Pittsburgh-based industrial filmmaker George Romero gathered together a loyal cast and youthful crew from the local talent, scrounged up enough money to shoot on weekends, and made motion picture history. The first truly modern horror movie, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the most influential
work to emerge in the genre since PSYCHO. Despite mostly unprofessional acting, near nonexistent production values, homemade special effects, and cheap grainy black-and-white film stock, the film is a triumph. It's also a sign of its times--the era of the Vietnam War abroad and social upheaval at
home--in which good does not triumph over evil, and likable people die just as brutally and unexpectedly as the despicable ones. The violence, which was extreme in its day, reflects the horrors Americans were seeing each night on the evening news, and patriarchal values and institutions are
depicted in a critical manner. The horror movie would never be the same again.
Barbara (O'Dea) and her brother, Johnny (Streiner), have driven many miles at the behest of their mother to honor their dead father by placing a wreath on his grave. Neither is enthusiastic about the annual task. Johnny reminisces about how he used to frighten his sister when they were children.
"They're coming to get you, Barbara!" he intones ominously in his best Boris Karloff fashion. Though now grown up and ostensibly too mature to be affected by such juvenile scare tactics, Barbara is still unnerved by her brother's creepy performance. Johnny sees an odd-looking fellow lurching
unsteadily in the distance. "Look, there's one of them now!" The fun and games abruptly stop, however, when the weird man savagely grabs Barbara. Johnny leaps to his sister's defence but he's knocked down by the maniac. His head strikes a tombstone, apparently killing him. Barbara races for her
life back to the car, leaps in, and discovers that the keys are in Johnny's pocket. The maniac bangs on the windows, desperate to get at her. Barbara releases the emergency brake and the car rolls down a hill away from her clumsy pursuer. She gets out and runs to an old farmhouse where she is soon
joined by Ben (Jones), a young black man. Ben informs Barbara that the recently dead have been returning to life to eat the living. He sets about fortifying the house by nailing boards over doors and windows, without much help from Barbara, who has gone into a semi-catatonic state.
Thus the stage is set for one of the most nightmarish films ever made, and one that's still hard to laugh off today. Things get a bit talky once all the characters gather in the farmhouse, but NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD grips in the manner of a good "Twilight Zone" episode. Produced for less than
$150,000, the film was booked in a haphazard manner--rejected by Columbia because it wasn't in color and by American International Pictures because it had no romance and a downbeat ending--and turned up at kiddie matinees, scaring the daylights out of unprepared youngsters. NIGHT OF THE LIVING
DEAD then found its niche on the midnight movie circuit and went on to become one of the most successful independent films of all time. Romero made two (far bloodier) sequels, DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD; all three movies are essential viewing for horror fans.
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- Review: Pittsburgh-based industrial filmmaker George Romero gathered together a loyal cast and youthful crew from the local talent, scrounged up enough money to shoot on weekends, and made motion picture history. The first truly modern horror movie, NIGHT OF THE L… (more)
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