Last night, I saw Rifftrax (the guys from Mystery Science Theatre 3000) do their thing with the cult classic Night of the Living Dead. I never saw the movie in its entirety before and I'm sure that many of you have but the jokes aside ("it's Young President Obama!" "The dead are only mad because their families buried them in tacky clothes!"), you can't help but see the parallels with The Walking Dead. George Romero has said his biggest influence was Richard Matheson's I Am Legend which was earlier filmed as The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price and later as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and later still as I Am Legend with the Fresh Prince Will Smith. But instead of pseudo-vampires, Romero used zombies, though the term is never said in the film.

The blueprint of the modern zombie film is laid out perfectly.

  • Mismatched people surrounded by the ghouls
  • a world wide epidemic or necrodemic
  • no real answers but spotty scientific theories
  • Taking out the Hungry Dead by smashing or shooting them in the face.
  • the danger from within
  • the unhappy ending

But is it a good film? The hopelessness and despair hardly make up for the low key make up and the mostly terrible acting. Barbra is useless for the entire movie either catatonic or hysterical. The Coopers would rather bicker than live. The teen couple try but fail. Only Ben comes off well though his main plan seems to be badly boarding up the entire house. And you can't help but notice that while he derides Cooper for wanting to hole himself up in the cellar, Ben survives the Dead Invasion by locking himself in the cellar!

The Living Dead move slowly and awkwardly but are most effective as a mob. They fear the light and fire but can use simple tools. They don't seem to communicate. It takes a while before the cast realizes that they are facing ambulatory corpses but they still seem hesitant to run them over with their truck! The Dead do seem to meander a lot in this film. They are most dangerous at night but are apparently easy pickings during the day.

Night of the Living Dead was, I'm sure, quite edgy for its time with the gore, the entire flesh-eating thing and having an African American man as the hero. The women are portrayed very badly here, unwilling or unable to help, always the victims. There's even a naked zombie woman briefly for no good reason. (To keep spirits up on set, perhaps?)

But nothing prepares you for the ending, tragic and useless yet so telling of the times. And there is no resolution. The world is changed, perhaps forever with a new violent reality.

Did I like it? On the whole, no. But I do respect it for what it did, what it tried to do and what it has spawned.

Your thoughts?

BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNS!

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Regarding "zombies" not being used in the film: I noticed that too. They're called "ghouls" instead.

 

The zombies in 1966 Hammer film The Plague of the Zombies might also be precursors to Romero's. They don't do any people-munching that I recall, but they're made up to look dead and sometimes snarl menacingly, whereas older film zombies resembled sleepwalkers.

Yeah, I actually liked the later re-make better than the original.

I watched it for the first time last week in preparation for the Rifftrax screening, and then we weren't able to make it to the show. 

I liked it quite a bit, on its own. There is palpable tension in the film. I knew more than the characters did -- I knew that these people were dead from the start, for instance -- but I didn't know how things would turn out for any of them, specifically. I was really impressed with how the zombies were handled without much gore; I'd never seen that done before. And I liked seeing the characters figure out what the "rules" were -- they were afraid of fire, shoot them in the head, etc. -- for the first time.

I thought it would come off as quaint, and in places, it certainly does. But there are other moments that I found legitimately spooky, and that surprised me. (With the jokes, those moments might be apparent, but still not felt in the gut like they do in a pure screening.)

In an amazing coincidence, I went shopping today and found a half-off DVD of Night of the Living Dead in both an all new colorized version and a restored b&w version. Plus audio commentary by......Mike Nelson of Rifftrax!



Philip Portelli said:

In an amazing coincidence, I went shopping today and found a half-off DVD of Night of the Living Dead in both an all new colorized version and a restored b&w version. Plus audio commentary by......Mike Nelson of Rifftrax!

 

 

I've got that disc, I'd be curious to see what you think of it.  I didn't find Nelson's solo riffing  to be of the same levle of hilarity as when he did it with the other MSTies.

Night of the Living Dead had its local television premiere in Detroit in the early '70's when I was in high school. The film was run at 1 am on a Saturday night / Sunday morning - probably to avoid any outcry about the films gore and violence from parents of younger children. The station promoted the movie with ads in the local paper, otherwise I don't think I knew anything about the film or its storyline prior to this. Watching the movie alone in the dark I was totally creeped out even though the rest of the family was asleep just down the hall.

 

 

Last year, to fill the time during the "mid-season hiatus," I watched all of the following films.

Night of the Living Dead (original)
Night of the Living Dead (remake)
Night of the Living Dead (RiffTrax)
Dawn of the Dead (original)
Dawn of the Dead (remake)
Day of the Dead (original)
Day of the Dead (remake)
Return of the Living Dead
Return of the Living Dead II
Return of the Living Dead III
Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis
Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave
Zombie
City of the Living Dead
Land of the Dead
Flight of the Living Dead
Diary of the Dead
Survival of the Dead

If you think the original NotLD was bad, you ain't seen nuthin'!

Wow, I've never even heard of about a third of those.

...The young Roger Ebert made a name for himself , early on , when he wrote an article denouncing the original NOTLD , specifically , the fact that it was shown at an all-ages Saturday matinee " Scare Show " to little kids-   Which , admittedly , IS rather too much !!!!!!!!! (I believe the film was never MPAA-rated , BTW , slightly predating the universal , more or less , imposition of that ,) and , obviously , sort of the " first major shot " in the horror film transitioning from something - Certainly in the post-SHOCK THEATER! 60s - " okay for kids " to something stronger . I presume he wrote it for the SUN-TIMES but:

It got picked up by the READER'S DIGEST , then some org I believe picked up the rights to reprint the RD version in the millions and it was widely distributed . As a " See what filth Hollwo- Uh , Pittsburgh - is hurling at our kids now " Culture War broadside , I guess :-) .

  When I was 9 years old I saw DESTROY ALL MONSTERS  - I believe rated G . - at a Saturday kiddie matinee for my birthday ! I saw THE GREEN SLIME similarly about that time also .

Here's the Ebert piece you mentioned, from 1967. 

...Thank you , I was just about to look for it for myself , did you remember it  ?????????

  I suppose this must be the " true " S-T version , with more plot synopsis . " Director's cut " ???????????!!!!!!!!!!?????????? (I could NOT resist that :-)!!!!!!!)

Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

Here's the Ebert piece you mentioned, from 1967. 

I didn't remember it... but it came out two years before I was born. I think I might have heard about it before. Just went to rogerebert.com and searched.

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