In a small cinema in a small town, I sat with Second Breakfast‘s Chris Melville and occasional guest columnist Will Standish to watch a horror classic accompanied by live music. Now, the experience was largely ruined by three older people who had apparently never been to one of these confounded “picture show houses” and narrated every part of the movie, but we’re still in Octoberween, the movie is still worth blabbing about, and today’s Tuesday and ohmygodIneedtowriteaboutsomethingshit.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Plot: Zombies, race politics, and other stuff.
George A. Romero made Night as a passion project after film school for next to nothing. The entire project was done without professional help, and so the fact that it is now a cultural turnstone and one of the most iconic films of the horror genre is intriguing and incredibly impressive. Why has it endured, though? And why should you care enough to watch it during the last week of the best month of the year?
To my surprise, Night isn’t just valuable for doing something completely new while lacking in most other departments; it’s actually really good. The characters are better written than most horror movies, with each having a distinct personality and clear motivations. There is admittedly some good ol’ fashioned sexism embedded in the dialogue, but the female characters are relatively well constructed. One does spend her time in a near-catatonic state, but she just watched her brother get murdered, so that’s pretty understandable. A lot of horror movies tend to forget motivation and realistic characterizations, but Night surprisingly nails it.
Although I can’t be certain since old people going “Oh, the electricity went out!” kind of ruins the atmosphere, I think that Romero is fantastic at building suspense. The eeriness isn’t cheap and it doesn’t conflict with the story. Everything is constructed in tandem, and even though the writing can be a bit hokey, the plot progresses naturally with a touch for tension. Night hasn’t stuck around because it made a huge stir when it first came out, but rather because it’s a better constructed horror film than many that have come since.
This is a fairly short review, but I just wanted to say that if you have yet to see this horror classic, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s absolutely worth your time, and further, it’s in the public domain, so it’s free! Enjoy.