Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Halloween Watch: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Format: Criterion BluRay
50 years on, Night of the Living Dead (1968) continues to do more than "work" as a film. In addition to the anxiety and dread I felt rewatching the movie, almost nothing within Romero's film has aged or lost urgency.* And, of course, while the relevance as a mirror and social experiment is discussion worthy, it also demands discussion as patient zero in a cultural shift in media extending beyond horror.
I first saw this movie either in late high school or over the summer in early college (I recall watching it at my folks' house), and while I was aware that the movie had spawned sequels and knock-offs, none of that suggested the the insane cultural impact this one, little indie movie would have as imitators and next-gen takes on the topic would become a massive part of our cultural zeitgeist. The 28 Days Later films certainly helped legitimize the zombies and survivors concept as "for wider audiences" than just the horror movie crowd, and Kirkman's Walking Dead comics and AMC TV show would become one long retelling of the horror of people under duress and how they come undone.
I just watched The Mist, and you can see it there. Heck, The Thing relies on less existential and more concrete paranoia. And the real formula of zombie movies is never "oh no, zombies" - it's almost always the problem of being holed up with people who are going nuts as terror continues to build.
What's stunning is that Night of the Living Dead has its own language from jump - from cinematography (dutch angles and noir lighting) to its depiction of flesh-hungry zombies, spreading their curse like an infection. To, honestly, our hero meeting an ironic and dark fate, something once left to prose horror. There are no sincere scientists to explain the phenomenon and act as protagonist - this is horror for the common person who has no recourse but to hide while the protagonists of other films sort out the mess.
If you've never seen the movie - for shame. There's whole books written on the topic, and with good reason.
If I have any criticism, it's that too many have tried to imitate in the genre and not enough tried to evolve and find a way to evolve and build on Romero's work. Maybe the Italians. I never watched enough Italian horror. (I hear they got one with sharks fighting zombies). So, clearly not a complaint about this movie.
Go watch it. It's scary as hell.
*there's definitely some gender role stuff that plays differently now, but maybe not? You can still have gendered roles applied and certainly part of the point of the film is the mixed points of view of our band of survivors