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YMMV / Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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  • Accidental Aesop: George A. Romero always maintained that he did not intend to make any comments about race in the film. He hired Duane Jones, a black stage actor, to play the hero because "he gave the best audition." Much of the movie's dialogue was improvised by the actors during filming, with only a loose adherence to the script. It was only when the film was released that Romero said he became aware of the implications of Jones's character being black. However, some critics continue to insist that it's highly implausible for someone in the 1960s to cast a black actor as the lead without being aware of the significance. For better or worse, Romero subsequently started adding intentional but far less subtle aesops in all his following zombie films.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
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    • On Harry's death. Was it an accident or Ben finally getting fed up with his shit? Ben flat out aimed the rifle at him and fired, how could you get accident from that? It's clear that Ben was flat out fed up with him
    • Judith O'Dea had one about Barbra. Rather than viewing her as a Screaming Woman, Judith theorizes that Barbra had to retreat into her own mind to cope with what was going on - but would eventually get over the trauma and help everyone. She does ultimately try to help as the zombies are breaking into the house, but she's quickly killed.
    • Another fairly popular one is over whether or not the police man killing Ben at the end really was accidental, as per all the political theories that this film has spawned.
  • Awesome Music: The 30th Anniversary Edition, despite its many flaws in other areas, has a pretty chilling and atmospheric soundtrack, especially "The Dead Walk".
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  • Cult Classic: Comes naturally by being the zombie film.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Johnny, Sheriff McClelland and Karen probably have less than ten minutes of screen time combined, but they're responsible for the film's two most-quoted lines ("They're coming to get you, Barbra!" "Yeah, they're dead. They're...all messed up.") and most unforgettable moment (Karen stabbing her mother with the trowel).
  • Fan-Disliked Explanation: In a rare example of the fan-disliked explanation happening early in a franchise, the film explains where the zombies are coming from early in the first film. However, the explanation of a "Radioactive Space Probe" didn't quite catch on, and later zombie media generally refuses to concretely explain the origins of the living dead. The universally reviled Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (a re-release of the movie—which is in the Public Domain—with added scenes by co-writer John A. Russo, without Romero's involvement) instead implies the zombie plague is demonic in origin.
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  • Fanon Discontinuity: The "30th Anniversary Edition" of the film, which cut about 15 minutes' worth of footage from the original (replacing it with newly-produced scenes) and added new sound effects and a modern music score, was made in 1999. It was not well received by fans or critics. Harry Knowles threatened to ban anyone from posting on the Ain't It Cool News comment board if they said anything positive about the 30th Anniversary Edition, which he stated was as bad as (if not worse than) the memories of the authorities handling his mother's burnt corpse.
  • First Installment Wins: Not so much in the overall context of the Romero-directed films — virtually everybody seems to agree that Dawn is an Even Better Sequel, and a few also consider Day to be superior — but in terms of the various incarnations of this film, the original is still considered the best. The 1990 remake is considered a solid film, but not quite as good as this one, while the only bone of contention over the 30th Anniversary Edition and 3D remake is which of the two is worse.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Was hugely popular in Europe when it was first released. It spent a year-and-a-half in one theater in Spain.
  • Genre Turning Point: Roger Ebert highlighted this trope in a famous review, where he noted that most American "horror films" up until that point, thanks to filmmakers like William Castle were the movie equivalent of a carnival ride: good for a thrill and very popular with kids. Most directors just dropped their actors in a vaguely atmospheric haunted house setting, threw in some cobwebs, ghosts, and a skeleton or two, and called it a day, resulting in films that were spooky but usually more-or-less family friendly. The vast majority of them even had happy endings. This movie changed the definition of horror movies practically overnight: "family-friendly" horror films suddenly went extinct, graphic violence was practically a guarantee, and the Downer Ending became the norm. Ebert liked the film, but wondered what the hell was wrong with the parents who brought their kids to this thing, and consequently led many of them out in tears.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Even though Romero didn't intend any political message, the film's ending, in which a police posse kills Ben, is a lot more uncomfortable to watch in light of well-publicized instances of police violence against black men.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "They're coming to get you, Barbara!"
    • "Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up."
    • "That's another one for the fire."
  • Narm:
    • Ben's description of the diner incident and the scene where he beats up on Cooper kind of flirt with this.
    • "Johnny, stop it! You're ignorant!"
    • Ben and Barbara's brief slap fight.
    • The movie itself is rightly regarded as an all time horror classic, and genuinely disturbing. The trailer, however, has some incredibly cheesy narration. "Night...DUM...DUM...DUM...of the Living Dead!"
