Month of Horror Prevues: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
“Yeah they”re dead. They”re all messed up.”
When someone says Halloween, one of the horror films that instantly comes to my mind is George A. Romero’s terrifying 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. For many years, Night of the Living Dead has ranked as one of my favorite films of all time. Cheap, claustrophobic, and alarmingly simple, Night of the Living Dead is a film that was meant to be watched on Halloween night with the lights turned out, a jack o’ lantern lit, and a few trick r’ treaters banging on your door for a handful of candy. Sure, you could enjoy it and appreciate it any time of year for its political undertones, but it just perfectly captures the spirit of the Halloween season.
The terror opens in a graveyard, illuminated by an approaching lightning storm you might have seen in a Universal Studios monster movie. A brother named Johnny torments his younger sister by reminiscing about how terrified she was of the graveyard as a child. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” he moans ever memorably. It begins with superstition, that the spirits of the dead haunt the graveyard just up the street. Suddenly, that childhood fear is brought to terrifying life as a ghoul shuffles up to Johnny and Barbara for an evening meal. The ghosts are real, and they crave the flesh of the living! Barbara eventually flees to a seemingly abandoned farmhouse, a location that you could see a bunch of greaser-punk teenagers trashing for a quick thrill on All Hallows Eve. As the sun sinks on the Pennsylvania countryside, the zombies shuffling around take on a spectral appearance, lost souls risen from the grave and aimlessly wandering about in the dark for a victim.
If you’ve never seen Night of the Living Dead, I won’t spoil the rest of the film for you, but just know that when the windows and doors are boarded up and the lights flicker out, the banging and confusion really grabs you by the short hairs. The trailer for Romero’s Night of the Living Dead uses a supernatural edge to grab you.
It suggests that the souls of these creatures are haunted in some way, shape, or form. There is no scientific experiment gone wrong bringing these ungodly creatures back from the dead—it’s SOMETHING ELSE. It suggests that the film is a bizarre adventure in fear, something that wouldn’t have seemed totally out of place in an old midnight spook show. These proclamations are made as an otherworldly Theremin whistles over grainy black and white images of zombies chowing down on barbequed intestines. “Welcome to a night of total terror!,” the voiceover proclaims, and boy, does he mean it.
Despite being made in 1968, the trailer suggests that Night of the Living Dead would have seemed right at home in Universal’s heyday. It’s got misshapen monsters prowling a scenic countryside as angry mobs hunt them down to put a bullet between their eyes. After a while, you may start to wonder where they left their torches! In the bleak year of 1968, these monsters could have seemed old fashioned, but they were cutting edge, capturing the tension of the times and sparking a never-ending string of imitators that continue to this very day. Undoubtedly, it’s the old fashioned idea of the dead coming back to life for one terrifying evening that captures the spirit of the fall season and makes this film essential for your Halloween night.