Criterion Prediction #102: Night of the Living Dead, by Alexander Miller
Title: Night of the Living Dead
Director: George Romero
Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne.=
Synopsis: A group of disparate people must work together and put their differences aside to survive while a marauding herd of the undead walk the earth, devouring other humans.
Critique: We’ve seen it before. People fleeing endless swarms of the undead, disparate survivors put aside their differences in the name of survival, all according to the rules of the modern zombie narrative. More often than not, the zombie narrative uses horror as an allegorical springboard. At this point, it’s all been done to death.
However, when you extract the pulp, sift through the denizens of look alike, spin-offs and comics and television shows and get to the definitive patient zero of the modern zombie movie, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is remarkable.
Romero’s feature arrived when horror films were relegated to drive-ins/double feature status; the cultural tenor wasn’t embracing the genre with social import. Night of the Living Dead arrives fully formed and wields its two strengths as a confidently-crafted work of horror with a conscience. The gore and violence are explicit, and the cultural allusions regarding race and the collapse of American culture, countercultural ineptitude, and the expiration of the nuclear family are blunt but genuinely impactful.
The Glad Handing view taken by baby boomers when recollecting the 1960s is tiring. Romero’s view is the most truly counter cultural in that he saw the failings of his generation. Repeatedly he’s expressed disappointment when peace and love failed, Vietnam roared on, and he saw the world digress from bad to worse. Night of the Living Dead doesn’t straddle the line of the artist as a commentator through their genre, but paints over it with wider and stronger brush strokes. With many years having passed since the film was released, it still delivers a jolt and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: Night of the Living Dead is rightfully hailed as the definitive zombie movie, a hallmark of the horror genre that upped the ante for gore and violence, but genre laurels aside, isn’t it time more people recognize this as a great movie, instead of a “great genre movie”?
Romero’s seminal film has all the praise to stand on its own merits in regards to a Criterion release. Night of the Living Deadhas been notorious in its own right as an example of copyright laws and what can happen to a movie once it tumbles into the public domain. Now that there are reports of a restored print of the film thanks in part to Martin Scorsese being distributed at screenings by Janus Films, the prospect of Night of the Living Dead can exceed speculation.
Regarding marketing and sales, Night of the Living Dead would be a lucrative title in the collection. Speaking as a horror fan, a definitive release of the movie is something we’ve been yearning for, as of now there are over twenty iterations of the film on DVD, and it’s usually the selling point of any bargain bin “20 classic horrors” packages, along with The House on Haunted Hill and Little Shop of Horrors.
If there was ever a distributor to take reigns and make a definitive release of the film, it’s The Criterion Collection.