Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead (1968 dir. George A. Romero)
Unrealistic hair and a broken psychie. Barbara doesn’t get any breaks.
What I’ve always found interesting about this movie is how many true gotcha moments it has. I’ve always considered Ben the main character of this movie instead of Barbara and it’s a good 13 minutes before he even shows up in the movie. It’s like they thought Barbara was going to be the hero and then discovered all she could do was whimper and brought in Ben because we needed SOMEONE to save us. In a way, Sam Raimi did the same thing in the first Evil Dead movie. If you didn’t know better, would you have picked Ash as the hero from the start? Well, maybe. He has the chin after all, which grants mystical powers.
I feel pretty, oh so pretty
We’re not talking about that movie though we’re talking about this movie and this movie is a strange collection. I’m not about to get into all the political and social points this movie is supposed to be making, because I’ve never studied the sixties like that. I know, there is supposed to be all this important stuff that was going on at that time, but it doesn’t have much to do with me I’m afraid. As social commentary the movie isn’t a complete loss though, some of it has managed to come across. As a piece of horror though, the movie totally works though, so if you loose some of the social comments it’s okay.
I feel a sneeze coming on.
The movie starts simply enough with a brother and sister going to a cemetery to put flowers on their father’s grave. While they’re in the cemetery, the brother quotes a fairly famous line that I didn’t know was from this movie until I was about 27 or so because that was the first time I actually saw the whole thing. Yeah, that’s the sad truth. I never saw the entire Night of the Living Dead until I was at a pretty advanced age for this sort of thing. I’d seen bits and pieces, almost all of it, but never the opening 20 minutes or so. For that reason, I’d never connected “They’re coming to get you Barbara” with this movie. Hundreds of TV shows and movies, not to mention a whole lot of songs that sampled the phrase, and I never knew it was from this.
This man is creeped out by that stag head.
So anyway, a zombie shows up and kills Johnny before coming after Babs. This results in one of the first times that zombies run and are strong, since the zombie has to break a window and reasonably keep up with Babsy. Barbara manages to get to a near by farm house and wanders around until Ben shows up. Barbie is pretty far into catatonia by this point and is just sort of wandering around shell shocked. If not for Ben, Barbara wouldn’t have made it past the first reel and the movie would have been pretty short. He takes some time explaining how he first came across “those things” and how he escaped his first encounter with them. His explanation of his adventure opens Babsy up and she starts talking, which is a nice way to learn what happened to her if you missed the first 20 minutes or so. Sadly, Barbie then flips out, as she will do many times in this movie. Ben calms her down with a quick right to the jaw.
Ben then gets back to the business of boarding up the windows and lighting chairs on fire. He does this because the creatures don’t like fire much, or maybe because he doesn’t react to stimuli very well and this is his way of lashing out. After all, he does spend a lot of time tearing the furniture apart and ripping the walls down during this period of the film. Oh sure, he covers up the tearing down of the doors by nailing them up over the windows, but that’s just and excuse. He’s just looking for something to do while the radio fills us in on all the exposition that we need.
Any movie with a naked zombie is a good movie.
While Ben goes to look around upstairs people come up from the cellar to see what’s been going on. We discover that a family and a young couple were hiding down there the entire time. Evidently they decided that they’d come up to help once the black man had actually done all the hard work. Then an argument starts about whether they should go into the cellar or stay up stairs. The elder, Mr. Harry Cooper decides that the cellar is the best place while Ben and the young man Tom and his girlfriend Judy decide to stay upstairs.
The family gathers around the TV to hear the news.
When we see the Cooper family, which isn’t a particularly happy family. Helen thinks Harry has made a mistake, and lets him know it in her own special way. They decide to stay down in the basement until someone mentions that they’ve found a television which brings them out of hiding. The change in Helen when TV is mentioned is really quite remarkable. They come up and everyone enjoys a new broadcast, which offers even more exposition. Everything we learn about the zombies comes from these reports because the actual movie only gives us a few scant details. Radiation from Venus is suggested as a cause for the zombification of the recently dead, who are rising up and getting funky.
The world is screwed… film at 11
Ben and company more or less decide to get gas from the farm’s pump. Harry objects to the idea of going out, assured with the knowledge that the cellar is the best place to hide. Tom and Judy have a long drawn out conversation while making some kerosene bombs out of jars and cloth. They get Harry to throw them out the window and sets the front lawn of the house ablaze. Judy runs out to help them and they all get going to the gas pump.
Stand in shadow, look dramamtic, don’t trip over the furniture.
Of course, this being the kind of movie that it is, things don’t exactly go as planned. Tom gets gas all over the truck and accidentally gets to close to Ben’s torch. They drive off, and the entire truck goes up in a fireball. This leaves Ben outside without help, but also leaves the zombies with a nice barbeque to eat. Ben gets back to the house by waving his torch and shooting the zombies with his gun, but it’s a struggle. When he gets away, the zombies eat like kings.
Oh god! This chair has no lower back support!
Ben has to kick the door to the house in because Harry locked the door and ran to the cellar. This causes Ben to get a little riled and punch Harry out a little. They then sit around again and discuss how they’re going to get away. Then the television comes back again, more talk about what they think they’re going to do next. The zombie attack in the middle of that and when Ben drops the gun, Harry grabs it and tries to be a tough guy. This results in him being shot and stumbling back down to the basement where he goes to die. To add insult to the injury, his own recently zombified daughter starts to eat him. Karen then goes after Helen with a trowel and the family is taken care of.
The loving couple
While that goes on, the zombies break through and Barbara’s brother leads the pack as they drag Babs away to get eaten. We don’t have much time to reflect on the incestual angle of Barbara’s brother having a strong desire to eat his sister because we’re distracted by the child zombie trying to attack Ben, who is the last man standing at this point. Ben escapes to the basement, and hangs out there until morning when the reinforcements show up. He has to cap the zombie Cooper, but that turns out to be a small issue for him by this point.
Little known fact: Zombies LOVE KFC
As soon as morning comes, he goes upstairs to look around and the final joke of the film is delivered when a member of the team looking to shoot zombies mistakes Ben for one of the undead and shoots him. Having gone through the whole movie, once again his biggest danger came from his fellow man. I think that’s the reason the movie survives like it has, because it ends on such a wonderful and big F. U. for the audience. You just went through hell with this guy, and the last thing we do is kill him.
Daddy is… delicious!
I think my copy of the DVD might be out of print. Amazon claims you can still get it, but I think the rights may have moved on and this might be stuff they still have in stock. I don’t know rightly. My copy is the Elite Entertainment Millennium Edition, and if not for spell check I would only have gotten two of the words in the name spelled right the first time. It contains two commentaries, along with a lot of interviews, the script, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Most notably, there are a bunch of commercials that Romero made for TV when he wasn’t making movies.
Gimmie a kiss baby!