AWESOME-tober-fest 2013: I finally watch Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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And AWESOME-tober-fest 2013 begins!  I thought it would be most appropriate if I started off this year by watching one of the seminal zombie flicks of all time.  It’s considered the genre standard and I’ve never watched it.  That’s right, I’ve never watched Romero’s classic zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead.

When I decided to do zombies this year, I realized there was no getting around it.  I’d pretty much have to watch Romero’s original zombie classic.  So I grabbed a copy of the movie, sat down with my thoughts and gave the flick a spin.  Let’s see if I think it deserves all “the hype”.

Night of the Living Dead

While it’s not the first movie to use the zombie, it is the first to create the modern concept of the zombie as a flesh eating ghoul. Before this movie, zombies were people who were under the control of a voodoo witch doctor via black magic. Most notably in movies like Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie.  This movie introduced zombies as the reanimated dead feasting on living flesh (not just brains, these ghouls were cannibals).

The movie is legendary for its copyright problems.  It seems the filmmakers forgot to put a copyright mark on the film.  And according to the laws at the time, this let the film fall into the public domain which is why you see 3000 different releases of the movie featuring different footage, new footage, colorized and with any number other bells and whistles.  So I decided to just watch the original theatrical cut.  It’s the easiest to find.  Since it’s public domain, it can legally be uploaded to YouTube.  And it’s there.

Night of the Living Dead montage

After all of these years, what did I think?  It’s not bad.  I appreciate the historical significance of the movie, but putting that aside, it’s only an okay movie.  What struck me watching it was how much it reminded me of the original Universal Monsters movies like Frankenstein or Dracula.  Filmed in black and white with a very old fashioned orchestral score, the movie had the atmosphere and tone of one of the old classic monster movies.  Since I’m a huge fan of those movies, that certainly helped my enjoyment.  I like the portrayal of the ghouls.  Shambling, undead monsters out to consume human flesh.  They are a little smarter than I expected because in a few scenes they wind up using tools.  For instance, one ghoul uses a rock to bash in a window.  That’s something you don’t normally associate with Romero’s zombies.  The main actor, Duane Jones, was actually pretty good.  It’s surprising to see an African-American actor get this type of a role in a movie in 1968.  But seeing as how this movie was total indie from the ground up, I guess that made it easier to do.

Did I have any problems with the movie? Yeah.  Like the ghouls, the movie tends to shamble along aimlessly in the middle.  There are endless scenes of Jones’ character nailing boards over doorways and windows in the house the group of survivors have chosen as sanctuary.  And some of the supporting cast are not very good actors.  I guess you expect that to a degree, but the competence of Duane Jones as Ben further showcases the other actors’ deficiencies.

If I had seen this movie in my hey day as a horror hound, the late 80s-early 90s, when I was voraciously reading Fangoria and watching movies like The Re-animator and Friday the 13th, I probably would have loved it.  As it is, watching it today, I only liked it.  What may also count against this movie is that zombies aren’t really my favorite monsters.  Inherently, they are boring to me.  Unless something different is done with the zombie like was done in Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, then I really don’t have much interest in it.  And that’s mostly what this movie suffers from for me.  Being boring.

However, thanks to this year’s AWESOME-tober-fest, I’m finding affection for many zombie things; like the comic The Walking Dead, but that’s more the exception than the rule.  And that’s a review for another day…

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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.


15 Responses to “AWESOME-tober-fest 2013: I finally watch Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968)”

  1. I don’t know how many times I’ve stated “I appreciate the historical significance of the movie” I think it’s inevitable after going so long without having seen a classic. I felt the same way about Citizen Kane. I appreciated it’s place in cinema history, but it didn’t entertain me they way I had hoped it would. This disappointment is always combined with a tinge of guilt. Also, with a theme as ubiquitous as zombies, the classic is forced to contend with all of the variations and improvements that followed. Indeed, Romero did construct a lasting concept and a noteworthy social commentary, but I can understand how some would find it just, “not bad.” And that’s okay.

  2. Thank you for saying that. I was worried I didn’t like it more, but that happens from time to time. Especially, like you said, when you don’t watch a classic until very late, after all the hype.

  3. Yeah, it’s pretty darn hard to put yourself in the mindset of completely appreciating a flick like this because of what came after, etc. I was lucky to watch this one early on as a kid, so I have nostalgia peppered into my love of the flick for sure, but I also love the flick for trying to be a little bit smarter in how it play’s out. It feels very realistic because it’s unpolished, and I like the way it cuts to the local news footage towards the end. I also really appreciate the social commentary in the flick. If nothing else (and I agree that it drag and is boring in parts), I feel the film nails a sense of dread that a lot of other horror can’t seem to provide.

    Really looking forward to your articles this month Pax!

  4. I also thought it was only “meh” after seeing it. Dawn of the Dead is better and Day of the Dead better still, but in general, I think Romero’s zombie movies are overrated.

    I loved the Dawn of the Dead remake (it’s what made me finally give the genre a try) and Zombi was very good.

  5. Night… is rather slow; especially considering Witchfinder General and Kuroneko also came out during ’68. I remember loving it in my early teens, bought a copy a few years ago, and ouch.

    Fun fact: I believe Duane Jones was one of the few actors in the film who actually made money off it. Everyone else worked for points, hoping it would be huge (which, given the lack of copyright, didn’t happen). Duane instead took a paycheck at the start.

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