“I ‘ought to drag you out there and feed you to those things.”
I think the remarkable thing about Night of the Living Dead, the first great zombie movie, is that it digs so deep; it’s hardly a movie about zombies at all. Every review or essay takes a different approach to breaking apart its careful, nihilistic tension, taking a different stab at what Romero is saying about the world. He’s confessed that the rebellious spirit of the 60s found its way into the movie, and it adds a richness that great horror should always strive to achieve.
The dead are – uh – walking, and it’s up to Ben (Duane Jones) to stop them. Well, he mostly just wants to stay alive. He boards up a house where he is joined by a handful of strangers trying to achieve the same goal. In a struggle for power inside the house, Ben and Harry (Karl Hardman) find themselves at odds, and Ben finds that his biggest threat may just be the living.
I’ve written numerous times about my love for single-setting films, and this movie largely fits the bill, with little deviation from the barred-up house where the characters take refuge. I’ll reiterate what a fun character study this creates, like a game theory problem where everyone wants something and thinks their ideas are the best in the room. The movie reads more like 12 Angry Men than The Walking Dead, and it’s all the better for it. There’s this tinge of discomfort, of pieces not quite fitting, and it makes for some of the most unsettling scenes horror has to offer.
Sometimes I spoil endings and sometimes I don’t. It’s probably a bad habit, and I should just make a decision one way or the other. Part of me thinks if you haven’t seen a 50 year-old movie, you’re on your own avoiding spoilers. Part of me, though, also doesn’t want to spoil anything about the ending to Night of the Living Dead. For this reason, I’ll just say that it got me. It’s a knockout, gut-punch ending that rings true in a somber, surprising way.
After one viewing, Night of the Living Dead has carved a place among my favorites. A lot of movies are beloved for establishing genre tropes, but this movie doesn’t just establish them, it does them better than anyone while also subverting them in a discomforting way. It’s creepy, consuming, and loads of sinister fun.
Films Left to Watch: 841