Horror Month 2009 wouldn’t be complete without a Romero zombie flick!
Screenplay By: George A. Romero & John A. Russo
Directed By: George A. Romero
Over the years more than enough has been written about the social commentary found in the ground breaking Night Of The Living Dead. I’m not going to add a lot to that fire, but I will briefly touch on the commentary that resonated the most with me. Then again, this is me we are talking about, for all I know I’ll end up writing a mini-thesis on the social commentary instead of a few measly words.
First and foremost in my mind is the commentary that the director, George A. Romero, has said was unintentional. According to Romero he never intended for Ben to represent race, Duane Jones wasn’t cast because he was black, he was cast because he was the best actor that Romero personally knew. In the end it doesn’t matter what Romero’s intentions were because race becomes a major factor in Night Of The Living Dead. You can’t help but think of the times and wonder if Harry refuses to take orders from Ben because he is black. Or, how taboo it must have been in 1968 for a scene to play out where a black man slaps a white woman across the face. Romero may not have intended for race to be in Night Of The Living Dead, but thanks to his direction and the efforts of the actors race becomes one of the more prominent issues.
My favorite bit of commentary is easily that of teamwork and cooperation. The living humans don’t die because of the zombies, they die because of their arguing and in-fighting. They refuse to trust one another fully, this divides the survivors and makes it easier for the zombies to overtake them. Back in 1968 this could be applied to the world globally, and it’s scary to say it, but this can be applied to the world today as well. We don’t work together, whether it is in our village, our state, our country or our planet, humanity argues and works against its own good at every turn. It may not be zombies, but something will come along one day to exploit the weaknesses that Night Of The Living Dead shows in the human race.
After you strip away the social commentary you are left with a finely made film. The make-up effects aren’t as advanced looking as they would be in subsequent follow-ups, but they more than do their job in 1968. The acting isn’t anything that will blow your mind, but all the actors slip into their roles and serve the film in the best possible way. The scares are constructed not around jump scares or pop outs, but around the fear of the known and unknown. It’s a constant, pestering fear that is found in Night Of The Living Dead, a fear that stays with you. Night Of The Living Dead is a sum of its parts movie, it doesn’t wow you in any one category, but when combined you are left with a film that does wow you.
The zombie geek in me loves what Romero did to the genre. He strips away a lot of the classical myth and replaces it with modern sensibilities and easily identifiable traits. Romero does this in nearly flawless fashion, through the visuals and the action we learn all that we need to about the zombies. We understand the threat they represent and how to stop them from watching the characters deal with them. The newscasts help to broaden the scope of the zombie mythos and sets in stone the way zombies are still being portrayed in all mediums to this very day. Some people have strayed from the Romero rules of zombiedom, but they stay rather close and only make minute changes, and the reasons are simple, Romero’s rules are clear and effective.
For as much as I have babbled on and on about Night Of The Living Dead I managed to leave out the best part, it’s all kinds of fun. Beyond the commentary and the technical aspects you are left with a fun movie, one that never gets old no matter how many times I watch it. Night Of The Living Dead created, or at the very least irrevocably modified, an entire genre of films and it did so in a way that is just as pleasing today as it was in 1968, or so I have been told by people other than Vincent Canby. Dawn Of The Dead may be Romero’s masterpiece, but Night Of The Living Dead is where the dead series and the zombie genre as we know it today started. Night Of The Living Dead is a must see horror film, but don’t forget the key to the gas pump, that can be deadly.