There have been hundreds of zombie movies created over the last 40 years — more than you can possibly imagine. And while George Romero’s 1968 black-and-white classic wasn’t the first, it was the one that essentially established the subgenre. Without it, there’d have been no 28 Days Later or Zombieland, and there’d certainly be no Shaun of the Dead, or the countless spin-offs, sequels, and remakes that Night of the Living Dead spawned. You can basically thank George Romero for, in part, giving rise to the careers of Simon Pegg and Zack Snyder. Pretty good for an independent film created on a $114,000 budget.
Night of the Living Dead wasn’t just a groundbreaking movie for the zombie subgenre, however. It was also groundbreaking for the amount of blood and gore (tame by today’s standards) that it contained, during a time before the MPAA had been established, where it wasn’t unusual for children to attend Saturday matinées. As Roger Ebert wrote:
The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying… It’s hard to remember what sort of effect this movie might have had on you when you were six or seven. But try to remember. At that age, kids take the events on the screen seriously, and they identify fiercely with the hero. When the hero is killed, that’s not an unhappy ending but a tragic one: Nobody got out alive. It’s just over, that’s all.
I don’t want to provide a full review of Night of the Living Dead — the Pajiba Movie Club, after all, is supposed to be about your opinions. But I do want to start off the discussion with some questions to consider:
1) What was your general opinion of the movie? And did you think it held up well 40 years later? Did you find the gore unsettling?
2) If this was your first time seeing Night of the Living Dead, did it help you to better understand and appreciate contemporary zombie movies? And could you really identify its influence on them?
3) Like his other zombie films, there was a lot of social commentary underlying Night of the Living Dead, which was released during the Vietnam era. Can you identify and perhaps expand on Romero’s feelings toward the political climate in 1968 America?
4) It was a big deal for Duane Jones to be cast as the hero, because it wasn’t typical at the time for African-Americans to be cast as the leads in movies otherwise dominated by white actors. Would anyone care to comment on that, and on its relationship to the recent (at the time) assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X?
5) Likewise, there were some feminist criticisms of the film, because Night of the Living Dead depicted the main female character as helpless and catatonic. Does anyone agree with that assessment?
6) Romero states that Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend was a big influence on his screenplay for Night of the Living Dead. Can you detect the similarities between this movie and both Matheson’s short story and even Will Smith’s remake of I Am Legend?
7) Finally, in light of what you’ve seen since Night of the Living Dead, do you consider the original campy or legitimately terrifying?