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Film / Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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"They're coming to get you, Barbara."

Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 horror film directed by George A. Romero, who co-wrote the screenplay with John Russo. Romero's first feature film and the first entry in the Living Dead Series, it became one of the most influential horror films ever produced, while inaugurating the Zombie Apocalypse subgenre in the process.

It's worth noting that these "Living Dead" aren't called zombies yet. The film identifies them as "ghouls", a corpse-eating creature adapted into Western culture since Arabian Nights with on-and-off popularity. The "Living Dead" are different from traditional ghouls in that they're the flesh-eating dead whose brains have been reactivated, presumably due to the radioactive fallout from an exploding space probe. It would be Romero's next film, Dawn of the Dead that would first drop the word "zombie", still not actually referring to his "Living Dead", but playing a huge role in getting the public to perceive zombies as flesh-eating corpses. Romero also commented on the increasing social tensions manifest in America during the 1960s—as the film demonstrates, the living had as much to fear from each other as they did from the undead.

This film is in the Public Domain despite its relatively recent vintage due to a screwup. In 1968, U.S. copyright law required a properly displayed copyright notice in order for a work to properly secure and maintain its copyright. While this film did display such a notice on the title frames of its original title—Night of the Flesh Eaters—the initial distributor, The Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright notice on the title card after it became Night of the Living Dead. By the time the filmmakers noticed the oversight, they could do nothing about it. As a consequence, anyone with the resources to distribute the film can do so without legal repercussions; this means you can legally view or download the film for free on Internet sites such as the Internet Archive and YouTube.

After Night of the Living Dead became an unexpected success, Romero and Russo discussed making a sequel; after disagreeing on the direction it should take, 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. Russo took more of a Black Comedy approach with the Return of the Living Dead pentalogy, which single-handedly introduced the concept of zombies eating brains. Both series have 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 sequel (Survival of the Dead), while Russo's Return of the Living Dead films strayed from the "comedic" angle to Gorn. In 1999, Russo—again without Romero's involvement—re-edited the original 1968 film for a 30th anniversary release, incorporating newly-shot footage and a new music score. This altered version received its own sequel, Children of the Living Dead, in 2001.

All three films in the original Living Dead trilogy have received remakes, each with varying degrees of success. Romero himself wrote and produced a faithful remake of Night in 1990, with his close friend Tom Savini directing. Night also received a second remake, filmed in 3-D, in 2006, although Romero had no involvement with this version, which departs fairly radically from the original film. In November 2018, it was reported that a direct sequel to the 1968 film (adapted from an unproduced script written by Romero and Russo) had entered development, but nothing has been heard since.

Night of the Living Dead remains one of the most iconic horror films of all time. Numerous movies, television shows, video games, novels, and comic books owe their origin to this pioneering work of zombie horror. And you know you made an excellent horror film when Mister Rogers, of all people, thought of it as a fun movie.

The movie has also received a number of remakes, and an Animated Adaptation.

Night of the Living Dead contains the following tropes:

