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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Hell o Prisoners

I have to come clean--I can't sleep at dawn, and even though Night of the Living Dead warrants a spot, a very high spot, some time between the time I bought this locket full of gems and started posting, I morphed the title from "50 Horror Classics" to "50 Greatest Horror Films". Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but in any event, I need to retract my grievous error, so from now on, my mission will not be to see if the 50 movies on this 5 disc set stands up to the bogus title I created, but to simply watch them and give you my rating on the flame scale. So, with that said, it's time for Movie #5, Disc #1,"50 Horror Classics"........




Image Ten Productions 
Presents Duane Jones
in 
George A. Romero's
Night of the Living Dead 
(1968)

Maria Full of Grace, although not a horror film, is the most disturbing movie I've ever seen. Maybe because it took me to a world that I, in my naive middle class American white girl way, didn't even know existed, and that in itself pisses me off. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, even though it's a zombie flick, and as you know, I think zombies are, well, pretty boring, is behind by only a nose....I've seen it before, of course; isn't it required viewing for all of us horror junkies? And every time I watch it, and even though I know it's coming, and you think I would have gotten used to it by now, I just want to say, "GET OUT OF THE WINDOW! THEY'RE GOING TO PUT A BULLET THROUGH YOUR HEAD! THE FUCKING IDIOTS!" So, now....

Siblings, Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O'Dea), are making their annual 200 mile, one way, obligatory trip to the cemetery to put a wreath on their father's grave in North Carolina. Barbara's down with it, but Johnny could care less. Once they park their beastly Bonneville, Johnny's dinking around with the radio, and before he turns it off, we catch just a glimpse of a report to which they should have listened. But, soonest begun, soonest done, as Roland of Gilead would say, so he turns it off, and they head over to the grave. Totally unaware of their surroundings, they completely miss some wierdo in a suit gimpin along between the stones in the distance. Johnny'd just assume engage in a little let's-freak-out-my-little-sister  shenanigans. 

He notices the man, and says to Barbra, "Do you remember....I jumped out at you from behind a tree, and Grandpa got all excited and he shook his fist at me, and he said, 'Boy you'll be damned to hell'...Boy, you used to really be afraid! You're still afraid. They're coming to get you, Barbra... Look there comes one of them." While Johnny bolts, Barba walks directly into the path of the man, who starts to choke her. Johnny tries to fight him off to no avail, and Barbara jets for the car. This doesn't stop the man, who, with graven eyes, wails on the the doors and the windows, but she gets away...until she sideswipes (there goes the Bonneville) a tree, but makes it on foot to a seemingly deserted farmhouse. 

While searching the house, she finds a load of taxidermy (can't even write that without hearing Quint) and a head-- minus skin-- plus bulging eyes and teeth, so it's pretty much all downhill from there for Barbra; she's a mess. She runs outside and sees some headlights approaching, and out steps this black man, Ben (Duane Jones). Normally I wouldn't specify his color, but it's relevant to the story line. Returning to the farmhouse, he bolts the door, and starts asking her questions. Who is she? Does she live here? What is she doing here? But, like I said, Barbra's a mess, and completely in shock, so he's not getting any answers. 

Ben, from the start, takes charge of her, their surroundings, and their situation, ransacking for food and other necessities, and begins to break apart furniture and unhinges interior doors, locates some tools, and starts boarding up the place to keep them out. At night their numbers are multiplying, and the beasts try to get into the truck parked outside, their only means of escape, but when he goes outside to beat them off, one gets in and goes for Barbra. Upon return, Ben beats him down, literally, and says "We'll be alright here till someone comes to rescue us--but we have to work together." 

He told her his story. He'd encountered them down the road. First there were like 10. Then they started coming from everywhere. He couldn't find anyone alive anywhere, so he grabbed the first truck he saw and plowed down like 50 or 60 of them. "They scattered through the air like bullets." Poor Barbra, she asks for candy. And then she starts freaking out about Johnny. They "have to find Johnny!" As he tries to calm her down, she slaps him, and what does he do, I love this part, he slaps her back...hard! It was effective, she passed out, not from the slap, just passed out, and he gently lay her on the couch, and unbuttoned her coat, because she had been complaining about being too hot. 

He turns on the radio...

 "Epidemic of mass murder being committed by a virtual army of unidentified assassins.....No apparent reason....Mass homicide...Ordinary looking people...Trance...There is no way for us to say who or what to look for...We don't know what type of murder happy characters....Victims partially devoured....Killers are eating the flesh of the people they kill...More ghastly with each report...."

The President has called an emergency meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the FBI, CIA...and the National Aeronautics and Space Administrations. 

