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?


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I think the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead was the abbreviated version on an episode of Mad Movies with the LA Connection in the mid-80s. They were doing a "Tiger Lily" thing with it.

Thanks for posting Ebert's review. The fact that he admired the film should be highlighted. I guess I wasn't clear when the MPAA rating system began (1968). The Hays Code began during Prohibition in reaction to what were perceived as excesses in the movies (and off-screen scandals involving movie people). It sounds like the Hays Code, not unlike the Comics Code, was designed to make all movies safe for seven-year-olds. Also like the Comics Code, it was administered erratically and eventually lost its power. I hadn't realized that The Graduate as well as Night of the Living Dead were rated by nobody at the time.  In 1970 when I saw Midnight Comboy and The Damned they were rated X. At that time, IIRC, the ratings were G (General), M(Mature), and X(Adults Only). G stayed the same while M was replaced by PG and R (and later PG-13). Apparently the MPAA did not trademark X, so it was appropriated by the porn industry. Later the MPAA came up with NC-17 to replace X, but the problem is that most theaters won't show films with this rating. And of course the MPAA rating system is also applied erratically, like all others.

Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

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

I watched this today with the commentary. I found the Rifftrax presentation better though Mike did use some of the same jokes. The energy of the live audience in Nashville and the added talents of Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy made it a much more enjoyable experience.

But it did make me realize how much I miss Mystery Science Theatre 3000! :-(
The Baron said:

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.

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