Night of The Living Dead

February 22, 2010
Before Night of The Living Dead, zombie films borrowed heavily from the roots of voodoo lore - the origins of the zombie myth. Films such as White Zombie and I Walked With a Zombie were pretty good, but they never got too much critical or financial acclaim during their initial releases. It wasn't until George A. Romero, who had previously only directed short films and commercials, that zombie films would retreat from Eastern myths to become more Westernized. Instead of having some dark voodoo warlock/witch behind everything, the terror came from the creatures themselves. If it weren't for Romero, zombies, as we know them, might not exist.

The plot is relatively simple, as it showcases a group of random individuals trying to survive during an outbreak of the 'zombie infection'. At first, the film starts out like any B-horror film would. The score is far too over-the-top, the acting is cheesy, and the overall film is just sort of "meh". However, once the film reaches the 35-minutes mark or so, the film gets much, much better. The pacing is great, the characters are all interesting (with the exception of the unbearable Barbara), and the film's cinematography improves immensely - from the creepy zombie shots to what's going on between the group.

The characters may be typical archetypes - the zombie killer, the paranoid guy, etc. - but this is the film that began those archetypes. Because of this, everything feels smooth and well-played out, rather than forced and clunky ala cheap 80's horror or the dreadful remakes of Romero's work (Dawn of The Dead (2004)). The only character that was painful to watch, really, was Barbara. I don't have some unnatural hate for catatonic characters, but Barbara literally does absolutely nothing in this film. She's introduced in the opening scene, sees her brother killed, cries, meets some of the other main characters, and spends the rest of the film mopping around on a coach. Does she contribute to planning how to escape form the zombie-infested town? No. She never talks to anyone, only speaking up to show how far in denial she is.

The film also reminded me why zombies are considered 'scary' to begin with. They walk, not run, to their prey, and this creeping tension really adds horror to a genre which has been severely lacking in that trait for years. Granted, just like the rest of the film, it takes a good while before the zombies begin to get scary because of how cheesy the first thirty minutes are. I mean, the first zombie we see looks more like a creepy old man than an undead monster.

The pacing's also pretty tight, after the first thirty minutes of course, with little to no dragging during the main characters' escapades in the abandoned house. It can drag occasionally, but these dragging scenes are few and far between.

The most praiseworthy aspect about this film, though, is its creativity. I mean, this is THE film that made all of the 'zombies rules', which are practically considered law by horror devotees. You have to shoot a zombie in the head to kill it, zombies fear fire, zombies walk and moan, zombies eat the flesh of the living - Night of the Living Dead was what made these rules staples of horror cinema. The characters are also considered archetypes now, because each is almost crucial in a typical zombie film. The zombie killer, paranoid dude, the confused couple, etc. and so forth. These characters may be cliche now, but during the original release of this film, they were groundbreaking.

The biggest complaint I have for this film, however, is how poor the first thirty minutes are. I mean, I know I've mentioned that several times already, but it's really THAT harmful to the film. It's watchable, yes, but it makes the film downright hard to get into. Not to mention Barbara's the only main character present during that time, and her idiotic decisions just make the film that much harder to get into. For instance, who hits a tree in a car that's only going 5 mph tops? Even Ben, our zombie killer expert, can be pretty hard to like during the beginning of this film.

Night of the Living Dead was a small-budget indie horror film in the 60's, so it's quite surprising that such a film could have become the cult classic that it is today. I'm glad for the film, because it is quite good, but I would say it's far from being a 'cinematic masterpiece'. Night of the Living Dead isn't necessarily a great film, or a cinematic one, but its great characters (save Barbara), creepy zombies, and subtle framing shots have left a mark on horror cinema.

7.5/10 - Good

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