Movie News & Reviews

On DVD: 'Night of the Living Dead' lives on

If zombies tried to pull an outbreak on us these days, those thingswould be screwed.

We're exposed to so many zombie movies thesedays your 5-year-old knows where to shoot them. People in the movieshave to pretend as if they live in a world that's never heard ofzombies or else the moment they saw a pale guy demanding brainsthen everyone would bust out the katanas and chainmail scarves and yourflick would be over right there.

It wasn't always this way. For a long time, zombies were nothing to beafraid of unless you were a mine worker, in which case you rightfullyfeared their voodoo masters would replace you with tireless slaves whodon't need food, just an island drumbeat. Then came 1968's Night ofthe Living Dead.

The zombies come without warning or explanation. Duane Jones findshimself trapped in a dead woman's house with several strangers,limited supplies, and a growing crowd of undead just past the windows.

It won't be news to some that Night of the Living Dead isawesome. Problem is, it's a bona fide classic, and in the words ofsomeone I'm too lazy to look up (but is probably Mark Twain, becausehe said everything like this), that means it's something everyonetalks about and never actually sees.

I didn't for a long time because I thought Night was sillyB-horror cheese. It is a little dated: pacing wasn't invented untilthe early '70s, and things slow down near the middle.

In every other way, it's gold. Defying the horror standard wherenothing fun happens for the first half hour, the first zombie'sonscreen within seven minutes. Instead of blowing a third of the movieshowing what Jones and the rest were like before flesh-monsters cameafter their livers, we get to know the characters through how theyhandle the disaster.

That's where director George A. Romero's brilliance shines. With noclue what they're up against, nothing on their side but their wits,some confused broadcasts, and enough lumber to assemble a piratearmada, we're there in the moment with the survivors, creating aclaustrophobic dread that persists to the chaotic, gut-munchingclimax. It may be in black and white, but you can almost taste theintestines. Turns out they ate a lot of roasts in those days.

Just about every rule of modern zombiedom was invented here -- how theyact, how you kill them, how they turn you into one of them -- makingNight of the Living Dead the father of an entire genre.

Incredibly, it's still up there with the best to come out since.