DIRECTOR: George A. Romero
Iconic, influential and groundbreaking. All words to describe George A. Romero’s inaugural zombie horror, but what sets this apart from its contemporaries and the endless variations in the genre in which this Indie movie helped spawn?
Well to begin with, this is far from a simple zombie thriller. The real villains here are the collection of damaged human characters who all find themselves trapped together in an old farmhouse, barricaded within its fragile wooden walls, fighting not only the onslaught of zombie without, but the angst and fear from within.
At times they work together but unlike most films like this, the group rarely work at all, with conflicted views on how to survive, blinding them to the fact that if they only worked together they may just do so.
Instead, they all end up dead, with our leading man, a strong, smart black character, which at the time was a bold choice, being murdered by the redneck police posse, who mistake him for a zombie. But the metaphor, though hard to ignore, of a black man being gunned down without the white men bothering to ensure that he was zombie, may just be a coincidence, but the irony that he, Ben (Duane Jones) manages to survive until the end only be to gunned down in the final moments, is a tragedy that sums up this film’s tone.
With a killer child, a nude female zombie, a dysfunctional couple and the first named victim displaying a complacent contempt for God and the church, this group are real, though the acting standards are variable, the writing and direction are constantly very good, with a sense or gritty realism permeating throughout. Maintained by good pacing and gruesome cannibalistic action, this raised the bar of the genre, both now and then.
Even the zombies get a reasonable, yet none definitive explanation, as told through the radio and TV news. Radiation bringing the dead back to life, well, it may be the trope of 1960’s sci fi but it was well explained and the news reports were well composed, feeling more realistic than most movie news broadcasts.
Romero may have gone on to milk this franchise for all it is worth in the decades since but this opening low budget gem is a real piece of work; A complex moral drama set on one chaotic night in which the dead become living again.