Night of the Living Dead, a 1968 horror film directed by George A. Romero and written by Romero and John Russo, became one the most influential horror films ever and made zombies the staple monster of the Zombie Apocalypse genre. Before Living Dead, films had portrayed zombies as creatures of voodoo who obeyed their master, but Romero did something completely different: he gave no explanation was given for their existence (besides a speculative Hand Wave about a space probe and radioactive fallout) and gave them no masters. He also showed the increasing tension in society; people had more to fear than zombies, but zombies easily presented the most visible threat.The film became part of the Public Domain because its original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright indication on the prints. In 1968, United States copyright law required a proper copyright notice for a work in order to properly secure and maintain a copyright. While the film display such a notice on the title frames of its original title (Night of the Flesh Eaters), the notice ended up removed when it changed titles, and by the time the filmmakers noticed, they could do nothing about it. Anyone with the resources to distribute the film can do so without legal repercussions thanks to its Public Domain status; as of 2006, the Internet Movie Database lists 23 different releases of the film on DVD and 19 on VHS. You can legally view or download the film for free on Internet sites such as Google Video,the Internet Archive, and YouTube.In 1999, Russo re-released the original 1968 film for its 30th anniversary (without Romero's involvement) with new footage and a new soundtrack. This altered version's continuity received a sequel in 2001 (Children of the Living Dead).After Night of the Living Dead became an unexpected success, Romero and Russo discussed making a sequel, but after disagreeing on its direction, they each decided to do their own version. Romero made the equally-successful Dawn of the Dead (and not-quite-as-successful Day of the Dead), while Russo made his films more comedic with the Return of the Living Dead pentalogy (which single-handedly introduced the concept of zombies eating brains). Both series have had modern sequels; Romero directed the fourth film of his franchise (Land of the Dead) in 2005, then made a quasi-reboot (Diary of the Dead) and its P.O.V. Sequel (Survival of the Dead), while Russo's Return of the Living Dead films strayed from 'comedic' to 'Gorn'. All three of the films of Romero's original trilogy have received remakes, each with varying degrees of success (Romero himself wrote and produced the first remake of Night, while close friend Tom Savini directed). Night also received a second remake (filmed in 3D) in 2006, Romero had no involvement with this remake, which — unlike Savini's more faithful adaptation — departs fairly radically from the source material.Night of the Living Dead remains one of the most iconic horror films of all time, and numerous movies, television shows, video games, books, and comic books owe their origin to its gruesome black-and-white imagery.
Night of the Living Dead contains examples of the following tropes:
Ability Over Appearance: Ben was not written to be black and Romero claims he only cast Duane Jones because he gave the best audition, rather than to make a point or be controversial.
Action Girl: The most notable change in Tom Savini's remake was to upgrade Barbra from The Load.
Bittersweet Ending: The (first) remake by Tom Savini. Barbra survives, but Ben doesn't. Harry also survives, but Karen immediately executes him. Karen's faith in humanity has been completely destroyed, causing her to say in regards to the dead, "We're them. We're them, and they're us."
Black Dude Dies First: Inverted — the black dude becomes the last man standing in the end...well, until he gets shot by the rednecks.
Daylight Horror: Despite the movie obviously taking place mostly at night, the first time we see a zombie attack is during the day. And Ben gets killed in the morning.
Dawson Casting: Tom and Judy's actors were in their 20s when playing as the young teenage couple.
Decoy Protagonist: For the first quarter of the movie, it looks like Barbara's the protagonist. Then Ben shows up and she turns into The Load.
Distressed Damsel: Barbra is often accused of being this, though she does succeed in running away from most of the zombies. It's just that when things calm down she goes slightly catatonic.
Downer Ending: Ben alone survives the night but is shot by rednecks who supposedly mistake him for a zombie.
Dramatic Thunder: The appearance of the first zombie in the cemetery is heralded by this.
