George A. Romero came out of the gate swinging in his debut feature which completely changed the horror genre forever. The simple tale of a group of strangers huddling together in an abandoned farmhouse to survive a zombie attack was inspired/plagiarized from Richard Matheson’s amazing novel I Am Legend. I’m pretty sure you’ve all seen this film by now, and probably own two or three copies of it, due to it being in the public domain and in every horror movie box set in existence. I have three copies: one from a box set, one colorized version with commentary by Mike Nelson (of MST3K fame), and the Elite Entertainment’s Millennium Edition with a THX Transfer. The Elite edition is always my go to copy.
I have to admit, NOTLD was always a difficult film for me to get into in my younger days. I rented it a few times from Blockbuster Video and tried to get through it, but I never could. It wasn’t until I scored it on DVD years ago that I finally go all the way through and wondered what in the world I was thinking in my first viewings, because this movie is amazing. It instantly became one of my favorite films. I think what tainted my viewing was having grown up with Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, which were in full vibrant color and drenched in gore. I still love both of those a lot, but when it comes to which one of the original trilogy is the best, I gotta go with Night Of the Living Dead. There is something to be said for it’s simplicity and organic storytelling, as well as that rather bleak ending that really resonates to this day (and is why we get a new remake of it every three years). It’s great film and one I always I revisit in the Fall.
Duane Jone is amazing as the iconic Ben, the first real horror hero. There is a mistaken belief he was cast because he’s black and George was trying to make a political statement with the character. This is untrue. Duane got the part because he was the -BEST- for the role. He should have gone on to be a big star, but decided to be a teacher for stage actors instead. His other big role was Dr. Hess in the film Ganja and Hess, which also has a cult following. He passed away in 1988 from cardiopulmonary arrest. While I’m tempted to do an in-depth chronicle of the rest of the cast, as well as history of the film (and it’s sequels/spin-offs), all of this information has already been well documented by others and is well known by fans of the film; it’d serve no purpose but repetition. I’ll just say that this is one of my favorite films and for very good reason. It’s the watermark for horror and low budget film makers to try to aspire for and it’s influence is just as important almost fifty years after it’s release.
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