Night of the Living Dead (1968): A Hundred Years of Horror…

There is no two ways about it, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a serious contender for the spot of most important horror film ever made.

There is no two ways about it, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a serious contender for the spot of most important horror film ever made.

The sixties was dominated by a resurgence of the gothic-thrillers and the classic monsters, spear headed by Hammer Studios and their new horror power-duo of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Hammer remade all the classics in bloody colour, with long running Frankenstein and Dracula franchises staring Cushing and Lee respectively in the titular roles.

However, Hammers’ success was short-lived. Their films declined in quality with each subsequent release, and horror audiences were left crying out for something new, something to truly horrify them.

That is where Night of the Living Dead came in.

The film follows the story of a group of people trapped in a house as they try to survive an onslaught from the hordes of living dead. But they soon find out that it is not just the dead that they should be worrying about as their fear and personal prejudices begin to get the better of them.

Shot in grainy black and white and introducing the slow, groaning, shambolic flesh eaters that we know as zombies, Romero’s film was nothing short of shocking, terrifying audiences the world over with its depictions of violence and its grim, realistic tone.

The fact that the film took itself so seriously is what truly sets it apart from the crowd. Most horror films of the period had a tongue-in-cheek feel and were for the most part very campy and over the top. Night of the Living Dead has a solemn tone over the whole film, it is not a great adventure or an epic story, its real people faced with a real and truly horrifying situation.

Night of the Living Dead is also one of the first independent films to break into mainstream consciousness. Initially Romero approached Columbia and American International Pictures to distribute the film, but both demanded that he change the ending, lighten the mood and add a romantic sub-plot. Reeling against this Romero stuck to his guns and eventually managed to get the film seen, uncut and unedited.

Mainstream critics hated the movie when it saw its first run, dismissing it as too gruesome and too subversive. But some hailed it, and since that initial backlash  critical favour has swung towards the film and it is regarded and one of the most significant films ever made.

In the wake of Night of Living Dead’s release, the horror movie genre began to shift, moving away from the goofy popcorn flicks that they had become in the wake of the forties and fifties.

George A. Romero can also be credited with spawning one of the biggest modern sub-genres, the zombie flick. Zombies have become part of  pop-culture and there are an abundance of  movies, comics and videos games every year filling the mould that Romero set out in Night of the Living Dead.

Night of the Living Dead may not shock audiences like it did in the late sixties, but its quality as a horror film cannot be denied. A game changer that established a formula that would imitated for years to come and that reminded people how scary horror movies could be, Night of the Living Dead is dead good.