WARNING – SPOILERS!
Director: George A. Romero
Year Released: 1968
They keep coming back in a bloodthirsty lust for HUMAN FLESH!
Plot/Review: ‘They’re coming to get you Barbra…’ – George Romero’s debut film, the low-budget, black and white horror; Night of the Living Dead is now regarded as a cult classic and was the first of many successful instalments to follow. The film was the first of its genre to portray zombies as ‘flesh-eaters’ rather than slaves to the Vodou curse. Night of the Living Dead was highly influenced by films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Last Man on Earth.
At the beginning of the film we are introduced to a brother, Johnny (played by Russell Streiner) and his sister, Barbra (Judith O’Dea) who are visiting their father’s grave in the Pennsylvania countryside. While teasing his sister in the creepy setting, Johnny comes across an elderly man of whom he jokes to be a ghoul when, in grim reality, the stranger is in fact a member of the living dead who then attempts to attack Barbra. Johnny is then killed when defending his sister who then takes refuge in a secluded farmhouse, with several undead assailants close on her trail. She is then met by the films other main protagonist, Ben (Duane Jones) who arrives in a pickup truck and also takes shelter in the farmhouse. Ben manages to kill some of the incoming ghouls and begins to secure the building with no help from Barbra who remains distant, struggling to accept or comprehend their situation.
Once things die down, they discover that other survivors had been hiding out in the cellar all that time: a young couple, Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley), and a family comprised of cowardly businessman, Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and their sick daughter Karen (Kyra Schon) who had recently been bitten by zombies when the family was first attacked. Heated arguments ensue between Ben and Harry regarding the best survival plan Harry believes the group should lock themselves in the cellar until help arrives, while Ben argues that they should stay in the main part of house where they would at least have a chance of escaping, should the place be overrun.
Meanwhile, television and radio broadcasts report that rising numbers of unidentified deceased individuals are returning to life and feeding on the living and survivors should make their way to the nearest rescue stations. Interviews with scientists explain that a possible cause could be exposure to high levels of radiation from a Venus space probe explosion, further reports claim that a sharp blow to the head is the most effective method of killing such creatures and groups of armed officials are patrolling the countryside.
Ben then suggests they make their escape after refuelling the truck however, disaster strikes as an accident at the petrol pump causes the truck to explode, killing Tom and Judy inside – their remains are then devoured by surrounding zombies. Upon witnessing the couples death, Harry locks the front door, leaving Ben trapped outside. Enraged, Ben manages to enter the house and fights Harry. The struggle results in Ben shooting Harry who stumbles down into the cellar and dies. To make matters worse, Karen succumbs to infection and kills her mother with a garden trowel, whilst upstairs, the undead crowd manage to break into the house and Barbra is dragged outside by the reanimated corpse of her brother, leaving Ben as the last survivor of the group.
Exhausted, Ben manages to barricade himself into the cellar (having dealt with the reanimated forms of Harry and his wife). He was able to survive the hellish ordeal, only to be shot and killed in the early hours of the following morning, having been mistaken for another zombie by a group of armed men who were clearing the area. The ending credits see Bens body being dragged from the house and burned along with a pile of zombie corpses.
As well the horror aspect, there is an underlying criticism of society within this film suggesting that mankinds failure to cooperate would ultimately lead to its own downfall – Romero explores this theme further in successive projects. Despite being deemed too shocking and grisly by certain critics at the time of its release, Night of the Living Dead was and is hugely successful and set the standard for future movies of its kind.