tek's rating: ½

Night of the Living Dead (not rated)
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This came out in 1968 (seven years before I was born). I feel like I may have seen it on TV at some point, probably in the 1990s, but I'm not sure. In any event, I'm writing my review after watching it on DVD in 2020. (I should also mention that it's a black & white movie, and if you watch a colorized version, you're doing it wrong.) It's not the oldest zombie movie out there, but it is among the most influential on the genre. Well, it's the start of a franchise that has heavily influenced other zombie movies. I'm not really sure what the distribution of credit should be for different movies in the franchise; certainly I assume the first sequel, "Dawn of the Dead," deserves a great deal of credit. But I haven't seen that one yet.

Anyway, it begins with a brother and sister, Johnny and Barbara, driving to a cemetery to place a wreath on their father's grave, which their mother (who is not with them) insists they do every year). While in the cemetery, Johnny taunts his sister for her superstitious fear of the place by creepily saying "They're coming to get you, Barbara." (This is a line that was already familiar to me because of the song of the same name, by No More Kings.) Unfortunately, his joke turns out to be prophetic: the only other person in the cemetery attacks Barbara. So, Johnny fights him off, and ends up being killed, himself. Barbara runs away and hides in a nearby house, in a state of shock. She's soon joined by a man named Ben, who starts boarding up the doors and windows to keep out all the people like the man who killed Johnny, because there are a lot of them. Barbara and Ben get to hear reports on a radio, and later on a TV, about what's going on... apparently throughout a large portion of the country. I should say, the word "zombie" is never used, and there's actually a sci-fi sort of explanation for the dead coming to life and eating people's flesh (not their brains, in particular). Though actually the explanation may just be speculation, I'm not clear on whether it was ever proven definitely correct or not.

Eventually, Ben and Barbara find out there were some other people in the house before them, hiding in the cellar. There's an unhappily married couple named Harry and Helen Cooper, who have an 11-year-old daughter who's very ill, and unconscious for most of the movie. And there's a younger, happier couple named Tom and Judy. There is some disagreement between Ben and Harry about whether it's best to stay in the cellar or the house, and later whether to stay in the house or try to get past the horde of living dead outside and make their way to a rescue center that's been set up in a nearby town (at least, near if they could get a car started). Of course, no matter what they do, the undead are relentless in their attempts to get to the living, to eat them. (Though not every tragedy in the movie is directly caused by the undead.)

There's not really any more I want to say about the plot. But the movie was somewhat revolutionary for having a black hero (Ben). On the other hand, the women, particularly Barbara (who never really came out of her shocked state), weren't treated as very important or capable characters. I should also say that, watching the movie in the safety of home, on my laptop, in the 21st century, I didn't find the movie nearly as frightening as one would if they were watching it on a movie screen, particularly in 1968. Still, I did feel concern for the safety of the characters. And... I just found it interesting to watch a zombie movie from a time when the characters themselves must never have seen or heard of any zombie movies before, so the whole situation was justifiably beyond comprehension for them, and not something they could easily find even basic terminology to describe it. They didn't have the luxury of being blasé about it, as I suppose I sort of was, because of how novel the events were, at the time. That makes it extra scary... for the characters, at least. And bearing that in mind enhances my appreciation of the film.

zombie index
B-movies index

Night of the Living Dead (series)
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Night of the Living Dead * Dawn of the Dead * Day of the Dead * Land of the Dead * Diary of the Dead * Survival of the Dead

Night of the Living Dead (1990) * Dawn of the Dead (2004) * Day of the Dead (2008)