Ten Years Dead: Night of the Living Dead Essay (Warning: Spoilers)


From 2005, no less. Whoa that’s 10 years since I wrote about George A. Romero’s masterpiece Night of the Living Dead (1968). Unfortunately I was unable to discuss the film in full detail without using spoilers and mentioning key plot points, although at this point if you haven’t seen George A. Romero’s classic film then you should go fix that ASAP.

Despite the snubbing the horror movie genre receives from many critics, there are actually a good many horror films that have received substantial praise from both critics and fans. One such film is original Night of the Living Dead, made in 1968 by the famous and renowned director George A. Romero. I’ve heard it referred to as the Citizen Kane of horror movies, and while I haven’t seen enough to agree with that statement, Night is indeed a landmark in the history of horror movies, and in cinema.

Before I begin my attempt to discuss the film’s plot, stars, and the finer points of human flesh, I feel the need to say how I discovered this film in the first place. It was back in the fall of 2001, when I was a sophomore at my local high school. Being that it was Halloween, we decided to rent a couple of horror movies, thus continuing a tradition of sorts that we’ve done every year since the 8th Grade.

After walking through the door and being greeted by one of the store clerks wearing some freaky mask, we wandered into the video store aisle marked “Horror.” While my friend picked Scream 3, which was a fairly new release, I noticed a VHS cover, which I think had a zombie on it (my memory is kind of fuzzy). I read the back of the movie, which said it was about some people getting attacked by zombies, and I thought it would be gory fun. Get this: there were two copies of Night of the Living Dead, both the original and the remake. I thought I was getting the remake. But no, when my friend and I popped the tape in back at his house, I discovered to my surprise that it was an old black and white film instead.

Being young and wanting quick scares, my friend didn’t like the film and I found it to be alright at best, with the ending quite shocking and the famous “girl zombie” scene to be gruesome. Turning to the fun of Scream 3, which I found scary at the time (I only saw the rest of the trilogy two Halloweens ago), we both forgot about the other film. That was roughly four years and four viewings ago. Multiple viewings quickly changed my thoughts and views on the flick, but one could say that about a number of movies. I could go on all about me, but I’d rather focus on the film itself.

As the movie opens, we see Johnny boy and his sister Barbara on their way to place flowers on some dead person’s grave. Who that person is isn’t relevant to the story, but instead it serves as an ample plot device, since Johnny is reminded of how he used to scare Barbra, going on to say “They coming to get you Barbara,” with a stupid look on his face. He should have kept his mouth shut, because one of them comes alright. He’s defiantly not human, looks like Lurch’s long lost cousin, and he proceeds to bash Johnny’s head into a tomb stone. Lurch attempts to grab Barbara, but she ditches her car (“Johnny has the keys” is what she says later on), and runs like hell, finally reaching an abandoned farmhouse. This scene marks the change in the movie from quiet and relaxed to a freaky, heavy sense of dread, and I find the zombie attack to be somewhat surreal and almost out of place, which is why it works. Rising from the grave, clearly awakened by gongs being banged by crazed Buddhist monks, dozens of zombies slowly converge upon the farmhouse. All hope seems lost for poor Barbara, who by this point has become a buddle of fried nerves, scared out of her bloody mind, and clearly in no shape to battle the undead hordes.

That’s when the protagonist of our film comes in out of nowhere, riding in an old broke down car and wielding what looks like a tire iron. His name is Ben, and he is her knight in shinning armor, or, in actual reality, an African-American male completely surrounded by whitey. Seriously, Ben is the only black man we see in the entire flick-even the zombies are white! While Romero claims that his decision to cast Duane Jones in the role wasn’t motivated by race, the film’s events (which I will get to later) make me wonder. Completely unfazed by the fact that he’s surrounded by flesh eaters, he walks out on the front porch and sets some of the creatures on fire, and also quickly boards up the house. The guy even finds a lever action shotgun, and starts loading the weapon; Ben is a man of action, and here we witness what has become a common cliché in many movies: the quick thinking man of action, who stays calm, knows what to do, and isn’t afraid to act.