  • Accidental Truth: Johnny, teasing Barbra in the cemetery, keeps telling her "They're coming for you!" and then points at the shambling man and says "There's one of them now!" Sure enough, the man turns out to be a ghoul and attacks Barbra.
  • Actor Allusion: In the 2021 Japanese dub, this is not the first time we hear Jun'ichi Suwabe (Ben) having to deal once again with the undead.
  • All Are Equal in Death: During the end credits, we see Ben's body laid next to that of the cemetery ghoul as they're prepared for burning.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Barbara and Johnny place a cross on their father's grave and talk about going to church, but Johnny's imitation of their grandfather has a strong Yiddish accent, suggesting that they might have Jewish ancestry, perhaps on their mother's side.
  • Animated Adaptation: Night of the Animated Dead, released in 2021. Featuring retraux character designs modeled after the 1968 cast, it's Bloodier and Gorier than the original and adds a few new sequences, notably showing a flashback to Ben's escape before arriving at the house, but cuts the film down from 90 minutes to 60.
  • Asshole Victim: Harry Cooper, by the end of the movie.
  • Bait the Dog: Sheriff McClelland and his posse seem like a good thing when they're first seen on the news but end up thinking the Sole Survivor is a ghoul, and shoot him.
  • Barrier-Busting Blow: In the climax, as a mob of ghouls enter the house to pull Barbra away and drive Ben to the cellar.
  • Berserk Board Barricade: Ben picks up spare pieces of wood around the house and nails them to the windows and doors.
  • Beware the Living: Codified here with Ben's death at the hands of the redneck ghoul-hunting posse.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Johnny bitches about having to make the trip to the cemetery and teases Barbra mercilessly, but when she's attacked by the first ghoul he immediately springs to her defense.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Everyone is killed by the ghouls, except for Ben. Ben himself is mistaken for a ghoul and shot dead by the militia group mopping up the last of the ghouls. On the bright side, the ghoul apocalypse gets cleaned up pretty easily. Unless you consider the subsequent Living Dead films to be in the same universe as this one, in which case it doesn't.
  • Bottle Episode: Made for a small budget, and almost the entire film takes place in or around a single house.
  • Break the Cutie: Barbra, an attractive Ingenue who's endearing despite her uptight personality, gets attacked by a ghoul, watches her brother die, finds a skeletonized corpse, and then finally goes into a panicked daze.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: When Johnny tells the story of scaring Barbara when they were children, he imitates their grandfather with an Alter Kocker accent.
  • Burn the Undead: Fire is an effective means of dispatching the living dead and is recommended by the radio emergency broadcasts.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: An accidental version. Ben manages to survive the night in a house besieged by ghouls. In the morning, the Sheriff's posse that systematically kills the ghouls is approaching. Ben comes out and is shot down because the members of the posse think that he is a ghoul.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Barbra is first approaching the farmhouse at the start of the film, she pauses to briefly lean on the gas pump which will become a major plot point later on.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: FantaCo Enterprises released a four-issue adaptation in 1991.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • George Romero appears as one of the TV reporters interviewing the military spokesmen in Washington.
    • Screenwriter John Russo plays the ghoul that Ben kills with a tire iron.
  • Creepy Basement: Subverted. The cellar is the one truly safe place... at least until Karen turns.
  • Creepy Cemetery: The film opens with Johnny and Barbra arriving at an isolated rural cemetery to put a wreath on their father's grave. Even before the first ghoul shows up, the place seems very sinister and unsettling with all the shadowy trees and old gravestones jutting out of the ground.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Ben, the Sole Survivor, is killed after being mistaken for a ghoul.
  • Cue the Sun: Subverted in the final scene.
  • Darker and Edgier: Arguably the first film in the horror genre to establish the unrelentingly bleak atmosphere of violence and chaos that future horror films would become (in)famous for. Most horror films, before and at the time, were silly and often badly-acted with cardboard level special effects. It was also highly uncommon to find a horror movie with a genuine Downer Ending (or at least one that actually made sense).note 
  • Damsel in Distress: Barbra is often accused of being this, though she does succeed in running away from most of the ghouls. It's just that when things calm down, she goes slightly catatonic. Trauma can do that to a person.
  • Death by Falling Over: Johnny is knocked down by a ghoul and hits his head on a gravestone, killing him.
  • Death Glare: Ben gives the cowardly Cooper a withering one after kicking in the locked door after Cooper refused to open it for him. With the ghoul horde right behind him, Ben waits long enough to lock and barricade the door again before acting on it.
  • Decoy Protagonist: For the first quarter of the movie, it looks like Barbra's the protagonist. Then Ben shows up and she turns into The Load.
  • Deconstruction: Ironically, the work that codified the Zombie Apocalypse was also a deconstruction. Outside of the farmhouse; once the military, police, and general public are able to understand and accept what's going on; the hordes of the undead are put down pretty easily.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Romero later went back and forth in interviews on whether the black-and-white photography was for artistic or purely budgetary reasons. It does give the film a kind of documentary feel.
