STARRING: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley

1968, 98 Minutes, Directed by: George A Romero

Description: In a Pittsburgh suburb people are being stalked by zombies ravenous for human flesh. In a house whose occupant has already been slain, two separate groups of people unite and board themselves in, hoping to fend off the advancing ghouls. Through radio and TV reports they learn that radiation from outer space is thought to be responsible for the wave of zombie attacks all over the eastern United States.

Expecting a cheesy B-movie? Well, to be honest, so was I - despite the reputation of Night of the Living Dead as being a modern horror classic alongside the likes of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween and Psycho.

After all, who takes zombies seriously anymore? Shuffling around aimlessly and mindlessly so slowly that even those fat kids who recently sued McDonald's could outrun them; zombies have never really entered the movie mainstream until quite recently with the likes of 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead (2004). And then they were updated to be fast moving and ferocious, in fact in 28 Days Later they are called "the infected" instead of zombies, but we all know better, hey? (The word "zombie" isn't so much as uttered once in Night of the Living Dead either.)

In Night of the Living Dead they are however a menacing presence from the very outset - a bit like the Zulu warriors in Zulu, or the H.R. creatures in Aliens - and the movie's few missteps are when director Romero zooms in too closely on them. But while modern make-up has improved and become gorier with time, nothing can really detract from the dilemma of the group of survivors holed up in the remote farmhouse.

Also, what separates Romero's film from its various imitations throughout the years is its sly commentary on human nature and its social satire. As one critic has pointed out, the hero in this case is a Black man (quite daring for its time) and the most sensible characters are the females. In fact, white men come across as, well, Stupid White Men to steal Michael Moore's phrase. However, in one of the movie's many ironies one of the more repugnant characters turn out to be have been correct all the time. The ending, without wanting to spoil too much, is also doubly ironic.

"This 1968 movie is definitely deserving of its cult status . . ."

(Incidentally, Night of the Living Dead counts as sci-fi not only because of its theme of radiation from a satellite launch gone wrong causing all the mayhem, but because of the way it portrays an almost post-apocalyptic scenario in which society under strain with its government helpless to do anything.)

Filmed in gritty Black & White (color would have spoiled it), Night of the Living Dead plunges right in with the action and when its dismally bleak ending comes around, it becomes quite clear that this 1968 movie by a first time director is definitely deserving of its cult status.

Note: Because director Romero has forgotten to put a copyright notice on the end titles of the movie's initial prints, Night of the Living Dead has lapsed into the public domain over the years. (Okay, the legalities are a bit more complicated than that, but the film's public domain status is a fait accompli.) Therefore anyone can - and probably has - released a copy of the movie for sale.

So there are different versions of this movie out there. In fact, someone even overdubbed the film's soundtrack with a comedic one! In 1998 a so-called "30th Anniversary Edition" with new footage shot by one of the film's authors was released. In general this is a version to avoid and has aroused more ire from fans than even George Lucas' so-called Star Wars - Special Edition. The latest is a so-called "Ultimate Edition" which features a digitally colorized version (and the original Black & White thankfully) as well as an audio commentary by Mystery Science Theater 3000 host Mike Nelson.

Beware: picture and audio quality of the various DVDs and VHS tapes thus differ. I watched Night of the Living Dead as one of 50 movies contained on the Horror Classics 50 Movies DVD Collection, which contains, yes, 50 movies on twelve double-sided discs. It consists of old movies which has lapsed into the public domain and no longer has any copyright restrictions on them - hence the way low price of about 30 U.S. dollars. Attack of the Giant Leeches and Monster from a Prehistoric Planet are also part of the set. Sound and picture quality on Night of the Living Dead was better than I had anticipated and it was quite watchable.

However, if you have the bandwidth and hard disc space, then you needn't bother: you can download Night of the Living Dead right here for free - and it's legal too!


# 63
of the
Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies
of all time



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