So it’s pretty funny that we don’t already have a review of this film on Love Horror – given how long we have been running and how important the film is to the genre.
It’s a bit like that saying ‘why you should never meet your heroes’ – sometimes it can be hard to review your all-time favourite films with an impartial eye as you often can’t help but gush about it.
That said, when we were given the choice of the library of films of W4free to choose from for our November Nightmares promotion, we couldn’t help but add Night of the Living Dead to our selection. Why? Because it’s one of the most important horror films ever made.
The film starts simply, as siblings Johnny and Barbara stop at a cemetery to visit their father’s grave. But as Johnny teases his sister (bit odd to do that at a cemetery) a crooked figure approaches them. Without warning the lumbering man sets upon Barbara and when Johnny tries to fight him off, he falls to the ground and hits his head on a gravestone, taking him out of action. Terrified, Barabara flees the scene and ends up in a remote farmhouse.
Once inside she finds a woman, dead and half-eaten. As she struggles to comprehend the horrific sequence of events she sees a group of the cannibalistic gouls approaching the building.
Thankfully, at that point a man named Ben arrives and takes control of the situation, securing the house, finding a gun and removing the immediate threat of the walking dead.
The pair find five more survivors hiding in the cellar and after scanning their airwaves, discover the incidents taking place there are more widespread.
As the group struggles to defend the house and hatch an escape plan, things inside turn sour thanks to the stubbornness of Harry and Helen Cooper whose daughter is ill after being bitten by one of the zombies.
If you have watched any other zombie movie, you’ll have a good idea of what comes next.
So what makes Night of the Living Dead so important? Well it was George Romero’s first feature film. And although it wasn’t the first zombie film, it was the first film to feature this sort siege of the undead. It was one of the first ‘survival horrors (Hitchcock’s The Birds probably being the first).
The formula and tropes used would not only form an important part of Romero’s later films, but also so many other zombie films made by others. In fact, finding a zombie film that doesn’t seem to be heavily influenced by Romero’s original is a difficult task in itself.
For a first feature, this black and white film is expertly crafted, from the quality of cinematography to the use of a dramatic musical score every tense moment is amplified, making this film stand out above most if not all films of the period.
The characters are excellent and the friction between them makes the situation inside the house as scary as the one outside.
If you want to delve deeper, the film also touches on political issues. It has black man cast as the hero (which wasn’t common in 60’s America). He has a strained relationship with Harry, who is outwardly racist and also the person responsible for a string of poor decisions – that connection, making racism a trait of the foolish, was something else that wasn’t often seen in films of the period.
Finally, the treatment of the monsters at the very end of the film echoes the actions of racist lynch mobs.
So in addition to being a brilliantly produced horror film, it even gave food for thought. Not bad for a first outing for Mr. Romero.
For anyone wanting to trace the roots of the zombie genre, this should be the starting point. For anyone wanting to watch the greatest horror movies ever made, again, this should be one of the first.
And just for its all-round ground-breaking originality, this film deserves to be appreciated over and over.
Night of the Living Dead is currently streaming on W4free. You can watch it for free here: bit.ly/3lSzKqh