Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent black-and-white zombie film directed by George A. Romero. It premiered on October 1, 1968. Night of the Living Dead was heavily criticized during its release because of its explicit content. However, it eventually received critical acclaim and was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.
The plot of the film follows Ben (Duane Jones), Barbara (Judith O'Dea), and five others, who are trapped in a rural farmhouse in Pennsylvania and attempt to survive the night while the house is being attacked by mysteriously reanimated ghouls, otherwise known as zombies. Night of the Living Dead is the origin of six other Living Dead films directed by George A. Romero and became the inspiration for two remakes of the film, a film of the same name directed by Tom Savini, and Night of the Living Dead 3-D, which was directed by Jeff Broadstreet and contained a much different storyline.
The story begins as siblings Barbra (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) drive to a rural Pennsylvania cemetery to visit their father's grave. Barbra is afraid of cemeteries; Johnny teasingly frightens her by repeating the words, "They're coming to get you, Barbra!" A pale Cemetery Zombie (Bill Hinzman) is walking with a limp around the cemetery, and Johnny remarks that he is "one of them." Annoyed by Johnny's childish behavior, Barbra goes to the man to apologize, but he grabs her. Coming to rescue his sister, Johnny wrestles with the man but is killed when he falls headfirst on a tombstone. Barbra flees, with the man in pursuit.
Crashing her and Johnny's car into a tree, she flees to an empty farmhouse where she discovers the half-eaten corpse of the apparent homeowner. Frantically running out of the house, she notices several more ghoulish figures approaching the vicinity. Suddenly, a man named Ben (Duane Jones) arrives in a pickup truck, drags Barbra back inside the house, and barricades the doors and windows. Barbra frantically insists that they must go and rescue Johnny, before collapsing in apparent shock.
Meanwhile, hiding in the cellar are an angry married couple, Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman), their daughter Karen Cooper (Kyra Schon), and teenage couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy Rose (Judith Ridley). Ben activates a radio while Barbra awakens, believing Tom and Harry to be more of the ghouls when they emerge from the basement. Arguing with each other, Harry wants everyone to hide in the cellar but Ben deems it a "deathtrap" and remains upstairs. Tom agrees with Ben and asks for Judy to come upstairs.
Harry returns to the cellar to Helen and Karen, who has fallen ill after being bitten on the arm by a ghoul. Radio reports explain that an epidemic of mass murder is sweeping across the eastern seaboard. When Ben finds a television, the emergency broadcaster reports that the recently deceased have become reanimated and are consuming the flesh of living people. Experts, scientists, and the United States military do not know the cause, though one scientist believes the cause to be radioactive contamination from a space probe that exploded in the Earth's atmosphere.
After news reports provide information about local fortifications where people can take refuge, Ben devises a plan to get to the nearest sanctuary, which would provide medical care for Karen, who is barely conscious. Ben suggests they depart in the truck in which he arrived, which is low on fuel. Ben and Tom then drive the short distance to a gas pump while Harry hurls Molotov cocktails from an upper window to keep the ghouls at bay. Fearing for Tom's safety, Judy follows him. They arrive at the pump but Tom accidentally spills fuel, setting the truck ablaze. Tom and Judy attempt to get the truck away from the pump to avoid further damage but it explodes, killing them both.
Ben despondently returns to the house to find Harry retreating to the cellar door, leaving Ben outside to contend with the ghouls. Angered by Harry's heartlessness, Ben kicks the door down and attacks him. Meanwhile, the ghouls approach the truck to feed on Tom and Judy's carcasses. Back in the house, a final report on the television reveals that a gunshot or heavy blow to the head will stop any ghoul and that posses of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order.
After the ghouls attempt to break into the house, Harry, in another heartless act, grabs Ben's rifle and threatens to shoot him. Ben wrestles the gun from Harry and shoots him. The ghouls begin to tug Helen and Barbra through the windows. Dying of his wounds, Harry stumbles into the cellar to find that his daughter Karen has died from the infected bite on her arm. Helen manages to free herself from the clutches of the ghouls and goes to the cellar to find a reanimated Karen consuming Harry's flesh. Karen repeatedly and fatally stabs Helen with a cement trowel.