Enter. One big asshole. Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman). He's been held up in the cellar with his wife, Helen (Marilyn Eastman), and their daughter, Karen (Kyra Schon), who is sick. Ben asked him why he didn't come up to help with boarding up the place, or fending off the killers, so first he says, he didn't hear them, then he says he didn't come up because the commotion could have been the killers. Then he goes, "You telling us we gotta risk our lives, just because somebody might need help?!" Ben, just replies, "Yeah, something like that," and pretty much, at this point, understands that he's dealing with an ignoramus who will probably be more trouble than he's worth.

There is another young couple there, Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley). Tom tries to convince Cooper that staying up top is safer, just like Ben said. "The cellar is a deathtrap." He also agrees that if they just stick together, they'll be alright. Cooper's an insecure bigoted control freak (am I biased here? hah), and Ben has this great line, "It's tough for that kid that her old man is so stupid--now get the hell down in the cellar...you can be the boss down there. I'm the boss up here." God, I love that line. 

Downstairs, Cooper tells his wife about the two guys up top. She tells him she already knew that; she "heard them screaming." "Well, I wasn't about to take any unnecessary chances." "Of course, not, Harry." "Let them stay upstairs--too many ways for those monsters to get in. We'll see whose right. We'll see when they come begging me to let them in down here." "That's important, huh?" "What do you mean by that?" "To be right and everyone else to be wrong." And then she gets really mad when she finds out they have a radio upstairs. "They have a radio upstairs, and you boarded us up down here! Take those boards off--how are we supposed to know what to do? Those people aren't our enemies!" 

Judy trades spots with the Cooper parents to look after Karen. And, I know, I've already made it perfectly clear what a dick Cooper is, but, really, I have to go on....So he's upstairs, and all he can do is complain about what a shoddy job Ben did boarding up the joint. "Look at this, There's a million weak spots up here!" But get this, what does he do? He bums a smoke from his wife. "Why don't you do something to help somebody?!" she yells. 

Radio....

"It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to life and have been committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of reports from funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals, have concluded that the unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims..."  

At first, they were telling people to stay indoors, but now they want people to make it to rescue stations that have been set up. And everyone's wondering why space experts are being consulted about an earthbound emergency. Turns out an Explorer Satellite was sent to Venus. On it's way back, we shot it down. The space vehicle was said to have carried "mysterious high level radiation".

Television...

News footage, where in which, the scientists are saying there is a correlation between the radiation and the killers, and the government officials are him hawing with, "Well, now, we don't know that...I must disagree until it is irrefutably proven...Everything is being done that can be done." 

Television.....

Interview...."It takes just a few minutes after death for the them to change." " Well, that doesn't give you time to make funeral arrangements." "No, it doesn't." Is that hilarious or what? I didn't expect to laugh out loud, but I did, sure enough. 

Ben's trying to get everyone on board to get the hell out of there. He knows he's got the truck, but it's about out of gas, and he doesn't have the key. Tommy knows where the key is, so they're trying to make a plan. They've got to make it to the key, to the truck, and to the pump. They all start making mazeltov (yes, I know. Molotov. It was an accident. But it gave Brandon over at Movies at Dog Farm the best laugh he'd had all day, so at the sake of losing whatever credibility I may have, I'm gonna embrace my dumb ass mistake and leave it...with the explanation. I have to retain some sense of confidence. Hope it made you laugh, and if you just thought I was a dumb ass. Well, then, you just thought I was a dumb ass. Thanks, Brandon for callin' me out!) cocktails to keep the zombies at bay. Ben and Tommy make it outside. Cooper starts throwing the cocktails from the upstairs window. Judy decides she wants to go too, the dumb ass chick. And so Tommy's got the gas hose, and there's fire and gas and zombies all over the place, and the truck catches on fire. They start to make a run for it, but of course, Judy, who should have stayed in the damn house to begin with, can't get out, because her coat is stuck. Well, KABOOM! Toast.

Ben makes a break for it, and starts rushing towards the front door, but what did Cooper do? He locked him out! Did he open the door when Ben started screaming for him to open the door? Hell, no! So when Ben finally breaks the door down, and gets in, he beats the hell out of Cooper. 
The group talks about Karen. Cooper doesn't want to carry her to the nearest town, not because she's sick, but because, as I have irrefutably shown you, he's a dick. So Ben says he'll carry her. "What's her problem?" Oh, she got bit on the arm by one of those things. That's all. 

News flash...

Search and Destroy missions...."Kill the brain and you kill the ghoul." Love that, but wait, it gets even better. Sheriff McClelland (George Kosana) is asked, "Are they slow moving, Chief?" "Oh yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up."

