hayden’s review published on Letterboxd:
If it weren’t for its remarkably poised and brutally insincere conclusion, Night of the Living Dead would be just an occasionally thrilling yet undeniably influential zombie film. The sheer thought of Romero pulling off a feat like this with such technical brilliance, sound character work and cinematographic wonders in 1968 will never not be impressive to me. Curiously, I watched the first 25 minutes of Tom Savini’s tragic remake before I jumped into this, merely because it was downloaded and it’s predecessor was not wholly. So, the ability for me to compare a film made twenty years later with probably a similar budget, to this movie was actually quite useful.
The fact that Romero chose black and white film (a decision that I think was driven by budget restraints) means that, by default, Night of the Living Dead captures a particular atmosphere, an air of terror that automatically enters the shadows and dark corners of a colourless world. Although often minimal, the makeup used on the undead is only enhanced by this lack of brightness, which lets the cheap charm of low-budget horror films like this one shine through.
Unfortunately, this is where the charm comes to a halt.
None of the performances were particularly noteworthy or mentionable, which is an element of some of the more successful cult horror features. Duane Jones in the lead role plays an important part in all aspects of this film, although he does so with minimal pizzazz. Likewise, the score is tinny and dated, and is regularly out of place - an argument could be made that this movie should have had no score at all. Although maybe a first in mainstream cinema, none of the characters were at all likeable, which made rooting for any of them particularly difficult. Although this tale is one of overarching social commentary, a story that invites audience investment is always important, I believe.
To bite my own tail, it must be mentioned that a few shots were quite thoughtful, with tilted rooms, silhouetted figures and quick editing contributing to moments of brilliance. When it comes down to it though, the thematic devices and cautionary messaging Romero slips into his otherwise good zombie thriller make it just that bit better, important and brutal. While this is by no means a favourite, Night of the Living Dead is a must-see for all interested in influential, entertaining and modest filmmaking.