So, Night of the Living Dead....
In a way this will be a relatively easy review, because I'm not interested in the machinations of the movie making itself. You can get plenty of information through enough sources to keep you busy for hours online. I mention this in this here preamble because I never got to see the original-original Dead. Oh, sure, I skimmed through the youtube bits, but I've never seen the true, un-tampered with film that my parents would have caught.
The reason I bring this up is simple: I'm viewing here the 30th Anniversary Edition from Anchor Bay. An edition that has received quite the venom from dedicated old-style Dead fans. Since I never got the chance to become one of these, the changes made don't really upset me in the way that they have true-blue fans. I will say that I agree with many of the major points in 'The Rebuttal' of this site's review of the disk. Also at the site, you can follow the links to the array of 'new editions' of this classic film. For our purposes here, however, we'll be reviewing the (and this comes from the case's description) "(19)98 Edition of the Original 90 minute 'Edit' with An All New Musical Score".
I'm sure you'd prefer a review of the Original-original, and I couldn't agree more, but this is what I've got and I don't allow DVD companies to double and triple dip into my wallet. I may still review the "30th Anniversary Edition with Over 15 Minutes of New Scenes" at some point (probably after 'Dawn' and 'Day'), just because there are changes to the story as Bill Hinzman and Scott Vladimir Licina recut, edited and added in order to tie the story more deeply as a precursor to 'Dawn of the Dead'. Since Romero didn't feel the need (or wasn't asked) to make these changes, I don't feel that they were necessary and the new opening focusing on Bill 'zombie #1' is dull and doesn't add anything. Nevertheless, since the focus of the 30th Anniversary focuses away from Johnny and Barbra and onto the Patient Zero, it could be considered a movie of its own, though borrowing heavily from Romero's unfortunately public domain release (which allowed them so much freedom to tamper in the first place).
With the version that will be presented here, it also seems that as much as 6 minutes may have been edited out. I won't be able to speak to how this changes the film, nor to compare the soundtracks. I can only review this film as presented here.
And, now on with the show:
Night of the Living Dead
(1968 [1998 edition])
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley
Directed by: George A. Romero with 30th Anniversary changes by (I'm guessing, correct me if wrong) John A. Russo, Scott Vladimir Lucina, Bill Hinzman.
Scene 01: We open on a long, American boat of a car. The sort of battleships we used to drive around in before we discovered that oil wasn't going to last forever and that the oil there was mostly came from foreign suppliers who could screw us over on a moment's notice. It's on a curvy road out in the boondocks.
Under the credits, to a piano and woodwind score that is a bit too loud, we follow the car turn onto a dirt tract. This little road leads us past an old, shot out sign for the local cemetery.
The car winds its way through the cemetery until coming to a stop.
Commentary: Let me just say that I don't know if this is part of the new music that caused an uproar, but I don't find it bad. A bit repetitive and the piano is a bit loud in the mix, but otherwise I see nothing wrong with it. This should tell you both about my personal ignorance about what changes were made to the original, and my predilection for giving the movie a fair shot on its own merits. Either you can stand reading the rest of the review, or your already forming a lynch mob by what I can tell online..., also the pre-credits does run long considering how dull it is watching this car driving in the middle of nothing much to look at. But, it does give us an immediate indication that our protagonist can't just flag down help - clearly this graveyard is off the beaten path.
Scene 02: With the car coming to a halt, we see a blonde woman looking pensive and a driver in 60's dork-chic glasses.
The woman grins that its 8pm and still light as they have 'sprung forward' by this time (for those not in the know - we practice daylight savings time). The man complains that it doesn't really help them... they've traveled three hours to get out there (so why did they choose to come so flippin' late?) and it will be midnight before they can make it back home.
We are quickly brought up to speed that we're with a brother and sister duo outside of Pittsburgh (3 hours from). They're making their annual trek for their mother, who is too frail to make the journey. They are there to place a wreath in remembrance of their father, though Johnny complains that he doesn't even remember the man, so clearly his loss was a long, long time ago. Johnny is a bit resentful of having to give up a Sunday every year for this pilgrimage to keep mother happy.
The radio suddenly comes on in the car and a local station reports they're back from a technical interruption. I'm sure that they were about to go on and say that they've had riots in town, or some such to warn our folks that trouble is brewing. Alas, Barbs tells Johnny to hurry and he flips the radio off and exits the car before they can learn anything.
