Sunday, 9 August 2009

If you have a gun, shoot 'em in the head. That's a sure way to kill 'em. If you don't, get yourself a club or a torch. Beat 'em or burn 'em.

No 397 - Night of the Living Dead
Director - George A Romero

DISCLAIMER - Don't expect a stonkingly great blog today.... I'm VERY hungover.

So, after another weekend of shenanigans, I have set myself a challenge. Go out less. Stay in more. This means that I won't be such a financial deviant, I'll be able to afford to live and I'll have more time for this blogly challenge (which has somewhat fallen to the wayside in recent weeks).

I was joined by Mr Elliot Biddle, zombie aficionado, who decided to get me into the films of George A Romero. It is another (of the many) film series which I have some how failed to watch. So we sat down with tea and watched Night of the Living Dead.

The first thing that I find very odd in this film is the presentation of the Zombies. George A Romero set up a clear and concise set of rules for his Zombies - showing a gradual progression through Night - Dawn - Day and Land of the dead. Laws which I'd only ever really seen used in Shaun of the Dead, and rules which have sort of defined the Zombie genre (until the new ones started running).
However, despite these set ups - the Zombies in 'Night' seem a bit different.

I was always under the impression that Zombies were shambolic, dimwitted creatures. Slow in every sense of the word. Ambling around in an almost confused state as they deal with their primal urges post death. From what I understood, the Zombies develop over the films, gradually becoming more intelligent and more able to deal with their surroundings (by the time we get to Day of the Dead, there is a Zombie called Bub who has learnt basic functions like using a phone and reading...).
However, the very first Zombie we see seems incredibly resourceful for a newly deceased. Admittedly, he only uses one tool, rocks, but he seems to use that tool in a number of ingenious ways:
- Staving in headlights on cars
- Smashing up windows.
It makes the zombies more of an inimitable foe but less of the types which are seen in Dawn (and subsequently Shaun).
There are also some added rules which are then discarded for future films - namely the Zombie's fear of fire, which is used to great affect.

The film then follows a group of survivors who are shelled up in a small house in the middle of nowhere. Luckily they are in America - which means they have a shot gun to hand. Look at 28 Days Later as an example of how the British would react to Zombies. At least in America, every home has guns.
The film also plays with the human fears and paranoia of being trapped indoors. Barbra and Ben end up trapped in a building whilst Zombies attack. Ben seems to have had some kind of prior experience with the things however Barbra is in absolute shock for almost all the film (another element that is nicely homaged in Shaun).
The house also contains Tom, Judy and the Coopers, who are all cooped up in the Basement. The basement group adds a couple of excellent dynamics to the the film - firstly, the arguments between Tom and Ben. Ben wanting to fortify the house and defend it against zombies. Harry Cooper wanting to stay in the basement. Harry's self preservation streak is almost a larger threat to the group than the Zombies as he frequently traps or threatens other members of the group in order to defend his family.
Harry's family introduces the second dynamic. Harry's daughter Karen has been bitten and spends the majority of the film passed out on a bed in the basement. It is therefore only a matter of time before the little girl dies and devours her family in crazed Zombie stylie.

As well as introducing the now famous 'classic' Zombie to cinema, there are some other elements which night has become famous for.
Firstly - Ben, played by Duane Jones, was a very brave casting. The first black actor to play the leading role in a film in which the character's race is not a factor, or even mentioned. He is massively likable (despite the fact that there is hardly any time for character development) and very resourceful when it comes to capping Zombie ass.
Secondly, the final scene (which sadly I was aware of) is a massive shock and leads to one of the bleakest film endings ever (I would add it with the new Mist film) as Ben is shot and dragged out to be burnt with the rest of the invading Zombies by the police sheriff.
The fact that budgetary reasons meant that this final section is done with just still photographs (they had run out of film and couldn't afford anymore) adds to the stark finality of the scene, making it feel like a documentary or news footage.

Elliot believes that the initial trilogy improve with each film, so I'm keen to view Dawn of the Dead and see how this Zombie film progresses.

(The sad Fallout fan in me also loves how the Zombies are never referred to as such and are in fact referred to as Ghouls. Charon wouldn't be pleased)


EK Biddle Esq said...

Bub can't actually read or use a phone, those are just experiments to prove that zombies do retain some memory of their former lives.
I think 'Night' was experimental in a way, as the zombies change over the course of the one film! At the beginning moving quite fast & then later being more shambling.
Also, the fear of fire thing could be seen as just an extreme reaction to bright lights... something which is brought up again in 'Land'; one of the reasons I like 'Land' as a tool for tying the entire arc together.
It's also evident by the end of the series that some zombies are much more capable of thought than others, thus blurring any continuity errors.

I also like that the main reason it stood out above the horde of other horror movies of the time was it's grittiness & stylised cinematography, both of which were forced into production by budget limitations rather than choices made at the get go.

Awesome film.

EK Biddle Esq said...

Also, worth mentioning that it's just that one zombie that uses the rocks to such effect & that each Romero zombie movie has one "intelligent" zombie that stands out above the rest.
I won't ruin the sequels by saying who or how here, but it's an interesting Romero signature.

One which you could say was homaged in Shaun with Pete.