Monday, October 31, 2011

Night of the Living Dead

I mentioned yesterday how some movies show how having a good story can trump having a terribly limited budget. An outstanding example of this is the low-budget horror classic Night of the Living Dead, which is airing tonight at 9:30 PM on TCM.

Made with a cast of unknowns, Night of the Living Dead starts off with a brother and sister visiting a grave to pay their annual respects, and it's clear that neither of them really wants to be there. The brother makes it worse when he sees somebody else off in the distance and suggests the guy is a zombie, telling his sister, "They're coming to get you!" The only thing is, it turns out the guy actually is a zombie! And he wants to eat brains! The zombie eventually kills the brother and turns on the sister, who is able to escape in the car. She eventually makes her way to an isolated farmhouse and tries to take refuge there, figuring it's far away from any zombies.

She's not alone, of course. She finds a black man also trying to take refuge in the house. Neither is particularly certain what's going on, because news reports are sketchy, but it seems that due to nuclear tests or something, anybody who has died recently will quickly be "reincarnated" as a member of the undead, wanting to feast on regular people's brains. This is naturally going to be a problem if anybody else dies, but right now they got more pressing problems. The zombies have made their way to the farmhouse surprisingly quickly, considering how slowly they stagger. Worse, they outnumber the living inside the farmhouse, and are trying to get in. Then, our heroes hear a sound downstairs, and discover that there's another family with a sick kid that's barricaded themselves in the basement. This naturally begins a heated debate over the best course of action: try to make a break for it, barricade oneself in the basement, or try to have run of the whole house since it will be easier to see what's going on outside.

Night of the Living Dead, like any low-budget movie, has some problems, which here come mainly in the form of things that would seem like nagging plot holes if you actually tried to analyze this movie seriously. Key among these is the fact that the zombies only seem to stagger around; you'd think people could get away from the zombies by running. But if you overlook such plot holes -- and dammit, this is a zombie movie; why are you expecting utter coherence? -- you'll find that there's a great little movie here. It's truly unsettling, as the viewers, and the characters, have no idea what what's going to come next. Added to this is a fairly realistic characterization of pepole trying to survive, but in conflict with one another, as nobody really knows the correct course of action. In that regard, it's reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat.

If you haven't seen Night of the Living Dead before, it's a movie I can highly recommend.

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