Night of the Living Dead (Romero)

Discussion in 'Classic' started by dwatts, Mar 18, 2008.

  1. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    I decided to give this a watch tonight, it's been a little while, and we've been talking about it a bit. Time for a new thread to talk over a couple points?

    Of course it's a classic, and we all pretty much have an appreciation of it. I watched the Millenium Edition, and it really doesn't get much better than that one would think. The picture is crisp, the audio pretty good.

    Anyway - on watching it tonight I was struck by a couple things.

    1. The zombies in this film are actually quite smart. Take for instance the first zombie attack, when he's trying to get at Barbara in the car. He tries the near side door, finds he can't get in, so walks around to the passenger side. When that doesn't work, he picks up a rock, smashes a window, and tries to climb through it. There's some thought process at work there, they're not lumbering monsters. There is talk of them being "the recently dead", or the "unburied", which I think was changed for later films (allowing for more gore effects).

    2. The whole thing about whether zombies can run or not is thrown into a little doubt. Here's a link to an online script: CLICK. The part that's intriguing is:

    Of course this is still open to some debate, but I found it curious. What do you think?

    3. You know, I honestly don't think Romero moved the story on too much after this one film. We've had four sequels now, and while the "message" of the films vary a bit - we've had the addition of color film, some extra gore, and excellent soundtracks - I think the case could be made that none of them really better or improve on what is in this, the very first film.

    From the race element, to the gore, to the wonderful photography, Romero had really achieved everything with this first film. Is consumerism really a match, as a "message" goes, to race? Not that it's a competition, of course, but it just struck me that in the end the central entertainment factor wasn't upped as the series moved on. I've enjoyed Dawn and Day of course, but Romero was quickly repeating himself. Hell, the zombies themselves look better in Night, aided by the black and white image - the blue faces are just poor......

    So yeah, a few things to think about this time through. The main two elements that make this work are some great writing, and Romero getting lucky with decent actors. This could so easily have been just another low budget film, but it's not.

    How does everyone interpret that dialog? Were the zombies "chasing", as in running?
     
  2. Paff

    Paff Super Moderator

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    I disagree with this sentiement. I haven't seen Diary yet, and Land was OK but not great.

    Still, as far as the original trilogy goes, I do think the message did change and evolve from film to film. Yes, the basic premise is the same: small band of survivors from the zombie attacks, argue amongst themselves, wonder who the real monsters are, eventually the zombies win.

    But to me, the evolution comes in the titles:
    First movie, Night. Quite literally, a night of the living dead. Entire film takes place over the course of one night
    Second movie, Dawn. Obviously, this is not as literal. It sure doesn't take place during the early morning hours, it's spread out over several weeks. But it's "dawn", as in the dawning of a new era. One in which zombies rule. The focus in this film is people trying to live lives like they once had, and realize too late that that approach will only spell doom.
    Third movie, Day. As in, every dog will have it's day. In this case a zombie. Zombies now rule the earth. The fight here is how to live in such a world (they've given up the idea of their old life, finally learning the lesson not learnt in Dawn)

    So I do think Romero did advance the story over the course of the films.
     
  3. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    Thanks for that, Paff. I think you have a good point. I wonder though.... I'm not sure that we needed those other films. What would Romero have done if he hadn't gone down this route?

    I basically think the later films relied more on extra gore and color to justify themselves. But you do have a point.

    Now.... what do you make of those running zombies?
     
  4. allmessedup

    allmessedup It's beer time.

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    Did Romero write that or did Russo?

    I think NOTLD's social commentary [which was more or less inadvertent--the race factor was not written into the script, and a lot of the events such as the MLK assassination that have been mentioned as being an influence on or compared to the film had not occurred until NOTLD was already completed.] was actually more effective than his later films, where he really started belaboring things. It's interesting, because this is the only one in the series that Romero himself considers to be a straight horror film, yet its accidental "statement" is probably more powerful than those of later films.

    To me it's the only one where the zombies are seen as truly monstrous, but even then, you see the beginning of Romero's continuing themes--that what dooms the living are their own decisions and actions, whether it be a failure to cooperate or a failure to adapt to a changing situation, or to over-rely on the authorities.

