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The grandaddy of low-budget zombie siege horrors, George A Romero’s 1968 classic casts a long shadow. It remains a nightmare experience that’s not easily brushed off. And despite its ramshackle scrappiness in production terms, and some dated gender politics, the storytelling is first class, pitching us straight into the action, but only revealing its full hand gradually. The first “ghoul” (nobody says zombie in the film) attacks Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and kills her brother in broad daylight within minutes. Taking refuge in an abandoned house, Barbra soon receives company from more shuffling ghouls, hungry for human flesh, but also from Ben (Duane Jones), a young African American man who proves to be the only character in the movie with the wherewithal to do something about the crisis. He’s good at boarding up windows and hand-to-hand combat, though his victim-support skills towards the catatonic Barbra are limited.
The cast expands to seven when more people are discovered in the basement of the house, even as the ghoul population outside increases inexorably. Trust and mutual cooperation are in short supply. TV reports suggest this is a nationwide epidemic. The initial, almost jokey setup steadily shifts into something more unsettling. Romero conjures moments of eeriness and dread throughout, keeping the lighting low and the special effects to a minimum, though there will be blood, fire, cannibalism and a great deal of death. It all leads to a cryptic and subversive climax. The fact that Ben is a black man is never remarked on, but looking back, it is one of the film’s most radical moves. The shockingly brutal ending is another. Was it meant as an allegory of the civil rights era? The Vietnam war? The counterculture? Such open-endedness is part of what keeps the film vital, even 50 years later. It’s what Romero, who died last year, would have wanted.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Night of the Living Dead review – still vital, brutal, cryptic and subversive | Horror films