Ok, so in the tradition this week of writing about movies rather than writing about writing, I have another film review. Probably fitting this one come after having recently seen one of Romero’s recent offerings.
I had seen the first half of Night of the Living Dead in black and white some time ago, but never actually seen the last half, despite knowing how it ended. I fixed that for myself by watching the colorized version of this film, which itself might be a rather controversial choice.
What follows is my review, but be warned. Spoilers abound. Click through the link for the rest.
The premise is a simple one, a number of people seek refuge in an abandoned farmhouse after it appears that the dead are returning to life, and feasting on the flesh of the living.
This cult classic was a shocking release when it first came out in cinemas. These days, it watches as a little more of a tame affair, but one has to remember the age in which it was released. Being released in black and white was probably the only way it could have been released, given the rather gruesome content. The color version, while cool, ruins a little of the effect in that you can see some of the ‘special effects’ for what they are. I’d recommend the black and white version.
But it’s not just the blood, and yes, guts, that made this so controversial. Firstly, a black man was cast as the hero, where the main female lead was portrayed as a hysterical and helpless figure. Secondly, no one lived. In an age where people could identify with leads in horror who survived he horrors that they endured, the entire cast of Night are killed in the final scenes, leaving no one alive.
Even by todays standards, it’s a gruesome and somewhat depressing watch. Back in the 1960s, it must have seemed like a pretty horrible thing. While the first half of the film almost drags, and its a hard watch, because we can see the ending coming (and know that the sick daughter is actually close to death and turning herself) from all the other zombie flicks we’ve seen.
The second half is devastating by comparison as in the space of about 10 minutes the cast is blown up, eaten, shot, dragged screaming out into the night. We see our hapless female lead dragged away by her own brother, turned zombie.
Despite the color zombie flicks that follow, there’s something almost rather cruel in the intent of these zombies. We’re treated to a scene of them dispatching and eating a couple of the victims, unwilling witness to them fighting over intestines (it would have been more effective in black and white, in color, it didn’t look so realistic), chewing on forearms with lifeless hands attached.
In a singlemindedness lacking in later zombies of the Romero ilk, one of them turns on the living with a trowel, and hacks them to death in front of us. Even off screen, it’s shot in a way that makes it as nasty as any horror these days.
And to make it worse, even though he survives the horrors of everyone dying and having to put down the last of the living, Ben, our hero, is shot in the final scenes by a vigilant group that looks all too close to a southern lynch mob. The chilling and grainy stills of them piling and burning the bodies adds no cheer to this.
An entire cast dying in the Living Dead films isn’t uncommon. In some of the films, it was actually reshot, like in the original Day of the Dead. The remake of that film implied the whole cast died. The original Night didn’t shy away, it showed us every nasty detail. Nothing was left to the imagination. Bleak by todays standards, probably beyond shocking in the 60s.
Having said that, one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen was the 1970’s Hills Have Eyes. There was something more cunning, more calculated and gutteral about that era of horror.
If you want to check out how horror was, the grandaddy of the zombie genre, then this film is a must. Check it out in the original black and white though, not seeing the streaks of red almost makes it worse.R