While not the film that originated the zombie, as films such as white zombie proceed it. Night of the Living Dead is what popularized the idea of the undead zombie and forced into the mainstream consciousness. Something that I would forever be grateful for. Though the idea of zombies eating brains would show up until Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead laid the groundwork for every zombie film to follow, while at the same time being a cinematic masterpiece.
Night of the Living Dead opens with Barbra Blair (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner), visiting the grave of their father. While visiting, the pair are attacked by a man, later revealed to be one of the undead, during the attack Johnny is killed when his head strikes a tombstone. Barbra flees to the car, but as Johnny has the keys she is unable to drive away and is beset by the man. She manages to escape by releasing the brake and coasting down hill until she crashes into a tree and flees on foot. She finds her way to a secluded farmhouse that seems abandoned and hides inside. While searching the house she comes across the mangled body of a murdered woman and in fright she runs from the house where she encounters Ben (Duane Jones). He rushes her inside as he’s been followed by a few of the undead. Once inside, he boards up the doors and windows, he tries talking Baraba who is now pretty much just catatonic. After securing the house people come up from the basement where they’ve been hiding Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) a teenage couple and a family consisting of Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) along his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), who is sick after being bitten by one of he undead. Harry, who has a short temper instantly starts butting heads with the more level-headed seeming Ben. Instantly putting the group at odds with one another. After hearing about a safe place to go on the radio they decided to make a desperate gamble to survive…
I love this film over others in the zombie sub-genre is because it actually has very little to do with the zombies. As a good zombie film should, sure they’re the danger an ever-present threat, forcing out heroes into action or inaction. But its focus is on the characters giving them full complex personalities, which makes them both relatable and even like-able.
The gore effects are pretty solid, mostly because the film is in black and white which lets your imagination get to work and the fact they used real chunks of meat during films. That and this film was made in a time when CGI wasn’t a thing a yet. So the effects are all practical. That said, by modern sensibility the gore is tame by today’s standards.
Where this film really shines is in the acting. As every actor does a great job making their character stand out and be memorable while not detracting from the main film in any way. Judith O’Dea especially since she basically a comatose wreak half the film, but when she has a dialogue she emotes and you get a strong sense of who this character is. While never questioning her emotional state.
Final thoughts, I really love this film and saying its the best zombie movie ever wouldn’t be a lie. That said, the first three Of the Dead films are cult classics for a reason. It’s hard to say anything new here as this film is a classic and any horror fan worth their salt has already seen it and its countless estimators. 10/10
Also, its public domain.