This is a movie I listed as one of the most influential horror films of all time, George A. Romero‘s Night Of The Living Dead. This is the film that forever changed what we consider to be zombie, and yet when George Romero made the movie the one word he never used in the script was zombie. The monsters were always called things, or ghouls.
Before this film any movies about zombies generally dealt with them as though they are from Caribbean myth, the reanimated corpses of the recently dead that serve the wishes of an evil wizard or priest. In White Zombie they are laborers making a sugar cane plantation work, in other films armies of the dead are used, but always there is a controlling agency that is the source of the scourge with understandable if somewhat irrational motivations.
With Night Of The Living Dead (Originally titled Night Of The Flesh Eaters.) Romero created a new monster, one that everyone else referred to as a zombie and that in end supplanted the Caribbean zombie as the de-facto zombie legend.
In terms of filmcraft, this film is a flawed film suffering from a lack of skill in the writing and direct through limited budget and effect capability. If you watch this film looking for quality film making you will be disappointed. What this film had, especially for its time (1968) was shock value. Compared to the horror films of of the 60’s this is an in your face gore-fest. The film is simply relentless in his ferocity. At this time other films were satisfied with smear of blood for gore, while Romero took the audience up close to entrails eating ghouls. The film was also ground breaking in the casting of a black man in the heroic lead. At the time when race riots were breaking out and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was being assassinated, to have a black hero ordering about a white man and slapping a hysterical white woman was simply unparalleled. It is to Romero’s ethical credit that he saw nothing ground breaking in this. He has made mention in numerous interviews that the actor, Duane Jones, got the part simply because he was the best actor who read for it.
The film’s tones is also more like something from the 70’s than something from the 60’s. Its futile ending reflects the growing cynicism and fatalism in american society.
Of course the films lasting influence was with the creation of the new screen monster, the zombie. After this movie zombies became self-motivated — usually only by hunger — relentless hordes of undead. They were freed of the slavery imagery and instead became an all-consuming mindless crowd. Eventually zombies as a monster factionalized as new filmmakers tried new ways to invigorate and revitalized the concept (If I can be pardoned for using the term in relation to the undead.) Dan O’Bannon gave us smart and indestructible zombies in Return Of The Living Dead, — which is actually a sequel to Night Of The Living Dead — Zack Snyder gave us fast zombies in the remake of Dawn Of The Dead, and Danny Boyle gave us viral zombies in 28 Days Later. There have been others cause the zombie genre is not dead, but forever undead and ready to bite, however they all owe a debt to George A. Romero and nine friends who wanted to make a monster movie.