LETS GET THE BANNED BACK TOGETHER! EP. 3 Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

“If you want to see what turns a B movie into a classic … don’t miss Night of the Living Dead. It is unthinkable for anyone seriously interested in horror movies not to see it.”


Who made it?

Directed by George Romero | Written by George Romero & John Russo | Director Of Photography George Romero | Special Effects Marilyn Eastman and Karl Hardman

Who’s in it?

Duane Jones | Judith O’Dea | Marilyn Eastman | Karl Hardman | Judith Ridley | Keith Wayne

If you weren’t watching this, you might have been watching…

Bullit / The Odd Couple / Hang ‘Em High

Production notes and whatnot



What’s it all about?

A brother and sister arrive in a southern cemetery to put flowers on their father’s grave. Attacked by a lumbering stranger, the brother is killed by a blow to the head. Terrified, his sister makes her escape and hides out in a farmhouse. Hysterical, she is joined one by one by other townsfolk who are in hiding from what appear to be the living dead. Surrounded by flesh-eating zombies who relentlessly attack the house, hungry for food, they barricade themselves in as best they can, using guns and flaming torches to keep the horrors at bay. Radio and television tells them a probe from Venus has returned to earth but was destroyed due to a dangerous level of unknown radiation. The radiation has appeared to have awaken the recently deceased who are now attacking the feeding on their victims.

The farmhouse characters are plagued with distrust, arguments, paranoia and rage as they fight and struggle over the best way to protect themselves. A young black man takes control, squabbling and yelling with an older family man who has his own ideas of survival and failed methods of escape. Finally the house is overrun by zombies and the body count begins to rise. Finally the National Guard and local police descend on the house to wipe out remaining zombies with tragic results.

Is it any good?

Now we’re talking. Seriously. This, THIS is what it’s all about.

I believe it was movie legend Roger Corman (House Of Usher, Pit & The Pendulum, Little Shop Of Horrors) would always give the same advice to new filmmakers. In order to learn the trade, the techniques, the tips and the tricks of getting a movie made, make a low budget horror. Take a group of people, trap them somewhere remote, and then kill them off one by one. I’m paraphrasing. But this was the advice. A low-budget horror is simple to write, easy to direct, you can get friends to be in it, you only need 1 camera and 1 location and you can learn how it all gets done.

Now this is good advice. Just ask Amy Holden Jones, Tom Holland or Clive Barker who’s first features The Slumber Party Massacre; Fright Night and Hellraiser did precisely that.

Or hell, why not ask the always chatty Quentin Tarantino, who did exactly the same single-location pick-em-off cheapie with a crime bent with his debut Reservoir Dogs.

This trope has always been terrific horror-fodder. Be it a haunted cabin (The Evil Dead), an Artic Research Centre (The Thing) or a distant space-cargo ship (Alien), a boat (Jaws); there’s nothing quite a simple – or as satisfying – as a mixed group of characters (the hero, the coward, the bombshell, the nerd, the joker) and locking them somewhere for a killer/robot/alien/zombie/vampire/whatever to terrorise them all night.

When George A Romero decided to set aside his advertising job and shake things up (his career, and ultimately the world) embarking on his 1968 zombie horror movie (initially planned as a comedy), he could not have possible known the impact it would have. Shot with investors’ money who were contacted and hyped up and offered a slice of the profits, Romero and his new production company gathered $114,000. There was an appetite for “bizarre” cinema and enough doctors and dentist with savings who fancied a credit, maybe an acting part and a slice of the burgeoning cheapie-horror genre.

And armed with cast, crew, cameras, cars and an old Pennsylvanian farm-house he and his team set up shop and created what Paul McCullough of Take One calculated to be “most profitable horror film ever … produced outside the walls of a major studio”

Within ten years the $114k outlay had created between $12 and $15 million at the U.S. box office. Dubbed or subtitled into more than 25 languages and released across Europe, Canada and Australia, Night of the Living Dead grossed $30 million internationally.

Why? Because George Romero, with no more experience, equipment or budget than most amateurs at the time, simply had created a script as tight as a drum, gathered a cast who could play tension, suspense, horror, fear and violence with earnest, straight-faced honesty. He knew (as Spielberg proved with his giant shark a decade later and Ridley Scott demonstrated with his illusive Alien) that keeping the monsters off screen and filming reactions, noises, bangs, screams with merely the glimpse of a creature meant the audience would fill in the blanks.

