Siblings Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) drive to a rural Pennsylvania cemetery to visit their father’s grave. Barbra is afraid at the cemetery; Johnny frightens her repeating, “They’re coming to get you, Barbra!” A pale skinned man (Bill Hinzman) grabs Barbra. Johnny wrestles with the man but is killed when he falls and his head hits a tombstone. Barbra flees while being pursued by the man. She reaches an empty farmhouse. Ben (Duane Jones) arrives at the house and boards up the doors and windows. Barbra is catatonic, then frantically insists they must rescue Johnny, then collapses in shock.
Hiding in the cellar are Harry and Helen Cooper (Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman), their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), and young couple Tom and Judy (Keith Wayne and Judith Ridley). Ben activates a radio while Barbra awakens. She is frightened by Tom and Harry emerging from the cellar. Harry and Ben argue. Ben thinks they should have left the cellar to help board the doors. Harry espouses hiding in the cellar but Ben deems it a “death trap” and remains upstairs. Tom agrees with Ben and asks Judy upstairs.
Harry returns to the cellar to Helen and Karen, who is ill after being bitten by a zombie. Radio reports explain that an epidemic of mass murder is sweeping across the eastern seaboard. Ben discovers a television; the emergency broadcaster reveals that the creatures are consuming the flesh of their victims and that the murders are being perpetrated by the recently deceased who have returned to life. Experts, scientists, and the military do not know the cause; one scientist believes it is caused by radioactive contamination from a space probe that exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere. A final report reveals that a gunshot or heavy blow to the head will stop the “ghouls” and that posses of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order.
Ben devises a plan to escape using the truck he drove to the house, but it needs fuel. Ben and Tom drive the short distance to an outside gas pump while Harry hurls Molotov cocktails from an upper window to restrain the ghouls. Judy fears for Tom’s safety and runs after him. They arrive at the pump but Tom spills fuel, setting the truck alight. Tom and Judy drive the truck from the pump to avoid further damage but it explodes, killing them. Ben returns to the house to find Harry boarding up the front door. Ben kicks the door down and furiously beats Harry. Ghouls approach the truck and feed on Tom and Judy’s flesh.
After the ghouls attempt to break into the house, Harry spots Ben’s rifle and threatens to shoot him. Ben wrestles the gun from Harry and shoots him. The ghouls begin to tug Helen and Barbra through the windows. Harry stumbles into the cellar to find Karen’s dead body, and dies. Helen frees herself of the ghouls and proceeds to the cellar to find Karen reanimated and consuming Harry’s flesh. Karen repeatedly stabs Helen with a cement trowel, killing her.
Barbra spots Johnny in the group of ghouls; distracted, she is carried away and killed. Karen tries to attack Ben. He pushes her away and seals himself in the cellar. Ben shoots the reanimated Harry and Helen. He survives the night and falls asleep. In the morning a posse arrives. Ben hears the posse and proceeds to the window. A member of the posse mistakes him for a ghoul and shoots him in the head from a distance, killing him. Ben’s body is placed onto a burning pyre.
For this classic horror film that started my love for zombies, I have never seen this on the big screen. The only big screen was on my 19″ tv and seating really close enough to ruin my eyes. First off, this movie came out in 1968 and two, my first watching of this movie to due in part because of my friend Michele. If you have read my horror from the beginning of this month will know how much of an influence she was on me. In fact, she bought my own copy of Night of the Living Dead on VHS which I still have even though I don’t have a player. Never the less, the advent of Netflix and the internet, I can watch this at my leisure. In fact, I’ve included this movie on this entry for your viewing pleasure.
Another thing that strikes me about this movie is how the zombies reacted. The first zombie that attacked Barbara in the car, he picks up a brick and tries to smash the car window and succeeds. Later, we see other zombies attack the house to clubs to break down the boarded windows. Unlike some other zombie productions we see the typical dumb zombies but the with the original Night we see zombies are problem solvers which makes them really unique.
The subtext of this movie is really interesting to watch for many reasons. Like with the Walking Dead graphic novel series, both works examines how people behavior under extraordinary situations. First, we have an African-American, Ben, in the lead role which does not sit will with Harry. We also see how subservient the women are their male counterparts. They are either docile like Helen and Judy and neurotic like Barbara. Also, the last survivor Ben gets short by a white posse that “mistakes” him as a zombie, I disagree.
What also makes this film standout is the intended black and white footage. Yes, I agree that color make the gore look great but like the Walking Dead, there is a different feel about the gore that I can’t put my finger on it but the horror factor still comes through. However back in the day, the fade to color b&w movies all the rage including the original King Kong. While I did not include the colorized version you can check out the colorized trailer.
Now there is a new treatment called Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated. Basically, 150 artists worked on their favorite part of the movie using art to capture or reinterpret the images from the movies. Some look pure awesome while some went for quickly laughs but regardless, it is worth a look. Think of watching this movie like watching the first A-ha video Take on Me on acid. Not that I know about acid but the warped perceptions is a better description. Better yet, think of the Ani-Matrix for a horror movie. Check out the trailer plus some of my favorite scenes