Very few horror movies are worth rewatching. Even fewer are worth watching multiple times. But there's a small select number that you can watch and get an impact every single time. Romero's first zombie flick is one of them. Oh sure, you can watch its sequel several times and still enjoy it, because it's just so damn fun. But with Night, it's very easy to watch the film and wind up going down a particular track. You can spend an entire viewing session checking out Romero's use of light and shadows. You can spend one analyzing how the film is basically humanity in a microcosm. And so forth and so on.
This time around I was struck by the slow escalation of shocks. By now, we're used to see all kinds of atrocities on the news. And we've, you know, watched a lot more zombie movies. So the novelty of the film can be lost to those who don't know any better. But think about how an audience back then would enter into the film: it starts off normal, with the brother and sister in the cemetery. Once it turns, though, it keeps going, slow and relentless. At first, the zombies are just a murderous mob. We are introduced to more than one corpse. Then it's mentioned on the news about the fact that "assassins" are now eating the flesh of their victims. After that point, it is made clear that yes, they were dealing with re-animated corpses. Only aways into the film do you actually see the flesh-eating taking place, and again, we're used to it. It's a staple of Romero zombie flicks to have the buffet scene. Multiple shots of the zombies going to town.
But, man, what I wouldn't have given to have been sitting in the cinema in 1968 and seen the first showing of that. A probably mostly virgin audience, and Romero leads them down the path bit by bit, shock by shock. But that's not the worst part, of course. There's worse shocks than that. The daughter eating her father and killing her mother with a garden trowel…that disturbs me more now than it did when I first saw the film. The sister being dragged to her death by her own reanimated brother. And then the final, incredible sequence with Ben's final fate. It still amazes now and I don't know how many times I've seen the movie.
Romero proved he could still make a film worth watching with Land of the Dead, and Dawn will always have a warm spot in my heart. But Night is truly his masterpiece.
First stop on Widge's 2005 Halloween Film Fest. For the next stop, click here.