Fall of the living dead

So it’s officially October and Fall is upon us.  More importantly, Halloween is just around the corner, which has finally given the Cinephiles an excuse to focus exclusively on horror for an entire month!  We’ll kick things off with a childhood favorite of mine, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

If you can watch Night of The Living Dead on an old, 10″ black-and-white television, huddled under a tent made from your own bedding, I’d highly recommend you do so. The more intimate the viewing, the better.  In fact, I believe it to be one of those rare horror films that doesn’t necessarily benefit from audience participation.  It wants to scare you on a much deeper, more personal level.

The story is simple:  A young man and woman, brother and sister, stop by a cemetery to pay respects.  It is eerily quiet.  There are no other mourners (Sometimes a small budget can be a blessing in disguise).  As the young man teases his obviously frightened sister with the immortal line, “They’re coming to get you Barbara,” a shabbily dressed man approaches and attacks her.  Her brother is killed in the scuffle, forcing her to retreat to a nearby farmhouse where she encounters a small group of people with similar stories. After discovering a television, not unlike the ideal one I mentioned earlier, they learn from the local news that the recently deceased are “returning to life and devouring the flesh of their victims.”  It’s pretty grim stuff, and having grown up on the camp of “Channel 20’s Thriller Double Feature” I was ill-prepared for the loss of humanity in Night of The Living Dead.  It shook me.  Normal people reduced to mindless, soulless killing machines.  The monsters here were our own friends and family.

Night of the Living Dead What’s equally interesting about the film is the manner in which it develops its story.  For all intents and purposes, Night starts off as a pretty fun, campy affair.  Its zombies are stiff and clumsy. It’s easy to find them amusing.  But there is one particular scene near the middle of the film where director George Romero signals that the fun is over.  It’s shortly after a failed escape attempt has left a young couple dead in their burning pick up truck. As the flames die down, the ghouls slowly approach and begin tearing at the charred bodies, devouring them part by part, organ by organ.  It’s a long sequence and it’s filmed by an unflinching camera.  Roger Ebert described this transition in his review, stating that the film had gone from being “delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying.”  And with that, writer/Director George Romero had reinvented the zombie film (More on that later).

Some argue (justly so) that the film’s sequel, Dawn of The Dead is the superior film.  And while Dawn‘s story is larger in scope, its social commentary more deliberate and it’s SFX vastly improved, it’s hard for me to agree that Dawn is the scarier film.  There’s something about its predecessor that just sticks with me.  Perhaps it still makes me feel like a scared little kid hiding under his blanket?  Or perhaps it’s the scene near the end where a little girl kills her own mother with a trowel?  Yeah, that’ll do it.

2 Responses to “Fall of the living dead”
  1. Lindsey says:

    Agreed. Child killing mother with trowel is UPSETTING.

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