Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

With the exception of Gamera, this is going to be a week of zombie film reviews, and there's really only one way I could begin.

I've been a huge fan of Night of the Living Dead ever since I first saw it, nigh on 25 years ago now.  After that, I rented it several times on VHS, checked out the 1990 remake (fun, but an inferior film), and eagerly snapped up the "30th Anniversary Edition" when I saw it on DVD sometime in 1999.

Which proved to be a horrible mistake.  That DVD has two versions of the film: one with a new score; which is mindbogglingly awful; and one with 15 minutes of extra footage added; which is equally terrible.  Definitely a case of subtraction by addition.

However, due to the omission of a copyright statement on the prints, the film is in the public domain and legally available at The Internet Archive, so I was at least able to download a version of the film that had not been ruined.  It also means that Mill Creek can slap it into their budget 50 packs.  Which is a win all round.  Honestly, I would have paid $20 for a decent copy of this film by itself; to get it in a pack that also includes Nosferatu (which we'll get to) and Metropolis (reviewed here), is pretty sweet.

So in case you've been living under a rock for the past near-50 years, Night of the Living Dead is the grandfather of the modern zombie genre.  Without this movie, there is no Walking Dead, no 28 Days Later, no iZombie.

For reasons unknown - the film offers theories, but never identifies any of them as 'true' - the dead rise from their graves all over the planet.  Apparently driven by an insatiable lust for human flesh, they assault the living.

The movie centres on a small group of strangers who become trapped in an isolated farmhouse by the zombie hordes.  We - and they - are given snippets of the wider situation via news reports on the radio and television, but there's no phone on the premises so they aren't able to make two-way contact.

Naturally in the fraught circumstances there are angry disputes between the mismatched members of the group, as they argue about the best way to survive.  The fact remains, of course, that whichever strategy they choose, the mob of undead outside the building continues to grow ...

Night of the Living Dead is tautly made, with little wasted time and an oppressive atmosphere.  It's short on jump scares and other cheap tactics, focusing on building up a real sense of danger and then maintaining that as the isolated group's position becomes more and more desperate.

This film is well worth your time even if you are normally not one for horror films or gore (though if you are on the squeamish side, make sure to see it in the original black & white, rather than a colourised version).

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