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Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
Director: George A. Romero
review by Steven Hampton
A walking corpse attacks Johnny and Barbara in a cemetery. Her brother is killed but Barbara flees to a nearby farmstead. There, she meets other survivors of what seems to be an apocalyptic nightmare. Can they fortify the house against an army of flesh-eating zombies, or should they try to escape before dawn? Oh, and watch what happens when Johnny comes back from the dead!
Along with Alfred Hitchcock's earlier Psycho (1960), and Tobe Hooper's later The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), this grisly shocker is one of modern cinema's classic genre texts. Although controversial at the time of its first release, as scenes of an intensely graphic nature appalled even horror devotees - perhaps more used to suggestion, eerie atmosphere, or period settings (of Universal's monster movies, Corman's Poe adaptations, Lewton's creepy chillers, Hammer's opera vampires), Romero's unnervingly bleak Night Of The Living Dead took horror's emphasis away from images of blood and evocations of supernatural forces, and replaced such deliciously scary fantasy with simple ghoulish cannibalism. There's no more magic. A brandished crucifix or hastily murmured incantation will not protect the victims from this shambling army of undead. Abandon all no hope and humanity, as the power of evil is usurped forever by rough gore and brutish confrontations with a silent yet relentless hunger, and man becomes raw meat for the first time.
Absurdly terrifying, intimately disturbing, infinitely more gross than a trip to your local slaughterhouse, NOTLD captures the imagination with a witty merger of vérité style and uncompromising visceral impact. Unusual characters include a resourceful black hero, an anxious white coward, and a wide variety of strikingly dressed extras - reinforcing the idea of an ultimate leveller. Like it or not, death is coming to get you.
Romero explored this meaningful theme in two sequels, Dawn Of The Dead (aka: Zombie, 1978), and Day Of The Dead (1985), and his trilogy, though uneven in parts, is widely considered to be the very last word on zombie lore. This black-and-white original was agreeably remade in colour, in 1990, directed by special makeup effects whiz and sometime actor, Tom Savini. A spoof horror, The Return Of The Living Dead (1985), directed by Dan O'Bannon, proved to be so successful as a black comedy they made a sequel.
previously published online, VideoVista #23
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