18 October 2011

Clarky's Review: Night of the Living Dead

Choosing a film for horror club is always a daunting task, even for a seasoned regular like myself. So when I offered Ryan my choice last week I was nervous for him! Thankfully my fears were unfounded and Ryan brought an out and out horror classic to a table - Night of the Living Dead.

I'm not entirely sure why this film hasn't been brought to horror club before, I can only think that Fin and Ally were saving it for a rainy day when they had no other choices. Even more mind boggling is the fact that, like Ryan, I had never seen Night of the Living Dead until last Thursday. I was therefore feeling a different kind of pressure- what if I didn't like it? Would I be ousted from horror club by Ally and Fin?

The previous Romero efforts that we have screened at horror club had both left me cold initially and whilst I warmed to Martin during the process of reviewing it, The Crazies got worse on reflection. Therefore I genuinely had no idea what to expect as both these films are highly regarded by Romero die hards.

The set up is brisk and efficient and although I, as a modern cinema goer, knew what was happening, its worth remembering that the idea of the dead returning to life was totally foreign in 1968. Romero literally is the father of the modern zombie movie as before this zombies were like those in White Zombie where the "zombies" were alive but under the curse of a voodoo / witch doctor. To this end we get a lot of exposition from the news reports, which may seem over the top nowadays, but at the time was required to bring the audience up to speed.

I can't imagine what it must have been like watching this in 1968, especially as ratings did not exist at that time so little kids were freely admitted to the cinema, but audience members must have felt like they were freefalling and the new exposition must have helped to give them there bearings. Even then however there are some genuinely shocking moments and at least 3 jumps (1 of which was particularly scary).

Romero's use of sound and editing really adds to the proceedings and along with the cinematography, direction and special effects (especially the shots of the zombies feeding and the hand being slashed to pieces which are genuinely unnerving) help to detract from the, at times, slightly dodgy acting. The black and white also helps and helps to put you in the mindframe of a 1960's audience member, even if it cannot be fully comprehended.

With regards to the storyline itself, there are many different theories as to what Romero's intentions were with Night of the Living Dead, especially in relation to the racial tensions in America at the time. However, Romero himself has stated that Duane Jones was simply the best actor of everyone involved and therefore got the lead role as he had the most to do. However, there are also anecdotes that Romero re wrote a number of scenes once Jones got the role, and there is supposedly a cut "lynch mob hanging" scene where the zombies are hung from trees. Whether this is something that has been embilished over time as the impact of the film has grown is one thing, but the fact remains that after viewing it is difficult not to think about these issues, or to read up on the movie. It draws you in from the start and demands your attention thereafter, and even just having a black hero in a cast full of white actors was groundbreaking and potentially controversial at the time no matter what stories are true.

Due to studios refusing to distribute the film there are apparently as many as 23 different versions of the film out there due to the different scenes that were cut and due to the fact that the studio filled in the copyright under Night of the Flesh Eaters (the working title) and therefore the original film is in the public domain. I'm not sure entirely which version we saw, but I will certainly be looking out the longest version available just so I can get as much zombie action as I can!

Whatever mistakes the studio made they thankfully agreed to leave Romero's original ending on, which is nothing short of stunning. It was at once shocking, and at the same time satisfying that he didn't pander to the studios demands and the bleakness that has dominated the previous 90 minutes follows through right to the end.

A stunning debut that I thoroughly enjoyed. Roll on Dawn and Day!

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