“Night of the Living Dead” (1968) – Director George A. Romero certainly had brains in 1968, because his groundbreaking zombie (who were actually called ghouls) movie turned out to be the great-grandparent to about 114,000 imitators over the next 50 years. His film, of course, features an endless supply of dead people coming to life and who are hungry for the living.
For unsuspecting 20-something siblings Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O’Dea), their actual destination is intentionally-filled with dead people.
They make their annual trek of 200 miles to plant flowers at their father’s grave and quarrel nearly the entire time. Johnny even teases Barbra’s fear of cemeteries back in the day.
He kids her, “They’re coming to get you, Barbra!”
Almost on cue, a strange old man with a distorted face appears in the graveyard and attacks her. Johnny defends his sister, but is seriously injured or, perhaps, even killed (at this point we don’t know) in the process.
Barbara makes a run for it and finds an old farmhouse to hide.
Soon, Ben (Duane Jones) – who experienced a similar encounter – appears, and five more people take refuge in the house. They soon discover that they are at the mercy of scores and scores of dead people, who now walk the earth and attempt to get inside.
How did the dead come alive? The film implies the reason, so our friends are privy to an explanation. This knowledge, however, does not ease their claustrophobia, because they are trapped and have become the prime target for dinner.
Romero does not let his audience dine on fancy special effects, but his barebones, black and white shoot – costing $114,000 – conveys a sense of brutal realism, and by sticking his perfectly-flawed characters in tight spaces, this adds to the tension and help suspends our disbelief.
Even though we imagine the worst with these trouble-making ghouls, they actually don’t look and act all that tough.
They own the strength of normal men and move very fairly slowly. Your typical ghoul will not win an Olympic medal in the 100-meter dash any time soon, but don’t let one get ahold of you. You’ll become a Thanksgiving Day feast without any cooking, tablecloths, silverware, and settings involved at all, because a ghoul will grab one of your appendages and munch on it like a drumstick.
Ooof. No wonder Romero had so many imitators!
Image credits: Continental Distributing; Trailer credits: TIFF Trailers