Friday, October 10, 2008

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (George A. Romero, 1968, USA) George Romero’s debut is at its heart an EC Comic morality play where the narrative twist occurs with some O. Henry-type cosmic irony. The story is simple: a small group of ordinary people is trapped in a farmhouse and must desperately work together to survive. The external conflict could be anything but in this instance it’s flesh-eating ghouls. Of course, they find out that the real threat comes from within as they disagree and come to blows over the proper course of action. Duane Jones whose performance is realistically sublime smartly plays our empathetic protagonist Ben; his cold emotionless state punctuated by bursts of anger is typical of PTSD. We are never allowed much intimacy with the characters and never know much of their history or background, only the immediate effects of this trauma. The story benefits from this narrow focus because it quickens the pace and heightens the tension. We are passed information as the characters experience it via radio and television and feel the gnawing horror in our gut that this catastrophe is not going to end anytime soon. Ben is fallible because he doesn’t act like some fictional gun-toting super-hero and this lends more credibility to the fear and horror. The others tend toward caricatures and soon become goulash; their entrails and other organs ripped from their dying bodies as they spit their last terrified breath towards the uncaring dead. Ben miraculously survives the night to only be executed by roving bands of rednecks that are blasting away at anything that moves. The ending shocks the audience because it breaks with tradition and leaves one with a lingering malaise and depression. (A)

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