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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

"They're coming to get you, Barbara!"  So goes the famous line from the mother of all modern zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead.  George Romero, who hails from my hometown of Pittsburgh, is the godfather of all that is zombie.  [My pastor performed his wedding.  How cool is that?]  Yes, there were zombie films before his but most of these involved living people whose minds are controlled through voodoo or some sort of black magic.  What separates George Romero's work from everything that came before it is a number of things: 1.) His zombies are always the dead come back to life, except in the remakes.  2.) Romero adds a subversive layer of social commentary and dark humor to his films.  The issue of racism runs all through Night of the Living Dead.  3.) He also ups the sense of terror and utter hopelessness in fighting "the machine" that is zombies.  [There are many scholarly commentaries on Romero's films that are available online if you want to read more.]

The basic plot of Night of the Living Dead is simple.  A sister [Barbara] and brother [Johnny] visit the grave of their father when they are attacked by zombies.  Johnny is killed but Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse where she meets up with others who are trying to survive.  The rest of the movie is a classic study in human nature and how life-threatening situations bring out the best in some of us and the worst in others.  Even though I've seen this film a million times, I still find the ending shocking and subversive.  It's a stroke of pure genius.  You don't see it coming.

Night of the Living Dead has been remade twice.  First in 1990 with special effects guru Tom Savini as director and George Romero doing the rewrite.  It is one of the best remakes of a horror film I've ever seen although the soundtrack is filled with cheesy synthesizers and the ending is reworked in a way that I think is less powerful than the original.  [You can view this in 9 parts on YouTube.]  The second remake is entitled Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006) and totally rewrites the original story until it is virtually unrecognizable.  It is most definitely the worst of the three versions.

The best copy of this film I’ve seen is the Millennium Edition by Elite Entertainment.  It has the blessing of George Romero and was made from the original 35mm negatives. Skip the 30th Anniversary Edition [a recut version of the film] which everyone agrees is a piece of crap.  I would also stay away from the 40th Anniversary "No B.S." Edition which I paid too much for, only to discover that cheaper editions I’ve owned had a clearer picture.  Rats!  You can also download a nice copy from Archive.org and burn your own DVD. 

Night of the Living Dead is a must see in whatever form you can get your hands on.  I still think the original is one of the creepiest films of all time.  Love you, George!



RATING: Excellent.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

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