Scene 03: Barbra asks Johnny which row their father is buried in, so you have to ask whether she's just as bored with this annual task as him, if more forgiving of it. We get a shot of skeletal trees against the sky (it's only turned spring and everything hasn't started to bloom full force, yet). We also realize that the grave to be visited is a fair distance away from their car... quite a fair distance away.
Johnny points out how isolated it is with no one around. Barbra points out that its late because he didn't get up and get moving as early as she'd asked.
(I'll say! Let's assume that Johnny works midnights and is used to sleeping most of the day away... that is something I can fully understand.)
Scene 04: At the gravestone, Johnny continues making cynical observations about their annual ritual, while Barbra obviously takes things much more seriously. He is doing little other than complaining, but she shows a reverence at the graveside and even kneels down to offer up a brief prayer for daddy.
Commentary: Truth to tell, Johnny joins a long line of relatively whiny jerks in horror. Barbra on the other hand is obviously the 'peacemaker' type. You can imagine her having to convince her brother every year to do this for elderly mom, year after year. She's probably doing the great balk of seeing after mom day in and day out, as well.
Johnny tries to rush her with a "church was this morning" comment as she's trying to pray. Lightning flashes, showing that the spring weather is turning. Off in the distance as he impatiently gazes around, he sees a stiff-limbed man walking.
Barb mentions that she hasn't seen much of Johnny in church lately. He tells her there isn't much point, reminiscing about his grandfather already telling him he'd be going to Hell, because of a trick he played on her where he scared the bejeezus out of her in that very cemetery as kids. Johnny jokes that she used to be so afraid of graveyards... and her plaintive "Johnny!" tells him she still is uptight in this place.
Scene 05: Barbra tells him to stop bugging her and rushes back toward the car. Of course, being a sibling, Johnny can't resist teasing her fear. He gives her the famous, "They're coming to get you, Barbra" ... a line that inspired a blog title, it's so well known.
Johnny follows along behind her teasing her about the dead, driving her into an increasing state of anger at him, and embarrassment over how afraid cemeteries are to her.
In the meantime, they're heading in the general direction of where the stumbling man is, uh, stiff-leggedly stumbling. Johnny teases Barb mercilessly that he's one of 'them' coming to get her.
Commentary: At first I'd just say that Johnny is being typically brother-holish, the way we get sometimes. But, he really carries things on long after the time when it should be obvious that she is really terrified of the graveyard. She is obviously only there at all because she's a dutiful daughter to her remaining parent. He really recognize that it isn't very funny, anymore, and give her a break.
John jokes that with 'him' coming for Barbra, he's getting out of there and jogs away from her. She politely tries to pass the shambling man, but he reacts by growling at her and lunging for her. She screams as the man starts wrestling with her, calling Johnny back, now that joking time is obviously and suddenly over.
Johnny and the (okay, let's just stipulate it's Zombie #1) zombie wrestle (and if you'll notice, the zombie is trying to bite him) when they are both thrown to the ground. Johnny ends up smashing his head into a gravestone and is unconscious. Meanwhile Barbra watches before realizing that her brother can't help her anymore and the growling nutso is coming after her!
Scene 06: Barbra runs. Zombie chases. She falls. She abandons shoes for a dash to the car.
Commentary: One of my pet peeves is women who fall when being chased. I don't know what it was with this trope that when a woman is afraid she loses all ability to pick up her effing feet, but it happens over and over. Here it's much less egregious that normal because she's in heels on grass. I'm so glad that didn't then have her waste valuable survival time with retrieving her shoes - that must make her survival skills better than probably 30% of her cinema sisters.
Scene 07: Trapping herself in the car, she finds she doesn't have any car keys on her. They're with Johnny. And now, it's too late to go anywhere because dead guy is at the window....
Commentary: I'll also point out here that Romero used the 'fast zombie' long before the resurgence of this trope with 28 Days Later (who, yes, aren't zombies - but the infected did inspire the new hyper movement of the modern undead zombie in films like the remake of 'Dawn of...' and 'Day of...'). Later the zombies will assume the more typical for this era's shamblers, but right now, Zombie #1 is moving pretty darned well.
Also of note is that the zombies have no problems using simple tools, as well. Here, Zombie #1 makes use of a rock to reach Barb. Later a trowel will be used to get a victim to stop wiggling around.... The Italians were not the first zombies to retain some basic reasoning skills.
Scene 08: With Zombie #1 smashing the passenger side window and reaching in for her, Barbra takes of the parking break and puts the car in drive. She begins to roll down the incline, outpacing the chasing zombie.
