Sometimes you think so highly of a film that you just assume you’ve blogged about it already. That was the case with Night Of The Living Dead, a movie I love, but apparently not enough to spend time writing about on UM.com. As you probably know George A. Romero’s classic film finds a group of survivors holing up in a country house as the dead start roaming the earth. The film itself never uses the Z word, but this style of creature soon became synonymous with a kind of monster that still dominates the genre to this day.
We start off with Barbra and her brother Johnny who have traveled several hours to this remote town in order to place flowers on their father’s grave. While there, they encounter a man who seems normal at first, but winds up attacking both siblings and killing Johnny. Barbra goes on the run and eventually finds the house. Soon enough she’s joined by Ben, a very proactive man looking to turn this place into a fortress. After fortifying the main floor, they come to realize that five people have been hiding out in the basement: a married couple with an injured daughter and a pair of teenaged kids who are dating. Conflicts instantly start brewing between the upstairs and downstairs factions, thanks to Harry, a head strong guy who wants them all to hole up in the basement where his zombie-bitten daughter happens to be slowly turning over to the side of flesh loving baddies.
The beauty of a Romero zombie movie is that he’s not just trying to scare people, he’s also trying to hold an undead mirror up to society to show off its uglier side. Some of these elements are overt while other sneak on by. I think the conveyed message can also change a bit as society changes and the film stays the same. For instance, there’s a lot of race elements being explored thanks to Ben being such a strong character who spends most of the film bossing white people around with most of them listening.
But you can also read into the presented ideas of womanhood. The movie gets some flack because Barbra spends so much of it in a catatonic state, which is understandable. However, I don’t think that’s a commentary on all women, but just the presentation of one particular character. Just look at the other two women presented in the movie. Harry’s wife Helen and even Judy the young lady from the basement are pretty strong and cool-headed.
I also think there’s something being said — or conveyed — about how city life makes people less prepared for these kinds of disastrous events. Barbra and Johnny make a big deal about how they had to drive out to the middle of nowhere which made me assume they lived in the city. I also assumed that Ben was from more of a small town scenario, but he later says he’s not from the small farm town, so my theory might actually be blown to hell.
Whatever the case may be, Romero created a film that not only had something to say, but presents itself in such a way that you can keep finding new aspects in the work that make you think. Speaking of emotions, seeing how the zombified kid takes out her mom — with a gardening shovel instead of her teeth — totally bummed me out as a parent. I used to think, “Once they turn, just blast them away!” But not only are they in a world that’s never seen a zombie like this, but it’s also you’re freaking kid. Also, the ending of this movie is so freaking depressing and I kind of love that.
Watching this movie lead into a re-watch of Dawn Of The Dead, which is still one of my favorite movies regardless of genre. Seeing the films together in such a short period made me notice a few things. First, these movies are like Nirvana songs going from loud to quiet to expertly. Second, while these films obviously both feature undead monsters, they’re more about human beings trying to intellectually deal with the fact that the world they once knew has been completely turned upside down. Can you imagine what it would really be like if people stopped dying in the traditional sense? I don’t think I can. And third, these movies all feature characters who can do things very well. That’s why we’re following Ben and the crew in the mall instead of some other randos, they’re survivors. They’re the ones that can survive in this environment…for a time. Eventually, they all screw up one way or anything and the mindless zombies win out against the smart humans. There’s a poetry there that I don’t think I can parse, but love experiencing. Now I really want to give Day Of The Dead and the 1990 Night remake another watch to see whether they continue those themes.