The movie wouldn’t be complete without some drama within the house itself, and this is supplied by Harry, a racist, his wife and child, and the young couple Tom and Judy. Harry doesn’t trust Ben’s decisions and wants to be in charge, providing the film with an added and interesting dimension: Harry feels that he is the bigger man, that he’s right, that he has to be the alpha male of the group. It’s not just a matter of race, but also a matter of serious pride; this pride ends up leading to the destruction of the group, and a bitter irony: that Harry was right about the basement of the house being the safest place to hide. Well at least in the end for the most part; although at the same time staying up in the main house, where there are multiple escape routes makes sense too.

At its core, Night of the Living Dead is many things. It’s clear that the movie is a horror version of those old westerns where the cowboys are holed up in a small cabin or fort, with the savage Indians attacking it, trying to break in and scalp everyone inside. Of course the Indians never ate the cowboys (last time I checked), but that seems to be the main reason why most of the movie takes place inside an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. The claustrophobic feeling of the house has a clear effect upon the inhabitants, and this only ups the film’s slowly building sense of tension. I also feel that the movie in a way mirrors the social and political upheavals that were taking place at that time in America. Ben and Harry’s struggles for control certainly reflect upon the racial conflicts that had exploded in many American cities, along with the film’s ending, which caught me completely off guard. Also, the movie’s few extremely violent scenes are perhaps references to the Vietnam War; in that American troops mowed down countless, nameless Vietnamese communists-only replace the communists with flesh eating zombies. I also have to note that many of the zombies had the look of dirty, druggy hippies, which makes me wonder if Romero was commenting on the country’s counterculture as well.

A final theme I think the movie touches on is the horrifying thought that mankind at its worst reverts to its most primitive, primal and gruesome instincts, and I think the zombies reflect this. That at any time, any place, and your loved one may go berserk and decide to either gnaw on your flesh, or stab you to death with a garden trowel. They are no longer human, and reasoning with them won’t save you. Which is to me a very scary thought indeed.

“Night,” like most horror movies isn’t well known for its actors, or good acting in general. That seems to be an extra bonus, especially if you take a look at the slasher films of the 1980s. But even on a shoe string budget Romero manages to get some pretty good acting out of some of the movie’s cast, especially Duane Jones. Jones as Ben is really the film’s strongest character, and while it’s not an entirely fleshed out role, Jones does a wonderful job portraying a man surrounded by what one could call a surrealistic nightmare. What makes Ben so damn cool is that he takes no prisoners, refuses to surrender, uses everything at his disposal to kill the zombies, and until the second half of the film, he has a plan. What also makes his character so fascinating is how Ben slowly comes to realize that even he is human, and that despite all his planning everything goes terribly wrong. This feeling is further explored in a scene where Ben is trapped in the basement, haunted by the fact that he is now all alone, and that the bastard hippie people eaters have finally broken into the house. Ben has been defeated, and he knows it.

As for the other actors, Karl Hardman as Harry, we see a man who is the complete opposite of Ben. Harry seems to be nervous, racist, (one could say that Ben was racists at times also), and paranoid. His struggles with Ben and the distrust that exists between them do indeed add the needed dynamic to the film, and his demise is equal parts gory, tragic, and horrifying, and showcase’s the film’s third theme about lack of true humanity. Judith O’Dea, who as Barbara is stuck in the role of the woman in need of rescue, is the film’s truly realistic side, in that she’s scared out of her mind. While most of us think that we’d act like Ben in such a situation, more than likely many of us would be frightened, and wondering whether or not we would survive. Oh, and what happens to poor Barb is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and is horribly ironic.

