Seven strangers barricade themselves in a farmhouse
in an attempt to hide from a horde of flesh-eating monsters.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by George A. Romero
Written by George A. Romero and John A. Russo
Starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman,
Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon
Night of the Living Dead represents a major turning point for the horror genre. George Romero was one of the first filmmakers to take horror to the next level, meaning blood, gore, and genuine real-looking scares. The first entry in his zombie series changed the game, and opened the floodgates for horror films to be as gory and freakish as their writers and directors could imagine. Not to mention its incomparable contribution to the zombie genre, which gave us the modern pop culture zombie as we know it. As far as the film itself goes, it is a little dated, but that's to be expected. The performances are fantastic, the visuals are still horrifying, and the tone is unlike anything people had ever seen before. It doesn't feel like a Hollywood zombie movie. It feels like a live documentary about an actual zombie outbreak.
Seven strangers all find themselves fighting for their lives in a farmhouse surrounded by the living dead. There's Ben the de facto leader, Barbra the useless, constantly-in-shock female lead, Harry the hothead and his forgettable wife Helen, their zombie chow daughter Karen, and a doomed teenage couple named Tom and Judy. The characters don't all mesh well, which gives us some interesting struggle to enjoy while the zombies try to barge in. Throughout the ordeal, they listen to radio broadcasts of a nationwide outbreak of flesh-eating monsters, and watch news reports live from the scene. There's few moments when it feels fictional or sensationalized. Romero did his best to make it as realistic as possible. Several scenes stick in the brain and have since become iconic in horror, like zombie Karen stabbing her mother to death with a gardening trowel.
Night of the Living Dead may just be the most important horror film of all time, due to what it represented for the industry. It showed people that horror films could take things as far as they needed to go in order to scare you. Gone were the Bela Lugosis and the Boris Karloffs, in favor of nameless, meandering monsters that once were your friends and neighbors. We were the new movie monster to be afraid of. It's a brilliant concept that has never been handled with quite the right amount of grace as Romero handled it in his Dead franchise. And it all started here.