The car won't start, the phone line's dead, and you're surrounded by an army of flesh-eating zombies. If this sounds like the makings of a classic B-rate horror movie, that's because it is.
Ever since the dawn of motion pictures, there has been a dark side to cinematography, catering to the irrational, macabre, psychopath in all of us. It usually manifests itself in no-name actors in ridiculous circumstances, directorial debuts, a nearly unstoppable threat to mankind, and gallons of fake blood. This would, of course, be the horror flick. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead is a prime example of all that horror is.
The horror movie genre can be broken into several categories. There are drama intense, Hitchcock psychothrillers, where the terrifying element is more dialogue, and character interplay than physical violence. Slasher movies, full of blood and dismemberment take a more asanine spin on horror, capitalizing on shock factor and surprising the audience. Way out in left field is the cult category, combining elements of the previous two, but usually with a bizarre twist thrown in, such as the primary antagonist being a hoard of oversized, aggravated tomatoes from outer space.
It would be easy to dismiss the entire cult phenomena as a freakish accident, insignificant and benign within the film industry were it not for it's longevity, influence on the pop culture, and tendency to produce sequels. Friday the 13th Part 8, Halloween VI, and the Evil Dead trilogy stand as testament to the success of horror movies, forever promising them a place in the box office, and movie making history for all time.
Romero's 1968 classic is the quintessential cult horror flick, complete with an inextricable plot, no budget, and it's even his directorial debut. Originally a director for advertisements and television commercials, Romero and nine of his closest associates desired to enter the film industry. With a scant budget of $6000, and no movie making experience prior, Romero and his crew went on to produce a grainy, poorly edited, black and white film that is still considered a cinematic masterpiece nearly 30 years later.
The story, if you don't already know, is that a bunch of people get stuck in a house in the middle of eating zombies. They're forced to work together in order to survive the night. If this all sounds a little too conceivable, it should also be mentioned that the flesh eating zombies are supposedly the product of intense radiation from Venus, and anyone who dies in the vicinity of them is also reincarnated as a zombie.
It was within Romero's interpretation of zombies that Night earns most of it's "classic horror" status. Whereas he certainly did not invent the concept, he did a lot to define zombies, stereotyping them into what is still today considered zombie-like behavior: slow moving, slightly decayed figures with slack jawed expressions, staggering about in search of human flesh to feed upon.
Classic as it may be, Night is not a timeless film. The style of dialogue, and the relationship between males and females is painfully 1950s, as per the mores at the time of the movie. Women are subservient, passive, feckless counterparts to their significant others, and males protect their wives from the dangers of the real world. It's enough to make you pine for the independence and daring liberalism present in an average episode of Donna Reed.
Still, behind the rasping audio track, jerky editing, and fuzzy film quality, Night is a very complete horror film. Techniques and camera angles, such as the abandoned cabin in the woods theme, and the over-head stabbing sequence, are still present in modern cinematography. Although the dialogue is very trite, the type character interactions and relationships present are still used in modern horror. Behind the 30 year old facade, the movie plays and feels much like the latest Wes Craven flick, or Stephen King adaptation, certifying that Night is indeed a classic work.
Night of the Living Dead is showing in Kettering 11 on Saturday at 7, 9 and 11.
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 7, October 31, 1997
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