Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Night of the Living Dead (1968): or, Slow and Steady Wins the Race

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 31!

I probably don't have to summarize this one for any of my parishioners, but in the interest of keeping good form, here goes: after laying a wreath on their father's grave, siblings Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) are attacked by a shambling, murderous lunatic. Johnny is killed in the struggle, and Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse, whose sole occupant is a partially devoured corpse. Soon she is joined by Ben (Duane Jones), a take-charge kinda guy who is fleeing from a horde of similarly murderous shamblers. They discover another group of refugees in the cellar of the house--lovebirds Tom and Judy (Keith Wayne and Judith Ridley), bickering married couple Helen and Harry Cooper (Marilyn Eastman and Karl Hardman), and the Coopers' injured daughter Karen (Kyra Schon). News reports inform them that what's outside are worse than murderers--incredibly, the unburied dead are coming back to life to kill and eat the living! As the group of would-be survivors tries to find a way out, tensions mount between them and the zombie horde grows larger and hungrier...

Rewatching Night of the Living Dead (1968) for the who-knows-what-numberth time, I was struck as I always am by how near-perfectly paced the film is. There's little to no drag, and from the opening scene in the cemetery to the well-known shock ending, the movie hums along like clockwork--with a very tightly wound spring. Every scene has a purpose and pushes the film forward, gaining momentum as it goes. The characters behave believably, doing what anyone would do in a similar apocalyptic situation; even Barbara's paralytic shock and Harry's angry assholery are understandable and relatable. And Romero's zombies are slow, implacable, and overwhelming, setting the standard for flesh-eating ghouls that continues to hold today.

Suspenseful, thrilling, and still scary after all these years, Night of the Living Dead is the perfect Halloween rewatch, and a great way to cap off my 31 days of horror movies. 3+ thumbs, of course.

They're all messed up.

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

Congrats on completing the project with unslow steadiness, Vicar. Night's feeling of immediacy and authenticity (those broadcasts always seen note perfect) is undiminished after all my own countless viewings, and the slowness adds an uncanny element that today's galloping zombies can't match. Thanks for all the entertainment this past month.

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