Monday, October 31, 2011

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead is my favorite movie of all time. It has always creeped me out and always delivers every time I watch it. I always seem to save a viewing for Night of the Living Dead just for Halloween night. A bit of a tradition if you will.

George Romero’s first film was filmed in 1968 on a very small budget of around $100,000. The movie introduced the idea of flesh eating zombies to an unsuspecting film audience. It’s stark black and white photography added to the creepiness and macabre scenes. It’s charm is timeless and has been a cult favorite for over 40 years. 

The pic that started it all
I first discovered this movie through an article in what I believe was a “Weird Tales” magazine back in the late 70’s. I remember being at school and excited to have a chance to buy a book at the book fair that was being held in the school library. I had found the novel version of Star Wars and was pretty set on what I was going to spend my parents money on. I mean Star Wars was HUGE at the time! Then out of the corner of my little eye I saw this magazine. It intrigued me so I opened it. I cannot tell you one story that was featured in this magazine but I do remember a still shot of these people on the front porch of a house. They looked to be clamoring about the doors and windows and one even had what looked like a large stick or club in its hand. The picture just hit me for some reason and I read the heading and found out the picture was from the movie Night of the Living Dead. The “Monster Kid” in me was already starting to bloom so I chucked the Star Wars book and bought the magazine instead! I remember reading about the movie and thinking that I had to see this one day! At the time home video had not been introduced to our family so I would have to wait several years before finally laying eyes to what would become a staple in my horror viewing habits.
Ben....good guy don't mess with him

I’m not going to review the movie here but I am just going to point out all the stuff that makes it great. Oh and there will be spoilers so if you haven’t seen this film you may read at your own risk. The opening scene is classic, period. From the opening credits and shots of the car driving up to the cemetery to the point where Barbara finally finds safety in the old house is one of the most brilliantly filmed sequences in horror film history. You get creepy atmosphere right from the start and introduced to two nice characters and one lone zombie that is trying his damnedest to get to his prey. The scene where Barbara flees the car, makes it to the road and then begins to run towards the camera and the camera begins to pull away from her is my favorite shot in the whole film. Romero gives the viewer the feeling of helplessness much like the old recurring dream where you try to run but it feels like you are going nowhere.

Harry Cooper, a real a-hole.
Then you have the banter between the characters, especially between Ben (Duane Jones) and Mr. Cooper (Karl Hardman). The dynamic between these two is well played out and completely defines Cooper as a real a-hole who deserves to be shot and then eaten by his zombiefied daughter. Everyone seems to want to work together except Cooper. He is hell bent on trying to preserve his own life no matter what the cost is to others. Is he trying to be a good father and husband by protecting his family? Nope that idea is completely thrown out the window with the exchanges between him and his wife Helen (Marylin Eastman). Helen tells Harry “We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything”. That pretty much tells us what the dynamic is between these two.


And who can forget Kyra Schon, the little girl who plays the Cooper’s daughter Karen. Karen’s been bitten by a zombie and mainly hangs out on the makeshift table resting throughout the film. She delivers one classic line, “I hurt”. But that is all she needs to say because she more than makes up for it in the finale when she finally turns to full zombie and attacks her mother with a spade. The scene is an all time classic with tilted camera angles, chocolate syrup splattered on the wall (it was filmed in black and white remember?) and a bizarre soundtrack that features the creepiest of screams and squeals.

Marilyn Eastman and Bosco chocolate syrup.
The ending of the film is a complete downer. It works don’t get me wrong and I would have it no other way but to have the hero of the movie, the one man who had it all together. The one who talked reason to everyone in the house, he gets mistaken for a zombie and gets a bullet between the eyes. The posse that was out killing zombies and trying to make the county safe makes one of the biggest gaffes in horror movie history. Well Ben was smart. He knew how to handle things and was a quick thinker. He took no crap from anyone and put Cooper in his place but he was mistaken about one single thing. The cellar was the safest place to hide from the zombies.

Night of the Living Dead also holds a special place in my Halloween heart because I first added it to my collection from a T.V. airing back in the mid 1980’s. A local channel aired the Hal Roach colorized version doubled with the T.V. premier of John Carpenter’s Halloween II. I didn’t really care that the version aired was the colorized version, I just wanted to add to the shelf for future viewing and cutting the cost of constant rental fees. I also found it pretty ironic that Night of the Living Dead is seen and heard in Halloween II. It is one of the movies playing on Halloween night during the “Dr. Dementia” Marathon. So to me it is completely fitting to watch Night of the Living Dead on Halloween night. It delivers the creeps and takes me back to a more simple time.

So turn down the lights, grab your popcorn and enjoy!!

Happy Halloween everybody!!

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