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Monday, October 31, 2011

ZOMBIES: 'Night of the Living Dead' - The Classic Reviewed

HEADSHOTS, MATRICIDE, AND THE ORIGIN OF ZOMBIE HORROR
by
Bowie V. Ibarra
It's the very movie that forever made me a fan of zombie horror.  If you expect me to stamp your zombie horror membership card, you need to have watched this movie first.

It was Halloween week, and I had to be in Jr. High.  The TV station out of San Antonio was playing a weeks worth of scary movies.  Some of them included the original Prom Night, Halloween II, and this one; Night of the Living Dead.


My first thoughts were, "Well, this is black and white.  It's probably going to be lame like 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' or "The Mummy' movies.


So, it got started, with Barbara and Johnny, a brother and sister duo sent to put flowers on their fathers grave miles away from home.  The brother complains and the sister tries to remain respectful.  When they both see a guy walking in the cemetary, Johnny teases his sister with the now famous phrase, "They're coming to get you, Barbara."

So, the dude they were teasing in the cemetary turns out to be a zombie and attacks Barbara.  Now, big brother comes in for the save, only to get ko'd in the scuffle on a tombstone by the zombie.  It's then that the zombie gives chase to Barbara.




Fun fact straight from the mouth of Judith O'Dea, the lady who played Barbara.  She told me that when the scene was going to be shot, she could not run in the pumps she was wearing.  So Romero plugged in a shot where she falls, looks back to see the zombie on her tail, and kicks off her pumps.


After a long chase in which the zombie uses a rock to try and break through the glass of her brother's vehicle, she ends up at a farmhouse.  She finds that the farmhouse is also suffering from the peculiar murders, finding a partially devoured body at the top of the stairs.

When she freaks out and goes back down the stairs, she runs out to find a vehicle pulling up to the house.  Driving the vehicle is a guy named Ben, who gets back inside with Barbara, who is losing her mind.  Ben decides to clear house, as more of the ghouls are on the way.  

One of the best shots in the film is when Duane pegs a zombie coming in the back door with a tire iron.  As the zombie stumbles back, it reveals even more zombies on the way.  They're slowly being surrounded.


After Ben spends time securing the bottom floor, a group of people reveal themselves, who were hiding in the basement.  It's a family with child named the Coopers and a couple, Tom and Judy.

As you might imagine, a philosophical battle over what place is safer begins, and Ben exiles Mr. Cooper to the basement with his sick daughter and wife.  

It turns out Mr. Cooper and his wife, Helen, don't get along.  And their daughter is slowly expiring after having being bit by one of the zombies.


After a failed run for a gas pump out by the barn that takes the lives of Tom and Judy, tension between Ben and Mr. Cooper reach a fever pitch as the zombies make their move and turn up the heat on the siege by trying to break down the barriers.

With the pressure on, Cooper and Tom fight over the Winchester lever action rifle, and after laying claim to the rifle, Ben puts a bullet in Cooper, who then stumbles back down to the basement and dies at the feet of his daughter.



The barriers start to fall to the encroaching zombie mob, and Helen is almost dragged out.  But Barbara makes the save, giving Helen a chance to break away.  As Helen breaks away, Barbara is stunned to see her dead brother at the door.  Paralyzed in fear and surprise, it gives her brother and the zombies time to drag her out into the mob to be eaten.




Meanwhile, Helen retreats to the basement to find her daughter eating her dead husband.  She stands in shock as her daughter rises.  Losing her balance, Helen falls by the steps in horror as her daughter takes a garden trowel off the wall, raises it above her head, and proceeds to stab her mother to death multiple times.  A nightmarish squeal accompanies the matricide.










Upstairs, Ben has lost control.  With every barrier breached, its now his Alamo.  In a cruel twist of fate, he ironically retreats to the basement.  He is assaulted by the dead Cooper daughter, but bypasses her and locks himself in the basement.

The next morning, the locals have formed death squads to squash the zombies, and they're all doing pretty good.  As they approach the farmhouse, Ben can hear the gunshots and dogs barking.  So he steps out of the basement with extreme caution.



The problem is that the death squads had been putting down zombies all day and one of them heard Ben moving inside the house.  As Ben looks out the window, he silhouettes himself for one of the dudes to take aim and put him down.  They then throw his body on a bonfire along with the very same zombie that killed Barbara's brother in the cemetery.  They are then burned.






So, it certainly wasn't exactly like I expected.  It was much worse, and it was great.  That final moment where Ben gets shot shocked me like no other movie had done before, or since.  It's that kind of ending that I wanted to bring to my stories.

We could get into metaphors, symbolism, or social commentary all day.  But we'd just be treading on ground that has been walked before.

The bottom line is that this is the one seminal movie that started the zombie horror genre we are experiencing and enjoying today.  If it wasn't for Romero, we would not have Fulci, we would not have O'Bannon's "Return..." series, we would not have "The Walking Dead".  It starts here.

That's why I say Romero is what God looks like.

 
And if you appreciate zombie horror, you'll love the 'Down the Road' zombie horror series from ZombieBloodFights.com.  Down the Road, Down the Road: On the Last Day, and Down the Road: The Fall of Austin.  Pick them up in paperback or Kindle today.
 

 
 
BOWIE V. IBARRA earned his BFA in Acting and MA in Theatre History from Texas State University.  Network with Bowie at his official website, ZombieBloodFights.com today.

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HERE ARE OTHER ZOMBIEBLOODFIGHT BLOGS THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU
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Cops get a taste of the upcoming Zpoc in an excerpt from "The Fall of Austin" by Bowie Ibarra

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Bowie V. Ibarra is the author of the zombie horror series, "Down the Road" from Simon and Schuester and Permuted Press.  His most recent release, "Codename: La Lechusa" is an action/adventure story with a supernatural edge.

You can read more about Bowie and his works at http://www.zombiebloodfights.com

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