  • Door Handle Scare: Barbra is sitting in the living room while Ben busies himself boarding up the windows without her. She listens to the radio report about the flesh eaters roaming the countryside. The radio almost increases in volume with no other sound in the scene. She then hears a couple of bangs behind the unchecked door beside her. The camera cuts back and forth between her face and the door. The knob doesn't turn, but the music swells as Harry and Tom suddenly emerge from the cellar, causing Barbra to scream and bring Ben running.
  • Dramatic Thunder: The appearance of the first ghoul in the cemetery is heralded by this.
  • Dutch Angle: Used quite a bit by Romero, who tilts his camera to emphasize the unsettled feelings experienced by the characters.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Unlike the subsequent films in the Living Dead Series, this one is in black and white and lacks the subtle humor and action elements of the sequels. More notably, there is at least a Hand Wave given for the ghouls' existence (exotic radiation from an exploding space probe) while the sequels don't even bother with that. The first ghoul seen is also able to move fast (for a corpse) in contrast to the later ghouls, who have an obvious Zombie Gait.
    • The very first ghoul in the film picks up a rock and uses it to break open a car window to get to Barbara. Every other instance of ghouls interacting with inanimate objects in the sequels are done with no real reason outside of muscle-memory, and even then that's just a theory that survivors are working with. The only exceptions to this were Bub from Day of the Dead (who was being domesticated) and Big Daddy from Land of the Dead (whose intelligence went beyond mindlessly hunting living humans).
    • For that matter, unless you shove fire in their faces (which causes them to snarl), the ghouls are completely silent. This is in stark contrast to the loud, ghostly moans or feral growls they make in the sequels and other subsequent zombie fiction.
    • While Ben is fending off a small group of ghouls, he strikes one in the face with a tire iron. The ghoul in question clutches at its face, as if in pain, or even just acting upon reflex. They also back away in fear in the presence of fire. All later films in the series depict ghouls as having no survival instincts of their own, completely indifferent to any sort of damage (enacted or potential) their bodies receive.
    • The ghouls' eating habits have them either closing their eyes to chew their food or look around rather than the sequels where they have Jabba Table Manners and often messily eat.
    • The ghouls have a way of giving up on pursuing their victims, even when they knew the living were inside the house, none of them try to break inside or even walk up on to the front porch, instead keeping their distance, even when there isn't fire around. Later when Ben flees inside after the failed escape attempt and he and Cooper close and barricade the door again, the ghouls are battering on the door to get inside. Not long later, they seem to give up and wander away. They only attack the house en mass at the end. A far cry from the relentless zombies in Dawn of the Dead who are still trying to get into the mall as the weeks and months pass, or the zombies in Day of the Dead outside surrounding the military base's fence and gates still trying to get in.
    • By the time morning rolls around the situation seems pretty much under control, compared to the Zombie Apocalypse of the later films.
    • Due to the convoluted film history of ghouls and zombies, the Living Dead are identified as ghouls in this film.
  • Emergency Refuelling: The film has a group of people trapped in The Siege with the ghouls outside, who have a truck that could help them escape. Unfortunately the truck has no fuel and the gas pump on the outside of the house is locked shut, so a significant side-plot is the frantic search for the keys to the pump's lock all over the house. Once a set of keys that may be the pump's have been found, the survivors implement a plan to refuel the truck. Except they discover, too late, that the keys are not for the pump.
  • Event Title: One of the most famous in history. Just about every modern film that uses "Night of.." or "..of the Dead" in its title are referencing either this movie or its just as famous sequel.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: None of the main characters make it through the film alive.
  • Everybody Smokes: Ben, Harry, and Helen all light up cigarettes to ease their tension.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a movie about a single night during which the dead become alive.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The title does not use the word "night" in a figurative sense.
  • Fanservice Extra: There's a naked, undead woman shown prominently in two shots... but then again, she's undead.
  • Fear Is Normal: In one scene of the movie, Ben tries to comfort Barbara by saying that he knows she's afraid and that he's afraid of the Zombie Apocalypse which is taking place as well.
  • Fire Keeps It Dead: At the end, after the locals have gained control of the situation, they burn the bodies of killed humans so they can't rise as ghouls and "killed" ghouls so they can't rise again.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Johnny and Barbra have shades of this in the beginning when they visit their father's grave with the former complaining about how long it took for them to drive up there and acting rather childishly when taunting Barbra about how the undead is coming to get her and the latter acting more mature and calm, even referring to Johnny as "ignorant" at one point.
  • Friend or Foe?: In the end, Ben is shot down because the members of the posse think that he is a ghoul.
