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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Night Of The Living Dead is significant for a few reasons. For one thing, it launched the epic movie making career of George A. Romero. For another thing, this movie is referred to by the Internet Movie Database as the “last great drive-in movie.” I’m not sure exactly what that is supposed to mean, but I do know that this movie will stand as a classic horror movie for many generations to come.

There is a lot about Night Of The Living Dead that was groundbreaking when it was first released in 1968. This was one of the first movies to show zombies actually eating flesh. Although the creatures in the movie are not actually referred to as zombies, this movie is considered to be the first great zombie movie ever made.

Another significant aspect of this movie is the way that it completely ignored racial tensions in the United States at the time and cast an African American in the strong, male role. Not only is the lead actor African American, but he also strikes his white, female co-star and knocks her out. Now, we all know that he really didn’t strike her and knock her out. It was all just acting. But that scene caused such a stir in 1968 that it got the movie banned in several cities.

If the interracial story lines didn’t get the movie banned, then the flagrant depiction of cannibalism did. Actually, the cannibalism parts are pretty gross, which is what makes them so effective. You honestly believe that two people get roasted in a fire and then eaten by zombies. Whatever Romero did to get that look of realism to this movie worked so well that even the people playing the zombies were getting ill from filming the scenes, and they knew that they were only eating ham covered in chocolate sauce.

People often think that, because of the current success enjoyed by Romero movies, that Night Of The Living Dead was released by a major studio. In reality, this is considered to be one of the most successful independent movies of all time. It was also the first film completely filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Police Department even has some screen time towards the end of the movie.

Now that you are filled with trivia about this movie, let’s talk about the good and the bad. This is one of those few movies where I will tell you that there is almost nothing bad about it. The directing is superb, the dialogue works and the action is paced very well. It does not look like an independent film, which is the biggest compliment I can give it.

The only negative I have is that there are scenes where the movie jumps back and forth between day and night. It kind of reminded me of Plan 9 From Outer Space at certain moments with how much disregard there was for the time of day. But once the movie settled into nighttime, everything was easier to follow.

The story unfolds without you needing a whole lot of backstory on any of the characters. That is another thing about this movie that always amazed me. It is able to stay in the present moment without the need to flashback to anything to give the characters depth. You find out what you need to know about each character as you go along. As with any other Romero movie, the story is the thing in Night Of The Living Dead and the characters are just pawns of the story.

When we watch something like the original Night Of The Living Dead today, it seems tame. But its racial and sexual undertones, along with its graphic violence, made this movie taboo for many years when it first came out. But once the movie hit television, there was no stopping it. As with most cult classics, it was television that really helped to make Night Of The Living Dead a huge success.

Since this movie was released, George Romero has gone on to tell the same zombie story hundreds of times in hundreds of movies. Nothing Romero has done has strayed much from the basic premise of his original zombie thriller, but they didn’t need to. George Romero struck a nerve with Night Of The Living Dead and it is a nerve that still resonates with movie audiences today.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

George N. Root III is a Lockport resident and avid drive-in fanatic. His reviews appear each week and you can expect nothing but Halloween movies for the month of October.

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