‘They’re coming to get you, Barbra.’
Only in early 1980s Britain could Night Of The Living Dead have been considered as a possibility for the Video Nasties list. It’s been almost fifty years since the film was released, and has come to be regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made, a classic, a seminal movie etc etc. Whole books have been written on the film and its director, George Romero, and while it still holds up as a great movie, I rarely find myself watching it. Why? Because some of it is pretty damn dull.
Despite being the only black and white movie on the list, NOTLD has something in common with a great many Nasties – it bookends the movie with its best scenes, but spends the middle part flailing around unsure of what to do next.
Oh I know, I know, it’s heresy to suggest that maybe 10 or 15 minutes could be chopped out of such an important film, but bear with me. I’m getting there.
The first twenty minutes are dynamite. The eerie cinematography and well chosen library music create a feeling of unease from the get go, and in a matter of minutes our heroine Barbra is running for her life from a seemingly unstoppable ghoul. Incidentally, for those purists who bemoan the current trend of ‘fast zombies’, it’s worth pointing out just how quickly that graveyard zombie moves. He goes barreling after Barbra, running round her car like he’s being chased by wasps.
Barbra hides out inside an abandoned farmhouse, where she meets Ben, our stoic (and somewhat misguided) hero. Ben dishes out some pretty brutal violence for 1968 – he batters each zombie repeatedly in the head with a crowbar, before dumping a body outside and setting fire to it. If there ever is a zombie apocalypse, you could do worse than to be stuck with Ben. So far, the film has been tense, scary and exciting.
It had to end.
The film never gets bad or anything, just…slow. The next 40 minutes grind on, introducing more characters, who argue, sit around and watch tv. It’s certainly realistic, but maybe to a fault. Barbra spends most of this time nearly catatonic, which makes it hard to root for her and Ben makes several poor decisions, not least of which is leaving a giant flaming torch right next to a gas pump. That explosion is squarely on you, pal. Nice one.
After hours of fake newsreel footage, the film gets back into gear for the thrilling climax, which has the scene that probably caused Night to make the Section 3 Nasties list – the murder of a mother by her trowel-wielding daughter. It’s a savage moment, though compared to some of the outrageous excesses elsewhere on the list it’s tame, almost antiquated. The one scene that still shocks and resonates to this day is the bitter, cruelly ironic ending to the film. I won’t spoil it in case you are the only person in the entire world who’s not seen the film, but it’s a shocker and just as relevant today.
So yeah, Night Of The Living Dead was a game changer and hugely influential, but it’s not really my bag. Just wait til we get to the sequel though.