As part of my Media Splurge Challenge, I finally decided to watch Night of the Living Dead. I don’t think there is another movie–though, Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre may be close–has such a stalwart backing as being the epitome of horror cinema. It is one of few horror movies that is considered a must see movie, no matter the genre. Personally, especially when it comes with horror, I’m very weary of such high praise. Now, I’ve tried a few times to watch this movie in the past. I don’t think I ever got past 5 minutes at different points in the movie. Having now watched it in its entirety, I really have to question why people think it should be watched at all.
Before you all get up in my face for such a sacrilegious statement, let me explain. I understand the movie was a first in a lot of ways. It created the modern zombie. It helped spur on the forthcoming Splatter movement in all forms of horror. I realize it is the quintessential 60’s movie attempting to depict everything that is wrong with western civilization. But it is such a boring movie! I mean, can we talk about those news breaks that did nothing in the end? If the intention was to use it as a way to portray of media and government in times of crisis, can we agree that there are moments where nothing happens, which breaks the verisimilitude because in radio and TV you can’t have dead air? I don’t know if they were scripted that way or if there was a lot of improv, it didn’t move anything.They were the cinematic equivalent of an info dump.
And that acting, holy cow! There is a reason this thing has a Rifftrax. It earned it with it writing, acting and directing. I lost count how many times I face palmed or laughed at just happened on screen. Now, I will give credit to Duane Jones, Karl Hardman, and Marilyn Eastman. Jones shouldered most of the movie, even though the story and directing made seem like all the characters should have been pulling equal screen presence. The tension between Harry and Ben was probably the highlight of the movie, I wish it was introduced sooner in the movie and explored more before everyone basically commits suicide by being stupid. Hardman and Eastman also did a great job of portraying a married couple in the situation–interestingly enough, many of those scenes between them were ad libbed. But couldn’t they have gotten some basic stage fighting classes? Every time I saw Ben clobber anyone, he always jerked to slow the movement of the blow. Therefore, no zombie could have had it’s brains bashed in, so I can’t believe the story.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I don’t even want to think about this movie anymore. To me this is a great example of where fandom takes too much control on what is celebrated within it. I understand the critical arguments for its fame, but if this were any other director in horror, I bet more people would say, in general, it’s a groan inducing movie for the most part. But as this is Romero’s only real contribution to the genre and everyone else took his ideas and ran with them like crackheads, it somehow seems to be the only reason this movie is considered great. And I would say that everything that is supposed to be examined in this movie can be seen in BBC show, In The Flesh, in better produced, better written, better acted form. People should be watching that and leave Night of the Living dead as just a footnote in the history of zombies and the horror genre.