I like to think of Night of the Living Dead as something approaching the ideal film... if the ideal film had zombies in it. Because of this film, and the Kingdom, I am tempted to believe that the ideal film does have Zombies in it.

This is the most famous film by the legendary George Romero, and might be the most famous b-horror film of all time. The plot is rather simple... there are zombies, and there are people, people want to stop zombies, zombies want to eat people (mainly their delicious brains).

One should remember that a b-horror movie is very different from a horror movie, or a slasher film (I'm misusing terminology here). While a slasher film is about giving you shocks (any Halloween), and a horror film actually frightens you (the exorcist), a b-horror is meant not to be taken seriously in the least. A b-horror uses certain conventions either for the purpose of humor (most cannibal films) or conceptual play (Invasion of the Body Snatchers wasn't very funny, but it was quite definitely about Communism), more often then not the aim is a bit of comedy and a bit of conceptual play.

I think when that is pointed out, the conceptual play should be fairly obvious (mobs of un-thinking people going after the few with their brains intact... the main one happens to be black... the film is made in 1968 if that helps you), and the humor should be pretty obvious (zombies are by nature funny), what really makes this film stand out from all the other b-horror films is a few moments of directorial genius. Though I shouldn't go into detail, the way he introduces the zombies is beautiful, and the ending has aspects of a Shakespearian tragedy (the only other film I usually say that about is Lawrence of Arabia, and I honestly wonder what David Lean would think about being put in a category with Night of the Living Dead).

I'm guessing my readers are not sure whether to take me seriously or not at this point, but I would encourage people to take my Shakespeare comparison as far as possible (unless you take Shakespeare too seriously). Shakespeare had a certain obsession with theatrical structure, the beginning, middle and end of a story that can all be wrapped up in a predictable amount of time, took on beautiful dimensions to him, and he constantly loved to make metaphors based on it ("who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard from no more"). The real components of a Shakespearean tragedy is the inevitability of it, and the fundamental feature of tragedy, both Shakespearean and Greek, is an overwhelming feeling of waste.

Conceptually, Night of the Living Dead is doing a lot with these ideas, and its doing so beautifully. The ending of the film is inevitable in the same way the ending of our film is inevitable. We either get swallowed by society, or we simply die.

If you don't like that reading of the film, just watch it for the zombies and you won't be disappointed (I freakin' love zombies).

Buy Night of the Living Dead here

No comments: