What better way to start off a zombie movie marathon than the movie that transformed zombies from a second-rate movie monster to the greatest creature of all time? None. None better way, I say. So I did.
What to say about NotLD? It’s almost certainly literally all been said before. I’ve probably seen it six or eight times, perhaps a few more. It’s enjoyable every time. I find something new or find my focus shifted every time I watch it. I noticed the music a lot, in part because I’ve been listening intermittently to Tonight of the Living Dead by 400 Lonely Things, which is an ambient work based on transformations of the original audio. The film’s score is a weird mix of classical, almost old-fashioned, film music and weird, electronic sounds (theremin? organ run through a delay effect? anyone know?). There are also some odd sound design decisions, such as the bizarre echo effect on the scream when Karen Cooper is killed. But it all works, which is part of the genius of the film.
George Romero has mentioned frequently, in interviews given recently, that he wasn’t thinking much (if at all) about “the rules ” for his zombies when he shot this film, and that is very apparent (not a criticism, just an observation). They not only differ to a fair degree from his later films, there’s a pretty wide variation within the film as well. The graveyard ghoul definitely runs a bit, and does a lot more of a loping, awkward stagger-jog that we’ve never seen from any other zombie, before or since. They also show enough awareness to smash the truck’s headlights. Pretty sneaky, zombies!
For a first-time directorial effort, it’s quite excellent. A lot of the acting is a bit stagy, but I suspect most or all the actors had a background purely in theater, not film, so that’s to be expected. And none of it is ever really bad or distracting, so it’s immaterial. It’s also shot and edited well, apart from a few minor quirks. It definitely has some rough edges, but it stands up amazingly well compared to some of its more polished contemporaries.
Given the movies that came before it, compared to what came after, it really does mark a turning point. Not terribly gory by today’s standards, but the frank, unfiltered discussion and/or depiction of cannibalism, patricide and brutal violence between the main characters, its bleak ending and gritty look and feel all stand out even today. At the time of its release, it must have felt like a revolution. I can only imagine how awesome it must have been to wander into a showing of this unprepared for what was coming…
I opened the night with the short film Sleepwalkers, a heavily Planet Terror-influenced piece. It had a nice look (fake film grain, saturated colors), a couple decent scenes and kept me thoroughly entertained for the five minutes it lasted. Also, it features the best anti-Easter Bunny violence since Mallrats. It’s embedded below if you want to watch it.