The Classics of Horror #6 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This is a very sad week for the world of arts and entertainment.

Two highly inspiring figures have passed away: Chester Bennington, frontman of Linkin Park, committed suicide last night and George Romero, father of the zombie sub-genre in cinema, had died in last Sunday.

I can’t stress enough how much the sudden death of a singer who accompanied me with his melodies throughout my whole life shocked me. However, I’m not entitled to talk about it in this blog, although I wish I could express my grief in a better way.

Instead, I hope to make the brilliant director justice by reviewing, unbiasedly, the film that made him famous and gave us the basis for each single zombie movie that came out from 1968 to this day.

Night of the Living Dead is one of the first independent horror flicks, which grossed more than $30 million world-wide on a budget of only £114.000.

Last black and white entrance on this list, Night of the Living Dead tells the story of a small group of people gathered in an abandoned house trying to survive the return to life of the dead. This supernatural occurrence has been caused by radiation leaks that turn on the brains of corpses, basically resuscitating and turning them into flesh eaters.

Night of 2As this brief plot summary might suggest, the flick establishes the rules for each and every zombie movie (especially those involving slow ghouls): they feed upon human and animal flesh, they can’t be killed unless their head gets smashed, their bite is contagious and so on.

Romero has set the rules basing them on centuries of literature, dark fairy tales and bonfire stories, creating a fertile ground for one of the most successful sub-genres in cinema history.

With a small budget to his disposal, the director has also been able to confine the story within a narrow location – although news reports keep showing, throughout the movie, the consequences of the phenomenon on a larger scale, the focus of action is a small house with thin walls and, virtually, a few chances of survival.

Night of 1Even though today Night of the Living Dead wouldn’t scare a child, when I came out it’s been perceived as gory and unsettling. For example, the scene where the zombies eat the flesh of their victims must have been a massive shock for the 60s audience.

The film wasn’t ballsy only in terms of gore and violence, though. It’s then-daring employment of an African-American hero as the lead and its ubiquitous availability on television and video thanks to a lack of copyright all played roles in Night’s success. The racial component was, indeed, more shocking than the bloody sequences: “Everyone was sort of noticing the film was talking about the racial issue”, Romero said in a recent interview. “To us, it wasn’t a racial message at all”, he added, “in fact, when we cast Duane Jones (as the lead) – when Duane Jones agreed to do it – we didn’t change the script” to make it more suitable for a black character.

Night of 4.jpgNevertheless, the director himself claimed his flick to be more than just a zombie movie: “Our point was more the disintegration of society, the inability to communicate, the disintegration of the family unit. That’s the stuff that we were interested in”.

However, the social commentary doesn’t quite emerge in the film.

In my honest opinion, Night of the Living Dead is a rather weak film. Regardless its historic impact and influence, the movie lacks a sense of urgency and inevitability, which is what should emerge in a good zombie flick.

Furthermore, with the exception of Jones, every cast member gives an amateur performance, often over-the-top and laughable when it’s trying to be dramatic.

Night of 3Some of them are plainly annoying, for instance the girl who loses her brother in the first sequence involving the living dead. She’s so pathetic and nerve-wracking throughout the all movie and her contribution to the survival attempts is below nil.

Overall, the main issue with Night of the Living Dead is that it doesn’t hold up anymore.

It’s probably the least watchable out of Romero’s film and, also, in comparison to Rosemary’s Baby – which was released the same year – it looks extremely dated.

In all fairness, I wouldn’t suggest to watch Night of the Living Dead, unless you are a die-hard Romero’s fan or particularly interested in the zombie sub-genre. Instead, I recommend Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Dark Half (1993) by George Romero, because in my opinion they are its best works. Cheers!

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The Classics of Horror #4 – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

PREMISE: as you might know if you have been following my series on the classics of horror, I’m tackling 20 milestones of the genre chronologically.

Does it mean that I’m skipping Psycho (1960)? No way, I would never commit such a crime against humanity. I just decided to switch the two movies – Psycho and Rosemary – around, because my girlfriend bought us tickets for an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s film on Friday 14th, which means I can make a ‘special’ review for it that will come out on Monday 17th.

 

With all of that said, let’s dive into what is considered one of the best (if not the best) horror film of all time – Rosemary’s Baby.

In all fairness, though, the definition of ‘best horror of all time’ has been labelled to half of the iconic movies on this list.

Anyway, directed by Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a wealthy couple – Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), a bright but naive young housewife, and Guy (John Cassavetes), her husband, a struggling actor – that move into a new apartment in New York City.

However, what seems to be just flowers and unicorns, soon turns into an ocean of awkwardness, angst and fear, with Rosemary and Guy being surrounded by macabre events and nosy neighbours who seem to have an obsessive curiosity for ‘Ro’ and her future kid…

rosemarys-baby-blu-ray-screenshotFirst addition to the series originally made in technicolour, Rosemary’s Baby is a journey within fears and concerns of a woman who’s about to get pregnant from a self-centred husband all wrapped into his career and aspirations. It’s a maternity story told through the lens of mystery and horror, since the troubles Rosemary goes through in the film are either caused by her unstable psychological health or witchcrafts elaborated by people around her. Which one of those if for the viewer to figure out throughout the runtime.

According to modern standards, this film appears more as a psychological thriller – with supernatural elements in it – than a pure horror. Nonetheless, the audience back in the 60s was shocked by Polanski’s movie.

In fact, me and my girlfriend (who I re-watched the film with) struggled to believe the director got away with so many naked scenes, considering how puritan America was in the 60s.

Other than that, Rosemary’s Baby manages to be highly unsettling for its themes and some gross and gut-wrenching scenes – according to the standards at the time.

Rosemary's baby 1The effectiveness of such crucial moments in the movie is guaranteed by the performances – Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet (the nosy neighbour) won a well-deserved Award for Best Supporting Actress, for example.

The cast should be praised for that, obviously, but Polanski and his ‘awful behaviour on set’ (according to Mia Farrow) played a massive role in the film and its realism. For instance, Farrow was vegetarian when the film was shot but the director forced her to eat real rabbit liver in front of the camera to make the sequence more realistic – which brings me to believe that her throwing up in the sink straight after wasn’t in the script but more so a genuine reaction…

RosemarysBaby 4Yet, another prime example is the scene where Rosemary walks into traffic, which was spontaneous and genuine: Polanski told Farrow that “nobody will hit a pregnant woman”!

Besides all of that, I believe Rosemary’s Baby is the first ‘modern’ horror on this list, in terms of scare factors and enjoyability. However, although deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, the film isn’t flawless.

Being two hours and fifteen minutes long, the first half hour drags a bit too much – it develops the character and takes its time to set up the story, but could have been cut shorter by getting rid of a few unnecessary sequences. Or, alternatively, could have been utilised to better explain the frustrations and anxieties of Guy, silent protagonist of this motion picture.

Also, the ending is a bit disappointing, even though it doesn’t ruin the movie even in the slightest.

Apart from these little flaws, Rosemary’s Baby deserved the title of masterpiece, featuring a great and purposely earing soundtrack that completes each scene masterfully.

Definitely a must-see for all horror fans out there, don’t miss it out. Cheers!