First off, it must be acknowledged that George Romero’s picture is a true low budget B film, and it certainly looks the part with its choppy black and white cinematography. Instead of taking away from the film it adds to the aesthetic because we are even less sure of what we are seeing. The inciting details are also rather blurry as well.
It begins with a prudish girl named Barbra (Judith O’Dea) who goes to visit her father’s grave with her brother. Their little sibling quarrel is soon interrupted by a thing. A zombie for lack of a better term. Johnny is taken down, but Barbra frantically escapes to an abandoned house. Soon she is joined by burly, level-headed Ben (Duane Jones) and a few others. Still little is known about the crisis as the men butt heads about the best plan of action in response to the impending onslaught. Whatever their decision it has no power to impede the ghouls from steadily multiplying and moving closer. The authorities can do very little as the men board of the house and get ready to defend their makeshift fortress.
Plans of escape with a truck go awry and they see all too quickly the ferocity and cannibalistic nature of the undead terrors. Meanwhile, the Press and Big Whigs in Washington try to make heads and tails of what is going on across a third of the country. The only explanation is radiation from Venus, but that does little to help our protagonists in their predicament.
By its conclusion Night of the Living Dead becomes increasingly more suffocating and claustrophobic as the zombies close in and do their worst. Ben somehow pulls through, but fate does not smile fondly on him. After all, the line between undead and living is sometimes difficult to differentiate. So much so that sometimes I felt like I was watching some Vietnam footage or a White Supremacist posse instead of a fictional horror tale. Yet another layer that makes Night of the Living Dead strangely unnerving.
This film ushered in a new era of horror films, and it truly is the seminal zombie flick before it was cool. Although to the modern viewer this film can feel slow, it has a surprising amount of social and political commentary. One thing’s for certain. I never want to be stuck in a house with zombies closing in on me. Not fun. Not fun at all.