As dead bodies inexplicably return to life and feast on human flesh, young Barbara (Judith O’Dea) joins a group of survivors in a farmhouse hoping to protect themselves from the hordes of advancing zombies. But soon enough, only one person remains. Writer-director George A. Romero’s low-budget horror classic continues to inspire heebie-jeebies, in part because of the randomness of the zombies’ targets.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Much can be said about guerrilla film-making. In 1968 Young movie director George Romero found it very empowering. Especially when he and his fellow crew members, John Russo and Russell Striener took on a script they wrote called “Monster Flick” and turned it into the iconic, schlock-shock classic “Night of the Living Dead.” This black-and-white film, shot in and around Evans City, Penn. just north of Pittsburgh, cost all of $115,000 to process, shoot and release. This low-budget, guerrilla film consisted of some really cool little known facts that Romero once told an audience at a Horror convention I attended many years ago. Some of them being that Bosco chocolate syrup was the blood and that the body parts were pieces of cooked and boiled ham from a butcher’s shop. Cool, Huh?
“Night” has everything that a a great little horror film should have: Influence, craftsmanship, subtext and a sense of dread and doom. The theme of the evil lurking out there trying to work it’s way in plays out in very tense fashion. Many films have emulated that feeling of intruding doom. John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” and even “Halloween” are two that come to mind. Romero’s cinéma vérité is uncluttered, grotesque and has a smart, wily wit about it that lingers way after the credits roll. It takes great stabs at the military, local yokels, the slow-as-shit zombies and our protagonists are conflicted and naive. The only heroic character with any balls is Ben, played stoically (if not at times a bit dully) by Duane Jones. Judith O’ Dea, the then 23-year-old theater actress who plays Barbra, the character who loses her brother Johnny to a zombie early and helps Ben and the unfortunate others holed up at the house. They try their best to stave off the attacking zombie hoard not realizing the dangers lurking from within their own ranks. This tension and paranoia provides some good drama and, along with it, some campy dialog and occasional wooden performances from the cast.
There is gore, ever increasing tension, suspense and unsettling dark comedy in Romero’s zombie opus. I love how he brings the horror that is outside and keeps us in one remote place. The subtext, too, lurks just right outside the door and is waiting to be let in. This theme is repeated over and over in his later “Dead” films, such as “Dawn of the Dead.” It is one magnificent midnight film to enjoy and savor — pun intended.