Night of the Living Dead (1968)
It’s not like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was the first zombie movie ever. The word “zombie” had been around for over a hundred years by then; the first movie with that name in the title showed up almost fifty years before Night fell. But when it comes to popularizing the idea of the ravenous dead rising from their graves and the establishment of the entire modern genre that continues to thrive today, more than fifty years later… yeah, it all started here.
There’s an almost hypnotic charm about the awkward, low-budget, black-and-white nature of this film; almost like found footage, weirdly charming. Casting a black man in the lead was a major risk even in ‘68, and his fate – what, we can’t spoil a movie that’s half a century old? – is even more risky and jarring.
A lot of historically important “milestone” movies have an important place in history but don’t hold up to rewatching in the modern era. Not so with Night of the Living Dead – or its two sequels, for that matter, Dawn and Day. Maybe because the original is so artless and expectations were so low. Or maybe because the idea of the all-too-familiar dead returning for no known reason, just to relentlessly feed, is such a damn good idea. Whatever: This has got to be on the zombie fan’s “essentials” list.