10/28/08

The Halloween Top 13: Number 3: Night of the Living Dead

A country road with a lone car coming round a bend. A brother and sister going to put flowers on a grave. A strange figure moves in the distance. They're coming to get you Barbara. It's number 3 on the countdown and I'm sure you all know what tonight is it's....

The Night of the Living Dead (1968) starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, and Judith Ridley. Directed by George Romero.

Synopsis


The Imdb page for the movie lists the plot synopsis succinctly as "A group of people hide from bloodthirsty zombies in a farmhouse." This is both the most eloquent summation and the grossest simplification of all time. From the moment that Ben (Jones) and Barbara (O'Dea) meet, the locked doors of the farmhouse become the boundaries of the world. All that exists outside its boundaries is the crush of the dead. Ben and Barbara are unaware they are not alone in their world. From the cellar, Harry and Helen Cooper (Hardman and Eastman) and teenage couple Tom and Judy (Wayne and Ridley) emerge, and the human horror begins. After Ben and Harry argue about how best to fortify themselves, it's time for the first zombie to die of a head shot. Harry retreats to the cellar with his wife and Karen, their daughter who has been bitten by one of the dead.

When a botched grab at an escape leads to failure, teenagers become zombie barbecue, Ben shows Harry the business end of a shotgun, and little Karen wakes up to have a midnight snack on her mom. Once Barbara slips away, Ben locks himself in the cellar and holds out for whatever morning brings.

Film Facts
--In this zombie movie classic the word zombie is never uttered.

--The Cooper family is played by real life family.

--When the living dead chow down on the burnt up teens, they are actually feasting on ham with chocolate sauce. I always thought people would taste like chicken. It's kind of a letdown to think we'd be nauseatingly bad ham.

--The main house actually had no basement. All the basement footage was shot in the editing studio's cellar.

--The music from the film had previously been used in Teenagers From Outer Space(1959), The Devil's Messenger (1961), and an episode of The Fugitive.

Why Do I Love It?

It would be far easier to answer, "what do I hate about it." There wouldn't be a thing to say.

The performances in this movie are transfixing. Jones and Hardman make for natural foils, and if it were not for the two men's performances the movie would not be able to hold so many

layers of subtext. Romero's directing was arguably never better. His play with light and shadow enhance the gruesomeness of the violence, and as shadow finally engulfs Ben in the basement, it has become a creature unto itself. . This is a film that shows the no holds barred violent nature of men, living or dead. This was 1968, and while the world was changing, the box office hit was Rosemary's Baby. Meanwhile on October of that year NotLD was released in Pittsburgh to a standing ovation. While the world escaped what was happening around them, they flocked to a movie eager to blame the devil. It would take years for Romero's masterpiece to reach as many people, but it left an indelible mark on every horror film that came after it. It was an extension of years of horror genre and made the enemy ourselves, our loved ones, the whole world.

This is a movie that would spawn two remakes (check out old Fred the Wolf's profile on those), two sequels, and remakes for the sequels. It made not only Romero a name revered by horror hounds, it changed the entire public perception of what a zombie is. Up until this point films like White Zombie or I Walked with a Zombie had popularized the Voodoo zombie. Those zombies are now mostly relegated to Bourbon Street t-shirt shops. Instead Romero gave a whole new zombie. It's origins were a mystery. Was it a government accident? Is it the end of the world? Or as one of the sequel's tag-lines says was there no more room in hell? In the end it doesn't matter. It was coming, it was unstoppable, it was us.

In '68 with the civil rights movement in swing, the war in Vietnam raging, America was reeling. Frankie Lymon, the singer of "Why do Fools Fall in Love?", was found dead of a heroin overdose. Only twelve years earlier he had been a picture of innocence. I know there were other deaths in that year, most more important, but Frankie Lymon was America then. He was a man high on the idea of another shot at glory, but he insisted on hurting himself to celebrate. By '69, Woodstock would try to prove that the masses could live peacefully, but by the end of the year the Altamont festival would shatter the Utopian ideal. Also by that time in 1969 Night of the Living Dead was number one in box office in Europe. The world was starting to take notice of a little film and to the changes it both heralded and prophesied. In the end, NoTLD spawned a whole new era in horror film making, and the world was changed by it and changed with it in the sequels as Romero went after more of society's faults via his legion of the undead horde.

Now that I've made this as heavy as possible. Let me say that the other side of the coin is that it's just plain fun. Zombies get burned, hands get smashed, and shotguns deliver head shots. This is a film that pleases everyone. So if you're having a Halloween party, sitting down to carve that Jack O Lantern, or ready for the kind of horror that sticks to your ribs, then what you want is Dead.

Bug Rating










Tonight's Top 5 List is double sized because today's list comes right from the top. From my parents, the Big Bug and Mama Bug, come their top 10 favorite Halloween picks.

1. Frankenstein - 1931
2. Dracula - 1931
3. The Invisible Man - 1933
4. Bride of Frankenstein - 1935
5. The Wolf Man - 1941
6. The Cat People - 1942
7. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man - 1943
8. House of Frankenstein - 1944
9. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein - 1948
10. House on Haunted Hill - 1959

This is the gospel folks. This is the type of horror flicks I was raised on, and The Bug family knew how to to throw down some Halloween movie nights. Thanks for sending in your list you two, and speaking of two. That's where we are tomorrow. As the last day before Halloween looms, what two ghoulish goodies made the cut?

10 comments:

  1. Your parents' taste is impeccable. I love every one of those films. Great to see Cat People on there, and House of Frankenstein is an awesome party film.

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  2. I love a surprise entire movie,and Night of the Living Dead is a great one. I can watch it over and over. Also, the top 10 is full of classics. I was happy to see some Vincent Price on there.

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  3. YES, YES and YES again--one of the best horror movies ever. That opening scene alone--such a grabber--how could anyone consider themselves a horror fan and not fall in love instantly? Great review BTW.

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  4. Another great choice. And I love your parents' list too. That's cool that they enjoy all those classic Universal flicks, Dracula and The Bride of Frankenstein in particular. And Cat People is also a really good movie, much better than the remake.

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  5. Love this film. It does everything right [well maybe except for Barbara, who I like better in the 1990 version], but it's definitely a classic and worth on being on any Halloween Top 10 [or 13] list.

    By the way, thanks for the shout out!

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  6. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobNovember 2, 2008 at 10:16 AM

    judith o`dea drives me wild, when-ever i watch this film i always have the same fantasy, i save her from a zombie and she blows me, then i save her from another zombie and she lets me bugger her.

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  7. wow sneering (homo phobic) snob that is wildly inapporpriate. let's try and keep comments like that more to your inner voice than the one that might write on here.

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  8. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobNovember 2, 2008 at 3:23 PM

    i suppose that means you dont want to hear the fantasy i always have about marilyn burns when-ever i watch the texas chain saw massacre?

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  9. ok sneering (homo-phobic snob) I've tried to play nice, but putting a comment up under my own name is beyond the pale. I know you've been having a grand old time annoying my friend Fred, but I think it's high time you move on down the line.

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  10. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobNovember 4, 2008 at 2:31 PM

    ok maybe i was a bit cheeky, but you have to admit that judith o`dea and marilyn burns are incredibly hot chicks, (well they were in 1968 and 1973 respectively).

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