Although it's old hat, I wanted to take a look at the George Romero classic "Night of the Living Dead", and offer my own views on that bit of cinema legend, seeing as I have already professed my feelings on the 1990 remake.
Where does one begin? So much has already been said about this groundbreaking film; many have already made the observation that it is one of (if not THE) most important films of the genre; it's been overstated what a social commentary and satirical work that it is; it's unflinching and gruesome exploitation angles have been reviewed and dissected ad nauseum...
What makes this film so effective is that it touches all of us in a place where we live; it humanizes it's situation better than any film before (and a considerable amount of films SINCE), putting we, the viewers directly into the horror through the cleverly written and so familiar characters that we come to know. We are taken across so many lines, so many taboos, that we scarcely have time to breathe; a testament to this is the film's longevity: it's as pertinent and as much of a slap in the face now as it was over forty years ago.
One has to recollect that at the time of this film's release, no audience had ever seen it's like; people were far less jaded, their horror fare up to that point being only the "big bug" flicks of the fifties and the dark yet PG rated Hammer films...it had to have been a hell of a shock to those innocent viewers to watch the hungry and unrelenting dead munching on the flesh and bones of freshly char-broiled victims; I can imagine the looks on the faces of those theater-goers when the little girl first reanimates, the murders and begins to devour her mother...oh, to have been a fly on THAT wall!
The acting, considering that the cast was largely commercial actors, those that were actually actors at all, was convincing and harrowing. The story was well-written, the cinematography excellent, and the effects were remarkable for the budget and the time.
Romero was able to craft a tale for the ages, and set the stage for an entire genre to follow...not only with the hungry undead (although this film CERTAINLY marked the beginning of that cottage industry), but of the path which mainstream horror was to follow even unto present day. So many conventions went out the window when this landmark raised the bar on what a horror film could, and indeed SHOULD, be; that the face of horror filmmaking was changed forever...add to that the landmark "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" just a few years later, and the way was paved for what would culminate in what we know as the modern horror film.
Spawning decades of sequels and imitators, it truly stands the test of time. It could be said that in kicking off this vision, Romero essentially gave birth to a cultural phenomenon that has been often imitated, but never equaled. Directors such as Argento and Fulci jumped on his bandwagon and turned out some quality "zombie" pictures of their own, and many lesser imitators turned out not so lesser films, such as "Hell of the Living Dead" and "Seven Doors of Death"...clearly, these films would not have been made had there been no "Night of the Living Dead". Also, capitalizing on his vision (and the success of it), Romero has turned out his own sequels, continuing even unto today and culminating in Frank Darabont's tribute, the remarkable "Walking Dead" television series of last year.
So there it is, kiddies, my long-winded dissertation for a film that holds a special place in my cold heart...a true tent pole of the genre I love.
Until next we meet, keep the keys to your gas pump CLEARLY labeled!