Here begins my Romero splurge – my intention being to watch and review every Romero zombie film ever made. What have I let myself in for? I thought I would start with the oldest of his work and move on from there.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) is black and white and it would appear people were a lot more easily scared back in the day.
The plot is fairly simple. Our main heroine, Barbara, abandons her slightly obnoxious brother in a graveyard after he is attacked by what looks like a slightly ugly looking drugged bloke (obviously a zombie…) and escapes into a farm house, where she meets Ben, a sensible thinking Black chap who is clearly the most competent, heroic member of the growing gang. Other people join the crew boarded up in the farm house, and the house is slowly berated by an increasingly large horde of what the radio reveals to be the ‘living dead’. Chaos ensues. The film builds itself up quite nicely in some ways; with the threat slowly becoming more and more severe and what I imagine would be dramatically increasing tension (if I found it particularly tense, which alas I did not) but it is overwhelmingly not a scary film.
My main problem is that the film is so incredibly unbelievable, not just because of the makeup and special effects. People react in totally stupid, irrational and unrealistic ways. With the speed the zombies move they are easily out walkable, and how so many people manage to crash their cars when there is nothing in the way is a mystery to me. I’m fairly sure Barbara must be throwing herself at the zombies for her to get into as much trouble as she has and every reaction is so hideously over dramatic that my overwhelming feeling throughout the film was irritation not fear. Barbara reacts like the biggest wet-blouse, pansy woman imaginable, freaks out and is totally unhelpful. She is basically a liability and Ben should have just let the zombies eat her and make his life easier. Everyone needs a good slap.
From a modern day perspective the zombies are also hilarious. The first one we see is clearly just a very sleepy, possibly slightly drunk, ugly man. Throughout the film they do get increasingly more gruesome in appearance and there are some excellent scenes where we see a horde ripping away at flesh, however, with our over stimulated, gore-strewn modern flicks, the whole thing does appear more funny than scary.
I guess the main reason for this film’s fame is that it was trend setting. Night of the Living Dead was the first of its kind, something new, fresh and, back in the day, terrifying. Every zombie horror since then has been modelled around Romero’s template and as ludicrous as the film may seem now, we have it to thank for all the amazing zombie films we have today. As with most older films, our modern, over-stimulated brains often find them a little boring, but we have to give kudos to a film that has sparked so much awesomeness since it was created.
I was not taken in by Night of the Living Dead. Unfortunately I cannot quite forgive it for having such terrible, overly dramatic acting, which alas drains all fear out of it for me. I thank it for having paved the way for the genre to expand but after all it has done I feel it needs a good rest in a retirement home – with occasional visits from loving and appreciative fans who really don’t find it interesting , but do want to show it love and respect*. Thank you Night of the Living Dead, you were ground breaking, you just also happen to be terribly acted.
*wow, I feel really bad for old people now, I miss my grandma!