Monday, October 13, 2014

George A. Romero Week: Night of the Living Dead

Good day all and welcome to Day 1 of George A. Romero Week and what better way to start the week off right than with his original work? I have seen this film no less than 75 times because it has been made fun of, marveled after and even used as a project viewing for film students. From the grainy texture of the black & white 35mm Spherical, to the wooden acting of summer stock folk to the desolate farm house that has clearly been abandoned and second hand furniture has been brought in, this movie put the audience on edge about a group of strangers all hiding from the same threat and forced to work together to fend them off. This is Night of the Living Dead.

I'll set the table, you coat yourself in barbecue sauce for the zombies.

Field Reporter: Chief, do you think that we will be able to defeat these spoilers?

Sheriff McClelland: Well, we killed nineteen of them today right in this area. The last three, we caught them trying to claw their way into an abandoned shed. They must have thought someone was in there, but there wasn't though. We heard them making all kinds of noises so we came over, beat 'em off and blasted them down.

Johnny (Russell Streiner of Night of the Living Dead, There's Always Vanilla, The Majorettes and Night of the Living Dead 1990) and his sister Barbara (Judith O' Dea of Night of the Living Dead, The Pirate, Claustrophobia, October Moon and Women's Studies) have trekked out deep into rural Pennsylvania to a yearly visit to their father's grave. Barbara does not seem comfortable around gravestones as Johnny teases her prior to be attacked by a strange man with tattered clothes. No, it is not a zealous hobo but in fact a reanimated body that wrestles with Johnny before bashing his head into a gravestone. Barbara lunges for the car after performing the flattering ankle twist and hurling herself in the dirt which most feminists are probably irate at this point, dives in the car and manages to wreck a slow moving car be simply not steering worth a tinker's damn. Now in her defense she just saw her brother murdered and a shambling weirdo chase her.

Jimmy Carter: the hidden drunken years.

She flees across the countryside spotting a farmhouse and scurries into it. A quick discovery around the house she finds a mangled corpse of a woman and prepares to flee yet again when a truck arrives with a man dressed in a neat cardigan flogs a couple of zombies allowing him to get into the house and slam the door shut. Barbara mentally checks out for a good chunk of the film as Ben (Duane Jones of Night of the Living Dead, Ganja & Hess, Losing Ground, Beat Street, Vampires and To Die For) proceeds to drown Barbara in a vat of exposition to kill time while he does his Bob Villa impression and fortifies the house... with a few nails and boards. So instead of taking spare doors off of rooms and barricading the windows and believe you me there are a lot of windows in this place, we find there are more people hiding out in the fruit cellar. Can we all get along in this time of crisis or will we all be zombie chow in no time flat?

A few interesting facts of the film now. 200 extras were cast to be the townsfolk as well as zombies back to back and given how dimly lit our movie is and the makeup work did obscure more than a handful of our extras.

The ground breaking aspects to this film are one of the first movies to graphically depict violent murders on screen, first film shot in Pittsburgh and the first truly successful independent films ever made. Casting a black man (Duane Jones) as lead role having to slap sense into a woman, being violent and judgmental to the rest of his cast in the late sixties is considered an edgy choice by many but Romero didn't look at this with racist glasses as viewed it as shooting a flick with a friend.

Due to the lack of knowledge of distribution, Romero did not see a fraction of the money the distributors might as well just sauntered by him with the gross takings.

George A. Romero co-wrote this with John A. Russo who later went on to pen for The Return of the Living Dead film in 1985 with writer/director Dan O' Bannon.

One step closer and your crotches are toast!