'Night of the Living Dead' Blu-ray: 50th Anniversary of Classic Commentary on Cold War and Race Paranoia
Mill Creek Entertainment awesomely gets into the Halloween spirit by following the (reviewed) September 26, 2017 Steelbook Blu-ray and DVD release of the (newly remade) 1990 Joel Schumacher thriller "Flatliners" with the October 3, 2017 50th anniversary Blu-ray release of the George A. Romero horror classic "Night of the Living Dead." The "Dead" release, which is the first U.S. Blu-ray version of this film, comes one day shy of the anniversary of the theatrical release of the film.
The outer layer regarding "Dead" is that it arguably is the best and most enduring zombie movie ever. The black-and-white cinematography (which looks great in Blu-ray) and solid pulp horror acting by the ensemble and the extras succeed in making these slow-moving respiratory-impaired monsters menacing. Further they seem to have more dexterity and individual physical strength than their walking dead descendants.
Seeing siblings John and Barbara arguing in their car while at the cemetery to visit the grave of their father evokes strong thoughts of a similar scene at the beginning of the musical-comedy horror spoof "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." A related creepy element is that John arrogantly complaining, Barbara trying to placate him, and the nature of their relationship being ambiguous for the first several minutes of "Dead" makes it just as likely that the couple is related by marriage as it is that they are blood kin.
This leads to the next horror cliche of a still-arrogant John trying to scare Barbara only to end up as the appetizer in what the zombies hope is a smorgasbord.
Barbara subsequently fleeing in terror sets the action discussed below in motion.
The next layer is an awesome vibe regarding the original "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. That one esalates national terror as an initially unidentifiable threat in a rural community builds as it is discovered that space aliens have come to conquer us. Romero pays homage to this both in setting most of the action in an isolated farmhouse far from the city and in having radio and television broadcasts provide exposition. This nod to the past continues both with having scientists in on the action and in tying the zombie outbreak with an outer space threat.
Going a little deeper, "Dead" blatantly reflects the Cold War paranoia of the era. The small group of survivors under siege in the aforementioned home both effectively are trying to ward off fallout victims and fear what they view as an invasion from a Soviet-style enemy that literally could include friends and neighbors.
Pretty young blonde Barbara is suffering from PTSD and spends much of the film looking terrified and fearing that the enemy is going break in any moment.
Even more symbolically, white middle-aged family guy Harry insists on barricading his wife and young daughter in the basement until the threat subsides. Those of us in the know predict early on that that course of action adds a touch of the '60s youth movement to "Dead."
Thirty year-old black man Ben is an equally symbolic character. He knows that hiding in the basement does not work and advocates peaceful resistance. One of the most distressing scenes has Harry literally slam the door in his face just after Ben attempts a daring mission.
The fate of Ben is a sad commentary on the lack of progress in the half-century since the release of "Dead." Recent real-life events prompt what is hoped to be an early cynical guess regarding the fate of this character only to have that prediction tragically come true.
Romero further deserves credit for showing that making a good horror movie with a message only requires decent actors, a stable of extras who can shuffle and groan, and a disposable house.