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The 411 Dumpster Fire of the Week: Night of the Living Dead Edition

October 31, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Night of the Living Dead

The 411mania Dumpster Fire of the Week

Hello, everyone, and welcome to The 411 Dumpster Fire of the Week. I’m Bryan Kristopowitz.

NightoftheLivingDead1968Poster

The original Night of the Living Dead is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, and one of the most influential movies ever made, especially within the indie movie world. The story of its creation has been recounted in countless books, articles, and documentaries and is the basic template for all low budget/no budget movies made since writer/director George A. Romero, co-screenwriter John A. Russo, and the other members of Image Ten along with actors Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, and several others, took over that farmhouse in Evans City, Pennsylvania and made movie history in 1968. Now, no one involved with Night of the Living Dead thought they were making a classic horror movie. All involved just wanted to make as good of a movie as they could and, maybe, make a little money so they could then go ahead and make another movie. Unfortunately, no one involved in the movie made the fortune they should have, due to a mistake made by the distributor at the time, forgetting to put the copyright notice on the release prints, Night of the Living Dead basically went into public domain as soon as it hit movie screens. That meant that anyone could show the movie and wouldn’t have to pay Image Ten a cent.

While the public domain situation hurt the ability of Image Ten to make money, it made it easier to get the movie to the masses, especially when home video became important (I believe it also showed up on late night TV quite a bit). VHS, then DVD, and now Blu-ray and streaming, the movie has been everywhere and will likely continue to be everywhere for the foreseeable future. People are still watching it, still being inspired by it, and still being scared by it. Night of the Living Dead is a harsh black and white movie that never lets up in the terror department. It has various technical issues due to its low budget and inexperienced director and crew (yes, Romero and company made commercials and industrial films through their The Latent Image company in Pittsburgh, but making commercials is not the same thing as making a 90 minute feature film), but what it lacks in technical polish it makes up for it in energy and an overwhelming sense of dread. Night of the Living Dead, five plus decades on, is still scary as hell.

NightoftheLivingDead1968Criterion

So why not talk about it here, in the Halloween season, for a special edition of the 411 Dumpster Fire of the Week? It’s a scary movie staple, a Halloween season tradition for some, so it made perfect sense to take a look at it that way. I had actually planned on doing Halloween H20, since I did Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers last year, but decided to hold off on that until maybe next year (I need to watch it again because there are parts of it I just don’t remember). So if I’m not doing a Michael Myers movie for Halloween, why not do the most important zombie movie ever made? On top of that, I have already done Dumpster Fire of the Week editions for Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. It’s time to finish off the original Romero zombie trilogy.

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And now, without any more what have you, the Dumpster Fire of the Week: Night of the Living Dead Edition.

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Up first, the honorable mentions:

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5- Vince: As played by Vincent D. Survinski, Vince is one of the armed posse that’s assembled to deal with the ongoing zombie apocalypse at the end of the movie. He’s also the guy that sees Ben (Duane Jones) in the house, suspects Ben is a zombie, and shoots and kills him. Now, even under the very trying circumstances, Vince didn’t have to shoot and kill Ben. He saw something in the house and, instead of moving in closer to see what was really going on there (it’s a house, people live in houses, there was always the chance that a person and not a zombie was still inside of the house). Vince also could have called out to the unknown figure in the house to see if it responded like a person (everyone in the posse could have done that). Vince doesn’t do any of that, though. Vince just shoots Ben because he suspects that Ben is a zombie. That sucks. Ben didn’t deserve that. No one deserves that. Humanity needs all of the people it can get.

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4- Sheriff McClelland: As played by George Kosana, Sheriff McClelland is, at first glance, a dedicated public servant trying to deal with a situation that no one has ever had to deal with before. The bodies of the recently dead are returning to life and attacking the living. How do you deal with that? McClelland took it upon himself to gather up as many able bodied men with guns he could get and basically deputize them to shoot and kill the zombies. But he couldn’t just be a professional about it. He just couldn’t do his job. No, instead McClelland had to be braggart about the whole thing. A tough guy that just won’t stop talking. That’s annoying. He also didn’t do his due diligence when it came to a potential survivor in the farmhouse. He could have gotten closer to the house to see what was going on in there, or told someone to go do it. He allowed Vince to shoot Ben. So on top of being a tough guy asshole, McClelland is also failing to check on the details. Again, in a battle against the living dead, “regular” people need all of the people they can get. How does being a loud mouth asshole who shoots first and asks questions later solve anything?

I will commend him for his “They’re dead, they’re all messed up” line, though. That’s awesome.

3- The Government/Military: We briefly see some government and military officials in Washington D.C. being interviewed on the street by a reporter played by the director George A. Romero (isn’t the reporter’s name Don or something like that?). Romero’s reporter asks the officials what they know about the ongoing zombie phenomena. Is it being caused by radiation from a deep space probe? Is it something else? No one has an answer. All they can really say is “Everything that can be done is being done.” You don’t have to see any of the other Romero zombie movies to know, in that moment, that that’s all bullshit. The government has no idea why anything is happening, but no one in the government can say that. The government needs to project strength in the face of calamity, even if it’s just as clueless as everyone else. That’s just insanity. And I’m willing to bet that attitude is why the zombie phenomena just grew and grew. The government didn’t take its job seriously. It panicked, just like the populace. You can’t sustain a civilization like that. Bunch of dumbasses.

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2-Harry Cooper: As portrayed by Karl Hardman, Harry Cooper is the bald father and husband who, along with his wife Helen and injured daughter Karen, want everyone in the farmhouse to go into the basement. According to Harry, it’s the safest place in the house. In the end, it turns out that Harry was right, the basement probably was the safest place in the house, but Harry didn’t do a very good job convincing people that he was right. He just yelled and argued and acted like a fucking asshole. Why couldn’t he just talk to everyone about the basement and why he thought it was a good idea to go in there? And why did he have to mistreat his wife? Just a horrible, horrible person.

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And the 411 Dumpster Fire of the Week: Night of the Living Dead Editiontop spot goes to:

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NightoftheLivingDead1968Johnny

1- Johnny: As portrayed by Russell Streiner, Johnny is Barbara’s brother. We meet him at the very beginning of the movie, complaining about having to visit the cemetery to put flowers on his father’s grave (he also complains about his mother not being there). Johnny also teases his sister about being scared of the cemetery and does that “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” thing when the first zombie shows up in the background. Of course, Johnny doesn’t know that the first zombie is a zombie. For all he knows the zombie is just a guy. What kind of adult teases his also adult sister, who is scared to death of the cemetery, and gets some random guy involved, too? A fucking asshole, that’s who. Yes, siblings tease one another all of the time, even when they’re older, but do responsible ones try to scare the further crap out of their already scared brother or sister? Of course not.

But isn’t Johnny sort of redeemed when he attacks the first zombie and “saves” Barbara? No, not really. It’s cool that he does that, yes, but he wouldn’t have had to do that if he wasn’t acting like a fucking douchebag just before that. Both he and Barbara probably could have escaped from the cemetery in their car if he had been paying more attention and been more sensitive. Johnny couldn’t do that, though. He had to be a dick, die, and become a zombie at the end of the movie.

What an asshole.

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Happy Halloween!