Night of the Living Dead.
This low budget black and white horror movie, shot entirely in Pittsburgh, took onscreen gore to a whole new level back in 1968. Never before had we been shown such graphic images of zombies (some of whom were naked) eating the flesh of their victims. Sure maybe it was really chicken but it looks a lot like human flesh.
George Romero's classic is one of the most simple yet effective scary movies ever made. A brother and sister arrive at a remote country cemetery to put flowers on their father's tombstone late one afternoon. Johnny can't resist teasing his sister. “They're coming to get you Barbara. Look there's one of them now." Only the stranger he includes in the game turns out to be a real zombie with a craving for human flesh.
Of course Johnny is knocked out by the creature who then chases Barbara to a nearby farm house. She is soon joined by Ben the hero of the movie. He boards up the house and tries his best to comfort the hysterical young woman on his hands.
After a few close calls with the gathering zombies Ben and Barbara discover others hiding in the basement of the house. One is a young couple named Tom and Judy and the other is a middle-aged couple, Harry and Helen Cooper. They have a young daughter who was bitten by a zombie. This ultimately leads to the most shocking moments of the movie. When little Karen becomes a ghoul and kills and eats her parents.
A television set is discovered and the small group of survivors learns all about the mayhem and destruction going on in the Eastern third of the country. Although never completely explained we learn that some radiation from outer space has caused the mutations in the corpses of the recently deceased.
This movie is truly frightening. The gritty way it was shot only adds to its scariness.
It ends with powerful racial symbolism. Of all the occupants of the farmhouse Ben, a black man, is the sole survivor of the night. In the final scene he is taken for a zombie by the redneck sheriff in charge of killing the ghouls. Ben gets a bullet between the eyes. Not an uplifting ending but a fitting one for this no holds barred fright fest.
Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead.
Since Patrick brought up the issue of race, I would like to know what actually makes the sheriff a "redneck"? Because he is white and carries a gun? He is leading a bunch of men in killing the zombies. He is, in effect, the hero of the film. Ben does not yell out, or announce he is alive. I disagree completely with Patrick's suggestion that race plays any part, whatsoever, in Ben's demise.
If Night of the Living Dead has any message it is not to judge to quickly. It is a theme repeated several times throughout the movie. Barbra and her brother do not look very closely at the man in the cemetery and he turns out to be a zombie. Later in the movie Ben and Harry argue over going into the basement to hide from the zombies. Ben wins the argument but Harry is proven to have had the right idea. The zombies end up getting into the house and Ben retreats to the basement anyway. The final scene drives the message home strongest. The sheriff and his men are shown killing many zombies prior to shooting Ben. If you actually found yourself, Patrick, in the sheriff's position, at that point, you would probably have done the same thing. But it would not make you a redneck anymore than it does him!
I first watched this movie late at night with my father. I was probably too young to watch it because it gave me nightmares for months. It holds up well today in most aspects. The weakest moments in the film is when Judith O'Dea is shown running from the zombie. She does the cliched "trip while being pursued" thing, then she pauses every so often for dramatic effect. That scene is a combination of cliches and bad acting. Otherwise, Night of the Living Dead is a ground breaking horror masterpiece that employed a black actor in the lead without ever making a racial issue of it!
The plot is perfectly set up and reamins a classic.
Jeezus guys, what the hell? I just watched this movie for the first time in a very, very long time and not once while watching did I think about race or racism. It's never mentioned or hinted at once. Ben could have been played by a white, black, yellow, red, blue or orange actor and it wouldn't have affected the story at all. Until I read your two reviews it never even occurred to me that someone might interpret this movie in that way at all.
I too remember watching this movie as a kid and being genuinely scared by it. Even today, while noticing a bit more of the bad acting and melodramatic direction, I still got a thrill out of it. It wasn't just Barbara tripping and falling while running, it was also the way she stumbles into the room with the stuffed animals on the walls and the music zings dramatically in a way that is almost unintentionally funny. And of the actors, while none of them will win any Oscars, Keith Wayne as Tom is really pretty bad. Fortunately this isn't a movie that requires great acting.
It's just such a perfect setup. A group of people trapped in a confined space while endless, unthinking monsters try to break in and do that most repulsive of things, eat the flesh of the living. It's no wonder that the idea has been reused in sequels, remakes and carried over into video games and countless other movies that ripped off the plot of this one.
I do have to say that I hate the ending. Even though I knew it was coming, I was still hoping Ben wouldn't get shot. But even when he does, I know that it was because the Sheriff and his men had been up all night shooting everything that moved and saw what they thought was just one more zombie (although that word is never used in the entire movie) and the fact that they thought he was a black zombie had nothing to do with it.
Photos © Copyright Image Ten (1968)