Commentary: History Lesson - Once upon a time, you didn't need to insert the key in the ignition to get the car out of Park. We were expected to have enough brains to not accidentally shift the gearbox without the intent of actually driving somewhere. In addition, though car burglary occurred, of course, it wasn't such an epidemic that you needed to have a secured transmission that required a microchipped key to start. The more we advance, the more it feels like we're becoming more primitive, but that's another argument... back to the film.
The car roles down the road for a ways, but without the engine running, there isn't power steering and Barb ends up sideswiping a tree trunk and stops any forward momentum she'd had. Zombie #1 has not given up pursuit leaving Barbra in a poor situation.
She's still capable of outrunning a zombie, even one who isn't doddering along though, and soon sees a farmhouse where she can seek help in the distance.
Scene 09: At the farmhouse, she rather deliberately stumbles against a on-property gas pump, setting up its existence so it can come into play later.
Commentary: Another aside about the soundtrack, here. I wish they weren't playing music over this sequence. One because without it we could really get a sense of her vulnerability by hearing only nature sounds - the utter lack of the sounds of human activity would work wonders here. Also, the music is really repetitive and is just now starting to get on my nerves.
Barb (I keep wanting to call her Judith, after the actress - she looks very Judithy) finds the front door locked. She runs around the house and confusingly, across a field from the opposite way, Zombie #1 is making his way across the farm fields (i.e. there is bad continuity, here).
Fortunately, she finds the back door has been left open, and as thunder continues to rumble, manages to get into a kitchen and lock the door.
Commentary: I'm not sure why they felt the need to include thunder and lightning. It doesn't appear that a storm has any impact one way or the other, unless you want to go with God's Judgment Day is raging (which would actually tie nicely with Dawn's ... when there's no more room in Hell... famous line) but I have a feeling it was for nothing more than horror should have a scary storm.
Scene 10: Barbra grabs up a knife from the kitchen and explores her new surroundings. It's creepily quiet and mostly dark. In addition to the 'wrongness' of the back door being wide open when she found it, we also see a carpet disturbed and a broken lamp, putting her and us on edge for what else may be in this large rambling house.
Outside, she hears Zombie #1 stumbling around against the house and dashes for the telephone. Unsurprisingly it's completely dead. At least she has the presence of mind to also close the curtains, blocking the Zombie seeing where she is, exactly. Unfortunately, as soon as a man makes the scene, she'll become more and more useless.
Finding that there will be no immediate help from that quarter, she goes to a window an spies outside. She sees Zombie #1 still looking over the house, seemingly at some confusion over what to do (and remember at this point, he's just a nutso-cuckoo) but she also notes that there are two more 'people' shambling toward the farmhouse.
Nutso doesn't react to the newbies presence, and with them all moving so wrongly, Barb wisely doesn't call to them for help. Instead, she rushes up the stairs to the second floor, trying to stay as quiet within as is possible (it would help if she wasn't tripping over furniture in her panicky haste).
Scene 11: Creeping up the stairs, she gives out a horrified shriek (so much for staying quiet) as she finds a mutilated corpse at the head of the stairs! She stumbles back down the stairs and to the front of the house, where she chooses to run outside - fortunately, before Darwin can impose his natural selection on her, headlights blind her momentarily. They belong to a truck driven by our actual hero - Ben. And, he's black (but he isn't a complete good guy)!
Commentary: I mention this because of how sadly rare this is - not just in 1968, either. How many modern horror films have the black dude get kacked immediately?
Ben sees Zombie #1 has been attracted to the lights and rushes Barbra indoors, where he relocks the door.
Scene 12: Ben takes control of the situation, calming the distraught Barbra. He asks her for a key to the gas pump, but she's in too much shock to answer him, frustrating him (and us, which she will continue to do now that she has someone else to rely on). He tries the phone, discovering the same thing Barb did (and I still find myself wanting to type Judith at every mention of her).
Barbra has wandered back into the hallway and is staring up the staircase in horror. Ben goes up a few steps to see what she's concerned with, since she still won't talk to him. He sees the remains that have been captioned above.
Ben tells Barb they need to get out before they're surrounded and goes off to collect food to take with them. In the meanwhile, Barb is wandering around in a trance like state, the canted camera angle telling us that the shock has really taken hold of her now and she isn't really 'there' with Ben at this point.
She hears in super-echo hearing the sounds of dripping and moments later, blood drips down onto her hand from the remains above. With a cry of revulsion, she runs back into the dining room - clearly starting to lose it.
