Monday, November 7, 2011
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
At this point there's not a whole lot anyone can say about this milestone horror epic that hasn't been said before a million and one times. This movie has been picked apart by scholars and idiots alike. People have ascribed it a social significance that seems to have been mostly unintentional by the filmmakers and every serious horror fan would have to admit that this film was the starting point of a new era in horror. An era that would be marked with increasingly graphic and horrific elements in film that mirrored our own societal ills quite a bit more relevantly than something like THE BLOB or THE WOLFMAN ever set out to. 70's horror for all practical purposes starts right here and movies that came before, for the large part, instantly seemed quaint and hokey in comparison. I've probably viewed this movie as much as possible without my eyes falling out of my head and it always entertains on some level. From an old cheap-ass VHS tape I had, to MTV's midnight Halloween showings, to this being on almost every cheap-ass horror movie DVD set, this film is inescapable. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. It is due in part to it's public domain status that this film has gained it's legendary reputation.. It changed scary movies form being about giant bugs and martians to being about gore and human monsters. We are the monsters. If there's any more truthful statement than that in horror movies I don't know what it could be. Or as John Carpenter likes to say it's the horror "out there" vs. the horror within all of us. This, along with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, are the two films I've seen the most in my life.
The one thing I have noticed, the more times I watch this film, is how my sympathies in this movie have shifted from the Ben character to that of Mr. Cooper. Sure it's easy to like Ben, he's the hero, he seems to do almost everything right and keeps his cool. Cooper on the other hand is almost the stereotypical uptight family man and although it's never explicitly stated we're led to assume that he's probably some kind of a racist as well. The problem is after viewing the movie so many times you realize that Cooper is right about the basement being the safest place and about all the barricades set up not really being strong enough of a defense against all those zombies. The way I figure it, if they just listened to him in the first place everyone would have been way better off. Maybe if he wasn't such a nervous, sweaty balding man he would have gotten the respect he deserved. Of course this would not have made quite as entertaining a movie and I suppose we have Ben to thank for this film going on to influence every zombie film made after it. Of course I'm also looking at the film from 2013 and not 1968 which I think would skew my view quite a bit taken out of the social/racial-context that it was created in.
This spawned 2 different series of films including Romero's Dead trilogy and writer John Russo's way goofier RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD series. This was officially remade in 1990 by Tom Savini but also served as the blueprint for just about every zombie movie made after it.
Update 10/25/13: I saw this as part of a Rifftrax show recently and while they could riff on some of the goofy old-timey elements and dubious acting of some of the cast here and there, even these goofballs couldn't do much to elevate the depressing ending and note of doom that this classic wraps up on.