Meanwhile, Barbra spots a reanimated Johnny among the mob of ghouls; distracted by her brother's presence, she is carried away, never to be seen again. Karen tries to attack Ben, but he pushes her away and seals himself in the cellar—ironically, the very course of action he originally opposed. Ben shoots the reanimated Harry and Helen as they open their eyes.
The next morning, Ben, the lone survivor, awakens as a posse arrives. He hears the posse and proceeds to the window, when a member of the posse, mistaking him for a ghoul, fatally shoots him in the head. Ben's body is then placed onto a burning pyre along with other dead bodies.
Romero revolutionized the horror film genre with Night of the Living Dead; per Almar Haflidason, of the BBC, the film represented "a new dawn in horror film-making".Almar Haflidason, review of Night of the Living Dead, March 20, 2001, at BBC. Retrieved June 24, 2006. The film has also effectively redefined the use of the term "zombie". While the word "zombie" itself is never used, Romero's film introduced the theme of zombies as reanimated, flesh-eating cannibals. Early zombie films like Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932) and Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie (1943) concerned living people enslaved by a Voodoo witch doctor; many were set in the Caribbean.
The film and its successors spawned countless imitators that borrowed elements instituted by Romero: Tombs of the Blind Dead, Zombie, Hell of the Living Dead, Night of the Comet, Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps, Children of the Living Dead, and the video game series Resident Evil (later adapted as films in 2002, 2004, and 2007), Dead Rising, and House of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead is parodied in films such as Night of the Living Bread and Shaun of the Dead, and in episodes of The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror III", 1992; "Treehouse of Horror XIII", 2004 and "Treehouse of Horror XX", 2009), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, South Park ("Pink Eye", 1997; "Night of the Living Homeless", 2007), Medium ("Bite Me", 2009) and Invader Zim ("Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom" 2001 and "FBI Warning of Doom" 2002).Rockoff, Going to Pieces, p. 36."Treehouse of Horror III", episode 64, The Simpsons, October 29, 1992, at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 24, 2006."Pink Eye", episode 107, South Park, October 29, 1997, on South Park: The Complete First Season (DVD, Warner Bros., 2002)
Night of the Living Dead ushered in the splatter film sub-genre. As one film historian points out, horror prior to Romero's film had mostly involved rubber masks and costumes, cardboard sets, or mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. They were set in locations far removed from rural and suburban America. Jones, Rough Guide to Horror, p. 117. Romero revealed the power behind exploitation and setting horror in ordinary, unexceptional locations and offered a template for making an "effective and lucrative" film on a "minuscule budget". Slasher films of the 1970s and 80s such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) "owe much to the original Night of the Living Dead", according to author Barry Keith Grant. Grant, "Taking Back the Night of the Living Dead", p. 201.
Night of the Living Dead entered the public domain because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright indication on the prints. In 1968, United States copyright law required a proper notice for a work to maintain a copyright.U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 92, Copyright Law of the United States of America, Chapter 4: Copyright Notice, Deposit, and Registration, Omission of notice on certain copies and phonorecords. Image Ten displayed such a notice on the title frames of the film beneath the original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters. The distributor removed the statement when it changed the title.United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Technology and the Law, Legal Issues that Arise when Color is Added to Films Originally Produced, Sold and Distributed in Black and White (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1988), p. 83.
Because of the public domain status, the film is sold on home video by many distributors. As of 2006, the Internet Movie Database lists 23 copies of Night of the Living Dead retailing on DVD and nineteen on VHS. Merchandise for Night of the Living Dead at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 24, 2006.
The original film is available to view or download free on Internet sites such as the Night of the Living Dead site. (Retrieved August 9, 2011).
As of October 31, 2010, it is the Internet Archive's second most downloaded film, with 708,608 downloads.
- Night of the Living Dead — at The Internet Movie Database
- Night of the Living Dead — at Allrovi.com
- Night of the Living Dead — at Rottentomatoes.com
- Night of the Living Dead — Download both HD (Blue Ray) and standard version available for free. (Copyright is public domain)
- Night of the Living Dead — at Youtube