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Night Of The Living Dead: The classic that started it all

Entering into the Halloween season, nothing says 'tradition' better than this seminal black & white film of 40+ years ago ...

Warning: No good comes from Night Of The Living Dead. In more ways than you can imagine, this feature continues to be shocking, 42 years after its initial release.

Spoiler alert! There’s gads of mayhem in the film and everybody dies.

Following is the death count (undead ghouls not included):

  • Barbra’s brother Johnny (Russel Streiner) is killed by the first ghoul encountered, a mysterious, gaunt and frightening stranger in the cemetery they’re visiting who struggles with Johnny, eventually tossing him to the ground and causing him to slam his head on a tombstone.
  • Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) are killed in an explosion when Tom attempts to get the flame-engulfed truck away from a gas pump.
  • Barbra (Judith O’Dea) is swarmed and pulled from the house she and the others are sheltered in by a zombie attack led ironically by her dead, reanimated brother Johnny.
  • While Harry (Karl Hardman) is shot by Ben during some of the film’s mayhem, it’s actually his daughter, Karen (Kyra Schon), who finishes him off properly. Harry’s wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) finds her munching away at Tom when she retreats to the basement to escape a zombie horde.
  • Helen is eventually killed by Karen with a cement trowel.
  • In the final moments of the film, lone survivor Ben (Duane Jones) hears noises from his basement sanctuary. As he ventures upstairs to see if it is the living or the dead, he is mistaken for a ghoul by a posse of men swarming the countryside in a zombie clean-up effort. Ben is killed by a shot to the head.

This film was my introduction into Zombiedom. It’s a standard. I honestly cannot think of a better film to have started off my love affair with the genre. NOTLD, to me, is my A Christmas Carol as December 25th approaches. It’s lighting sparklers during the 4th of July, ringing in the New Year with champagne. It’s attending the Dodgers’ Opening Day. It’s The Ten Commandments around Easter.

In other words: It’s tradition.

It never gets old. (Yes … I used “never.”) It still brings gasps and frights. You cannot help but get caught up in the stock musical tracks which accent the scenes being played out. You can feel the fire flare in the face of Ben as the truck Tom drives away from the gas pump blows up with he and Judy inside it. You can feel your revulsion as you watch that one particular ghoul snatch an insect off the tree and eat it. You spew loathing at Harry and his faux-bravado. You can feel the urgency of Ben as he boards up the house in his effort to ward off the undead meandering outside.

Wait … wait … what? What was that? You mean … you’ve never seen George Romero’s masterpiece? You’ve never experienced the fear of Barbra being overwhelmed by the zombie horde led by her brother Johnny? You haven’t sat transfixed at the news reports continually cropping up throughout the film, detailing the horrors taking place? You haven’t marveled at Sheriff McClelland uttering “Yeah, they’re dead … they’re all messed up” … ?!?

And you call yourself a horror aficionado, never having witnessed this classic?!? (If that’s the case, you probably don’t know elements of NOTLD were used as the basis for AMC’s popular The Walking Dead.)

Look: Do yourself a favor. View this piece of genre history. It’s available in its entirety on YouTube for Pete’s sake, so you don’t even have to venture out.

You know what? I’ll even do you a favor: I’ll provide it for you ’cause I’m such a nice guy. Go here and marvel at its glorious black and whiteness, free of charge and at the comfort of your very own computer screen. How does that sound?

The only thing I ask in return? Enjoy it … and comment your experience below if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen Night Of The Living Dead.

Don’t forget the popcorn.


Photo Credit: Image 10, Inc.

Categories: Features, General

One Response to “Night Of The Living Dead: The classic that started it all”

October 5, 2011 at 10:34 AM

Like many of the horror movies of my youth, I probably watched this one at an age many would say was inappropriate. I was probably between 6 and 8. I grew up with horror films though. My mother, grandmother and I would watch them all the time. It seemed like NOTLD was on at least once around Halloween and we would all gather to watch it. Years pass, but watching NOTLD around Halloween is still a yearly ritual for me. Only now it’s a DVD with my wife. When my little one is old enough in a few years, we’ll watch it with her as well. At least once.

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