A decade ago, I was a teenager in high school. I had my first job at my local movie theater and used my newfound disposable income to get a Netflix subscription.
Over the summer of 2004, 17/18 year old Matt wrote 21 movie reviews and posted them on IMDb. Recently, I dug up these reviews and decided to revisit each movie and evaluate how my tastes have changed over the last decade.
So for each of these posts, I will write a present-day review and then copy/paste the original review after. Then I’ll compare the two and give a summary at the end. You can find all the reviews here, follow me on Twitter here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, lets talk about Night of the Living Dead.
My 2014 Review
George Romero created the zombie genre as we know it with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. The movie itself, however, isn’t just the launch of a genre with an incalculable line of imitators (some better, many worse). Night of the Living Dead is a ballsy (for its time) exploration of human beings thrust into different roles in a crisis and how they react and interact when facing certain death.
Duane Jones plays Ben, who’s thrust into the leadership role when he stumbles upon a farmhouse and the hysterically over-the-top Judith O’Dea (Barbara). Jones’ portrayal of Ben is mesmerizing. As his character takes command of the situation, the actor commands the screen with a very strong presence.
There’s a lot to be said about the social commentary on Night of the Living Dead. Duane Jones was the first black actor to be cast in a lead role of a major motion picture in which the role didn’t specify race. It came at a time when the country was still rife with racial tension. The political climate of the late sixties gives the movie’s shocking ending all the more gravity.
It says a lot about the filmmakers that the social commentary wasn’t intended and that Jones was simply cast because he was the best actor. The fact that Romero and company didn’t change the ending once Jones was cast gives Night of the Living Dead a unique and incidental spot in film history.
The movie isn’t perfect. As I said earlier, Judith O’Dea’s performance as Barbara is over-the-top at times but it’s also a fault of the writing. For a movie that was groundbreaking for giving a black actor the heroic leading role, the female lead is pretty much useless. She doesn’t adapt to the situation like the other characters and, instead, sits in a catatonic and helpless state.
Characters don’t necessarily need to evolve and adapt to the apocalyptic setting nor do they need to grow into archetypal roles. But Barbara regressed to a childlike role that became a burden to the characters and the story. By sitting in a catatonic state and being non-reactive, Barbara didn’t offer much in terms of plot or characterization.
That aside, power plays and mishaps that befall the characters in the house is frightening and feel authentic. The arrogance of Harry (Karl Hardman) coupled with the levelheaded naiveté of Tom (Keith Wayne) mix well with Ben’s strength and leadership. The result is a strong narrative somewhat hampered by Barbara’s poor characterization.
Night of the Living Dead created the zombie genre as we know it today. A decade later, Romero followed it up with Dawn of the Dead, which, in my opinion, overshadowed the original. Night of the Living Dead, however, remains an important and influential piece of the zombie genre that still holds up today.
Bargain Buy – These are titles worth adding to your physical collection at a discounted price.
My 2004 Review
Too Low Budget and Too Outdated
2 July 2004
*-Catch it on TV **-Worth a Rental ***-Buy it Used/On Sale ****-Buy it New/Top Dollar *****-Worthy of a Blind Buy
George A. Romero is a name synonomous [sic] with zombie-horror. He created the immensely popular “Dead Trilogy” and after hearing how great his films are I finally got around to seeing the original “Night of the Living Dead.” The film paints the picture of a world facing an epidemic of cannibalistic zombies. It focuses on a group of people who are holed up in a farmhouse trying to fight off the zombies over the course of a night. The characters, as they fight for their lives, deal with their own conflicting ideas of how to survive.
I was disappointed in this film. While it is a classic of the horror genre and the pioneer of the zombie subgenre, I was not impressed. It’s outdated-ness and virtual lack of a budget proved to be too great of a distraction for me. I will never write off an entire movie because it lacked an adequate monetary resource in it’s [sic] production. I know that great things can be done in film with little money and I understand that many people see greatness in “Night of the Living Dead,” however I did not see it.
The slow moving zombies of the film were meant to creat [sic] a creepy atmosphere but I almost found the zombies comedic. After having seen so many horror movie cliches recently it was interesting to see them back when they were not cliches yet. Situations where the victim falls while being pursued or can’t get a car started are now only used for comedic effect and in “Night of the Living Dead” it was hard to see them as “terror-inducing.”
The acting talent was overall mediocre. I thought Judith O’Dea’s performance was just annoying and a little too much. While she was terrified at the beginning of the film she almost seemed to be holding her breath to create the feeling. She tried too hard and came up as unbelievable. The rest of the cast was fine, with special mention towards to Karl Hardman as the hot headed know-it-all. The film’s saving grace was Duane Jones. From the minute he appears onscreen he takes charge, becoming the leader of the group. His performance was the only thing that held my interest.
The ending of the film would have been incredible had I not seen a certain movie recently that stole it’s [sic] own ending from “Night of the Living Dead.” Unfortunately for Romero, I hated the movie that took his ending. Overall I would rate this movie at **. I am happy I saw it because it is such a classic and so respected but I will not buy it because it comes off as too cheesy for my tastes.
Summing Up: Then and Now
“…adequate monetary resource…” Free band name.
Oh boy. Okay. So I’ve been kind of dreading this Decade Review. I knew I was really hard on it and I knew that a lot of my disappointment in 2004 was due to having seen Cabin Fever shortly before seeing Night of the Living Dead. I haven’t seen Cabin Fever since, but I remember not liking it.
Even still, the sentence “The ending of the film would have been incredible had I not seen a certain movie recently that stole it…” is beyond cringe worthy. It may actually induce more cringe than anything else I said in these reviews from 2004. Though, soon I’ll be coming up on my M. Night Shyamalan reviews so maybe I should bite my tongue.
So 18 year old Matt didn’t “get” Night of the Living Dead and was kind of an ass. But I love the movie now. I rank Dawn of the Dead considerably higher but I still love and recognize Night of the Living Dead’s strengths. That should count for something, I hope.