Early Installment Weirdness: Unlike all of the following films, this one is in black and white, lacks the subtle humor of the sequels, and some of their action elements. However, the film works well without these elements. The first graveyard zombie is also able to run and display advanced cognitive skills compared to the later zombies, both in the film and later sequels.
Every Car Is a Pinto: Seriously, there no way that truck would've exploded that fast especially when the back of it was the only part that caught fire, which was nowhere near the gas tank.
From Bad to Worse: Things really start going to hell beginning with Tom and Judy's death.
Full Frontal Assault: As shown in the poster, there's a brief scene of a naked female zombie among the horde that invade the house. Of course, it's shown from behind so you don't really see much.
George Lucas Altered Version: John A. Russo's "30th Anniversary Edition", adding a new score, new special effects, and scenes shot 30 years after the original was released. Harry Knowles threatened to ban anyone who complimented this version on his Ain't It Cool News site.
Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: At one point Barbra wigs out and tries to go out the front door to "get Johnny". When Ben stops her, she slaps his face, and he responds by punching hers. Subverted in that it actually sends her even further into shock and stupor.
Gory Discretion Shot: Sometimes used, sometimes averted. Especially in the original, this shocked audiences who weren't expecting to see so much gore.
Heroic BSOD: Barbra. In the remake, however, this is subverted when she becomes just as much a survivor as Ben and even lives through the end.
Hollywood Darkness: When the TV reporter is interviewing Sheriff McClelland, they're in bright sunlight even though it's supposed to be the middle of the night. Less blatantly, the scene where Tom and Judy ride out to the gas pump with Ben was clearly shot either just after dawn or just before dusk.
Irony: Ben spends the remake arguing why it's better to stay upstairs while Cooper does likewise with the cellar. Ben ends up fleeing to the cellar while Cooper goes to the attic. Ben dies and Cooper lives.
Jerkass: Cooper, in both versions. Johnny seems to be a bit of one as well.
Jerkass Has a Point: Cooper was right about barricading the basement, as evidenced that Ben (the one most against it) survives the night that way.
Kill 'em All: None of the main characters make it through the film alive.
Large Ham: Cooper was already one in the first film, and becomes an even bigger one in the remake. As Mike Nelson put it in his commentary, "It's an interesting acting choice to start with inexplicable rage and just build from there."
"Oh, is it ten to three? We won't have long to wait, now, it's ten to three..."
Meaningful Background Event: The very first zombie in the movie can be seen shambling around the cemetery well before it attacks Barbra and Johnny.
Meaningful Name: The house in Tom Savini's remake has the name "M. Celeste", in reference to the famous Ghost ShipMary Celeste, whose crew disappeared without explanation in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Newscaster Cameo: Bill Cardille, a Pittsburgh TV personality best known as Horror Host "Chilly Billy", appears as the TV reporter interviewing Sheriff McClelland.
Used twice in the Savini remake with the Downer Ending.
The first attack was changed to remain surprising. In the original, the man shambling in the background is a zombie that attacks Barbra (quite a shocker in 1968). In the remake the man is an alive but deeply confused hearse driver. Then a zombie appears out of nowhere to attack Johnny.
Not Using the Z Word: The undead cannibals are referred to as "ghouls" by the radio/TV people and "those things" by the main characters, but the word "zombie" is never used. In fact, Romero and Russo themselves never thought of the creatures as zombies, since the popular idea of zombie-as-cannibal had not yet been formed, making this a proto-Trope Maker.
Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Ben's story of running down zombies with a truck, which would clearly have been far beyond the film's budget to actually show.
Only Sane Man: Ben is the only remotely competent character in the original movie that actually tries to fight back against the zombies and survive, in stark contrast to the raving idiocy and uselessness of the other characters.
