Anatomy of a zombie movie – a gaze back at ‘Night of the Living Dead’

“Night of the Living Dead” (1968) seems the first movie to put “gore” in big screen horror movies. While I deplore films that resort to gore to frighten audiences, I understand why this film became a classic. I had to watch it to decide for myself, but of course. When I did, I tried to envision what it was like to be among an audience who saw it when it was first run.
The storyline
     A group of people, per separate encounters, flee to a rural house to seek shelter from human-like creatures that arrived from nowhere.
     As the people discover each other in this household, they argue over emergency defenses against “the things” that lurk outside. They board windows and doors, and tune in the radio to hear reports about the “things” and what to do about them.

     The “things” seem in a trance, according to witness reports, and determined  to kill. Authorities report that the “things” eat the flesh of their victims.
The gore
     Squeamish as I am, I could handle this movie. Turns out I’m in a new generation of movie-goers, and have an ingrained sense of when to shield my eyes with open palm or my beau’s shoulder before the gore imposes.

     Moviegoers back then likely weren’t so keen. I imagine much of their experience was shock at the blood scenes and graphic violence. Yet there was little of that, comparatively to the amount that gushes across the screen these days.
The zombies
     They wear the garb in which they had perished. Their faces are white, some with a little blood. In the film, they’re referred to as ghouls, or “the things.” Only in ensuing “The Dead” films are they mentioned as zombies.
     Zombies by definition aren’t cannibals. The “Night of the Living Dead” writers deemed these zombies cannibals, for a further shocking element.
The fright
     The story is the prolific fright. I wonder what the movie would be like if the director had relied on that for the cinematic storytelling, sans the graphic violence.
     But it’s too late for that.
     The director took that step beyond, and there’s no going back. For any of us. After that ensued imitations and added “Dead” movies — all of which became increasingly gory a la modern special effects.
The Anatomy of a zombie movie
     “Night of the Living Dead” presents an engaging story. We empathize with the humans trying to survive. The effects of the “ghouls”” actions are eerie, for example their arms reaching through boarded window crevices to grab their victims. Viewers take away a creepy movie. And that’s, in my opinion, more effective than the gore. The director decided to present cinematographic blood and cannibalistic imagery to the scenes.
     All this made “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) the quintessential zombie movie of modern day.
If you watch it
     If you’re in the mood to watch a creepy movie this Halloween season, this fits the bill. Select the black and white version to experience the shadowy effects. Turn down the lights and watch the story unravel.
     If you’re squeamish like moi, be prepared to shield your eyes here and again. Hint: be wary of swinging tire irons or a garden trowel.

More information: Watch the movie here.

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