Scene 13: She joins Ben in the kitchen, where he's rattling around and asks him what is happening. Outside the house, the zombies turn their rage (and we're given plenty of opportunity to believe they're enraged, including a lot of hissing, growling and grimacing) on Ben's truck. He's unconcerned because he only sees two but wants to know from Barbra whether she's seen any more stalking around (there are at least three others, by my count).
As Barb has a freak out over not understanding what is going on, Ben goes outside to take care of the zombies attacking the truck. They smash the headlights apparently finding the bright lights bothersome. He smashes one to the ground with a crowbar and then beats its head in. In the meanwhile, another notices the activity and turns its attention toward him.
That one gets the crowbar to the head treatment, as well.
Scene 14: Back in the house, Barbra is trying (without much success) to pull herself together, when another zombie from out back breaks the cheap lock on the backdoor. It sees her in a chair, sobbing, and makes its shambling way for her....
Scene 15: Back at the truck, Ben makes sure that the dead aren't going to be moving around anymore and then makes his way back for the house. He stupidly leaves the front front door still open, but he manages to pull Barbra away before she gets herself grabbed. The zombie quickly gets a crowbar jabbed through its forehead.
Ben looks sick, but there isn't time for his disgust because another zombie is approaching the still open back door. He hits it outside, but there are four more behind it. He quickly shuts the back door, though that lock isn't going to hold worth crap, obviously.
He drags the zombie body away (bad continuity - the zombies eyes were closed, now they're open and the actor can't stop shifting his eyes to look at the camera). In the meanwhile, I'll note that the lock on the back door is broken and the front door is still wide open....
Scene 16: Ben opens the back door AGAIN, this time to drag the zombie corpse back outside onto the porch. In the meanwhile, Barbra acts in a state of shock, again, I think because she believes that Ben just killed somebody (a nutso, but still).
Ben takes the extra step of lighting the body on fire, which the zombies shy away from.
Commentary: Actually, that was pretty smart, but I still can't help but point out that the zombie that was still standing outside of the door is mysteriously not still there when he opens it to drag this body out....
With a chance at a breather, Ben starts looking for nails to board up the door. He sends Barb to turn on some more lights so they can see what they're doing and won't be taken by surprise by anymore shambling corpses.
Commentary: In the meantime, I'm yelling "FRONT DOOR, FRONT DOOR! YOU DIDN'T RECLOSE IT!"
Scene 17: He tries to get Barbra to help him gather up wood to board up the windows and doors, but she's dazed and in shock, still and he's losing his patience with her inability to help him save their lives. He tries to insist that they'll be alright, but that they have to take steps together to block off entrances into the house.
It looks briefly like he might have gotten through to her, but she stops at a music box and her behavior as well as the camera angles tells us that she is still off in her own little land of disbelief of what is happening to them.
Commentary: At least the music stops for a brief time, but there is the loudest cricket on Earth right in the room with her, apparently. And, I'm still wondering where the zombies at the front of the house are, what with the front door never having been closed and re-locked, yet....
Thankfully, Ben is more together and is collecting spare boards, baseboards, and internal doors to act as blockades against the zombies entering.
Barb grabs up some small boards near the fireplace, finally doing something - however small - to assist. She returns to the kitchen with them.
Finally, the back door with the broken lock (that nevertheless got locked a lot) is boarded up, and with a quick fade, so is the windows. We'll have to assume the front door was also closed and re-locked while we weren't watching because zombies have not filled up the hallway and living room.
Scene 18: Ben keeps up a running dialog with the uncommunicative Barbra. He fills us in on where he came from and the awful nightmare he witnessed as the dead appeared from out of nowhere and started attacking people. He witnessed a gas truck under attack as it went out of control, crashed and burned with the driver screaming....
Commentary: What is more interesting though, is Ben's "facts". He first says he was at a diner, when he spotted the truck. He 'got in to listen to the radio'. But when he spots the out of control tanker truck, he 'slammed on my brakes'. It's very clear that far from being a hero, Ben was a thief. That truck was sitting in idle and he slipped into the seat and took off, when he then saw the zombie attack on the tanker truck and quickly realized that some sort of madness had descended on town. It also explains why he was taken by surprise at the trucks running out of gas... it wasn't his to begin with.
This is a great scene, as Duane more than ably makes us see the chain of events from the tanker crash, to the diner attack and his horror at driving through the staring hoard and having them not react at all to his stolen truck mowing through them (although, I have to point out that the truck doesn't look at all like it had been plowing through people).
As Ben is sharing all of this, Barbra has picked up a tablecloth from the dining room table that he's demolishing for usable scrap. She carefully and silently folds this up and holds it tightly to her chest. This is another nice bit showing us Barbra's failing attempts to cling to something, anything, that isn't involved in the horror going on around her.
