of dude! Did I mention I have four of them (sisters, not dudes)?


Breaking news on the TV.

TV Newsguy: “It has been established that persons who have recently died, have been returning to life and committing acts of murder. Wide spread investigation of reports from funeral homes, morgues and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims.”

Shadow’s comment: Soon afterwards they formed the Republican Party.


A field reporter interviews a police Chief out on a search-and-destroy mission.

Reporter: “Are they slow-moving, Chief?”
Chief: “Yeah, they’re dead. They’re…all messed up.”

Shadow’s comment: Now, that’s no way to talk about this year's American Idol contestants.

 

Keep In Mind
  • Deceased loved ones should be buried as far from home as possible.
  • You can run your ass off, but a slow-moving zombie will never be too far behind.
  • The sun goes down FAST in Pennsylvania.
  • Phones make sounds like UFO’s when the line is dead.
  • Zombies like to vandalize cars.
  • Zombies hate fire. Feel free to set the woods on fire in order to drive them off.
  • A Hammer, nails and plenty of boards are always readily available in any given house.
  • Woman contribute nothing but trouble during a risky escape attempt.



This Film & Me

I was four years old in 1973. One night I sat down to watch George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead with my four older sisters and my mother. Needless to say, it was an intense experience for me. So intense, that mom had to send me to bed halfway through the film. Talk about torture! There I was, all alone in bed with a giant window hanging over me…and the curtains wide open. I started imagining the faces of dead people appearing in that window, the ghouls desperately trying to claw their way into my room in order to get me. To make a long story short, I was not able to go to sleep and began crying. Mom had no recourse but to let me back out to the family room where I was able to see the rest of the film. Simply put, the movie scared the living hell out of me. I was so traumatized by it that for years afterwards, whenever a commercial came on that was advertising an upcoming airing of the film, I would quickly turn the channel. In instances where I was not close enough to the TV set to turn the channel before being exposed to too much imagery from the film, I would run like hell out of the room. When that wasn’t an option I went with the old classic of sticking my fingers in my ears, closing my eyes and humming. It would be many years before I let myself watch the movie again, and by that time I found it no longer scared me. In fact, after that initial viewing, I found that very little truly scared me anymore. Why? Because Night of the Living Dead scared me so bad, I got it all out of my system at once. Others might theorize that having four older sisters was enough horror in my life and that explains why nothing much phased me afterwards, but that is a debate for another day.

To this day, zombies are one of two cinematic monsters that still show up in some of my more "intense" dreams (not really nightmares, but not exactly pleasant by any means), the other being The Blob. At the core, it is the mindless, relentless and unreasoning natures of these monsters that I find frightening. Odd then, that I love any film with zombies and flesh-absorbing amorphous blobs. Then again, in the very real world sharks and spiders top my list of "things that induce instant heart failure" yet I still love films that feature these critters as the antagonists, either in their natural or super-sized/super-smart forms. Is it some odd way of facing my fears? I dunno. I have no degree in bullshi…er…psychiatry. Naturally, these days I can appreciate Night of the Living Dead for the horror masterpiece it is, and actively seek out any zombie film I can my hands on.

Shadow's rating: Eight Tombstones



The Good

  • An all time classic
  • Great sense of dread
  • Nightmare inducing
  • Lots of ghoul action
  • Set the standard for modern zombie movies

The Bad

  • Harry the sniveling weasel
  • Judy the human door knob
  • Downbeat ending (could be good thing depending on tastes)
  • Too many zombies in rural setting

The Ugly

  • Um...anyone?


This review is part of the Movies Under the Bed Rogue Reviewers Roundtable, which focuses on
films that frightened us as kids.

 

Review Round-Up
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