    Romero obvious loved his DAWN characters the most [he even changed the ending because he couldn't stand for all of characters to which he'd become attached to not survive] , but it seems like after that film, the living characters begin to be portrayed more and more unsympathetically. The dead seem more like a force of nature, neither good nor bad [and you see inklings of this even in DAWN, where Peter says that the zombies are after the place, not them.] It's really not all that surprising than in LAND, Romero begins having the zombies played more as heroes who attack the greedy, villainous living characters.

    One thing that always interested me...why did the Cemetery Ghoul not eat Johnny? He didn't even bite him! He just left him and went after Barbara. Fresher meat, I guess.

    My answer to the running zombie debate...if they need to run for the purposes of the story, they can run. If they don't, then they can't. As several have said, it's ridiculous to approach it logically anyway, because the whole thing is fantastical to begin with.

    NIGHT is my favorite horror film period. Sometimes it's a little unfair to compare it to DAWN since they are two different types of movies and they have different agendas.
     
  5. Paff

    Paff Super Moderator

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    Minor point: he was referring to the bikers, not the zombies.
     
  6. X-human

    X-human I ate my keys

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    I believe he's referring to the discussion of how zombies gather to relive what they commonly did when alive, i.e. the mall. They came to the mall because that's what they did in a past life, not so much because there are a small group of people in it.

    I think it's the 25th Anniversary documentary that talks about how the idea of zombies evolved during the shoot. They originally were thought of more as "ghouls" which traditionally stay in the cemetery and eat the dead. The cemetery scene was one of the first things they shot. The idea that they weren't undead just reanimated dead probably grew out of Romero taking more and more control of the project as director. Russo wanted more lively zombies, as seen in his Return of the Living Dead treatment.

    What Ben describes in the city are simply words from a script, that probably wasn't thought out much more or changed on set based on Romero's growing alterations to zombie performances, many of which came much later when the zombies came in mass. I believe the movie was shot mostly in sequence, do to the growing destruction of the house. So it was probably an oversight.

    It may have simply become necessary to make the zombies slow moving as the film progressed. If they were running and jumping they could break into the house within the first 20 minutes of the movie. They had to slow them down to make it through all the plot points. The cemetery zombie could have gotten into the car, it would have had a field day with the house. This actually is pretty bad writing, it wasn't well thought out.

    I also agree that Romero's zombie films haven't changed much, only the scale has increased. It's basically the exact same plot, in fact it's the exact same bait and switch. In all of the first three films the main characters are foolish for trying to maintain what they have, only in Land of the Dead is that changed for the more generic "hero's always right and the bad guy's always wrong." In the first three the bad guy is right. (well... there is no 'real' bad guy in Dawn) The basement was the safest place, the mall can't be protected and is too high target, they shouldn't stick around a missile silo waiting for more survivors and/or the scientist's cure. All the hero's ideas were wrong, all the antagonist's ideas were right.

    I also think Romero may get too much credit for the social commentary in Night. It was a happy accident that the best actor for the job was black. While the film was good its legacy probably wouldn't have been so well established if it didn't fall into public domain either. Its longevity in theaters and late night TV can best be credited to that happy accident as well. It wouldn't have reach such a wide audience and would have remain mostly forgotten otherwise.
     
  7. allmessedup

    allmessedup It's beer time.

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    Yeah, I should have clarified that...I was referring to the scene after they'd cleaned out the mall and they were talking about the zombies still banging away trying to get inside. I think I accidentally used Peter's wording during the scene Paff mentioned.

    NIGHT was one of those films that scared me long before I even saw it. I was around 12 and was reading a lot of Stephen King, who was always referring to it. I thought if I actually saw the movie maybe it wouldn't be as scary anymore, but it didn't work!

    I think one of my favorite scenes is when Ben takes out a couple of the zombies who have been smashing out his headlights. He finishes them, then looks up to see another ghoul approaching, and then sees that many others are not far behind.

    I also like the scene where all the male ghouls are clustered around the nude female zombie, then they all move away suddenly. I can picture Romero telling them to spread out!
     
