Friday, October 31, 2008

HORROR EPICS: Night of the Living Dead

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
As far as this blog is concerned, Night of the Living Dead is the original Horror Epic. Not because it was actually the first (which it is obviously not), but because it changed the face of horror movies as we know it. It’s been said more than once that people didn’t exactly take most horror movies seriously prior to Night of the Living Dead. Instead, they were mostly seen as kid’s stuff. Guys in rubber suits stomped on toy cars pretending to be “monsters,” or tripped over obviously cardboard headstones while wearing a cape and speaking in the cheesiest Germanic accent you could think of. But Night of the Living Dead was something different that audiences in 1968 hadn’t expected. I know it’s a cliché to say it now, but it’s still the truth—without this movie, there would be no Texas Chainsaw Massacre, no Halloween, no Evil Dead, you name it. Zombies killed people and ate them, and you could actually see what they were eating. The young couple got burned alive while trying to escape. And there wasn’t even a happy ending—even the hero got killed. Audience of both kids and adults were stunned into silence by the carnage. If my memory serves me correctly, I’d seen most of the classic Hitchcock movies first, but none of them compared to the nihilistic ugliness captured on film here. I first saw it at my dad’s house when I was probably twelve or thirteen; by the time it was over, I couldn’t rewind the tape to watch it again fast enough. At the time, it was just the most unrelentingly brutal movie I’d ever seen. A few movies that have usurped that title in the years since then, but it’s safe to say that none of them are going to top Night of the Living Dead as the sentimental favorite. It was a movie passed down to me from the previous generation, and filmed just outside of Pittsburgh, the area I was born in. My uncle even tells a story about getting picked up by George Romero while hitchhiking home from work. Apparently Romero offered him a part as a zombie extra, but my uncle had to turn him down. Seems he’d just started this job and didn’t want to get fired for missing work. Damn! For anyone out there who is into Pittsburgh trivia, the reporter following the reinforcements is Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille, who was the host of “Chiller Theatre,” a popular local TV show dedicated to—what else?—old horror movies. I’ve been endorsing the VCR a lot this month, and this review is no exception. You’ll always be able to find a cheap VHS copy of Night of the Living Dead; those things will be right there with Twinkies and cockroaches after the apocalypse. You can find that shit in the supermarket! Actually, I think that’s where my dad got my copy! And it’s great on tape—looking a lot like an old documentary with natural lighting and the fucked up, blown-out print quality. Longtime fans are used to it and if you just crawled out from under a rock and still haven’t seen this, you should get used to it too. Once you’ve already become a fan, then seek out the “Millennium Edition” DVD. No, I’m not kidding. Sometimes DVD really does breathe new life into a movie, and the Millennium Edition is one of those times. Made from the original 33mm negative, it was like seeing the movie for the first time all over again. Except this time, I didn’t have to wait for it to rewind so I could watch it again. Followed by two great sequels, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. I’m perfectly fine with not acknowledging the two more recent sequels, and so should you.

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