Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead (1968), directed by George A. Romero.


"We're coming to get you, Barbara!" -- Ed in Shaun of the Dead (2004).

In retrospect, the sub-shoestring budget and make-it-up-as-you-go production seems like artistic genius. Slow start on the country road going to the cemetery? We don't need any scary prep. Rather rough acting and action sequences? Tough. Live with it and pretend you don't dream about it.

Because this is the source, the origin. For me the base mythology for zombie movies will always be:

In the most recent viewing I noticed things about the ghouls that I knew, but hadn't remembered:

I also revisited that old sinking feeling, the nausea you feel when one mistake -- trying to get gas for the truck -- is a disaster, dooming all the survivors.

It now reminds me of The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) because at the outset we have a technically adept black man with a lone white woman. Then the problem was that they were the last survivors of the human race (which is also kind of true here).

I also think of Carnival of Souls (1962) because it was another micro-budget project by first time feature film makers. They had made industrial pictures, where Romero and company did TV commercials in Pittsburgh.

This was a turning point in horror cinema, generating mass outrage at the level of gruesomeness. It didn't help that early showings were part of a double feature for kids. Now you see this stuff in color on popular TV shows during prime time. Maybe the culture has coarsened since then? Naw, that's crazy talk.

The up front score sounds like traditional scary movie music and in fact they bought world-wide rights to a studio compilation of music cues.

A reflection: what is it about the walking dead and these flesh-eating ghoul movies? My theory: it's about our fear of not really living, of sleepwalking through life like zombies. We might want to escape such a condition, but the others pursue us, hunting us down and turning us into them. Just like an office job.

If so, then does the more recent comical or ironic treatment of the genre suggest that we've just decided to accept it?

I was waiting for a good North American Blu-ray to appear when High-Def Digest gave a strong recommendation for this Japanese edition: Night of the Living Dead (Japanese Import). Packaging and disc menus are entirely in Japanese, but there are three English audio tracks. Japan is region A like North America so there are no technical obstacles to playback here. No subtitles.

The image quality is better than I have ever seen it, and that includes projected in a small art theater. Two happy commentary tracks by cast and crew are well worth the listen.

A lot of the cast are friends, family and customers of their TV commercial day jobs.

Also included: a 1h23m making-of: One for the Fire: The Legacy of 'Night of the Living Dead' (2008).

Later: Criterion produced a Blu-ray edition for North America. My thumbnails are from the Japanese disk.