of the Living Dead
mother of all post-modern zombie films.
While its impact on the horror genre is profound,
Night of the Living Dead
is not without its progenitors. Invisible
Invaders (1959) and The
Last Man on Earth (1964) would seem obvious
influences, though I don't know if George Romero
ever saw those flicks before making his zombie
opus. No matter. NOTLD
remains one of the seminal horror films of the
past 40 years, and for good reason.
Not for any pioneering use of cinema gore
— Herschell Gordon Lewis (and others) had broken
that barrier earlier in the decade, and in pulsing,
living color to boot. It isn't truly a gore flick,
anyway. Despite the brief scenes of zombie flesh-munching
that gave the film its initial notoriety, NOTLD
continues to endure because it's a well-crafted
film, shoestring budget and all. The grainy black
and white photography (color film was just too
expensive) engenders an almost documentary feel
to the picture, heightening its horrifying impact.
The movie's decade-reflecting themes — that things
may be slipping out of control, that "we're all
in this together" might just be an empty, meaningless
slogan when faced with a national crisis — create
an aura of paranoia well served by the claustrophobic
Strangers, thrust together by a nightmare scenario,
could easily prove more of a danger to each other
than that posed by the horrors lurking outside.
Heroism is not necessarily rewarded; common sense,
determination, logic — none of the traditional
human strengths are guaranteed to save the day.
And what to make of the all-important "cellar"
dispute between Ben (Duane Jones), the movie's
nominal hero, and the odious Mr. Cooper (Karl
Hardman), who represents all that is ignoble and
craven? That Ben, whom we identify with, is ultimately
proven wrong and Cooper (whom we come to loathe)
is actually right truly turns the viewer's expectations
topsy-turvy. This is a black and white movie that
clearly paints the world in shades of gray. And
all before the advent of the 1970s movie "anti-hero"...
Downbeat endings were certainly not common in
the '60s, especially in horror films.
Okay, so perhaps I'm reading more meaning
into the flick than its makers actually intended.
On its face, Night of the
Living Dead is a goose pimple-inducing
monster movie that, rather than outright scares,
serves up a great big dollop of dread.
Works for me.
are about a zillion different versions of Night
of the Living Dead out there on videotape
and disc, but only one worth owning: Elite's 1998
DVD release. Remastered from a THX-approved transfer,
the film looks and sounds simply incredible when
compared to all those shitty public domain videos
and TV broadcasts most folks are familiar with.
Definitive restoration aside, the disc also features
two separate audio commentaries with Romero
and/or the surviving cast members. Fascinating,
informative and funny, these commentary tracks
reveal just what a "guerrilla filmmaking"
experience shooting the flick truly was. Highly
A "30th Anniversary" edition of NOTLD
was released by Anchor Bay which should be
avoided like the plague. Without the
participation of Romero, John Russo shot additional
[modern] footage and inserted it into the movie.
The result in nothing short of an abomination.
In March 2002, Elite is releasing the "Millenium
Edition" DVD of Night
of the Living Dead. It uses the same transfer
as the one reviewed here, only with additional
Extras and all new packaging.