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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Halloween Horror, Day 23: Night of the Living Dead

It just wouldn't be October without watching some George A. Romero. It goes without saying that Night of the Living Dead (1968) not only defined the zombie film but revolutionized the horror genre. Let's skip the conversational filler and get straight to the top 4 reasons why this film is so special.

Night of the Living Dead

1. Children are damn creepy. Years before The Exorcist and The Omen showed us that youngsters aren't the innocent creatures we've come to believe, Night of the Living Dead proved that maternal instinct can be deadly. Not only is it daring to have a child be violent on camera, but it's a huge risk to have a child die in the film. Romero doesn't shy away from making these tough choices, and his movie is all the stronger for it.

2. Racism abounds. Few films dare to address the rampant racism in American society, let alone directly criticize it. Here, the main hero -- and seemingly the only truly rational character -- just so happens to be African American. Considering the highly charged racial tension of America in the 60's, Duane Jones's turn as Ben was both controversial and revolutionary. The film's ending, too, pushes the criticism further. As a healthy Ben is gunned down by police officers, we can't help but wonder if the deputies would've been so quick to draw their weapons on a white man.

3. No confidence in organized government. Between a seemingly unending war, numerous public assassinations, and civil unrest, it's safe to say that the US government wasn't trusted by its people. If there were a massive domestic outbreak, such as a zombie outbreak, would America be equipped to contain it? Today, the question is just as relevant -- given the CDC suspension during the US government shutdown, the covert wars abroad, the inability for the government to agree on basic human access to health care, would the government be capable of protecting its people and communicating an emergency plan?

4. Balance of horror. With the oversaturation of the zombie genre, it's easy to say now that we've become somewhat immune to the terrors of seeing undead humans eat the living. What's interesting about Night of the Living Dead is that the fear doesn't just come from the creepy creatures. Even in the face of immediate death, the human still struggle for power within their small group. The tension within the group -- particularly between cool-headed Ben and anxious Harry (Karl Hardman) -- are just as dangerous to their immediate harm as the zombies are.

Consider this a salute to Romero, a giant thanks for showing the world that horror movies can be smarter, better, and yes, even political. Here's to many more where that came from.

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