The film in itself has plenty of irony, some people who get their just deserts, and others who were unlucky enough to be caught of the middle of two angry men and the horde of the undead. Romero by the way smartly only has a few scenes of gore, and so their shock value and the effect of disgust they aim to project are seared onto the audience’s mind; this is in sharp contrast to the rest of his zombie series. Although the part where the zombie girl stabs her mother to death with a garden tool is a clear homage (or rip off if that’s your opinion) of the famous shower scene in “Psycho,” with the blood splattering, the screams of the dying, and the sharp musical notes in the background. That scene gets me every time, simply because the image of a woman’s spawn butchering her is to me quite cringe worthy, and somewhat shocking.

Stamped with Romero’s unique vision, driven by tension, gore, a cast of realistic characters, and a thoughtful commentary on humanity that may or may not have been intentional, Night of the Living Dead is a movie experience every horror fan should have. The movie proves that not all horror films are mindless, gory thrill machines, and that the genre has contributed more to the world of cinema than is generally acknowledge.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: V/H/S/2 (2013, Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard)


Having enjoyed the first installment I eagerly viewed the second entry in the V/H/S/ series, which built upon the rather solid first film and was a notable improvement. Also like many other horror sequels this one ups the scares and the level of crazy, resulting in a more consistent movie that works better. Despite its share of critics I rather enjoy the found footage style of film making as it takes the viewer front and center to what is happening, thus making it harder to look away from the awful events happening onscreen. While I enjoyed all of the segments one stood out greatly among the rest and one was a tad slow, although once it got started it was rather freaky.

Of course just like all anthologies there is a wrap around story or a narrator who is presenting these events to the viewer in a certain order. In this case you have “Tape 49,” which is the frame narrative and involves Larry and Ayesha being hired to find out what happened to a woman’s son. Even though this tale is not as good as the others (okay its better than the first tale, but not by much) I still liked how it concluded and it provided a halfway decent explanation for why two people would stay in a seemingly abandoned house, digging through videotapes. Even though this is a DVD and Blu Ray era the idea of V/H/S tapes containing footage of awful events, operating as a gateway into the dark corridors that should perhaps not be explored is a rather neat idea, even if its very 1990s at this point and is rather dated.

“Phase I Clinical Trials” is the first official story, and at first I was not impressed. However it does have some rather effective jump scares and its properly creepy and has an unexpected conclusion. One of my favorite things about ghost stories is how the person refuses to leave even when they should, but how does one escape when they are being haunted no matter where they go? The eye implant looked rather freaky and alien, too, and it offered a halfway decent commentary on experimentation and documentation leading to something the person involved did not sign up for, much less expect. “A Ride In The Park” is a nice, terrifying second story involving zombies in the great outdoors. I liked that this story took place during the daytime, as it added to the overall tension level, and it plays out as a tragedy and a nightmare. Oh and the zombie attacks at the picnic cause flashbacks to the classic birthday party footage from Signs.

Yet the best story and the most famous one of the bunch is “Safe Haven,” which ends up being a quickly paced and really messed up tale about a documentary crew that has the misfortune to investigate a cult at the group’s eerie compound. What transpires inside after a slow burning opening gives way to a descent into madness, extreme amounts of gore, and a conclusion that reminds me of several famous horror movies. This tale is largely responsible for the film’s really good rating, and has been discussed ever since this film came out. If stretched to a longer film this entry could have been turned into one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made, yet it works best in a short format. Too bad the camera dies just as things are getting interesting…

Finally the last installment is “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” which is also a mad dash to run away from evil forces seeking to destroy people for reasons unknown. Even though the aliens have the look and feel of your typical gray bodied monsters its still a fairly unnerving episode, one that also has a brutal ending. Especially for us dog lovers. Why horror movies kill off dogs I’ll never understand, and for some reason that’s more disturbing than the death of onscreen characters. Which might be a not so good commentary on humanity. Anyways V/H/S/2 showcases mostly the best of found footage films, and is an entertaining, mostly scary, and crazy anthology horror film that comes recommended.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Zombie (1979, Lucio Fulci)


Lucio Fulci sure loves his zombies, as evidenced by many of his movies. Especially the aptly named cult classic Zombie, made in 1979 and styled as a quasi sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. However this film is more graphic and violent, which is the usual hallmarks of a Fulci movie. This one starts out with a brutal killing followed by a freaky and gory incident on a boat in the New York harbor.

