[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B002KAIW4E][/pullquote] Zombies are as synonymous with horror films as any creatures you can think of, but this wasn’t always the case. Before 1968, zombies were often the product of voodoo magic, in fact the modern term Zombie derives from the Haitian Creole term Zonbi, meaning reanimated corpse. They were not particularly popular and films like White Zombie and Revenge of the Zombies did not help matters. Then in 1968, something unexpected happened. A man with a vision, a tiny budget and a heap of horror film talent appeared from nowhere with a film that would revolutionise zombie films and birth a slew of sequels, spin-offs and homages. That man was George A. Romero and the film was Night of the Living Dead.
Night of the Living Dead sees Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) visiting their fathers grave in Pennysylvania when a strange shuffling man attacks them and kills Johnny. Fleeing the scene, Barbra runs into a farmhouse which has a half-eaten corpse and encounters a man called Ben (Duane Jones). She insists that they go out to rescue Johnny, but collapses from exhaustion as a horde of undead zombies shuffles ever closer to the house.
The plot of Night of the Living Dead is as barebones as you’d expect from an almost no budget horror film from the 1960s. There is almost no introduction to characters and very little apparent depth. Within a few minutes after some laughably hammy acting They’re coming to get you Babra! there is a zombie attack and a hysterical woman runs into a farmhouse. Then after meeting other ˜survivors’ overcomes a brief onslaught from the zombies, something odd happens.
For the middle portion of the film, the action is stifled and the zombies almost entirely removed to allow the plot to become something akin to a kitchen sink melodrama. Characters start having opinions and stories and thoughts and feelings and we the audience can’t help but be sucked into their struggle. All of a sudden we stop mocking the over-the-top actors and we start caring about the characters. It’s quite the feat from a fearless first-time director.
George A. Romero has no become the king of zombie films and his ˜Living Dead’ series has many sequels all appearing whenever the genre needed a kick-start or revamp. Without Romero, the zombie film would probably have died, but he has perfected the art of using the reanimated corpses to sublime effect. While his ability to make the audience care about his characters, it is the final third of Night of the Living Dead that sticks firmly in memory. Just as you forget about the zombie threat outside, they launch once final assault on the house and things do not go well for the survivors.
The rebirth of the zombie film, one the finest examples of low-budget film-making and a truly historically important film, Night of the Living Dead deserves its place in any list of great horror films.