Arguably the first film to successfully import zombie mythology into the American popular consciousness, NOTLD was also George Romero’s first feature film. Wielding experience from a background in TV commercials and industrial training films, Romero and a group of his friends pooled their savings together to shoot this black-and-white film for a moderate sum of $100,000. Within the next few years it skyrocketed to cult status, spawned numerous imitators and worthy follow-ups (the sequels Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, and the “unofficial” sequel of sorts, Return of the Living Dead), and established itself in the annals of great horror.
The film begins with Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and her brother, driving in the countryside. We learn they are making their annual visit to a remote cemetery to pay respects to their deceased mother. A mood of foreboding begins to settle as we notice that Barbra and her brother seem to be the only living souls for miles. As they wrap up their visit, they discover that an unsual character is making his way – no, shambling - toward them. Barbra hurries to leave, but her brother teases her with scary warnings – right before he is made a victim of the shadowy character, in front of her very eyes.
What ensues is a nail-biting chase through the countryside as Barbra struggles to escape while attempting to collect what’s left of her wits. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that Barbra is not alone in her zombie problems. The remainder of the film focuses on our band of human survivors as they struggle to maintain a stronghold in an abandoned farmhouse against the growing zombie hordes.
Technically, the film is more than adequate. While some have complained of its “amateurish” editing in parts, in my opinion this just adds to the pulpy aesthetic of the film. The shots are set up to complement the methodical direction, which builds an atmosphere of steady tension. As for the performances, all are excellent, especially for a horror film. Judith O’Dea’s Barbra is believably shell-shocked throughout the film, and Ben (Duane Jones) provides direction and hope to the unnerving circumstances in which our protagonists find themselves.
In summary, although low-budget, Night of the Living Dead is arguably one of the most groundbreaking and visceral horror films of all time (matched only perhaps by the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Give it a go and experience it for yourself.
(c) 2004, Cyrus Banerjee
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