It wasn’t my first viewing of this, when I set it up with headphones and a laptop on a pub table on Tuesday night. I had 2 hrs to kill before delivering a pub-quiz in my home town of Kingston, so with a pint of Naked Ladies bitter, some caramel cashews and a slowly emptying packet of Camel Blue cigarettes, I snuggled in to enjoy the tension and thrills.

It has everything, to be honest. Easy to criticise as relying on “corny tropes,” one has to keep in mind that many of the shock and thrill techniques we are now all too familiar with, were being tried and tested for the first time on Romero’s set.

The screaming hysterical single woman on the empty road, running and crying as she is chased would later be borrowed for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Rescuers being attacked as they are mistaken for the monsters. Creepy tinkly child-like music box playing eerily against the tense silence would later become “one two…Freddie’s coming for you…”

Romero also knew to steal and borrow from the best. There are touches of Hitchcock’s Psycho in the DNA of Night Of The Living Dead, with its dumb-staring stuffed taxidermy looming like woodland witnesses from the walls. The incredible photography that creates death-dark shadows and blinding moonlight as characters shift from dark to light, from yin to yang, from heroics to hysteria and moral righteousness to moral cowardice.

Tone wise it’s about as far from the thundering giallo red drenched tropical zombie movies til now. Shot in black and white (to keep costs down) it has the Pathe Newsreel on-the-spot broadcast quality that adds a touch of “foundy footagey” documentary feel. This is ably assisted as I said by a cast who are playing it dead straight.

Docu’ style mounts as we have – which is all too rarely seen – smart people making smart decisions as the creatures begin to pound and punch the flimsy barricades. This is not a movie of silly risk taking, wandering around in fraternity underwear, exploring the spooky basements, running into the woods or dumb-ass slasher decisions. The cast do what we would do. Abandon a broken car, lock doors, try phone, stay low, hide in basements, try and get news from radios and televisions. Smart people in a terrifying situation, just as it should be.

The tension s what grabs and shocks. It’s far from a “gore fest.” (see below).

In fact tonally, and attitude, the nearest movie I can think of that has the tense, sweaty, shouty, panicky claustrophobia of Night Of The Living Dead is not a horror movie at all. One could easily enjoy comparing and contrasting this movie with the single-room legal thriller “12 Angry Men.”

In fact if the 12 Angry Men, all shirtsleeves and desk fans and humid macho bickering, was about a dozen guys arguing how to keep zombies out, then you’d have Night Of The Living Dead.

A fucking masterpiece, astonishingly early, astonishingly accomplished. Knife edge and shocking with jumps, shocks and shudders throughout. Horror kept going, but it very rarely got better than this early classic.

Oh and the ending? Well. If you thought the ending of Darabont’s “the Mist” or “Wolf Creek” left you feeling hopeless? Brace yourself for this one.


Scary, yes. The pounding and the drooling and the slavering and moaning and groaning of the stumbling zombies, all pale moonlight skin, moth eaten clothes and scarred faces all are enough to give sick panic of approaching dread. But if we’re talking “nastiness,” which of course will be bloody, vicious, gratuitous, spurty, gloopy, rapey, screamy helpless stalk and slashing? Nope. Nothing like that.

Well…not nothing. The zombies have a touch of the rot and scars that are gruesome. There is a bloody skull at the top of the stairs, but nothing you couldn’t get in a joke shop or Halloween costumer. It’s the entrails and grue that the living dead devour and much and drip like a KFC bargain bucket that might be the “ewwww!” for some. But to be fair, given the beautiful silvery black and white photography, the chocolate sauce Marilyn Eastman deployed for blood and bleached out bones don’t resemble anything more gory than a Walls Vienetta.

Ban worthy?

I mean come off it. Is it suitable for young people? I mean toddlers and teens? Probably not. But then that’s also true of a Swiss Army knife, a carrier bag, a cheese grater or a smart phone. No, I wouldn’t put it on at a kid’s party for 8 year olds. But then I wouldn’t put on Citizen Kane either. Nothing corrupting or disturbing in a single frame.

What does it remind me of?

As I said it’s got a touch of Psycho, a touch of The Birds. But the “trapped and hunted” strangers is such now a well-worn trope that it rings bells with Assault On Precinct Thirteen, Halloween, Die Hard and every zombie movie from Sean Of the Dead to Scooby Doo.

Where to find it?

Hooray! Due to a snafu with copyright licensing with reissues and whatnot, the legal wrangling has slipped and allowed the whole movie fall in to Public Domain. So YouTube will give you a fine version here! Enjoy!

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