    • Ben's extremely stiff and awkward punches at Cooper after getting back in the house.
  • Narm Charm: The film has a few major continuity issues, like the cemetery having lots of leaves on the ground even though it's supposed to be spring, or the two on-location TV interviews being conducted in broad daylight when it's still supposed to be night. But these actually work to its advantage, since it adds to the deliberate disjointedness of the rest of the film, and reflects the chaos and confusion the lead characters are going through.
  • Never Live It Down: Barbra unfortunately has a reputation as The Load and for being a Neutral Female. Some people forget that she does try to help towards the end. Unfortunately she dies soon afterwards. Romero seemingly agreed with these criticisms, however, and took steps to make her a much more proactive character in the 1990 remake.
  • Older Than They Think:
    • Romero freely admitted that he used I Am Legend as a model for the storyline. When Richard Matheson first stumbled on NOTLD on TV he initially thought it was a low-budget adaptation of I Am Legend that he hadn't been told about.
    • Romero also cited Carnival of Souls as an influence. You can see it in the atmosphere of the film, but also the way the undead are depicted, and arguably Barbra as an Expy for Mary Henry from that film.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Bill Hinzman as the graveyard zombie. He parlayed this role into a whole career of playing creepy monsters.
    • George Kosana as Sheriff McClelland.
  • Padding: Barbra slowly tells Ben the whole story about how she got to the house, which we've already seen. Worse is that it follows Ben's far more interesting and action-packed story.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Night completely rewrote how horror movies are made - more graphic, more political, more nihilistic. Before this movie, even horror movies rarely had any Downer Ending. Nowadays they're expected. Today, this film would be relatively goreless, but still pretty scary.
  • Strawman Has a Point: In the 30th Anniversary Edition, Reverend Hicks miraculously survives being bitten by a zombie, and at the end goes on a deranged rant that the zombies are demons from hell. He is supposed to come across as The Fundamentalist, but his fanatical belief that the zombie plague is supernatural in origin isn't really any more preposterous than simply being some sort of virus. In fact, one could argue that it makes even more sense because magical or paranormal elements in stories don't strain the Willing Suspension of Disbelief in the same way that Hollywood Science does.
  • Unbuilt Trope: As this movie popularized zombies as the public now knows them today, this is expected. They're referred to as 'ghouls' and they have more intelligence 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 there's an explanation provided at for their existence, which isn't in any of the others, and the "Zombie Apocalypse" is really just one bad night — in the morning, police and civilians with guns appear to have things under control.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • As you'd expect of a movie from the 1960s, the female characters are all fairly passive, and none of them help protect the house from zombies. What's more is that at one point, Tom remarks about only three people to make decisions - completely excluding the women.
    • Averted insofar as Ben's race is never commented upon or even alluded to (although viewers have different interpretations of the ending).
  • Values Resonance: Ben is by far the most competent and intelligent person in the movie, and the fact that he's the main character was huge for a film made during the Civil Rights movement. His active participation and leadership role remains impressive - not impressive for the 60s, impressive period. Not to mention that the ending where he alone survives after the idiotic white people kill themselves, only to get gunned down by redneck cops remains relevant to this day: perhaps uncomfortably so.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: This shock movie was the first of its kind — parents were used to their children going to a Saturday afternoon matinee seeing "scary" movies with monsters in rubber suits, little gore, and upbeat endings. The MPAA rating system still hadn't been established. Roger Ebert noted that when he went to see it the children in the theater weren't taking it very well in the second half.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?:
    • A lot of people have argued that the movie was making a statement about race via the conflict between Ben and Cooper, not to mention the ending where Ben gets shot. Actually, however, Ben being black had far more to do with Duane Jones simply being the best actor to audition for the role. According to some production members, the only changes to the script to come of his casting was making Ben a smarter person (per the insistence of Jones, who was himself well-educated). Word of God is that the ending was actually inspired by a common hunting accident where the shooter doesn't check his target due to over-excitement.
    • Another common interpretation is that the film is an allegory about America's involvement in The Vietnam War, with the zombies representing the "primitive" guerrillas who are able to overwhelm their more "advanced" opponents due to their sheer numbers as well as the confusion and squabbling of the latter.
    • There's also been talk of the Coopers representing the breakdown of the American family and the rebellion of the younger generation in The '60s. With this line of thought, you can wring gallons of implication simply out of Karen's single line of dialogue: "I hurt."
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