For the last ten years or so, the zombie apocalypse scenario has been in vogue, so to speak. Starting with Zak Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead to Shaun of the Dead to Zombieland to one of the most criticallly acclaimed shows that is currently on television being a zombie drama, The Walking Dead, making quality zombie pictures is a pretty decent way to turn a profit. Hell, you can even write humor books about zombies and make money like The Zombie Survival Guide which I have purchased for zombie-loving friends in the past. I mentioned his name a second ago, but this genre would not exist today and would not be so over-whelmingly popular if it weren’t for George A. Romero. He is to zombie films what Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper are to slasher flicks. He’s the godfather of the genre. And his original zombie film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, is in all probability the first great zombie film ever made that rose above it’s B-movie origins.

The movie is about a group of survivors who are caught in the middle of the zombie uprising. They are holed up in a little farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. From this group of people, you have pretty much every archetypal figure in zombie movie lore. The shell-shocked survivor. The infected survivor. The bad-ass black guy. The couple in love. The asshole control freak who does more harm than good. This film created the stock characters of the genre but did those characters better than its copy cats ever would. Duane Jones plays Ben who becomes the de facto leader of the group and much like this film’s desires to not simply be a B-horror film, Duane’s performance is quite good, especially by horror movie standards. I applaud the film’s decision in 1968 to cast a black performer as the lead of the film in a film that is in no way about race, but it simply chose to make a black character the strong leader/bad ass figure.

One of the most impressive aspects of the film is how well it was made for how obviously small its budget was. The only real special effects in the film are for the zombie make-up and even that isn’t anything particular special beyond making the people paler. The film is primarily shot all in and around one house. There aren’t many action sequences. In reality, the film is very much a drama that just happens to be a zombie horror film. The character’s biggest enemies often aren’t the zombies but the other survivors themselves. And when things inevitably become even more catastrophic, it was their inability to work together and cooperate that kept them from success. Romero’s films generally have some sort of social message in them such as Dawn of the Dead‘s strict anti-commercialism spiel. I’m not entirely sure what the social message of this film was. However, it is easily one of the first horror films that tried to be equally a character study, and in that area it succeeds quite well.

The movie has one of the darker and more ironic endings of any of the horror films I’ve seen. It’s really quite good. Alright, here’s the low-down. Even if you don’t like horror movies. Even if you especially don’t like zombie movies, I think you simply need to watch this one and give it a chance. There’s a reason why, even 40 years later, Romero is still one of the kings of the genre. Along with the original Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead stands to me as one of the greatest zombie films ever made.

Final Score: A-