There are few examples in the last 50 years of a film that is so defining, so absolute, and so important to cinema that they have defined a generation and a genre. This could even be extrapolated to other genres as well, music, comics, television. It’s difficult to name a singular project in the thousands that have been released that so explore, spread, and influence our modern day world.
This is one of those films. The Zombie craze of today would not, could not, exist without this work. The rules, the style, the look, even some of the types of shots and locations exist simply because George A. Romero gave us Night of the Living Dead.
So we know it is iconic. We know it is definitive, but does that mean it’s good?
The script was written by George Romero himself in conjunction with John Russo. Russo. This was their first writing credit on any film, and they would go to give us Zombie movies for the next 50 years together. 50 years. They haven’t been very prolific but consistent. There are not many folks who can claim 50 years of writing and directing as a claim to fame that are still working in Hollywood today. Of course Romero himself directed, another first for the legend.
That being said, the dialogue? Ain’t that great. It almost reads like a student film or stage play than a film at times. There are a lot of monologues and exposition to deliver information. The radio and television as a means to deliver information was actually well done. One of the better decisions is never fully committing to what may have caused the rising of the dead.
From an acting standpoint, the best performance comes from Duane Jones. He reads so natural and believable is is incredible, and perhaps a bit harmful to the rest of the cast. Not only is his acting so far above and beyond the rest of the cast, he is critical as the first African-American to have a starring and heroic role in a horror film. Judith O’dea also does remarkably well, even if she largely plays catatonic, as the infamous Barbara.
As a technical note, the camera angles and lighting choices, along with the choice of black and white vs. color also were brilliant decisions by Romero. So much of the film works because of the black and white, it allows the movie to hide some of it’s make up and flaws. There’s also a bit of genius in, what I believe, is the one of first uses of a child as the monster.
As a bit of trivia for those who enjoy these types of films, Tom Savini himself was to do the make up, but was unable to due to being sent to Vietnam.
The movie holds up almost 50 years later. Though the word Zombie is never explicitly mentioned, in fact the word used is Ghoul, it defines every single film maker, writer, or producer when it comes to this genre. It isn’t a perfect film by a long shot, if it were made today it would largely be laughed at; but because of when it was made and how it defies everything to become the legendary picture that it is.
I highly recommend this film not only for viewing, but to be in anyone’s collection.