A reporter and the daughter of a doctor team up together and decide to travel down to the island to find him. This leads to them using a pair of vacationing adventurers and a mysterious island where a strange doctor is conducting bizarre experiments. Nothing is what it seems and the undead lurk around every corner, set on devouring the living. This is made especially clear during a horrific scene where a woman is powerless to stop a zombie from attacking her in gruesome fashion.

From that point on the film turns into a walking nightmare, as the undead rise and begin to attack. Most zombie movies have a siege moment at one point or another, and Zombie sure provides it. Funny how cowboys vs Native Americans are incorporated in many horror films, as the heroes must blast their way out and prevent themselves from becoming monster food. Also it helps that they have enough guns to battle the zombie menace.

Despite the low budget and the cheesy acting this is a really well shot horror film. Also the film has one of the coolest moments ever when a shark battles a zombie. Plus the ending is fantastic and eerie, a fitting conclusion to what could be Fulci’s masterwork. Also the film could be seen as a case study in different awesome ways to slaughter a zombie. Even though its not really dived into more there is also a subtitle yet also obvious commentary on how the island’s inhabitants get revenge/seek to devour their seemingly white colonial masters, in addition to the island’s curses that plagued its Spanish rulers coming back to haunt the living centuries later. I can’t wait to see some of his other films, as I have already viewed and liked a few of his other works.

It’s Hammer Time Presents: The Plague of the Zombies (1966 John Gilling)


Made before George A. Romero created Night of the Living Dead Hammer Studios released their own zombie film, Plague of the Zombies. In some ways this film had zombies acting more like modern zombies, minus the eating of people. The creatures were violent, hostile, and really freaky looking, which was different in a way from the old versions of the monsters featured in films such as White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie.

However this time they were under control, used by a voodoo master for his own twisted ends. One of the coolest parts of the movie is when two people witness a freaky zombie killing a man. Its harrowing and shocking, which are classic characteristics of many Hammer Studios films. As is also violence and gore, which are also utilized properly in many of the studios’ films. I loved the main characters, too-a professor and his young friend, who tackle the threat with typical British stiff upper lip and their refusal to shy away from great danger.

Also the famous element of class is thrown in, as the main villains are ruthless aristocracy. I like the film’s creepy sense of foreboding mixed in with pure weirdness at times. The opener is quite strange and unique, and for an entry that wasn’t directed by Terence Fisher this is a good, properly crafted movie. Oh and that ending is actually haunting and scary, a great conclusion to a quality popcorn flick. I love how English this movie is, and how Hammer Studios sets its movies in either the big cities of England or the small towns, where just underneath the surface of quiet country life something terrible is happening.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: City of the Living Dead (1980, Lucio Fulci)


Hungry for the flesh of the living, they emerge from the earth to prey upon the living and devour them whole. Ravenous and unrelenting, they are the undead: zombies, creatures of the night, unholy terrors that lurk beneath the pretty facade of normal everyday life. Lucio Fulci doesn’t just shoot his 1980 film City of the Living Dead in the darkness because its a low budget movie. No its because he is choosing to lay bare the terrors that await us when the sun goes down and the light fades away.

Light is peace and a refuge from what nasty beasts lie in wait for man and woman as they stumble around in the empty black of nighttime. There is no telling what may lay around the corner, and usually its something that is very hungry and has plenty of teeth. Although I guess these zombies are decaying and lack teeth so they make due by tearing your flesh apart. Quite chilling, really. That’s not even without touching upon the horrific and famous death by drill scene that occurs in the movie as well, and is rather bloody.

