You know a movie enjoys a lasting legacy when, after nearly 53 years, it continues to find major success. This time it’s Night of the Living Dead which is crushing on the popular streamer Hulu, where it sits at #9.
Night of the Living Dead is the late George A. Romero zombie classic that started it all. Filmed completely in black and white on a budget that began at $6,000, eventually blooming to $114,000, the horror film, amid all its early controversy, has gone on to be one of the most profitable horror films (based on budget and box office/sales over the years) of all time.
Night of the Living Dead stars a bunch of no names. The budget wouldn’t allow for Romero to grab any big-name actors of the late ‘60s and the chances that any name actor of the day would say yes to his script is slightly less than no chance.
The horror classic Night of the Living Dead begins in a most famous and well-known fashion, as Barbra and her brother Johnny visit the grave of their deceased father. While at the grave, Barbra spots a shambling man lurching his way toward the sibs.
As mean older brothers often do, Johnny teases her about the shambling man, saying he is coming for her. Barbra tries to play it off until the man gets close enough and attacks Johnny, killing him. The man then turns his attention to Barbra, who barely escapes with her life.
In Night of the Living Dead, Barbra runs away from the graveyard while other people begin to slow chase her. She finds refuge in a nearby farmhouse, where she comes across the owner, dead and half-eaten. Barbra is half-catatonic when Ben arrives, on the run, fighting off the impending zombies. He is able to secure the farmhouse, keeping himself and Barbara safe.
Soon after, Ben and Barbra find out they are not alone in the house. A group of survivors has been hiding in the basement. Tom, along with Harry, his wife Helen, their daughter Karen, and Tom’s girlfriend Judy are the survivors in question.
As the group continues to fortify the farmhouse, they listen to the news on the radio explaining what scientists feel has caused the reanimation of the dead. They fear radiation from a space probe that exploded on its way back to Earth from Venus is the cause and that the only way to stop the flesh-eaters is with a bullet to their brain.
Life inside the farmhouse is beyond tense. Karen was bitten by a zombie, causing her to get sick. Ben wishes to get the group out but in order to do that, they will need transportation that can carry them all. With the house surrounded by more and more walking dead, their desperate plan includes refueling Ben’s truck at the farmhouse’s gas pump and take them all to a rescue center.
Things don’t go as planned when Tom and Judy make their way in the truck to the gas pump. The farmhouse begins to fall to the zombies. Ben tries to keep everyone safe, but the live bodies begin to pile up in a horrific fashion. Barbara finally snaps out of her catatonic state when one of the zombies enters the farmhouse – her dead brother Johnny. Not only is Romero’s Night of the Living Dead noted for its gore and terror, but it is also known for its final scene.
Night of the Living Dead was Romero’s first feature. As it was released in 1968, it was released as an unrated film since the MPAA didn’t start giving out film ratings until a month after the movie’s release. It premiered unrated and given the fact that movie previews didn’t exist, the movie was hit with immediate controversy. Teenagers and young children alike attended Pittsburgh’s Fulton Theater premiere and it didn’t go well for moviegoers.
While the start of the film garnered a few laughs with the banter between brother and sister, the movie quickly brought down the horror hammer in ways audiences had never seen before. According to film critic Roger Ebert, the effect of the film was immediate.
“The kids in the audience were stunned,” said Ebert during his 1969 review, which was more of a take on audience reaction than the movie itself. “There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying.”
But the movie would have a lasting effect and over time became a full-fledged classic. Night of the Living Dead gave way to more Romero zombie schlock to the tune of five more zombie-feasting films. It took Romero ten years to follow up his Night of the Living Dead classic, but he did it in fine form with the even gorier film, Dawn of the Dead. After that, Romero cooked up the zombie films, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and finally Survival of the Dead.
Romero’s zombie work has been influential over the years. His films have been remade and rebooted, one of the more notable films being Zack Snyder’s reboot of Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead (an excellent remake, by the way).
Before Romero sadly passed away in 2017 of lung cancer, Romero had stated he was unhappy with how he ended his zombie series, so he was starting a new chapter to give it the ending he craved. He was able to pen a treatment of his intended final zombie film but was unable to do any more before he died.
Earlier this year, Suzanne Romero, wife of the late director, announced that yes, indeed, Romero’s script for Twilight of the Dead has been completed with a select few screenwriters and is now being shopped. Paolo Zelati, who co-wrote the treatment with Romero, first asked for Suzanne’s blessing to finish the script. She agreed, with one caveat.
“I gave him my full blessing as long as I could be there every step of the way for it to remain true to George’s vision,” says Suzanne Romero via The Hollywood Reporter. “We had a solid treatment and the beginning of the script. I can 100 percent say that George would be incredibly happy to see this continue. He wanted this to be his final stamp on the zombie genre.”
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is a classic in every sense of the word. You can now find it on the streamer Hulu.