Sunday, September 30, 2012

In which I watch "Night of the Living Dead"

NOTE: I really shouldn't have to say this, as this movie has been out for nearly 50 years, but yes, this post will contain spoilers. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Also, before anyone rushes to yell at me, I am aware that I misspelled Barbra's name in my tweets. I didn't realize her name was spelled Barbra until the end credits. So there. 

As Halloween has been getting closer, I have been oddly drawn to the horror genre. This is not normally my cuppa, but I figured, why the hell shouldn't I watch zombie movies? And for once, I'm thankful I have the DVD delivery service of Netflix, which dutifully delivered "Night of the Living Dead" within a day. I kind of held off watching it at first, saying, "Oh, I'll just wait for Three to come home so he can watch it with me!" Also, in other news, I may be a giant pansy. I wasn't sure what to expect, and because I don't like surprises, I got on the internet to do some sleuthing. Muchas gracias, Wikipedia!

Still, it didn't really prepare me to watch it. It's one thing to read a synopsis of a plot; to experience "Night of the Living Dead" is something completely different. I have the benefit over 1968's audiences of understanding how movies treat zombies, thanks to Hollywood's apparent obsession with them (see also: vampires), but there are some scenes in NotLD that cause automatic reactions which cannot be eased by that kind of education. Take the dead body that Barbra first encounters in the stairwell of the house? Yeah, I shrieked. And I'm not normally messed up by that sort of thing.

But I tried to keep myself amused, almost like I just knew that I would be disturbed by NotLD, so I went to Twitter to live-tweet the whole thing. It was also like I was leaving myself little notes in the margins, which has actually been pretty helpful writing this post. I was just going to post screen caps of my tweets, but honestly, a lot of them sound weird without context. So, without further adieu, Juju's "Night of the Living Dead" (with commentary):

Seriously, it was really nice not having to watch any of the extra shit to get to the movie. You just put the DVD in and voila! Title screen that has the following options: play movie, trivia, scene index, movie art, biography, and film credits. No fancy, schmancy graphics or annoying looping music. Just ... simple. I preferred when DVDs were like this. Aaaaaand push PLAY:

This couple is driving through the middle of nowhere, U.S.A. (I'm assuming somewhere in Pennsylvania? Why, I don't know, but it's the feeling I got), apparently to put flowers on a parent's grave stone. And the guy, who's driving OF COURSE, got on my nerves pretty much from the get-go:

They don't really explain these two people's relationship* until well into the movie, but I'm probably just slow, since the brother (Johnny, aka the blond guy) seems to enjoy teasing the woman, Barbra mercilessly. Normally, husbands don't do that to wives, but I wasn't alive in the 60s, so I don't really know. His mockery of Barbra gets me stabby, though, when it's obvious that, while she's the reason why they're there in the first place, she's absolutely terrified of cemeteries. He sees a man (SPOILER: it's the first zombie we see), stumbling around the graves, and is all, "They're coming to get you, Barbra!" Ugh, asshat. And then the zombie (they call them "ghouls" and "those things" throughout the movie) kills Johnny, which made me cheer.

And this zombie seems to be kind of antithetical to the normal portrayal of zombies: mindless and relentlessly in search of food (but they'll quickly move onto something else if it's too difficult to get; something about low-hanging fruit or ... whatever). This zombie, though, seems to have uncharacteristic agency; he picks up weapons and smashes through car windows. It's a lot scarier knowing that they kind of have brains.

This is about the last time I say a nice thing about Barbra. 

The house in the middle of nowhere is a nice touch, since it's both a death trap and a fortress. And because it's in the middle of nowhere, it has to be decorated like a redneck's paradise. Hence the creepy deer heads. 

This actually really intrigued me; almost all modern zombie movies show the creatures in various stages of decay, and the "ghouls" in this movie all seem like they were just dead and buried. A little later on, more zombies show up and look like they might have been in the ground a bit longer but were still quite fresh-looking. I'm sure part of this is because of the lower budget and they couldn't really afford (or afford to create, as this is 1968) better effects. 

