Night of the Living Dead: How a Homage Started a Horror Genre

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Movie

It is a commonly known fact that George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was always more than just a horror film featuring the undead coming back to life –the movie had undergone several revisions (starting with aliens that eat fresh corpses) before it become the classic zombie movie that we all know today. Little known is the fact that Romero was actually heavily influenced by Richard Mattheson’s I Am Legend, though obviously, Night of the Living Dead goes and makes its own path as opposed to choosing to become an adaptation of the short story.

What is Night of the Living Dead?

This 1968 black and white horror movie follows the story of a group of survivors trapped in a farmhouse while they try to figure out what is happening to the world. The film opens with one of the protagonists, Barbra Blair encountering one of the undead in the cemetery. This leads to her brother, Johnny, dying and Barbra being rescued by another lead character, Ben. The two make their way towards the aforementioned farmhouse where they encounter Harry and Helen, a couple who daughter was bitten by the undead, and Tom and Judy, a young couple. The group is beset by a variety of problems and crisis caused by their own conflicting morals, the mystery of the undead rising, and other issues. As the night draws longer, more and more of the undead swarm around the house and they must find a way to survive.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Movie

Redefining the Zombie

Night of the Living Dead is considered by many people as one of the most influential films of all time –spawning the whole modern zombie genre. Prior to the movie, the notion of zombie has always been attributed to the true meaning of the word’s voodoo inspired origins. In some way or another, Night of the Living Dead changed what the word meant for everyone. This is even more interesting if one considers the fact that never in the film is word zombie ever used. In fact, Romero distinctively used the term ghouls to describe the living dead. But regardless of how we call them, ghouls, zombies, zeds, walkers, or what-not, the fact that these shambling, flesh-eating, reanimated corpses all have this film to thank.

One of the things that most people miss out on is that the zombies in the film are likely to be have a more sci-fi inspired origin: at one point in the movie, it is mentioned by scientists that one of the space probes sent to the planet Venus was returning to Earth when it exploded in the atmosphere and there was fallout of radioactively contaminated bits and pieces that fell. This plot line was not followed-on however, despite the fact that there is an implication that the probe’s explosion was deliberately done.

Creating the Pattern

One of the core concepts created by this film is the notion of having a fortification to fend off against zombies. Later in the film, the survivors barricade and reinforce the doors and windows of the farmhouse as the zombies try to break in and take them. In many zombie movies, characters have also created a variety of safe-zones ranging from small houses to entire walled compounds to defend against the zombie threat.

One other major zombie story element is the fact that the biggest problems are not the undead, but the humans. The in-conflict of survivors is often the catalyst that leads to bigger issues. In Night, this is done with Harry’s temper as well as Tom and Judy’s inexperience. Many other zombie stories would give the same formula, and even introduces entire groups of humans whose moral inclinations can be far worse than that of the zombies.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Movie

You Have to Watch It

While we will not spoil the actual ending of the film, do know that this is not a feel good movie where the protagonists walk off to the sunset. Romero’s notion of a world that has experienced the threat of the Living Dead is a pretty bleak vision and it shows through in his work. There is a biting bitterness to the way that the film’s final scenes are shot and all the characters end up in situations that are quite fitting with the atmosphere of the movie. So no, this is not a feel good film, but it is a great film nonetheless.

With the low budget and relatively new actors, Night of the Living Dead is a testament to the talent of all the people involved in the film, and most especially with Romero’s vision. He can deliver good horror story and that becomes pretty obvious early on in the movie. The tension in many of the scenes weigh heavily on the viewer’s shoulders and the consequences of each action taken by the characters can be felt from each shot. Regardless of whether you are a fan of zombie movies or not, watching this movie is an experience like no other.