Despite the low budget limitations that plagued his entire career Fulci always managed to create films that were pure experiences in terror and City of the Living Dead does not fail in that area. I liked the scene where a child discovers a zombie dwelling in their closet and makes the mistake of opening the door. Its a truly creepy moment in a movie that depends heavily on atmosphere, and in that regard Fulci was in touch with his fellow horror filmmakers Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

All three were gifted at ignoring plot conventions and simply making horror films that struck at the nerve of the viewer, although Bava and Argento were more talented than Fulci. Still I rather enjoyed City of the Living Dead. Its kind of dumb, and yet it has a nasty charm that can be admired. Besides that opener is perfect: a nice day in a cemetery shattered by the suicide of a priest that happens to release the Gates of Hell. That’s truly something.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: The Video Dead (1987, Robert Scott)


Released around the same time as Sam Rami’s classic The Evil Dead II, Scott’s The Video Dead is a low budget zombie film in a long line of low budget zombie films. What I dig about his movie is that it’s gory, raw, creepy and entertaining despite its clear limitations and the poor acting. I can admire the level of dedication it takes to get a movie like this made and how hard it was to achieve a pure vision without the proper funds. This is one movie that could have been a classic with just the right budget. Although I guess that never stopped George A. Romero or Sam Rami. Still Scott had an original idea, one that I rather like.

Zombies emerging from a cursed TV set is both fantastic and rather eerie. The hapless brother and sister duo that are faced with an nameless ancient evil must battle the undead horde that is terrorizing their neighborhood. I liked most of the kills, with one murder being properly gruesome. The zombies themselves are decaying and ugly, appearing as if they did truly emerge from their graves to prey upon the living. That’s some quality makeup work for a film that took a year to make due to lack of funding.

The DVD copy I found of this film was a two pack, with The Video Dead being parterned with another solid underrated cult horror film, Terrorvision-thanks to Scream Factory, a division of Shout! Factory. Which is a cool double bill, one I would love to see on the big screen. The Video Dead also has a bone chilling ending and is a reliable addition to the zombie subgenre. I realize it’s funny how every time I think I’m getting tired of zombie films I find another one that surprises me in a good way.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Cemetery Man (1994, Michele Soavi)


The dead won’t stay dead, that pretty girl you met loves someone else and the mayor won’t listen to you. At least you have a mentally challenged fat man and your best friend for company. Otherwise you would take that pistol you use to silence the dead and off yourself. Life feels empty and pointless. Being in charge of a cemetery doesn’t really help matters either.

Dellamorte, the film’s protagonist decides to shoot other people instead. He goes on a violent rampage that accomplishes nothing. He falls in love with a girl twice only to lose her multiple times (the same woman each being played by the gorgeous Anna Falchi). Each of the ways he loses her are cruel, existing as if they are nasty cosmic jokes being played upon poor Dellamorte. A nice old lady calls him the Engineer, a title he rejects even if it is true. This film alternates between comedy and drama, all contained within a bleak horror movie featuring plenty of ghoulish moments.

Chief among them is a bus crash resulting in dead old people and children. In a scene that is both horrific and really funny Dellamorte sits in his chair drinking wine, talking on the phone and blasting each and every one of the bus crash victims. Death comes to us all without warning and yet in this universe it is far from being the ending. Oh and it occurs to all, even those who are important and also feel important.

I love the interactions between the dour Dellamorte (Rupert Everett in an inspired and career making performance) and Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro, who is really quite funny and likable). The two have a natural rapport that makes the film work, and what happens to them forms most of the film’s darkest and most humorous moments. This film is what you get when a man-in this case Michele Soavi-spent plenty of time working with two excellent directors in Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam. I feel that this film is kind of a mix of those two’s styles, although I sense more Gilliam and less Argento.