  • 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 ghoul among the horde that invade the house. It's shown from behind so you don't really see much.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: In part because of its public domain status, this film has been a popular choice for computer colorization. There are actually three known colorized versions, all radically different from each other, and each tending to be inaccurate in different ways. For instance the version Hal Roach produced in 1985 colored Barbra and Johnny's car yellow, the Anchor Bay version in 1997 colored it blue, and the 2005 version from Legend Films colored it red. The real color of the car? Green. The 1985 and 2005 versions also featured green-skinned ghouls while the 1997 version went with regular flesh tones.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Sometimes used, sometimes averted. Especially in the original, this shocked audiences who weren't expecting to see so much gore.
  • Gut Punch:
    • The Family-Unfriendly Deaths of Tom and Judy provides the page quote for this trope.
    • The ghoul attacking Barbra and Johnny in the cemetery also counts. The first few minutes of the film are just a brother and sister bickering. We know it's a horror film, but we just assume that the shocks will come later on and this opening scene is going to be Played for Laughs... except, no, that creepy guy really is a murderous ghoul. Even if you've seen it multiple times, it's still very jarring.
    • In the cellar, Karen eating her father and stabbing her mother. A totally shocking case of Enfant Terrible, chillingly presented, that horrifies Helen as much as it does the audience.
  • Hate at First Sight: Ben and Harry Cooper take an instantaneous dislike to one another that never abates over the course of the film. In-universe, this is mainly due to their incompatible viewpoints regarding the proper course of action to take.
  • The Hero Dies: Ben is mistakenly shot by ghoul hunters.
  • Heroic BSoD: Barbra, who spends half the movie in a catatonic daze.
  • 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.
  • Hope Spot: Ben survives the night in the basement, comes up the stairs to find the house empty of ghouls, and it seems clear he's about to be rescued by Sheriff McClelland and his ghoul-hunting posse. Then they mistake him for a ghoul and shoot him through the head.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The film takes place the night after the dreaded switch to *gasp* daylight savings time.note 
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The living characters seem to prefer either being at each other's throats, lacking any common sense, or both to mount any credible offense against the ghouls. And then there's the ending where Ben, the Sole Survivor, gets shot by a posse of policemen who couldn't bother to check if he's still alive.
  • Hungry Menace: The ghouls seem to exist only to devour the flesh of the living.
  • Hysterical Woman: Barbra spends half of her time being hysterical until she is knocked out by Ben. She then spends rest of her time in quiet near-catatonia.
  • Ignored Vital News Reports: Played with. Just before Johnny gets out of the car at the cemetery, the radio comes back on after having been off the air due to "technical problems". He immediately switches it off before learning anything more.
  • Incongruously-Dressed Zombie: Undressed, rather: Romero had a nude model wandering around with a morgue ID tag tied to her wrist.
  • Irony: Cooper orders Helen to go back down into the cellar in the third act, wanting to keep her safe. At this point their daughter has become a ghoul. The irony comes that if Helen had stayed upstairs she probably would have survived.
    • And of course, the biggest one of all. After spending the majority of the film flatly refusing to consider holing up in the basement as Cooper suggests, and deriding Cooper as an idiot for wanting to do so, when his boarding up of the house completely fails, not only is that where Ben finds safety, but we discover that Cooper was right all along, and even though a horde of ghouls swarmed the house, they were unable to break through the door to get to Ben.
  • It Can Think: In contrast to the usual pop-culture depiction of Romero zombies, the ghouls here actually show a fair amount of animalistic intelligence. They understand simple tools (they use rocks and clubs to smash through obstructions like windows and doors, others use rocks to clumsily smash the lights on Ben's truck, Karen uses a trowel to stab her mom to death after turning) and have the ability to move quickly (for the undead, at least) to pursue food. They don't feel pain, as shown when several ghoul hands are cut to pieces by the defenders during one attack, but they clearly recognize obvious dangers and have some limited degree of self-preservation, recoiling from bright lights and especially from fire.
  • Jerkass: Cooper, who is loud and abrasive toward everyone. Johnny seems to be a bit of one as well.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Cooper was right about barricading the basement, as evidenced when Ben (the one most against it) survives the night that way.
  • Jump Cut: There's a blatant one when Harry and Helen are talking in the cellar, because the distributor felt that scene was too long, and Romero was forced to trim it awkwardly.
  • Kill It with Fire: Fire is one of the only things ghouls are afraid of, and is one of the methods used to make sure they either stay dead or the recently deceased don't become them.
  • Kill the Cutie: And how. Poor, poor Barbra...
  • Kill the Lights: Toward the end of the film, the power suddenly goes out. Shortly thereafter, the ghouls begin their final attack on the house.
  • The Load: Barbra, Judy, and Helen are generally useless in the original, though Helen does try, and does try to call out Harry Cooper and get him to stop being an asshole and help the situation rather than harming it.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: Barbra loses both shoes while fleeing the cemetery ghoul.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • "You can't start the car, Johnny has the key."
    • "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 ghoul in the movie can be seen shambling around the cemetery well before it attacks Barbra and Johnny.
