johnlink ranks NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

On Halloween night, there may be no movie more quintessentially in the spirit of all that is spooky than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It’s zombies long since a cliche, it is fun to see the movie that is widely considered the one responsible for giving zombies a genre defining moment. Also, there is a full HD version available for free on YouTube (thanks, to be sure, to the fact that Director George A. Romero failed to properly copyright the film). But to save you the jump, here it is:

I watched NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) on 10.31.15. It was my second viewing of the film, and first in a decade or so.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is, perhaps, the most famous example of filmmaking on a budget in the budding 60s era of indie filmmakers with access to cameras and (as importantly) the means to have their work seen by a wide audience. While there are absolutely other excellent movies in this category, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is a movie which earns its reputation.

George A. Romero makes the movie work with very few locations, strategic use of some still-powerful gore effects, and a paranoia laden script. The story has Barbara (Judith O’Dea) see her brother killed in a cemetery as a zombie invasion is under way. She runs to a house where she boards up with Ben (Duane Jones). She soon enters a state of shock, while Ben works to get the windows mostly secured. Turns out some extra people were hiding in the basement with their self-appointed leader, Harry (Karl Hardman), who is about the worst kind of leader you could imagine. Harry and Ben struggle over who should be the ‘boss’ of the house, a conflict that ultimately results in death.


As these people try to survive in the house, the zombie war grows outside. This is a cynical movie, one in which almost every idea turns out to be a fatal one, the media gives some pretty bad advice, and all hope is crushed by the end. There are subtle undertones of racism, with Ben’s African American presence seeming to cause some of Harry’s mistrust. There are less subtle displays of anti-feminism, with the women either injured, subservient, or in a state of shock. The one woman who tries to do something active is probably the main cause of her boyfriend’s death because her ‘dress gets caught’. Racism and anti-feminism collide when Ben gets impatient with Barabara’s ranting and chooses to stop her talking by punching her across the face and knocking her out. This is a solution that he doesn’t seem to think is a problem, even if he sort of makes it up to her by finding her some nice shoes in the closet.

While those bits might date this movie to a certain extent, they also highlight a general mistrust of its own characters. Nobody in this is a true noble hero. Ben is closest, though he is pure survivalist when push comes to shove. The little injured girl may seem innocent, but those who know zombie movies know what the bite on her arm means.


NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD does not hold true to all of the tropes of zombie flicks that are thought to be born from it. First, the zombies aren’t stupid. They don’t just aimlessly wander until they find a human. In the first zombie scene, the undead guy figures out how to use a car door handle and problem solves the lock by picking up a brick and smashing it through the window. These undead have manual dexterity and the ability to use tools, in a rudimentary way. Secondly, these zombie are born from an alien source. The news broadcast tells us that a probe of Venus came back to Earth with high amounts of radiation. It is this alien poisoning that the undead arise.

This is a really good movie. The gore is, surprisingly, still visceral. A scene of zombies eating intestines and organs is not for the squeamish. And while this is a movie with a prohibitively pessimistic world view, it is not out of touch with the mistrust of the world prevalent in the late 60s. And while the acting in this film is nothing memorable (with Duane Jones maybe the one exception), nobody in here really embarrasses themselves. Regardless of any of these slightly negative criticisms, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is a classic for a reason, and should always be on the short list of canonical independent films.



The bonus point is for some wonderfully creative cinematography. Lots of impactful low angle shots, lots of cool compositions with canted angels and uncomfortable close ups. Really a great looking black-and-white film.


FINAL SCORE: 7.25 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on November 1, 2015.

3 Responses to “johnlink ranks NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)”

  1. Nice review. What a classic! I’m such a big fan of Romero’s zombie films. 🙂

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