Thursday, August 30, 2012

Night of the Living Dead - Rise of the Flesh Eaters






When I started poking around the web, looking to see what others have said about this film, I was actually pretty surprised to find that there weren't as many reviews as I thought there would have been.  I fully expected a deluge of blog reviews and such, but going 7 pages into Google, I only found a handful of reviews.  Sure there are user reviews on Amazon and such, but there wasn't as much love going around for NOTLD as (I think) there should be.

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What can you say about a film as legendary as Night of the Living Dead?  Should I unload a bunch of random factoids on you?  I can do that.  But if you're reading this you probably already know that NOTLD was originally titled Night of Anubis and was George Romero's rip-off (his own words!) of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend?  What you may not know is that before settling on the "Anubis" script, Romero had co-written a couple of scripts with John Russo under the title Monster Flick.  The first script was about teenage aliens making friends with teenage humans.  Meh, doesn't sound that interesting....but then again in Romero's hands, it might have been amazing.  The second script was about a kid who runs away form home and discovers rotting human corpses that have been used as food by aliens spread across a meadow.  Now THAT sounds like it would have been full on incredible.  Just that one line description gives me the creeps.


I could rehash the plot for you, but honestly who doesn't know the plot?  Even those who have never seen it (for SHAME!) know the basics.  The dead are not staying dead.  They are re-animating and feasting on the living.  A small group of survivors hole up in a rural farmhouse and try to fend off the waves of the living dead that lay siege on them.



NOTLD treats zombies as they deserve to be:  like a force of nature.  When Ben first turns on the radio and hears the first reports of people being eaten, it still sends a chill down my spine.  I get goosebumps just thinking about the way it unfolds, the way the radio announcer states that the people being murdered are being partially eaten by their murderers.  Then to make things even worse we find out that this could all be connected to a satellite that was returning to Earth from Venus with some bizarre radiation.  I can very clearly remember the first time I watched NOTLD and thinking how horrible it was that radiation from outer space was the cause of this.  I think it adds a touch of xenophobia to the terror.  Sure, it's horrifying to put the cause of the zombies down to a virus.  Fear of horrible illness is huge.....but there was something that just terrified me in knowing that this was caused by something extra-terrestrial.  Maybe it's because aliens just freak me out anyway......



I should also point out (which many already know) that the living dead in NOTLD are never called zombies. In fact that are called ghouls.  Never the less, it was this film that single-handedly not only created a new genre of film, but created a brand new movie monster.  That's really saying something.  Think about it...in the horror genre, there are many monsters....but there are only so many TYPES.   Vampires, Mummies, Aliens, Beasts, Ghosts, Robots, etc.  Until NOTLD, there was no Zombie category.  Sure there were films such as White Zombie, I Walked With A Zombie, etc, but those films dealt with Voodoo zombies and the "monster" of the film was usually the person controlling the zombies.  But with Night, we now had a completely new monster.  A rotting, flesh eating ghoul that may look like your dearly departed Aunt Alisha.....but man, she will rip you up and tear you apart, munching on your innards.



The original title of the film was Night of the Flesh Eaters.  Distributor Walter Reade decided to change the title to Night of the Living Dead.  Unfortunately when this was done and the title cards were changed in the prints, a copyright notification was never put it, placing NOTLD into the public domain.  While this was horrible for Romero and gang as far as receiving compensation for their film, it definitely helped to spread NOTLD to the masses.  It is currently the 2nd most downloaded film from the Internet Archives.  According to Amazon.com there have been 51 VHS releases, 168 DVD releases and 6  Blu-ray releases.  That's 226 different releases of the film all together.  Of course I'm not sure that includes double feature VHS tapes and DVD box sets....I got that last bit of info from Wikipedia....and we all know how reliable THAT is!



I can't even begin to stress how important this film is, not only for me personally, but for the art of cinema as well.  Night of the Living Dead has literally changed the face of horror.  It certainly wasn't the first film to depict graphic violence.....H.G. Lewis had unleashed Blood Feast on the world five years earlier, but I think it was the first film to depict it so realistically.  The blood wasn't the bright red candy colored blood of the Hammer films.  Okay the blood was actually chocolate syrup, but you'd never know that watching the movie!  The point is, NOTLD made movies unsafe.  It made the horror plausible and horror would never be the same again.



I could probably continue writing all night long about Night of the Living Dead.  I love this film.  I've seen it more times than I could possibly count.  It not only birthed a new monster and genre of movies, but created a whole culture.  It has been referenced in more than 400 movies and TV shows and who knows how many books, magazines, newspapers, etc.   The point being....NOTLD is a priceless piece of cinema and every single living human on Earth should watch it.

2 comments:

  1. It’s incredible to think that this is where zombies came from! I’ve never really thought about origins of monsters except for the obvious like Nosferatu being the origin of vampires. But what about werewolves, or aliens, wow, this is the first time I’ve ever asked. I think I’ve watched about every zombie film, thanks to my Blockbuster @Home, and all this time it never occurred to me that George A. Romero really is the father of zombies. I even recently placed my order for a Silver-Machine version of Night of the Living Dead. One of my co-workers from Dish called me up to check it out since they’ve polished the black and white version without changing anything. The clips I’ve seen look great, but what I like the best is that they’ve custom built a new soundtrack. It sounds pretty good, and may be worth your while since you too are a NOTLD fan.

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  2. Hi Nicole,
    Thanks for the suggestion of the Silver-Machine version of NOTLD, I will have to check it out!

    It IS pretty incredible that Romero's film created not only a new movie monster, but a whole genre. Vampires....Werewolves.....these creatures of the night have origins that are ancient and shrouded in shadow. Who knows where the concepts originated from. Vampires were certainly around before Bram Stoker ever put pen to paper, and ancient shamans claimed to have the ability to shapeshift into wolves and other such animals. But NOTLD created the flesh eating zombie. Which, if I'm not mistaken, makes it the only film to actually create a new monster in the 20th Century.

    A pretty amazing feat......

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