I am generally not a big horror fan so my knowledge and experience with horror films is fairly small but I do try to see the important and vital ones when I can. This was my first exposure to Night of the Living Dead. In fact, this was my first exposure to any of George Romero’s films. Whatever the effect the film had on people in years previous, there have been enough zombie ephemera to suck away any shock the film might have once had. However, the film does still build a terrific sense of dread and really unsettled me in ways that I didn’t totally expect.
Right from the start, Night of the Living Dead is doing something different from not just horror films of the day but it is even unique to the horror films of today. Following a small group of survivors holed up in a farm house fending off a zombie horde, the lead hero of the story is an African American man played with a heroic dignity by Duane Jones. Immediately, while even barely trying, the film stands out but things only build from there. Interesting moments arise out of this casting decision and coupled with the harrowing ending of the film, it’s clear that Romero has things to say about race in America during this time and he has somehow fit that gracefully in to a zombie horror film.
The film wears its low budget roots on its sleeve, centering on that farmhouse for the majority of the film. The film builds terrific suspense with few tools and amateur actors at its center and the makeup effects are terrific and certainly unsettling. A remarkable film that deserves more of a write up than I’m giving it right now but that’s all the time I’ve got at the moment. Creepy and unsettling, Romero has crafted superb chills on a shoestring budget without relying on the cheap tricks that define today’s crop of horror flicks. With nary a jump scare in sight, Romero earns his scares and is able to say something smart and interesting all the while.