  • Men of Sherwood: The heroes turn on the TV and watch a redneck posse shooting their way through ghouls to clear the area for survivors. The posse eventually reaches the house, no worse for the wear, and kills all of the ghouls surrounding the house. Unfortunately, they also mistake the last survivor for a ghoul and shoot him, too.
  • Molotov Cocktail: Harry tosses Molotov cocktails to clear a path to the truck when Ben and Tom make a break for it.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: Barbra finally snaps out of her catatonia and runs to save Mrs. Cooper from the ghoul horde breaking into the house, but goes back into her catatonia the moment she sees her zombified brother Johnny, who drags her outside into the horde, where she is presumably devoured almost immediately afterward.
  • Newscaster Cameo:
    • Bill Cardille, a Pittsburgh TV personality best known as Horror Host "Chilly Billy", appears as the TV reporter interviewing Sheriff McClelland.
    • Charles Craig, who plays the primary newscaster in the film, had real-life experience reporting the news on a Cincinnati radio station.
  • Not a Zombie: The first ghoul we see in the film is supposed to look like just some random person wandering around the cemetery, until he attacks Barbra.
  • Not Quite Saved Enough: This film is perhaps the prototypical example. In a movie filled with groundbreaking departures from tradition, this trope was perhaps the most significant. After a heroic struggle, Ben is left the only survivor of a night of mayhem and horror in the farmhouse. The next morning he awakes to the sound of a rescue party approaching the house, but as he peers through the boarded-up windows for a glimpse of his potential saviors, they mistake him for just another ghoul and perfunctorily shoot him in the head. The movie ends with a sequence of still images of Ben's lifeless, anonymous corpse impaled on a meat hook and dragged to a human bonfire. No one ever knows who he was or what he went through to survive the night . . . of the living dead.
  • Novelization: Written by John Russo. Russo also wrote a sequel novel titled Return of the Living Dead where the ghouls return following a catastrophic bus crash, which was later the (very loose) basis for the film of the same name.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Ben's story of running down ghouls with a truck and his clash with them at Beekman's Diner, which would clearly have been far beyond the film's budget to actually show.
  • Oh, Crap!: Barbra's reaction after the graveyard zombie kills Johnny then looks up at her, knowing she's next.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: Barbra finds a music box, which plays a soothing little tune that seems completely at odds with the chaos happening outside the house.
  • Only Sane Man: There's been serious debate about who fits this trope, if anyone does. Ben is the most level-headed and competent character in the movie, who does the most to fight back against the ghouls and survive... but he's also wrong about what to do, and his decisions get everyone but him killed. Cooper is an angry, irrational, cowardly Jerkass who at one point threatens Ben with a gun... but he was right about hiding in the basement, even though nobody listened to him. It could be argued, then, that no one in the film is perfectly sane — which is a big reason for the Downer Ending.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Night of the Living Dead has a key place in the history of how zombies changed from semi-dead servants to cannibalistic undead in mainstream perception. The "zombies" of the film are only referred to as ghouls and audiences at the time did not perceive them otherwise, but starting around 1980 Night of the Living Dead came to be seen as being about zombies and part of an emerging horror subgenre. As an early "zombie" film, the ghouls don't fit the "slow, dumb shambler" model that is associated with Romero's zombies. Among others, 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 one of them runs. The Coopers' zombified daughter also uses a garden shovel to kill her mother and several zombies pick up tools, such as the aforementioned rock, and one uses Ben's discarded makeshift torch to break down the door.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: After escaping the ghoul from the cemetery by entering a house, Barbra tactically explores her impromptu shelter. She finds the chewed corpse of the house's owner upstairs, which sends her into a near-catatonic state.
  • Police Are Useless: Subverted with the sheriff's posse effectively taking down the ghouls with very little problems. Also an inversion in proving they're a little too good at it when they mistakenly shoot Ben and never realize he wasn't a ghoul.
  • Practical Voiceover: Radio and television broadcasts are used throughout the film to outline the contours and extent of the ghoul outbreak.
  • Precautionary Corpse Disposal: A Trope Codifier — a news broadcast directs the viewers to drag any corpse out into the street and burn it lest they rise up as a "flesh-eating ghoul".
  • Protect This House: The protagonists end up in a house that is besieged by ghouls. They try to prevent the ghouls from entering.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The score consists of stock music from Capitol Records' "Hi-Q" production library, much of which had previously been used in such earlier B-movies as Teenagers from Outer Space, The Devil's Messenger, and The Hideous Sun Demon.
  • Red Herring: 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 ghoul before getting dragged out of the house.
  • Rule of Symbolism: While Romero always maintained that Duane Jones had simply given the best audition and the story was never meant to be a political statement, there's something to say for sure about a story filmed right around the time of the Civil Rights Movement, about the breakdown of societal norms, where the (debatably) Only Sane Man is an intelligent and pragmatic black man, who outlives his companions only to be killed by the police.
  • Scare Chord: A number of them are used throughout the film.
