The radiation from a fallen satellite causes the recently deceased to rise from the grave and seek the living to use as food.
Night of the Living Dead is known as a horror classic, and for basically creating the zombie genre. With that said, I remember feeling rather indifferent when I watched it for the first time some years ago. I rewatched it again years later hoping to like it more, but my opinion stayed pretty much the same. There’s no denying that its influence remains strong as ever. It was definitely an important milestone for film, and was very groundbreaking for its time. However, I can’t say that it aged rather well even though I can respect much of the movie for what it is.
I should preface this with the fact that I know that this is a low budget horror movie from 1968, so I wasn’t expecting it to be timeless or anything. To get it out of the way, Night of the Living Dead is undoubtedly influential. It sets the groundwork for the zombie movie, and it was admirably constructed and subversive for when it was released in the late 60s. Having watched a lot of more recent zombie movies, much of the plot feels very familiar, but Night of the Living Dead really was the first movie that did this, it basically created the formula that countless zombie flicks use. Additionally, it was a bold movie that made bold choices. Despite being a horror movie in the 60s, it created a politically sharp narrative with social commentary, especially on racism. It also had a very bleak and memorable ending. With all that being said, I’d be lying if I said I was invested with the story. The plot is pretty simplistic: it amounts to a group of people trapped in one location while zombies are outside trying to get in. It is a slow burn, and I really found much of the movie pretty boring, especially the first 30 minutes. I don’t mind a horror movie having a slow pace, but I wasn’t interested in what was happening with the story and characters. So it was a bit of a painful drag, at least it was a relatively short movie. A lot of the movie focuses on dialogue, as again it was taking place in one location with its characters trapped inside. That’s fine, the problem is that nothing the characters say is actually interesting, and it’s quite repetitive. Onto the horror, I get that in 1968, this must’ve been the scariest movie ever made. Maybe its more radical elements for the time just land less effectively now, but it really didn’t land for me. With that said, I don’t hold that too much against the film, and it’s not even among my biggest issues with the movie.
The characters alone played a large part in me not being invested in the movie. The character work is weak, the characters themselves are rather annoying and one note. They just keep arguing again and again over the same things and it gets tiresome. Additionally, a lot of the acting is quite bad. With that said Duane Jones’s Ben really was the star of the movie, he was actually good and by far the best character in the film. The casting of Jones, a black man, as the lead in a 60s horror movie was way ahead of its time and was a revolutionary move. It also helps that his performance was quite strong.
This is director George Romero’s debut film, and I’d say that this is quite an impressive debut despite my issues with the movie. It is definitely low budget at $114,000, so you can appreciate why some of the technical aspects aren’t exactly polished. With that said, it is impressive how much they were able to achieve with that budget. The filmmaking is so minimalistic which as a result helps the living dead seem more grounded. The cinematography and lighting can look gorgeous in the darker scenes, and makes effective use of black and white photography. It also does have a sense of claustrophobia once the film arrives upon the primary setting of the film. I really was not scared at all in the movie, not by the zombies or the scary moments, but again I wasn’t expecting to be. It definitely does have dated elements.
Night of the Living Dead is a movie that I appreciate, and respect more than I actually like. It’s impressive how much George Romero was able to achieve despite the limitations, it is definitely an important movie for the zombie genre and the horror genre on the whole. I think it is worth watching, especially if you are a fan of horror. However, I’m just not a big fan of it overall, and it’s not one that I’m particularly inclined to watch a lot. I don’t think it holds up, but I wouldn’t quite call it bad either.