Electricity goes out. The zombies start breaking in, including Brother Johnny. In fact, he gets Barbra, and then the rest swarm her. Everything goes to hell. Cooper grabs the gun, and forces his wife into the cellar. Ben and Cooper start to brawl, and Ben, thank God, shoots the son of a bitch. Cooper makes his way down to the cellar, and drops dead right next to his daughter, whose been lying there this whole time, but evidently she's been dead a few minutes, because she is hungry. 

When mom makes her way down there, little Karen is feasting on her father. She should have just stayed upstairs, because Karen picks up a trowel and stabs the shit out of her. Ben makes his way downstairs. Cooper rises. Ben shoots him in the head. Mom opens her eyes. Ben shoots her, too. 

Cut to daybreak. The house is quiet. The birds are chirping.  "Everything appears to be under control," McClellan says to the reporter.  They let the German shepherds out of the back of the van. He and his men, the search and rescue team, are on their way.They sweep the field adjacent to the farmhouse--shooting anything that moves. They're picking zombies off right and left. Shoot first. Ask questions later. 

Ben wakes and hears the helicopter. The cops. The shots. Help has arrived. Just like he said to Barbra at the beginning, "We'll be alright here till someone comes to rescue us--but we have to work together." 
One of the rescuers hears a noise coming from the house. They see someone at the window. "Shoot him right between the eyes! BANG!  "O.K. he's dead--there's another one for the fire." And that's how we close. Closeups of the dead in a huge pyre, Ben among them. And so ends our tale, more true to life than I want to admit. A tale of bigotry, prejudice, insolence, ignorance, absolute power, authoritarian misappropriations, cover ups, zero accountability, and radiation fall out. 

1968 was a landmark year for Civil Rights in America. With the death of Martin Luther King, the ringing in of the Black Panther Party showed that people were fed up. Tired of mistreatment, injustice, inequality, loss of life in Vietnam, the distribution of wealth, bureaucratic indecency and deceit, the middle aged white guy on a power trip, the government cover ups,  the naive white middle class female, the macho redneck mindset, the German shepherds, the shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality, the out of control, unabated, mindless search and rescue, the shitty parents breading bigots, the fraternal order of pride and ignorance, the disregard of the thoughtful smart black man, academia, and honesty; and to hell with the subservient wife, the black vs white, they simply weren't going to take it anymore. Romero's black and white film choice, in itself, set a tone, which created the mood of archaism. It wasn't just in America. The phenomena was worldwide. It was the year of the 1968 Protests, and Romero's film is an accurate depiction of the time. A really horrible and embarrassing time, but also a capstone year, in which, people finally said, ENOUGH! I may be stoking the fires of hell, but I have no tolerance for intolerance and the reign of the unjust. I think Romero's movie was a wake up call for all of us, to show us just how dirty we'd become. We'd become a nation of flesh eaters. Night of the Living Dead is basically a protest film with zombies, and a big fat reminder that WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER--NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, etc. It is entertaining always, and sometimes enjoyable, if laughing sarcastically or watching assholes get their asses beat is enjoyable. I find that to be the case, and it rates a definite five flames on my flame scale. Next it's Movie #6, Disc #1, Atomic Age Vampire. 

Until next time...Keep those fires stoked.
Eternally Yours
Warden Stokely




7 comments:

  1. I suspect you're facing a pretty serious drop off in quality with your next title.

    BTW, thanks for providing (unintentionally, I'm sure) the best laugh I've had all day. I'm pretty sure you meant "Molotov" cocktails . . .

    Mazel tov on a fine post about NOTLD, though.

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    1. Oh Shit! hahahaha. Well, I just can't seem to shake that naive middle class white girl shroud! hhmmm. I meant that's what people say when they throw one and hit their zombie! Not! Hell, if we can't laugh at ourselves than....I think I'll keep it that way and add a parenthesis, cause if it gave you the best laugh you've had all day, maybe it'll have the same effect on others. Not a bad gift. But then again, I don't want to look like a total dumb ass.:) Thanks for stopping by, Brandon!

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  2. Hey Warden! This is a great write-up of my all time favorite horror flick. I first saw it in high school when the honor society (!) showed it every year as a fund raiser. They could get away with that back then in the early eighties, despite the naked lady. The audience always counted out loud (with glee) the number of times Karen stabbed her mother with the trowel. Ahhhh, the good old days...

    Anyhow, I always thought the first zombie lurching around in the cemetery looked like Elvis Costello.

    http://youtu.be/tpprOGsLWUo

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    1. It is Elvis! He was kickin' it with Elvis! Yeah, The Atom Age Vampire is a far cry from NOTLD, to be sure. I love Romero's naked lady zombie. Go George!

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    2. and Seriously! She whaled on her! and then whaled again and again and again...

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  3. This movie is such a classic, and the ending is so devastating. It just pisses me off. It's really a masterpiece, and it is surprising all the nudity and violence they got away with in this.

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