Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Movie Review
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Night of the Living Dead

Directed By: George A. Romero

Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Russell Streiner, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Kyra Schon, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley

Subgenre: Zombies

Synopsis: A rag tag group of people attempt to survive the night in a farmhouse when the dead have come back to life and hunger for human flesh.

Thoughts: It can be said that George A Romero’s classic vision of a world turned upside down by the living dead is the starting point of modern horror. Not only was it the starting point of Romero’s series, but it has been remade, re-imagined, and blatantly copied throughout the years. While Romero didn’t introduce the zombie, he sure cast one hell of a mold for one. The lumbering, flesh-craving undead have been a mainstay for decades, even though recent trends have the zombies limbering up and running 100 yard dashes.

The cast is spectacular, especially for having mostly unknown actors at the time.  Judith O’Dea does a phenomenal job playing Barbra, who is a complete mess throughout the movie. Karl Hardman plays Harry, the universally hated husband who just wants to stay in the cellar.  While those roles were very well played, it’s not a stretch to say that the best role was that of Ben, played by Duane Jones.  The role was not only spectacular, but groundbreaking as well.  Not only was it rare to have a black man in a leading role, it was even less common to have that role be as strong as Ben’s was.

Romero’s films are often known for their social commentary and Night was no exception. Casting Duane Jones as Ben was quite a statement in 1968, as racial tensions were high. Some also say it is a statement on racism that Ben survived the shambling hordes of undead, only to be killed by the posse filled with rednecks.  George Romero has said on many occasions that he had no intention for this to be a social statement and that Ben could have just as easily been a white person.  Even if it was unintentional, it’s still talked about to this day.

It’s hard to believe that this was one of Romero’s first movies, because it is so damn good.  It ranks as not only my favorite Romero movie, but also one of my favorite movies overall.  There is something about the way he shoots a scene that just works for me.  In most of his movies, I feel immersed in the storyline and really get into the characters.

One very interesting note on Night of the Living Dead is its copyright status. The original distributor failed to copyright the original print, causing it to lapse into the public domain. This is why you can find it several places online, and there are so many versions on DVD.  There are varying levels of quality out there, so be careful what you buy when you add this must own movie to your collection.

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Comments
  1. Yes you should. I’m sure you could canibalise (no pun intended) them and update them for BD updates. I thought the point you raised about Duane Jones being the best actor for the job as interesting, and in a way, more accepting then specifically wanting a black actor for the role. If Romero had designed the character as an African American, it would have been ground breaking and a leap forward at a time when racial politics in the U.S. sorely needed it. But that would have been making a huge statement about race. A more subtle (and conversely a bigger) statement was to not care about the man’s skin colour and to hire the best man for the job. That is truly the essence of acceptance and one which escapes us even today because of the mess we’re in over diversity in the workplace. I’m an actor, and a few years ago a friend of mine was the first black actor to play a king of England at the RSC. There was a big deal made about it at the time, but I always felt that it made perfect sense to me for 2 reasons: 1) Dave is a very fine actor and he was most probably the best actor for the role 2) His grandfather was king of Nigeria and therefore he is waaaaaay closer to royalty than someone like me who is just some pleb from Newcastle. Best man for the job. If only it went like that all the time. Anyway, you two are clearly the best men for the job, so please keep those reviews coming in.

  2. shnsjolin says:

    Thanks for the comment!

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