  • Screaming Woman: Barbra.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Ghoul Karen eats her father's corpse, then kills and (presumably) eats her mother.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Karen's murder of her mother features both this and Gory Discretion Shot.
  • The Sheriff: Sheriff McClelland, who heads the local ghoul-hunting posse.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Upon arrival at the gas pump, the key does not work. Ben simply shoots the lock.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Johnny imitates Boris Karloff for his "They're coming to get you, Barbra!" line.
    • Bill Hinzman, who played the cemetery ghoul, based his shambling gait on Karloff's in The Walking Dead (1936).
  • The Siege: The characters board themselves inside from the ghouls outside.
  • Sole Survivor: Probably the best-known subversion in film history, though technically Ben is the only one to survive the eponymous night.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In Empire of the Dead, commissioned by Romero himself, we learn Barbra was saved by Ghoul Johnny, who dragged her away from the rest of the undead horde to keep them from eating her.
  • Spin-Off: 20 years after Night, Flesheater was released with Bill Hinzman pretty much reprising his role as the cemetery ghoul as well as being the film's editor, producer, writer, and director. Even though the titular Flesheater is freed from a buried coffin, it is clearly intended to be the same character, uttering the same growls and groans, retaining enough intellect to use things as weapons, and even wearing a very similar suit.
  • Splatter Horror: Romero's efforts to replicate the violence and atmosphere of EC Comics on the big screen shocked audiences of the day and popularized the splatter subgenre.
  • 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 mounted heads seriously freak her out. Although not as much as the corpse. Or the ghoul. Or Ben. (Of course, given all that Barbra has just been through in the previous few minutes, the trophies of dead animals would be a justifiably startling sight.)
  • 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. Some have interpreted this aspect of the film's story as Romero's metaphor for the difficulties faced by America in The Vietnam War, or the West generally in the Cold War.
    • One powerful Fridge Brilliance interpretation has the film as a metaphor for the Civil Rights Movement. A black man taking the role of hero, variously opposed, aided, betrayed, or ignored in his struggle to survive against the ghoul hordes by the white people around him.
  • 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 ghoul clean-up crew.
  • Thematic Series: The sequels this movie spawned were all loosely connected.
  • Title of the Dead: While not the first example of the type, this was certainly the Trope Codifier, and countless zombie movies since have used some variant, either as a Shout-Out (Shaun of the Dead) or to Follow the Leader (The Return of the Living Dead series).
  • Took a Level in Badass: Barbra gets over her catatonic state and saves Mrs. Cooper from the ghouls that grab at her. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of her own life.
  • Tragic Mistake: Ben, our hero, believes that they must defend the house from the ghouls. 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 ghouls.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The Coopers.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The zombies are never once referred to as such and are instead called "ghouls", "flesh-eaters", and so on. They are also somewhat more intelligent than modern zombies — the one in the graveyard picks up a rock to break open the window and Karen Cooper's zombie kills someone with a trowel. Also, if this film is taken as its own separate work rather than as part of a series, the problem seems to be quite quickly contained (going by the newscasts) instead of being a true Zombie Apocalypse. It's also pretty clear that the survivors wipe themselves out through their incompetence and refusal to work together rather than any extreme danger from the zombies.
  • Uncertain Doom: While the obvious intent and most logical implication is that Barbra was Devoured by the Horde, she is not actually seen dead or even being bitten. As such, a few unofficial followups and spin-offs for the film have her surviving in various ways.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The plan to go out of the house, unlock the pump, and refuel the truck is clearly explained to the audience. It fails.
  • The Virus: Ghoul bites spread a deadly infection that cause victims to rise again, but all of the recent dead have risen. In fact, it's arguable whether the bite is actually the cause. There's equal evidence to suggest that the bite merely kills because it's laden with lethal bacterianote  and it's the radiation that started the rise in the first place that causes the plague-killed body to then rise itself.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The house is a few miles away from the town of Willard, Pennsylvania, which is completely fictional. The only concrete details about the location is that it's around 150-200 miles from Pittsburgh (going by Johnny's mention of a "three-hour drive" back to the city in the opening scene) and you can still receive Pittsburgh TV stations pretty well over-the-air. The cemetery and farmhouse were both actually in Evans City, about a half-hour north of Pittsburgh in Real Life.
  • Women Drivers: Barbra makes it all of about 100 feet in the car before crashing it into a tree. (She was just coasting after taking the emergency brake off. After all, Johnny has the key.)note 
  • The X of Y: Well, the title doesn't start with "The", but otherwise it fits.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The trope maker. The recent dead return to life and attack the living. Due to being such an early example, many common aspects of the trope are not found in this film.
  • Zombie Infectee: Karen Cooper was bitten by a ghoul before she was taken to the basement. After taking a long time dying, she rises up, eats her father's corpse and kills her mother.
  • Zombie Gait: The living dead tend to walk in a shambling manner.

