Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The Issue: Racism
A brother and sister are in a cemetery visiting their father’s grave when a zombie attacks them. The brother, Johnny, is killed and the sister Barbara (Judith O’Dea) escapes. She runs into a black man, Ben (Duane Jones) who takes her to safety in a nearby farmhouse. They barricade themselves in, not knowing that a family are already there in the cellar. A teenage couple soon join them in the house, also trying to escape the ‘monsters’ that the radio says is murdering people.
The family in the cellar venture upstairs when they hear Ben, the de facto leader, listening to the radio. Their daughter is ill from having been bitten and they think everyone should join them in the cellar. Ben refuses and they plan to both barricade the farmhouse and load up the truck to go find medical supplies. The zombies overpower the teens at the truck and they die, but Ben makes it back to the farmhouse where he has been locked out. After fighting his way back in, Ben attacks them for leaving him out there to die.
The zombies come back and attack the farmhouse and Barbara sees Johnny in the hoard and dies. The daughter in the cellar has become a zombie and is feeding on her father’s corpse, then attacks her mother. Ben kills them all with a gunshot to the head and is locked in the cellar alone. In the morning he hears the police outside and goes upstairs, thinking he is safe. They mistake him for a zombie and shoot him in the head. Ben’s body lands in the pile with all the other zombies, and the police continue clearing the area.
What It’s Saying:
The precursor to Get Out in so many ways. Night of the Living Dead is probably the original socially conscious horror film, especially since it introduced the world to the zombie genre, and zombies almost always represent something else (consumerism, disease, police state, what have you).
Not only was it insanely progressive to have a black lead in 1968, George A. Romero took it further and made him a resourceful hero that is still distrusted and ultimately killed by authorities. The readiness to shoot and kill Ben, assuming he’s a threat, is sadly all too relevant today with police brutality and Black Lives Matter.