John's Horror Banana-nanza Episode Fourty-Seven: Night of the Living Dead
This movie gets a lot of credit as a movie about the social enviroment of the 1960's, as well as a study of how people put in a situation can or cannot learn to work together. To me, however, there is a solid, creepy zombie flick in there somewhere, underneath all the social undertone.
Directed by genre legend George Romero in and around Pittsburgh, the movie starts out with Barbra and Johnny visiting a cemetary. Out of nowhere, a zombie attacks Barbra, and kills Johnny. Barbra gets away and enters what she thinks is an abandoned farmhouse, but inside is Ben. She tries to explain what happened to her, but she's too hysterical to make sense. She finds a dead body upstairs which, still, to this day, I think Ben is responsible for. There are no zombies in the house, and as we find out later, Ben is perfectly capable of murder if necessary.
We then find out two couples are hiding out in the basement. Harry and his wife Karen, and Tom and his girlfriend Judy. Now, Ben is pushy. And a jerk. But Harry is stubborn, and both men are more worried about leading the group than the zombies swarming outside. And Tom just kind of does whatever he's told.
Also in the basement is Karen, Harry's sick daughter. For the most part, the females in this movie really do nothing. Judy tries to convince her husband to cooperate, but he won't. And Judy follows Tom around like a lost puppy. Of course, Barbra just sits in a catatonic state for nearly the entire movie.
Using a television to see what's going on outside, they find out that the dead are returning to life,and eating the living. "Kill the brain and you kill the ghoul," they're told. (Interestingly, the dead are never refered to as "zombies" in this film.) There's a hint that radiation is responsible for the outbreak, but it's never really fully explained. They just exist, and that's all that matters.
So the group decide to take a truck to a safe station not too far, but they need gas first.Unfortunately, Tom and Judy foul that up and cook themselves for the zombies. After a few more fights with Harry, one due to him not allowing him back in the house, Ben eventually shoots Harry. Meanwhile, Helen goes downstairs to check on Karen, and Karen, now transformed, stabs her mother with a spade.
The zombies begin to break into the house, and Barbra catches a glimpse of zombified Johnny and lets her guard down. So she's captured, leaving Ben alone with zombie Helen and zombie
Harry in the basement. So he kills them and waits until morning, where the ending will knock you flat.
While Tom Savini, who had an oppertunity to work on this film and didn't, remade it in the 1990's with the great Tony Todd in the lead, Duane Jones makes an excellent main character in Ben. At times, you aren't sure if you're rooting for him or not, but his performance is strong. Barbra, played by Judith O' Dea, isn't quite as good, but she isn't given much to do. Her remade performance is far stronger.
While everyone will break down this movie endlessly for it's social messages, I'll break it down like this. There is no more of a kickass movie from this time. This movie was not afraid of anything, and kickstarted a subgenre that still thrives today.