Additional examples from the 30th Anniversary Edition:

  • Adaptational Villainy: The first zombie in the film is given a new backstory as a child killer.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: While the gore effects in the original film were quite limited, this version includes a bunch of newly-shot scenes with more explicit gore.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The re-edit seemingly tries to shut Dawn and Day out of the continuity by adding an extra segment to the ending that indicates the zombie plague has been restricted to small, periodic outbreaks, instead of the outright zombie pandemic that wipes out 99.999975% of the world's population by the time of Day. Supposedly this was meant as a lead-in to the subsequent Children of the Living Dead, though neither the events of the theatrical or 30th Anniversary cut are ever referenced in that one, beyond some vague similarities between the cemetery zombie's new backstory and that of Abbot Hayes, the Big Bad of Children.
  • Digital Destruction: Many felt that the restoration job on the 30th Anniversary Edition was actually a little too effective and made the film's low budget painfully obvious, and that the murky public domain prints actually do a lot to enhance the film's mood. That's probably the least of the Anniversary Edition's problems...
  • Dull Surprise: In a new scene added to the film's ending, a reporter interviews Reverend Hicks as a posse goes around shooting zombies in the cemetery, but she does so in a manner that you might expect someone to report on a country fair, not the possible End of the World as We Know It.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Producer and co-writer John A. Russo oversaw this new version, 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.
  • Insane Troll Logic: In his rant at the end of the film, Reverend Hicks says that the dead should be spiked through their hands and feet, as was done to Jesus on the cross, to prevent them from coming back to life. Even though it's clearly meant to be a crazy rant, you'd think Hicks would remember that one of the most famous things about Jesus is the Resurrection, in which he came back to life.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: The first zombie seen in the film is revealed to have been a child killer, with the parents of the girl he killed actually volunteering to pay for his burial (instead of having the state cremate him) just so that they could spit on his corpse before it's buried.
  • Possessing a Dead Body: At the end, the unhinged Reverend Hicks declares to a reporter that the zombies are human corpses possessed by demons from hell. This is clearly supposed to be a crazed rant however, and is never proven one way or the other.
  • Shovel Strike: Rev. Hicks is rescued from the first zombie when it gets whacked on the back with a shovel.
  • Sinister Minister: Reverend Hicks has become incredibly unhinged after his near-fatal encounter with the living dead, now convinced that the zombies are demons from hell and a sign of the apocalypse.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Reverend Hicks — who, by the way, is near a dozen or so guys shooting at the zombies with actual weapons — thinks that preaching at one of the zombies (the one that Barbra and Johnny encountered at the start of the film, in fact) will achieve something. Needless to say, it doesn't, and he gets bitten before the other guys take the zombie out. Subverted, as Hicks somehow proves immune to being bitten.

