Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman
Director: George A. Romero
Running Time: 96 mins
Night Of The Living Dead is an American film about a group of people trying to survive in an isolated farmhouse as they are surrounded by a merciless band of zombies.
The epitome of low-budget horror, Night Of The Living Dead is a true classic that shows just what the genre can do even with the fewest resources. While not particularly terrifying by modern standards, this film is genesis for so many classic horror movie tropes that we’ve come to love, and it delivers them in enthralling fashion, crafting a captivating and imaginative story with fantastic ingenuity.
The premise is simple – a bunch of survivors find themselves holed up in an isolated farmhouse as an onslaught of zombies begins to circle. That doesn’t sound like much to keep you enthralled for an hour and a half, yet Night Of The Living Dead does so much more than just pit man against zombie.
While the core story does indeed centre on the small band of people trying to survive, what really makes this film work is the brilliantly simple yet stunningly effective use of radio and TV broadcasts within the story to heighten the stakes of the sudden zombie outbreak.
As we follow our main characters fighting off the undead, they listen into running news coverage on radio and television, which explains how the unstoppable wave of zombie murder is sweeping across the entire country at a fierce pace, as authorities struggle to understand how to respond and whether anybody will survive.
It’s a stunning trick that in part makes the zombies so much more threatening (and not just some guys in silly make-up), and equally furthers the sense of isolation and peril for our main characters. They hear what’s happening outside, but it seems so dangerous that the thought of even going outdoors is terrifying, leaving them at the end of their wits even when in safety indoors.
The film then builds upon that ingenious technique with surprising character depth, bolstered by really strong lead performances from Duane Jones and Karl Hardman in particular, pitting the survivors against one another as they desperately try to find a way to safety.
And with that, Night Of The Living Dead is absolutely able to grab your attention and hold it for an entire hour and a half. It’s not particularly scary, and its gore doesn’t hold up by modern standards, but it’s the scale of the peril as well as the sense of isolation that turns it into a captivating watch all the way through.
It’s a brilliantly simple film that uses fantastically clever techniques and tricks to great effect, launching the modern zombie genre with so many classic tropes that we see in film after film nowadays.
With such ingenuity and imagination on the part of director George A. Romero and such brilliant on-screen talent, its small budget makes no difference to what is an enthralling and massively entertaining horror, and that’s why I’m giving Night Of The Living Dead a 7.6 overall.