For the first time ever a selection was made at Horror Club from someone other than myself, Clarky or Fin. We'd welcomed radio personality Ryan Gilbert (best known for his velvet tones reading the news on Radio Forth, and of course Those Movie Guys) to our Thursday night ritual before when we watched Fright Night, but this time the choice was all his. The pressure was increased as it was actually the 60th choice at Horror Club. Fortunately he couldn't have picked a better film as a debut choice. Night of the Living Dead is a stone cold classic.
It was a great choice because I've been feeling a little bad that the only two George Romero films we've watched so far were both films that I really didn't like (The Crazies, Martin). I really wanted to review one of his better films, because the man is a legend for good reason. I find with a lot of classic horror films, the ones that break new ground - or even create a new sub-genre altogether - have a tendency to feel a little tired/slow when you watch them decades later. Although you can admire their originality and significance, you sometimes feel that you want to watch the imitators. However, despite the wave of films that Night of the Living Dead directly influenced (or was just flat out copied by), it still feels as essential today as it did in 1968. Although I can't even imagine what it would have been like to have watched this when it first came out, because it really blazed a trail like few horror movies ever have.
Despite now being well over forty years old, the film still has the power to shock and scare a modern film viewer. Even though I've seen it before, I still found myself tensing up at points and jumping at some unexpected set pieces. The gore and griminess on display must have been completely shocking to a Sixties audience, and there are still points in the film that made me squirm a bit. Even though the story is so familiar to a 21st Century audience, it still feels remarkably fresh. The film beautifully builds the tension at a slow but steady pace, as the house is besieged by more and more zombies. Our understanding of the events increases through news bulletins (a trick that has been copied many times, but never bettered).
While the acting is pretty poor (save for the lead role, played very well by Duane Jones) it doesn't really seem to be to the detriment of the film, perhaps even enhancing the enjoyment factor in some way (there is definitely some unintentional comedy value to be found through the acting of Keith Wayne!)
Other than some of the acting performances, there is nothing here that I can fault. Romero would go on to make two other bona fide classics of the zombie genre before he started to tire out the format he revolutionised. While I have knocked Romero for some of his later films, and indeed some his 'classics' that I can't help but feel are overrated, I have to give him his due; he is a true innovator who forever changed the genre of horror. Even if Romero had made nothing but films of the standard of Diary of the Dead after this one, he'd still be on the Mount Rushmore of horror. It's just a brilliant piece of film making.
For me, there are just a handful of films that are absolutely essential for any self respecting horror fan to see, Night of the Living Dead is one of them.