Events continue in a circular motion and only too late does Dellamorte realize he cannot escape his fate. Or is it destiny? I’m not sure. But the ending blew my mind and I think this is a truly marvelous film. Man believes he is master of his world until someone or something proves him wrong otherwise.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson)


Despite how the rest of the series is the first film is rather solid and creepy. Anderson does a fine job of building up the film’s atmosphere and not revealing the monsters until later. There is a strong feeling of doom and menace surrounding a covert team sent into an underground lair to deal with a terrible situation. Only until its too late do they realize the serious danger they are wrapped up in.

This movie is also really entertaining although Anderson is a bit obsessed with slow motion. I did like the action scenes, as all of them are well executed and even a bit outrageous at times. The zombie dogs were cool and I laughed when Alice roundhouse kicked one in the face. Oh and there is a twist, flashbacks and your typical gigantic ugly creature. It would have looked better if less bad CGI would have been involved. But I did think the zombies were freaky looking.

The ending merely serves as setup for the rest of the series, and its clear that this is the origins film where Alice develops into unstoppable badass. I did like the train sequence and I imagine this movie is one of those films you can watch again on a bad weather day. I will check out the rest of the series even though looking them up I’m disappointed that Anderson didn’t direct them all. He has a campy feel and a distinctive visual style that fits these kinds of movies really well. Although I do wish George A. Romero would have directed this for obvious reasons.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: [Rec] (2007, Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza)


Alright so found footage horror movies might be my weakness seeing as I’ve liked every one I’ve viewed so far. However most of them have been easy to defend and in the case this 2007 zombie film that was quickly remade only a year or two later what we have here is a great and scary film. Its been a while since a zombie movie has scared me and this due to the last couple of them being more focused on parody and comedy.

The film’s short run time works in its favor as the movie is intense and goes from being slow to rapid and terrifying. The firefighting crew sent to investigate with a reporter and cameraman in tow quickly discover the awful situation they are trapped in. Things only get worse from there, as the truth emerges and the tenants of the apartment complex begin to panic.

[Rec] has some flaws, sure-I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the last act-yet it is still a great film. It properly utilizes its format and sticks to the found footage style of film making without fail. Also its incredibly frightening to the point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue. Few horror movies have ever done that to me. I’m amused that they not only remade this film but that both the original and the remake have sequels. I doubt any of them live up to the original yet I still want to check them out regardless.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Homecoming (2005, Joe Dante)


Look I really wanted to love Homecoming. I did. Joe Dante is one of my favorite directors, a man who has given us Gremlins, The Howling, The ‘Burbs, and Small Soldiers. Yet Homecoming falls short of those movies, and in some ways Dante is merely going back over material he covered in Small Soldiers, a highly underrated war satire. Still Homecoming does have its moments, and I did like how it was a semi-twist on the zombie genre, which even by 2006 had started to stagnate a bit. David is a political puppet, a hatchet man who wins elections without thinking about the consequences of a “Victory at all costs” mantra that has served him for years. So when the dead start to rise because of a wish he makes he is confronted with the heavy toll of war, realizing that maybe what he was doing isn’t worth it.

Naturally this episode from the Showtime series The Masters of Horror focused on the Iraq War since it was the war going on at the time, but I think that there is a typical underlying anti-war message going on throughout the short film. A particularly sad and tragic moment is when a couple actually invites one of the dead soldiers in, giving him aid and shelter despite the solider being an undead zombie. It was a nice moment, although it felt a little bit out of place in a movie where the rest of the time the undead soldiers are attacking people. Although I guess the victims are those responsible for sending the dead soldiers to fight and die in the first place. For a lie. A big lie.

Maybe I’m glad that this wasn’t a longer movie, as the material gets stretched pretty thin early on and David isn’t all that interesting. The Ann Coulter jokes with the character Jane Cleaver are slightly amusing but not as funny as they could be, and at times the movie just doesn’t go far enough. I will say the ending was a surprise, and that as far as short horror movies goes this one is decent, yet I wonder what Dante could still do with a larger budget. I guess I’ll find out when I view his last movie, The Hole, which is available on Netflix Instant Viewing I believe.

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