When I was about ten years old, my popsâ€”totally against his will, yet totally out of loveâ€”accompanied me to a horror movie convention that was going down in Secaucus, New Jersey, at the same venue where the NBA's lottery draft will take place shortly. Save for my pre-teen self, the spot was crawling with older, creepy guys and dolls in costumes (Jason masks, Freddy Krueger finger-blades, and, if memory serves me correct, even an obese dude dressed as the Chucky doll). Quite the sight, indeed, but I wasn't phased. The whole fanboy euphoria of it had me under a spell, and then I saw IT, my own personal meccaâ€”the Night of the Living Dead area, run by the 1968's film's co-writer, John Russo. Normally, you'd have to pay a pretty-penny for souvenirs, but Mr. Russo realized I was just a wee lad with a huge affinity for his horror flick, so he blessed me with a poster that he signed on the spot. That poster remained on my bedroom wall up until about my 22nd birthday. I'm 26 today.
Pardon that slightly-long-winded anecdote, but I just needed to drive home the enormous impact Night of the Living Dead had on me after first sneaking into my parent's bedroom to watch it on cable as an 8-year-old. Shit scared the bejesus, but more than soiled underwear, it's aftermath cemented me with years of thought, discussion, and anger toward my lame friends and family who refuse to give it a viewing. Close-mindedness pisses me off more than urban radio playlists in 2008, especially prejudgment of horror films. It's my favorite movie of all-time (with A Clockwork Orange coming in secondâ€”how many of y'all recognized my blog's banner from Clockwork? Hopefully some).
The plot is a brilliant combo of claustrophobia and hopelessnessâ€”seven strangers, unknowingly in a world overturned by the dead returning as flesh-eating ghouls, lock themselves in a Pennsylvania farmhouse, as swarms of zombies gradually break their way in. It's black-and-white, it was made on the super-cheap by now-iconic writer/director George A. Romero and his closest friends (some of which both served on the production end and acted in it), and it's flawless. Watching it now leaves you with the same catatonic feeling that it must've for 60s-era audiences.
But what goes most unnoticed by the close-minded is the movie's political and social undertonesâ€”hardly subtle, completely chilling. For starters, the hero/lead is a Black man, "Ben,â€ a taboo for films in the â€˜60s, especially a Black man who smacks another White female character in a fit of annoyed rage. And, in one of cinema's most scarring and unshakable endingsâ€”which I won't spoil here, so no worriesâ€”Ben is served with a cold, heartless dose of civil rights era racial injustice. The zombies are creepy, yet far from the movie's primary source of unease.
There's so much I could say about the movie, but I'm not sure if King-mag.com is really the place. But regardless, I'm hoping at least one of y'all who read this will give the flick a chance. The 40th Anniversary Edition DVD just came out Tuesday (which I bought, of course, making it NOTLD's fifth DVD edition that I own), so it's definitely not too late. It's a landmark film that'll go down in history as one of cinema's all-time greatest, horror or otherwise. Without it, you would've never had 28 Days Later, the Ving Rhames-led Dawn of the Dead remake, or Resident Evil. And, with its acute reflection of 1960s civil rights issues, it's one that I'd bet a paycheck on that the likes of Spike Lee and John Singleton were at one time truly effected by.
Check out the entire film below.