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Wayback Wednesday: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra!

So, recently I’ve been catching up on the last four seasons of Supernatural (2005 – 2020). Yes, I am that person you know who refuses to give up on Supernatural even though it went on for far too long. Look, I’ve already committed to 11 seasons. I might as well see this thing through to the end. In doing so, the show has put me in an exceptionally spooky mood lately. I mean, an even spookier mood than I’m normally in. Seriously, you guys, I was listening to “Monster Mash” the other day on repeat. Anyway, as a result I’ve had the urge to watch a ton of horror movies and decided to go for a true classic when it came to this week’s Wayback. When it comes to zombie movies, it doesn’t get more classic than Night of the Living Dead (1968). This landmark movie is a solid little creature feature, one that’s perfect for family movie night. Not overly horrifying, but still creepy enough to spook even the bravest soul.

Credit: / Continental Distributing

Night of the Living Dead follows a group of seven strangers who are tapped in a rural farmhouse under attack by an ever-growing group of cannibalistic undead ghouls. As the threat grows, so do the frustrations among the group as they desperately try to survive.

When I was in high school, a group of friends and I decided that we were going to write, film, and star in our own horror movie. We didn’t take the project too seriously. Unfortunately, that resulted in us never getting around to actually filming our little movie. But we didn’t care. We did a ton of brainstorming and writing together and I can’t tell you how much fun it was to collaborate on something solely because you believe making it is going to be a blast. As I watched Night of the Living Dead, I could only assume there was a similar state of mind during production. The movie looks like it was made by a group of friends who, using whatever money they could rustle up, set out to make a cool, scary, good ol’ fashioned horror movie. And I mean that in the absolute best possible way. Despite the grim subject matter, there’s an air of committed enthusiasm and adventure that runs through Night of the Living Dead, making it one of those movies that’s great to watch because you just know the cast and crew put their hearts and souls into making it. There’s an earnest simplicity to this movie, one that I’m sorry to say, you just don’t see very often nowadays. Night of the Living Dead doesn’t feel like a cold, money-grubbing product of some studio. It feels like an authentic story being told in the raddest way possible by a director who loves horror stories. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of a spooky ghost story you would hear around a campfire.

It’s pretty clear to see why director George A. Romero has rightfully been titled, “Father of the Zombie Film.” In his directorial debut, Romero established the common tropes and lore that to this day, are still frequently used in the genre. Shooting zombies in the head, being transformed into one through bites, survivors banding together and barricading themselves in a dilapidated house…all this and more, the things you’ve come to love about zombie-related media like, Zombieland (2009), The Walking Dead (2010 – present), and Shaun of the Dead (2004), are thanks to Night of the Living Dead. By the way, check out my review for that last movie, here. In fact, the movie not only went on to garner a cult following and be cited as one of the greatest movies ever made, but has also come to be known as the first modern zombie movie.

What I really liked about Night of the Living Dead is how it created a genuinely frightening movie with so little. Don’t get it twisted. Night of the Living Dead is not cheap. It’s simply low-budget. A mere $114,000! The movie used the limited budget to its advantage and delivers scares that while simple, are timelessly terrifying. Throughout the entirety of the movie you can feel the panic and the rising fear in the group of survivors. Romero excels at capturing the realism of the situation. He doesn’t need to sensationalize the horror, he succeeds at conveying just how scary the ghoul attack would be by playing up the desperation, confusion, and difference of opinion that the characters wrestle without through the movie. Oh, and remember that measly $114,000 budget? Night of the Living Dead ended up grossing $30 million.

A big part of what makes Night of the Living Dead so compelling is the strong performance from leading actor, Duane Jones. As Ben, the self-appointed leader of the group of survivors, the movies really relies on Jones to do the heavy-lifting acting-wise. Jones gets the most to do and say, and he turns in a wonderful lead performance that solidifies Ben as one of the best heroes ever seen in a zombie movie. Brave, resilient, and quick-thinking, Ben is the type of character you could only hope to have on your side when surviving a zombie attack. The rest of the characters? Let’s just say that they’d be much more frustrating to be cooped up in a farmhouse with. 

Night of the Living Dead is a great horror movie for sure, successfully combining genuine thrills with delightfully cheesy moments that could only exist in old school monster movies. This movie is very much in the vein of Dracula (1931) or The Wolfman (1941), tone-wise. There are times when like the ghouls themselves, the movie can be slow-moving, but thankfully there are enough surprises and scares to keep you on your toes. And that ending? WHEW! I honestly can’t believe Romero decided on such a bold ending to an already bold movie. 

The quintessential zombie fright-fest, Night of the Living Dead is a classic for a reason. If you’re looking for a movie that’s guaranteed to send shivers down your spine and chill you to the bone, you can’t go wrong with this iconic movie. I promise that it’s a night you won’t forget.

Have you seen Night of the Living Dead? What are you favourite zombie movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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