Examples from the 2006 3D remake:

  • Action Dress Rip: Occurs as Barb attempts to flee from a horde of zombies. She doesn't ditch the high heels, though.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Harry and Helen Cooper's first names are changed to Henry and Hellie.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Henry in this version is a far more nicer guy than in either the original or the 1990 remake, being perfectly willing to help Barb (even if he does think her story about the zombies is crazy) and provides support to the rest of the crew.
  • Asshole Victim: Gerald Tovar, Jr. Considering he was the one who started the outbreak in the first place, betrays Barb and Ben and tries to turn them into zombies as well, it's hard to feel sorry for Gerald when Barb manages to sick his own zombies on him.
  • Canon Foreigner: Owen and Gerald Tovar, Jr. are the only characters in the film not present in the original.
  • Cassandra Truth: Of course, nobody believes Barb when she fill-on admits that she was attacked by zombies until they start showing up.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: Nobody in the film survives.
  • Evil All Along: Gerald reveals that he was the one who created the zombies in an attempt to bring his father back to life.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Gerald gets devoured by the very same zombies he created.
  • In Name Only: Apart from the farm setting, character names, and opening sequence, this film has very little in common plotwise to the 1968 original. If anything, it has more in common with Return of the Living Dead, with the people who become zombies briefly retaining some lucidity after they change, a mortuary being an important plot location, and the zombie outbreak being the result of a medical experiment that went horribly wrong.
  • Only Sane Man: Or "woman" in this case, as Barb is the only character in the film with an ounce of common sense. Ben too, but to a slightly lesser extent.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Re-Animation, the prequel, is one for Gerald.
  • Race Lift: Ben is African-American in the original, but is white in this version.
  • Sex Signals Death: Judy and Tom have sex in Henry's barn, in which their sensual moaning end up attracting the zombies. Tom gets Devoured by the Horde trying to save Judy who locked herself in a truck, while Judy herself gets half of her face eaten off by a zombie that managed to grab her through the back window.
  • Show Within a Show: Various characters are shown watching the original 1968 film on television.
  • The Stoner: Everyone on Henry's farm, on accounts of him being a weed farmer in this version. Owen is probably the most noteworthy example, who smokes a blunt for most of the first half of the film.
  • Title of the Dead: Like the original film.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Night Of The Living Dead 3 D


Night of the Living Dead

Suddenly the dead have come back to life and now are eating the flesh of the living.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / OurZombiesAreDifferent

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