Um, yeah, this is what happened:


And here is where the first of my favorite characters is introduced: Ben, the only black character AND the hero of the movie. I'm guessing George Romero heard me in the future, asking for a lead character that had some mental capabilities. He is very proactive and, like, actually DOES shit. 

Blood came dripping from out of nowhere, and I was like, "The fuck did that come from?" Then I remembered that dead body from before. 

The action scenes are a little on the ridiculous side, even for a B movie. The actor who plays Ben, Duane Jones, does get better at beating up people, though. 

It really is. I can't find a screenshot for the actual image, but I love it. Barbra has a thick beam of light coming down as she's approaching a zombie lying on the floor. 

Maybe I'm just being overcautious? I don't know. But the zombies have shown reasonable intelligence, if not with ridiculously slow motor skills, so I was assuming that they'd be like, "Oooh, lights. Those weren't on before. BRAAAAIIINNNSSSS!"

And here begins my long tirade of my NotLD mantra:

Ben is basically doing EVERYTHING now. He's boarding up the house, beating the shit out of zombies, trying to get a catatonic Barbra to snap out of it.

This is her expression throughout most of the movie. Seriously. 
This is her other expression.
I mean, GOD, I get that you're traumatized, but for fuck's sake. DO. SOMETHING.

This story that she's telling has no basis in reality, whatsoever. I'm staring at the screen incredulously. Because she apparently has lost it completely.

It really was bugging me, not knowing their relationship definitively.

Normally, I don't advocate hitting people, but SHIT, when Ben punched Barbra to get her to stop yelling? I whooped. That seems like the only way to get her (or anyone in a state of hysteria**, for that matter) to chill the fuck out. 

The TV and radio people are, apart from Ben and Helen (who hasn't been introduced yet), my favorite parts of this movie. They are so earnest in their coverage and are so delightfully old timey, it was almost like it was real news. 

I mean, it's the 60s. And there's stress abound. Hence = cigarettes. 

I was a little skeptical about this development (four more people in the house, but downstairs in the cellar and unwilling to check out what's going on upstairs), but in the end, it makes me happy because we get to meet Helen.

Classy, sarcastic bitch, I love you.
But we also get introduced to her husband, dickbag Harry Cooper, who's kind of used to being the "head of the household" and not too keen on being lead by a black man. Oh, 1960s B movies, so gloriously message driven.

I start my hatred of Mr. Cooper as quickly as I did with my loathing of Johnny, even though the cellar does, in the end, become a haven. But he's still a dumbass. We're also introduced to Tom, who I immediately dislike, and Judy, to whom I am generally ambivalent. 

I cringed when they showed Tom, resident jock douchebag, slamming a hammer or something on a zombie's hand and it starts crumbling, like a decaying person's hand would. Eerrggghhh. 

One of the only things that remains consistent in zombie movies: shoot them in the head. Thank you, Mr. Romero.

I have eaten bugs before, yes, but they were barbecued and not alive. Also, side note: Marilyn Eastman played this zombie***! 

I kind of loved Ben for this statement, because it clearly made Harry very, very uncomfortable. And that, my friends, makes me glad. 

Helen is seriously about fed up with her husband. She chastises him and is pretty much, "Look, I hate your guts, but I don't really want to die yet. Once we get out of here, I'm divorcing your ass. Also, Ben is hot, and I'd like to jump on that shit."

I don't know if this was a common thing in movies before or if it was obvious that the little girl, Karen, was going to be a threat. Modern audiences would be yelling at the screen, telling them to kill the little walking undead brat. I know I was. 

This is where the news people were amusing me the most. Apparently, a probe going to or coming back from Venus (What? Did they do that kind of thing?? Now I want to go study the space program in the 60s) is thought to be the cause of this, and I laughed. It's been pointed out by many people more articulate than I am that zombie movies seem to follow the times. Now, zombie outbreaks are caused by pollution or evil pharma companies. But in the 60s? It was radiation. And the Russians. 

Oh, the sexism in this movie. It was a little much for me. At least nowadays they're a little bit better at hiding it. Mostly. Although this film DOES pass the Bechdel test. Not so much on the strong women front, as Helen does devolve as the story continues, but for the 60s? It's kind of groundbreaking.

