27 October 2011

Fin's Review: Night Of The Living Dead

What more can you say about Night Of The Living Dead that hasn't already been said. It is quite simple one of the best horror films ever made. George Romero's 1968 classic can rightfully take its place alongside The Exorcist, Carrie, and Halloween as one of the few truly great films to come out of the horror genre. It is hard to do justice to how good this film actually is, it is phenomenal. In the space of 96 minutes Romero presents a blistering vision which single-handedly changed not only the horror genre but popular culture. Night of The Living Dead is for my money the greatest debut picture ever made. Unlike many classics that have had their ideas so widely copied in the preceding years Night Of The Living Dead remains as fresh and enjoyable today as it did 43 years ago. Night Of The Living Dead changed the face of horror four decades ago and all horror directors since 1968 have worked in its shadow.

Part of what makes watching this film so entertaining now aside from its excellence is seeing how many well worn horror conventions were invented by George Romero in this one film. Most obviously the concept of the shambling, mindless, flesh eating zombie was born in this picture. Previous to Night Of The Living Dead Zombies were based in the Voodoo mythology of using black magic to gain mind control over a unwitting victim and create a living slave. It was Romero that created the classic Zombie that has come to dominate not only horror but popular culture. Romero's zombies are so terrifying because they are us or friends our families and our neighbours. Romero created a horror creature that has become as iconic as the werewolf and vampire. It is a strange to think that our modern conception of zombies have only been stumbling and mumbling across our nightmares for 43 years it feels like they have been there forever. The simple story of a group of strangers forced by circumstance to cooperate in the face of a new unprecedented nightmare. The isolated and lonely farmhouse surrounded by unfeeling, sinister forces. The slowly unfolding catastrophe being relayed to the survivors and the audience through a series of increasingly hysterical news broadcasts. It is a tribute to the genius of Romero and this film that all zombies stories since have in their own way copied this basic template it is as if Night Of The Living Dead in one step invented and defined the genre to such an extent that future directors could not escape its shadow.

It is not simply the completely unique nature of Romero's zombies or the story he creates which is worthy of note but also how he presents this story in itself was game changing. Night of The Living Dead was so subversive of the ruling horror conventions of the day that by the end of the 96 minutes any horror film released before would appear staid, safe and irrelevant. Romero establishes this breaking with convention in the first 5 minutes of the film when a young brother and sister visiting their fathers grave are attacked in broad daylight. Two completely unique things happen here first the brother is killed the conventional male 'hero' who would usually go on to save the day is dead. Secondly the attack and horror came straight out of the blue in daylight! The traditionally idea that horror would happen only in night scenes been blown away. In the new world of horror films the terror could come at any time and in any place. There is no dramatic music or lighting or effects the horror just happens giving a unsettling glimpse into the realism with which the story will unfold. This realism is another major reason for the success of this film. Romero rejects the glossy techno-colour of 60s Hollywood and instead uses grainy black and white. the camera stays close to the action alongside the characters giving the viewer the impression of being in the house allowing use to relate to the characters as a fellow survivor. The black and white film and camera work give Night Of The Living Dead a bleak and chilling urgency absent from most horror films of the era.

George Romero's 1968 opus is a genuine masterpiece and one which any fan of film should see. In 1968 George Romero forced the horror genre to grow up. The horror conventions which audiences had become used to since the 30s and which had allowed them to feel safe were blown away in less than two hours. The modern horror film was born where no one was safe and the horror could come at any time without warning. Night Of the Dead gave birth to a concept that would be continued in films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist the idea that horror films could actually be dangerous and the terror these films created was real. It is perhaps ironic that this idea of real fear and danger has calcified into a new set of horror conventions where all that matters is increasing violence and gore and one in which story takes a back seat and as a result any genuine fear has disappeared from much modern horror. At no time in the last 43 years has the horror genre been crying out for a new Romero and a film with the impact and vision of Night Of The Living Dead.

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