Sunday, 12 July 2009
Night of the Living Dead
Patient Zero in the ever evolving zombie pandemic. Shot in stark black and white on malnourished sets, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead instantly creates a sense of diminished expectation. The lack of colour processing and impoverished period dressing neatly undermine the film's aggressive hopelessness. At inception, the film resembles an unambitious, melodramatic pot-boiler, the kind of picture routinely regurgitated to prop up a distributor's prestige picture. It's an artifact from another time.
Two siblings amble around a graveyard chatting cute before they are attacked by a shuffling ghoul. One escapes to a seemingly abandoned farmhouse, rapidly unravelling. Focus shifts to Duane Jones' Ben, a thoroughly resourceful individual, hell-bent on surviving. Ben expends little patience with any notions of compromise: the house must be secured and rigidly policed. He's the leader. You're following. Then crumbling bodies try to invade, and the dead begin to feast. Night of the Living Dead quickly becomes an exceptionally lawless piece, as our trapped rats struggle to fend off the heaving mass of weaponised ex-humans, and their obscene appetites. Survivors must shrug off social conditioning and boundaries if they want to make it out alive. Some are more successful than others.
The stumbling dead are a masterstroke, cheap and requiring minimal performance, but ultimately more foreboding than any amount of suit-man monsters. There's no need for an imagination other when you have rotting cannibals with piranha mind-sets. The central conceit of an uneasy alliance battling a brainless mass is also broad enough to cater for any ideological bent the viewer wishes to attribute. Jones' ethnicity making the boldest statement. Successor pictures ran with the idea, usually holing up in think ghettos with casts calibrated to fail. Idiots whimpering in corners, and inevitably, spectacularly, torn asunder. Where else was there to go? Romero et al got it right first time. Break the furniture. Board the windows. Wait it out.