When you have a long conversation about possibly dying with your girlfriend right before you're about to go try and fill up an old truck**** with gas at a pump that's locked in a building that might have gas in it? Yeah, you're probably not going to last much longer. 

I guess it's my skepticism and general distrust of television and media (partly their own doing, actually) that makes the statement "Well, the television says so!" so hilarious. And the fact that it's Tom, the jackass who spends the majority of his time patronizing his girlfriend, Judy, saying it just makes it all the funnier. God, he really is a sexist toolbag. 

Poor, poor Judy. They don't really do much to portray her as anything except Tom's arm candy. She just kind of runs out into a zombie horde to "save" Tom while he's trying to fill up the truck with gas, which ends up biting both of them in the ass. Which brings me to my favorite tweet of the entire night:

I really need to use Zoolander references more often.
Fire somehow gets on the gasoline, which has a trail going right up to the truck, which of course, catches aflame. Tom, being somewhat more than dumb jock, drives the truck away from the pump, but OF COURSE, Judy's foot gets stuck in the something or other and they both explode with the truck. Sigh.

So Ben is out there, shooting at zombies from afar. Because that's how shotguns work. I mean, I'm not even a gun aficionado and I know that. 

Mr. Cooper gets his ass handed to him because he tried to lock Ben out after the truck blows up. I may have cheered a little bit.

And then for my second favorite tweets:

It really did look like the zombies were disgusted by the non-rare and alive bodies in the truck, but they were apparently taking turns in a buffet line. Because zombies are polite to each other.

The continuous theme.
This Useless Barbra thing is going to have to be a joke in one of my stories. I mean, sweet Jesus, this girl is just sitting there, babbling about how it's almost 3A. GAH.

I actually prefer ghouls over zombies, since it's more accurate. I could go into the mythology surrounding zombies, but that's a lot of work. So instead, here you go: LINK!! Again, thanks, Wikipedia!

I really hate Harry at this point. He has just been a dick this whole time, and even his wife fucking can't stand him; then he goes and locks Ben out of the house. Now, he's trying to get the shotgun away from Ben to do ... something? He's not even really sure. He's kind of a caged animal. Of course, Ben kills him with the shotgun, and of course, Karen (the daughter) proceeds to do what I've been expecting her to do since the second she was mentioned:

Well, Helen falls down the stairs and is stabbed by Karen with a trowel, and Marilyn Eastman has some pretty awesome facial expressions.

I couldn't find my favorite. Stupid internet.
And then, the moment I've been waiting for!

By her zombified brother, nonetheless.
Which leaves us with Ben, our sole survivor and only non-white person, which to me is oddly appropriate. I really don't think most coddled white people would survive an apocalyptic situation, which is why the new show, Revolution, has me giving it lots of side-eye (and also for the creepily clean clothing).

It is kind of odd that Harry's request to stay in the cellar is ultimately what happens, but whatever. He's dead. And Ben gets to kill him again, after he reanimates. Win/win. 

After waiting out the zombies, Ben wakes up in an oddly well-lit cellar (Didn't they say there were no windows down there? How can a ray of sunshine be on his face?? Hush, child. No more questions.) and a posse that was organized to go hunt down the zombies is shown, with dogs and guns. 

I'm onto you, Romero. There ain't nothing you can slide past me.
It's the 60s. I've said this a lot already, but come on, this really has no way of ending well. 

Yeah, they don't even doublecheck to see if the person inside the house is a zombie or not. Ugh, if you wanted a social commentary on racial relations in the late 60s, you've got it right here. 

You know, reading back through these, NotLD seems to be a movie that Three would love. I can just hear him now, "Hey, the hero didn't get turned into a zombie! Happy movie!"

* Okay, upon a second viewing, it's somewhat clear that they are siblings. I feel slightly dumb now.
** I hate that term.
*** PROOF:
****This development intrigues me. Ben was able to drive the truck at the beginning of the movie but then was magically incapable of doing so afterwards? Oh, well, at least it killed Tom and Judy in the process. 
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