Saturday, October 29, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #3 The Night of the Living Dead

Why I like it: "They're coming to get you Barbara."

Not a lot of movies could be almost universally regarded as legendary. George A. Romero's first film, 1968's Night of the Living Dead, is one of those. It was a critical and box-office success and spawned an entire genre of horror films.

Romero will forever be remembered as the master of the zombie film. There is something about him and his ability to reproduce the same scene over and over and still have it pack a whallop. I'm speaking of "the hero battles the zombie to the ground and continues to batter it while another sneaks up behind him" scene. Look for it. It's in every Romero film.

There were even different branches of the zombie film family tree this film grew. There were the "Return of the Living Dead" films, the excessively gruesome Italian "Living Dead" Lucio Fulci-type films and the "Dead" films by Romero. They include: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead (1990), Land of the Dead and a sub-par Dawn remake as well as a Day remake in pre-production.

Romero's "Dead" films follow the Rio Bravo plot device with the heroes holed-up somewhere fighting off a horde of bad guys. In the first film it is used to explore human interraction between people in a confined space during a high stress situation.

You see, it has been mentioned elsewhere, Romero's zombies aren't really that scary. They are slow, intensely stupid and have low-to-no motor skills (unless of course they grab you, then they're really strong). Romero uses them to make a point about humanity. I don't really want to comment on that point for those who haven't seen it (an shame on you if you haven't).

As far as performances go: Duane Jones is pretty solid as Ben especially considering the fact that there weren't that many leading black male actors in the 60s. I have often wondered how this film would have been received in the South. Scenes of a strong black man repeatedly punching a white Capitalist fella and saying "I'm in charge up here!" might not have been received very well down there. And I think this is the problem with this first film. Romero knew the risks of putting a black manin the lead and in doing so decided to go over the top with it. Ben becomes some kind of backwoods Superman. He is in charge and things only really go wrong when others try and challenge that leadership.

Maybe he is saying that race is a concept only relevant in a society concerned about such things. Which makes it quite interesting when society comes crashing back into the film at the end.

Overly strong male lead? Add a weak and ineffectual female lead: Barbara. Judith O'Dea plays the fragile Barbara who spends almost the entirety of the film nuts. Cuckoo as a clock I tells ya. I was not impressed.

Look who's coming to dinner.

The remake rectifies the original's glaring problems with characterisation. It keeps the same premise, plot and damn near everything except for the ending which is slightly changed. Tom Savini directs a film overseen from a script by Romero.

1990's Ben, played by my personal favourite Tony Todd, is a strong black male lead with some slight humanity infused. He cries and makes mistakes. He seems frantic most of the time and that seesm to be the calmest a strog person could be in the given situation. That and the fact that he makes zombies go splat.

Patricia Tallman, a stuntwoman, remakes Barbara as an emotionally shattered woman who gets over it and comes through on some zombie-killin'! Stacie made the point that this was Romero's way of making up for having such a weak woman in the first film.

The remake delivers with a different and more resonant for the current era but hits us over the head with a shovel made of the point of the movie. Its ending is slightly happier but still grim.

Check these out:
-Martin-In my call to internet-dom for other great vampire movies the other day I stupidly forgot to include Romero's 1977 vampire film. It attacks vampires from a sociological perspective and leaves it up to the viewer to take meaning out of. Great.
-Dawn of the Dead-Second in the Dead series satirizes American mall culture and consumerism.
-Day of the Dead-In the third film of the series, we're as bad, if not worse than the zombies. Nazi-like experiments are done on zombies that are herded and then confined. Bud shows up as a zombie who learns how to shave and shoot a gun. Bud dislikes brushing his teeth.
-Land of the Dead-Rather forgettable even with Dennis Hopper. But still an enjoyable zombie romp. "Zombie romp" is fun to say out loud. Try it at home.
-Return of the Living Dead series-Funny and violent.
-Orgy of the Dead-An Italian/Spanish film set in Scotland . Very cheesy but still rather gruesome.
-Let Sleepig Corpses Lie-The best of the Italian zombie films. Very graphic and also set in Britain. Weird.
-Zombi 2-Lucio Fulci's sequel of Dario Argento's Italian re-edit of Dawn of the Dead. Confused? Me too. It's pretty good though. Really disgusting zombies.
-28 Days Later-Shock! A zombie film set in Britain not made by Italians. It is really good. It's got a Dawn of the Dead feel to it with fast zombies and genuine scares.
-Shaun of the Dead-Still a really good zombie movie even though it's a comedy.
-Serpent and the Rainbow-
Real zombies.

2 Bitching, Moaning and Praise

Blogger Stacie Ponder said...

Poor Romero. Has any screenwriter been plagued by guilt like he has over the original Barbara? He re-wrote her into a commando, then made some really strong women in Francine in Dawn and Sarah in Day. It's OK, George, we forgive you!

Romero's larger messages are usually pretty obvious- the whole consumerism satire in Dawn, say- but where he really shines (and what I think his movies are really about are human relations, how people cope and work together or don't. That's what makes Dawn so good (and the remake an entirely different kind of movie)- the way the 4 very different people try to survive. He was just getting his chops in NotLD, so it's kinda just a bunch of people in a farmhouse yelling at each other.

Now then...2 movies left! What's #1? What's #1? It's killing me...

4:17 pm  
Blogger Des said...


Something tellme your subconscious alreanows.

4:55 pm  

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