George A. Romero is pegged as the Godfather of the modern Zombie, and for damn good reason. He is the only director who can consistently create zombie movies of high quality, and no film maker has ever been able to out rank, match, or even come close to competing with Romero.
His first film, Night of the Living Dead, was made in 1968 on a black and white camera with a severely limited budget. When the film was released, it shocked its audiences and showed them an unbelievable gorefest the likes of which had never been seen before.
Today the film is highly regarded as a classic horror movie, one of the best and easily one of the most influential. Widely considered the most important zombie film ever made, outranked only by its immediate sequel Dawn of the Dead, this is essential viewing material for any Zombie fan.
Night of the Living Dead opens with a scene of two young adult siblings, Johnny (Russel Streiner) and Barbara (Judith O’dea), visiting a grave of their late father. The cemetery is quite a long way from their home and neither is looking forward to the three hour drive back. After placing an annual wreath atop their father’s resting place, everything goes straight to Hell. The two are attacked by a mysterious man lurking through the graveyard. Barbara makes the decision to leave her brother behind and runs to a nearby house for safety.
As the struggle for survival goes on, more survivors find their way into this abandoned country home. However, there is also a growing barricade of zombies through the yard, eager for the chance to feast on human flesh. The first living person to arrive after Barbara, who is now paralyzed with fear, is a black man named Ben (Duane Jones). Ben takes on the role of the leader, strong and confident, always making the best decisions and trying to lead the fellow survivors to the end of this nightmare. He also bares a striking resemblance to Barack Obama.
The thing that made Romero’s Zombies so appealing and universally feared, was the fact that he used them as a metaphor for the thing many Americans feared and hated the most at the time of the movie’s release; enemy Vietnamese soldiers. The soldiers were always portrayed as blood-thirsty, relentless, brutal killing machines, and Romero’s zombies were directly based on this image.
In fact, almost the entire movie contains clever metaphors for the problems America was currently facing, making the Zombie apocalypse something all people could fear. Political satire can be found at every turn, chock full of ideological undertones to create something that was current and relevant.
Knowing this, it’s obvious that many of today’s Zombie fanatics aren’t going to find much to relate this film with, and the then-shocking situations the characters faced — such as parents being stabbed to death by their children, burning corpses, and cannibalism — would likely be considered weak, possibly a bit funny by today’s standards of what is considered terrifying.
Still, even though the political references and metaphors with the Vietnam War have expired and the level of gore is now considered minimal at best, this black and white classic still holds its grounds as one of the best Zombie movies ever made.
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was a revolutionary film in 1968. It created a horror tool that anyone and everyone could find a way to relate to and fear. Romero pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable through shock and gore while simultaneously telling a believable story with a cast of characters it was easy to relate with. Most importantly for me, however, is that it was the film responsible for creating the modern Zombie.
If you’ve ever played a Resident Evil, Dead Rising, House of the Dead or Left 4 Dead game, watched and enjoyed 28 Days/Weeks later or Zack Schneider’s Dawn of the Dead, or if you take your fascination with Zombies as far as I do and get the word ‘Zombie’ tattooed on the inside of your lip, then you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.
Final Score: 9.0/10 (Outstanding)