Critics' Pick

Night of the Living Dead (4K Restoration) (NR)

Horror 96 min. October 13, 2017
By April Wolfe
Fifty years ago, in 1967, Cool Hand Luke, The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night and The Dirty Dozen rocked American cinemas. And somewhere in a field outside Pittsburgh, George Romero and John Russo were shooting on black-and-white 16mm film a low-budget movie that would found and define an entire horror subgenre. While those of-the-moment studio films were polished, Night of the Living Dead, released in 1968, seemed amateur on the surface -- the frames were noisy with film grain, the sound always corrupted a hint of static. But the immediate, quasi-documentary feel, a result of budgetary constraints, served the horror, jolting audiences because it all seemed just a little too real.

Duane Jones plays Ben, the lead and putative hero. Ben is wise and calm, and as he recounts to a catatonic stranger named Barbra (Judith O'Dea) a terrifying encounter with the zombies (called "ghouls" in the film), we come to understand that he's seen some shit and is not easily shaken. He's immediately at odds with other survivors in the farmhouse where they hole up inside for the night; that Jones was African-American didn't matter at all to Romero and Russo — they merely wanted the best actor who could afford to work essentially for free for 20 days. But Jones knew from the beginning how his blackness would be read by audiences, and his situation of trying to convince the people on set that he knew better how things should be done often mirrored his character's struggles onscreen. Ben's fate still shocks. Up until 1968, horror had been escapist. But Night of the Living Dead made it serious business.
George A. Romero Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon, Charles Craig, S. William Hinzman, George Kosana John A. Russo, George A. Romero Karl Hardman, Russell Streiner Janus Films

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