How can I let Halloween pass without an applicable Phenomenal 5? And what better way to celebrate Halloween than to focus on my favorite horror movie of all time “Night of the Living Dead”. For many it would be impossible to narrow down the list of great horror pictures to one indisputable favorite. Not for me. I adore “Night of the Living Dead”. So today I’m going to throw out five big reasons why I love the film so much. Now there are many examples I could give of the movie’s greatness so I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But these five things about “Night of the Living Dead” are certainly phenomenal.
#5 – THE MUSIC AND SOUND
For me one of the key ingredients to the success “Night of the Living Dead” is the fantastic sound design and choice of music. In many ways it’s key in developing the movie’s overall creepy tone and feel. It may surprise some to know but much of the music was purchased and previously used in a variety of other shows and movies. Subtle but effective alterations were made to some of the tracks to make them feel more connected to the film. The live sound effects were recorded by Richard Lococo and they are amazing. Echos and distortions are used to make things all the more eerie and I love the little sound choices which add to the tense atmosphere. For example the emergency television newscast that we hear in the background of much of the film. It and all of the sound design lends much to the film’s disturbing feel.
#4 – DUANE JONES
He was a relatively unknown stage actor when George Romero hired him to star in “Night of the Living Dead”. But Duane Jones was stepping into what would become an iconic role particularly in the horror genre. His performance as the composed and resourceful Ben is a real strength of the picture. We don’t learn a lot about his character’s story but we learn a lot about who he is. He’s cool, calm, and collective and without him things would have fallen apart quicker. Jones’ casting was significant because at the time (1968) African Americans weren’t known as leading men and women in movies particularly with an otherwise all-white cast. But he fits perfectly into his role and without his rock-solid performance “Night of the Living Dead” just wouldn’t be the same.
#3 – THE SETTING
I still remember the first time I watched “Night of the Living Dead”. My uncle brought it and a rented VCR to our house and my parents let me stay up and watch it with them. I’ve loved it ever since. One of the main things that has stuck with me from that very first viewing all the way to today is the film’s setting. The whole idea and concept of basically being cornered in an isolated farmhouse while hordes of the undead collect outside was terrifying to me as a child and still creepy today. The survivalist elements mixed with the simple “we have nowhere to go” angle is very effective here and of course it would go on to influence a large number of other movies that followed. I’ve seen “Night of the Living Dead” more times than I can count, yet with each new viewing I still find myself completely immersed in that Pennsylvania farmhouse.
#2 – GEORGE ROMERO
“Night of the Living Dead” is known for several firsts and for paving new ways. Perhaps most notable is that this was the feature film directorial debut for George Romero. He was the real mastermind behind the project and in retrospect what he was able to accomplish is astonishing. First, the film was made with a miniscule budget of only $114,000. This seriously limited many things but also called for a much more creative sense. Romero certainly had that creativity. Intelligent uses of sound, the camera, and the limited special effects all fell into place under his direction. He also chose to shoot the film in 35mm black-and-white. Initially this was a budget constraint but he uses it like a master. Now it’s the only way the movie should be viewed. Again, what Romero does here is astonishing and it’s a true testament to the creativity of good filmmakers.
#1 – THE ZOMBIE CRAZE
Zombies are all the rage aren’t they? The undead have found permanent homes in all sorts of media including comics, video games, movies, and television. So many people have been inspired to offer their own vision of zombies and the term ‘zombie apocalypse’ is known by everyone. And to think it all started with Romero’s vision. “Night of the Living Dead” wasn’t the first film to deal with the dead coming back to life, but it was the first film to truly develop zombies as they have come to be known today. It would be impossible to number all of movies whose inspiration could be traced back to “Night of the Living Dead”. It’s influence can be seen not only in cinema but in the culture as a whole – something I know Romero couldn’t have imagined at the time. So the next time you see a zombie movie, watch an episode of “The Walking Dead”, or play “Plants verses Zombies” just remember that it can all be traced back to the classic “Night of the Living Dead”.
So there you have it – 5 phenomenal things about what I consider to be the greatest horror picture ever made. What do you think of the film? What’s something you love about it? Do you even like the movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below and share your thoughts.