Our Zombies Are Different: This film invented the modern perception of zombies as cannibalistic monsters - before it, they were voodoo slaves. A keen viewer will also notice that some of the zombies in the beginning don't perfectly fit the "slow, dumb shambler" model that is associated with Romero's zombies. Namely, they reach for a car's door handle, they pick up a rock to smash against a window, they deliberately smash a car's headlights, and oh yeah, one of them runs. The Coopers' zombified daughter also uses a garden shovel to kill her mother.
Peek-A-Boo Corpse: One of the more frightening examples, considering how well it was done with 60s SFX.
Practical Voiceover: Radio and television broadcasts are used throughout the film to outline the contours and extent of the zombie outbreak.
Red Herring: In the original, Barbra is near-catatonic and then spacey. She feels warm, says so and takes her jacket off. She flinches at the fire when Mrs. Cooper lights her cigarette. Despite all this, she doesn't turn into a zombie before getting dragged out of the house.
Scare Chord: A number of them are used throughout the film.
The Sheriff: Sheriff McClelland, who heads the local zombie-hunting posse.
Shoot Out the Lock: Upon arrival at the gas pump, the key does not work. Ben simply shoots the lock. One must assume he was inwardly pondering why he didn't think about this sooner when griping about being unable to find the key.
Shout Out: To the first movie. In the first remake when Karen eats her mother, we momentarily see a spade on the wall similar to the one in the original. The reporter is also the same actor playing the same character from the original as well.
Sole Survivor: Probably the best-known subversion in film history.
Spared by the Adaptation: Barbra in the original is dragged off and implied to be devoured by a horde of zombies (among which, her brother is included) during the final siege. In the 1990 remake, she becomes an Action Survivor.
The Stinger: A shot of a burning pile of bodies follows the end credits.
Taxidermy Terror: Barbra wanders into the house's trophy room, where the stuffed heads seriously freak her out. Although not as much as the corpse. Or the zombie. Or Ben.
Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The houseful of strangers are forced to work together until conflict ultimately breaks them apart. This became a defining point of zombie movies, as the living's lack of ability to work together ultimately proves their downfall.
Those Two Guys: Tom and Judy are pretty separated from the other characters and the story at large. They hardly interact with anyone else but each other, and the only thing very memorable about them is their fiery explosive death and the sloppy zombie clean-up crew.
Thematic Series: The sequels that spawned off this movie were all loosely connected.
Jesus, Tom, how hard is it to work a damned gas pump? Admittedly the hose was too short, he jerked the nozzle towards the truck, the hose ran out, and his hand hit the trigger spraying the gas - but anyone who has been to an unfamiliar gas pump once knows to stop the car close enough that even a short hose can reach. He parks a good 20 feet away!
Granted, shooting a lock off a gas pump is something a sensible person would probably prefer to avoid if they have a choice.
That's nothing compared to Ben leaving a torch right next to the car where gas can easily be spilled on it rather than placing it further ahead of them in front of the zombies!
Tragic Mistake: Ben, our hero, believes that they must defend the house from the zombies. Harry Cooper, our unsympathetic antagonist, insists that they should flee to the basement and barricade the basement door. Ben wins the argument, but Cooper was right. Ben's plan to defend the house leads to disaster, and after everyone else is killed he does in fact flee to the basement, where he survives the zombies.
The Unreveal: In the sequels and remakes, it's never explained why the dead are coming back to life. Even in the original, the radioactive satellite explanation gets little attention. Justified in that we're not dealing with people investigating the cause, just dealing with the effects.
Who Is This Guy Again?: Pretty much everyone but Barbra. People watching usually can only remember the characters as Black Guy, Bald Jackass, Mrs. Jackass, Kid, and almost everyone forgets there even were two teenagers in the movie.
Women Drivers: Barbra makes it all of about 100 feet in the car before crashing it into a tree. (Of course, she was just coasting after taking the emergency brake off. After all, Johnny has the key.) This scene was a Throw It In moment in the script, as the car had gotten a fender dented between shoots and an explanation had to be quickly contrived.