Wednesday, October 20, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

Up next on the film project was the immortal classic that launched a whole new horror film genre: George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” from 1968. This film is one I have watched for over a dozen Octobers; and it never gets old. For a 53 year old film—or any film, for that matter—this one holds up surprisingly well.

 “Night of the Living Dead” has one of the best horror film openings in history. The atmosphere starts appropriately macabre, desolate and creepy— we open in a black and white world, entering an empty cemetery. Brother and sister argue about having to drive for hours to lay flowers on their father’s grave for their mother; after they do, brother teases sister about being frightened by a lone man stumbling in the distance. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” he teases, and enters film history as he is quickly dispatched by the man, the living dead, leaving his sister to run in terror and take refuge in a house nearby.

 Every zombie film, novel, tv show and all around story anywhere that came after owes a debt to Romero’s film. By now in 2021, we have see this zombie survival genre so many times. “The Walking Dead,” in more recent years, became one of the most successful television show of all time using this formula. So much of what is popular horror is a commentary on the time. In 1819, Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” and fear of modern innovation drove that to become one of the greatest horror novels ever written. In the 1890s, epidemics like cholera and syphilis—as well as a fear of the other—drove Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” to similar success. And in every era that the zombie film takes off, the timeless fear of becoming mindless slaves—to our society and lives—and the fear that it could all end in an apocalypse seems to strike such a nerve.

 Watching the film again, what struck me, in unison with how well this holds up, is how simple and well-constructed this film is. In 1968, this pushed the boundaries of acceptable taste; and while a modern audience might not think twice about how horrific it is to watch a woman learn that the crisis happening involves people eating other people, the modern audience is nonetheless horrified along with the characters, as the dramatic beats the horror film hits are so successful.

 Like so many films we’ve watched on the project, “Night of the Living Dead” is the perfect way to set the mood for Halloween, and get scared—all over again—that they are coming to get you.


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