Monday, April 7, 2014

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) movie review

Night of the Living Dead (1968) d. George A. Romero (USA)

Filmed on a shoestring and using a cast of no-name local actors from his native Pittsburgh, writer/director Romero delivered his brutal in-your-face tale of corpses rising from their graves to feast on human flesh and changed the face of horror films forever. While zombies had appeared onscreen before, never had they been so plentiful...or so hungry.

With its stark black-and-white photography, the movie possesses a documentary feel, the horrific events depicted with unrelenting realism through the cold, unflinching camera. Following a stunning curtain-raiser in a desolate cemetery, the majority of the film’s action centers on a small group of panicked strangers (Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon) taking refuge in an isolated farmhouse, reluctantly thrown together by the shocking events outside.

The claustrophobic screenplay (co-written by John Russo) shrewdly works on two levels: stimulating the audience’s imaginations as incoming television and radio news reports describe horrific events in the outside world, while we simultaneously witness the conflicts within the farmhouse firsthand. The harsh reality quickly becomes evident: the fearful and angry inhabitants inside are just as savage as the drooling zombies outside.

The grisly, close-up images of shambling ghouls sating their appetites shocked audiences, but just as shocking was the casting of Jones, a black actor, as the strong, decisive hero. During the racially charged political climate of the day, Romero’s decision was an extraordinary act of courage, imbuing the film with an allegorical tone open to multiple layers of interpretation.

A true genre landmark. But you knew that already.

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