Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Creature Film  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Mark Deming

When George A. Romero, a Pittsburgh-based director of TV commercials and industrial films, persuaded a few buddies to pitch in some money for a case of film stock so that he could shoot a zombie movie on the weekends, he had no idea that he would forever change the American horror movie. With his first effort, Romero shattered the rules of the horror genre; Night of the Living Dead retained many of the iconic elements of the traditional horror movie, but without the emotional buffering of most films that preceded it. In this film, the good guys didn't win, the monsters became only more powerful, the authority figures protecting us were both dangerous and inept, the source of the contagion was both unexplained and unstoppable, and, as friends and families were pitted against each other, no one got away unscathed. The early films of Herschell Gordon Lewis predated it in putting graphic gore on screen, but while Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs seemed almost comical in their candy-colored carnage, Night's stark black-and-white images of zombies feeding on their human victims possessed a blunt and troubling realism that broke new, stomach-churning ground. And while Night's political allegories are more subtle than those of such later Romero films as The Crazies and Dawn of the Dead, its open distrust of authority and depiction of society on the verge of collapse certainly mark it as a film of the Vietnam era; the grim fate of Duane Jones, the film's sole heroic figure and only African-American, had added resonance with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X fresh in the minds of most Americans. At a time when most horror movies took the tack that fear could be fun, Night of the Living Dead offered terror without a spoonful of sugar, and the genre would never be the same again.