  8. Erick H.

    Erick H. Well-Known Member

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    dwatts is right in pointing out that the first ghoul in NIGHT seems both smarter and faster than the later ones.As the undead infestation is just starting (possibly caused by fallout from a failed space probe),perhaps the living dead fellow we first see has only just died,he doesn't seem decayed at all,looks fresh.As the film series progressed most of the zombies have been dead a good while,there is substantial decay and rot,some are literally falling apart.Seems plausable that they wouldn't be sprinters.It's worth noting that a lot of the zombies seem to move faster just before they kill,the sudden lunge,the darting forward,it all seems to come at the last.The graveyard zombie who sets after Barbara is trying to grab his meal,and becomes more frantic when he sees that he can't get her while she's in the car.Like Bub in the later DAY or the brighter zombies of LAND,there is clearly residual intelligence.
    Running after the truck,who knows ? You can try to explain it away (''fresher" zombies,a horde crowding in around the vehicle being taken by bystanders as "chasing" the truck rather than ''encircling" it).Or you could just chalk it up to a writer /director,never really planning to follow the film he's making with sequels and therefore not worrying about future continuity problems,simply writing down a scene (too expensive to film) that SOUNDS exciting.Truthfully,we're probably all overthinking this,Romero likely just put in a line of dialogue that sounded cool that he didn't bother referencing again when he did the sequels.

    NIGHT is still among my favorite horror films,it has a creepy black and white authenticity to it that makes it live in your dreams (or nightmares).I've also often thought how Ben,the Duane Jones character,as our hero,does everything ''right" and overcomes the cowardly Harry,only to see everyone else die while he only survives the night by cowering in the basement like Harry suggested(of course,he doesn't end up too well either).Was Ben's plan simply impractical or did it fail because the group couldn't work together ?
     
  9. ekent

    ekent The Lord's Arm of Justice

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    Peter and Flyboy both make references to how the zombies are after the place.

    As for running zombies, if you watch closely during Ben's trek back to the house after the truck explodes, you'll see some ghouls moving very fast, damn near sprinting. This was likely the result of an extra gone wild, but it did make the final cut. When the truck leaves the house, you'll see some zombies with a hastened pace.

    I think what helps Night to be so effective is the classic score that really matches the horrific mayhem, as well as some of the gutteral synth type noises that accompany the feeding sequences, very haunting and pulsating.
     
  10. allmessedup

    allmessedup It's beer time.

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    Yeah, I love NIGHT's score. I think it's library music, but it sure works.

    I would say the characters' failure was the result of failing to work together. A better plan might have been to have the basement as a fallback position, but that may have meant more of them would have fallen prey to Kyra Schon. I don't think any of them would have been able to dispatch the little girl. Also, the TV report told them they needed to leave. I think the failed escape attempt pretty much ended any chance they had to work it out.

    One of the reasons LAND OF THE DEAD didn't work nearly as well is that it didn't really have this kind of complex conflict between the characters.
     
  11. Paff

    Paff Super Moderator

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    It is library music. Check out Teenagers From Outer Space sometime.
     
  12. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    Thanks for this guys. Overall, I'm still not convinced that, other than color and gore, the subsequent films really added very much - although let's face it, in some quarters these are probably the only films Romero is known for. I think he could easily have ended it here, and he would have said all he needed to say about this sub-genre.

    I listened to the music yesterday, and while it is library music, it really is used very well. It clearly wasn't simply thrown onto the film. We all know the results of a rescore (the 30th anniversay edition, anyone?) so I think the library music and the film are no forever stuck together, like it or not.

    Why did they fail? Well, the basement was poisoned. The girl is down there, and we know how that turns out. Basically there's a lack of real leadership in the team. Instead they have loud voices and bad ideas. The characters never actually discuss their options adequately, and they never see beyond their own small horizons.

    In fact, one can sympathize with the guy in the basement. Yet he's ultimately got it all wrong - but at the same time he's trying to protect his family unit after his young girl had been attacked and injured. He obviously could have worked better with Ben, but the fact is he doesn't know what's going on, and he has his faily in a safe place (by the end of the film it IS the only safe place). He comes across as totally selfish - not to mention loud-mouthed - but in fact he's trying his best, in uncertain times, to keep his family together.
     
