[Movies] Halloween month – Night of the Living Dead (USA – 1968 – 96mins)

Halloween is getting closer, also my list is slowly beefing up. My current strategy is to try to follow my personal movie collection based on the timeline (from the oldest to the most recent movies).
Today, I will talk about one type of sub-genre movies I particularly affectionate: Zombie movies! Maybe it is my inner side of me as a scientist to be attracted to zombies. This idea that somebody is not dead, or resurrect back from the dead.
Several black & white movies compete about introducing the term of zombie, maybe the movie “White Zombie” starring Bela Lugosi. But he does not fit my definition of zombie, thus for me the original zombie movie as depicted in modern day in series such as “The Walking Dead” is certainly Georges A Romero’s “Night of The Living Dead” 

The cultissim, mother-of-all modern zombie movie. Yep, this old B&W movie made with $114’000 budget. Yet, this movie has a charm, has an intrigue.
But let me discuss about the plot and why I think it makes this movie great. The story starts with two siblings: Barbara and Johnny driving across a remote rural area somewhere around the Pitt (Pittsburgh, a trademark city of Georges A Romero movies) to visit their parents grave. Suddenly, the sound of a storm, kind of annunciating the trouble coming in the horizon. Appears from a distance, a huge tall man. Walking slowly, without a eye-staring. Staring in the horizon. Johnny makes fun of Barbara, claiming ghosts will come take her “They’re coming to get you! They’re coming for you Barbara!”. Barbara frustrated by Johnny’s joke walk away and accidentally walks towards this big tall man, looking from afar similar to Dr. Frankenstein’s creature. And here we are, the big tall man grasping Barbara with a expressionless face. Johnny comes to help Barbara only to be killed. She manage to escape inside the car but no keys to start. She manage to release the handbrake, have the car slope downhill only to give her a small advantage to the monster. She manage to run to a freshly abandoned house, in which she is petrified by fear, incapable to think about the situation. The dusk settles very fast and the night comes in. Trying to escape the house, despite the presence of more ghouls outside the house, Barbara is blinded by strong headlights. Here comes another human, a Afro-American man. Ben. And here is where things are really revolutionary.
Ben is the main hero of this movie, he is the one bringing an hope of light as symbolized by the white headlights. He is the one that is taking the initiative to barricade the house until dawn because there is no way you will survive in the dark with more ghouls coming attracted by the light. He is the one that show the leadership to ensure everybody’s survival and all caucasian characters are marked by contradictory decisions, including the head of family hiding in the cellar driven by irrational decisions. Back in the days, we just came out from the Million man March by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. We just came out from the civil rights movements and yet the racism against African-Americans is running deep. Having Ben (played by Duane Jones) being the main hero of the movie turned upside the narrative populating Hollywood back then, in complete frontal crash with “the white savior complex” depicted in Western culture by Albert Schweitzer or Tintin. The ghouls (that will be referred as zombies in the sequels) have an unknown origin , some scientist will argue they came from a substance excreted by a falling meteor, some will argue it was some cosmic radiations, some will refute and say it was a virus type.
I don’t have any explanation about their origin but I believe that Romero’s meaning of the ghouls was indeed a metaphor to represent veterans from the Vietnam war. “Shellshocked” or what we call today post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a certain angle, they were dead (they were drafted in Vietnam) and they came back. Their welcome back home was surely indeed a shock for the US society that have been living a golden post-war age (1945-1965) marked by technology, consumerism and wealth. None of them were prepared for what will come to the US society and were shaken on their base about dealing with veterans of the Vietnam war. You can feel it in the whole culture running in the 70s and 80s (I got exposed to the Vietnam war through the prism of the A-team, through the prism of Magnum PI, at the age you have no clues what the Vietnam war was about except seeing Rambo downing a whole army trying to rescue some POW).
This is what makes the movie great, behind the horror movie, you have some profound social and cultural meanings denouncing the society at that time. I strongly recommend to watch the free version (Romero’s ensured the movie copyrights to fall into the public domain) and you should get the Romero’s original black and white cut. Avoid the colorized version and avoid the Russo directors cut that added supplementary scene and altered the storyline). Once you have seen the original version, then I would suggest to visit the Savini’s version, as Tom Savini is one master genius behind the FX, one “Masters of Horror”.

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