  13. I would make the totally uneducated guess that you're probably right about racial commentary being accidental, but I think that's what gives it it's weight. While someone who sets out to make a statement might come across as heavy-handed or pandering to a particular audience, someone who doesn't realize they are doing something of significance may be more likely to exude honesty and sincerity (as you point out when mentioning his later films). Maybe Romero wasn't intending to offer a treatise on race in America, but by allowing a black character to fill the role of hero (let alone strike a white woman) he is making a profound statement, even if he doesn't intend to. At least, that's the way it looks to this 27 year-old white male, for whom an era of widespread institutional racism is both practically ancient history and ubiquitous morality tale.

    All attempts at profundity aside, I have to say that this is one of the films that I will always love. I've seen it so many times that I almost never watch it any more, not because I'm sick of it but because it is so familiar to me that I rarely feel the need to revisit it. But now that it has come up I realize I really need to experience it again. I'll give it a view again really soon.
     
  14. Shock Waves

    Shock Waves New Member

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    This discussion has renewed my interest in the film. You are spot-on with the statement about it's familiarity.
    I need to sit down and re-watch it again. I believe the film has a social commentary that was stepped over by the "common" horror crowd. It really was a revolutionary film considering the cultural climate it was made in.

    From a psychological stand point, it has many "Jungian" attributes, not to mention Maslow overtones.

    Great thread!
     
  15. allmessedup

    allmessedup It's beer time.

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    I wonder what it was like to see this when it was first released. When I think about it, this might have been one of the first horror films that departed from the "escapist" entertainment of the past. Which is funny, because the horrors it depicts aren't realistic. But I think the reactions of the characters are all too real. As Romero said in one of his commentaries [I think in DAWN] "If the shit ever really hits the fan, forget about it...."

    I try to watch it at least once or twice a year. I don't watch it nearly as often as I watch DAWN. I think I might be trying to avoid "over-familiarity" with it. It's funny, because I don't have a problem watching DAWN at least 3-4 times a year [might be because of differing versions] but I always want NIGHT to seem somewhat fresh. Familiar, but not too much.

    I do like it better than his later zombie films--I think he succeeds more at what he's trying to do in this film than in the ones later on. I do think it wouldn't have been good had he just continued in this direction--it was probably better for him to focus more on the social aspect in his later installments.

    Another thing--in some ways, DAWN and DAY seem more dated to me than NIGHT, even though NIGHT is in B&W. The newscasts are probably the only stuff that really stick out to me as being from the past.
     
  16. buck135

    buck135 Kanamit

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    On blu-ray.com, there is a lengthy discussion about George Romero stating at a convention over this past weekend that the 9 minutes of lost footage has been found from a workprint. For those of you who have noticed the strange jump cut when Harry and Karen are talking in the celler, that is where this footage was omitted. This same footage was said to have been destroyed in a flood in that same celler several years later. This footage is said to contain an infamous shot of an overwhelming amount of zombies surrounding the house. Here's where the story gets more bizarre. It is being said that Martin Scorsese is personally overseeing the restoration of this film. I have no links to back any of this up. This footage, along with the original end of Dawn where Fran sticks her head in the helicopter blades (Savini swears it was filmed, Romero said it wasn't) are the two pieces of film history I would love to see.
     
    fceurich39, shithead and Nailwraps like this.
  17. Angelman

    Angelman OCD Blu Ray Collector

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    Please let all of what you wrote be true.
     
  18. buck135

    buck135 Kanamit

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    It's too good to be true. After Hours can't get a Criterion release, but Scorsese is working on this? I would think this would be a massive story. I'm hoping for some concrete confirmation over the next few days. And what the hell ever happened to Dawn of the Dead 3D?
     
  19. shithead

    shithead Death By Ejaculation

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    Pretty amazing stuff if true.
     
  20. X-human

    X-human I ate my keys

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    Awesome news! There's been suspiciously little from Image Ten in HD regarding NotLD; when they've been so active before with VHS, LD and DVD. Lips have been tight but it seemed like SOMETHING was up but I couldn't imagine what. Scorsese's involvement wouldn't surprise me so much; Taxi Driver is cut from the same cloth in many ways.

    Kinda gives hope for Martin's 3hr work print being discovered. I know that's a whole 'nother matter but stirs up hope none the less. We know why Dawn's been missing in action (producer's pushing the 3D to no avail) but Martin's absents is also noticeable (at least to me).
     

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