Barbra begins to tell Ben about the cemetery, crying. She tells Ben about the man in the cemetery (though in her version of events, she laughed at Johnny's teasing). As she gets more animated, she tells Ben about being grabbed and having her clothes tore at by Zombie #1 as he tries to get her to calm down. Now, having told a version of what happened to her, she remembers that Johnny hasn't come yet and worries after him. She tries to tell Ben that they have to go out and find Johnny.
She has a freak out over Johnny being out there alone, but Ben tries to tell her he didn't follow her because he's dead. He suddenly finds himself wrestling with her as she tries to open the front door and rush out into the night with those things.
Commentary: I cannot imagine how audiences took this scene - after Barbra slaps him for getting in her way, he belts her one. Now, not only is Ben a black man hitting a white woman which must have caused a shock all on its own, but I could swear he balls up his fist first. While it happens so quickly I can't freeze it to see for sure, this along with Ben's tale of the truck (which he clearly stole before he realized he needed to get out of dodge) I think this gives the clear impression that Ben isn't a dyed-in-the-wool decent man. He doesn't try to shake her first, and he doesn't just slap her, he hauls off and hits her hard (and if I am seeing this clearly, with his fist).
Even from our vantage point, where we've seen a lot of hysterical women hit, Ben's action here is shocking just because of the "I am not effing around with you" of it....
She quickly passes out, whether from surprise or sudden pain, we can't know.
Scene 19: A fade tells us that some time has passed and Ben has been working on reinforcing the boarding up of the first floor.
Commentary: What is interesting is how on edge and interested we remain considering that for long portions of the movie, the zombies are really just hanging out outside. They're not pounding on doors or breaking glass or making their presence plain. We're tense entirely due to Barbra's hysteria and Ben's obviously barely holding himself in control... not bad at all for what has for a long stretch been mostly a one person monologue scene followed by more dialog between the two of them.
Having done what he could, Ben finally turns to gathering information. Turning on the parlor radio, he tunes in to hear frantic news of mass murders occurring with no apparent motives, rhymes or reasons. The radio makes it clear that the killings are wide spread across the whole of the United States. The news reports are low on reliable details.
Commentary: Unfortunately, Ben looks out of a window to see those few zombies hanging around the empty-gas-tanked truck. You have to wonder why the zombies aren't attracted to the light from the house, why they haven't smashed out that window pane yet, and why Ben hasn't boarded it up yet. Considering the circumstances and the fact we've spent so long with Ben impressing on Barbra that they need to secure the lower floors of the house, this is just a continuity error that can't be overlooked. I stress that he wasn't peering through slats of board, the window is clearly completely clear of obstruction.
As the radioman continues to paint a picture of the breakdown in society as highways are clogged with people trying to flee or to get home from work to their families in disregard of official advice to stay where they are until the crisis passes, Ben lights a fire in the fireplace. This is to create a torch which he takes outside with him, along with a chair soaked in lighter fluid (this being before the days of disposables, where everyone had lighters they kept filled themselves).
The torched chair is pushed down the front steps, encouraging (unnecessarily, as far as I can tell) them to back away from the front of the house and the truck.
Commentary: Again, Ben spends an awful lot of time opening doors to the zombies. Considering that these doors have no windows, it's curious that there is never a zombie waiting to bum rush him when he is continually doing this. I also find the zombies' apparent fascination with the empty truck to be silly when there is all kinds of light coming from the house (especially with that not boarded up window).
Oh, wait - Ben is now finally boarding up that window....
Scene 20: Fade cut to later: Ben checks on Barb who is about to come around, but not until he leaves to take down some more internal doors for use. Everything seems relatively secured at this point, so I think Ben is just trying to stay busy.
We get a special focus on a door that hasn't been opened at any time, yet. Then Barb stirs on the sofa. In the meanwhile, the radio announcer continues reporting that civil authorities want everyone to get off and stay off the street until they can determine the source of this sudden desire to murder. They mentions that NASA officials have been called in as well (we'll learn that a possible reason for the zombies is a returning satellite, but this remains nothing but a desperate theory).
As Barbra sits up, the news announcer on the radio gives a basic description of the trucker story that Ben shared. The driver was mobbed by 'assassins' who apparently had no concern for their own safety as the truck went up into a ball of flame.
Ben takes a quick break for a cigarette, but is quickly on the move again, checking closets. In what is an apparent sort of apology, he glances toward the parlor where he's left Barb and grabs a pair of shoes for her from the closet. He also finds a rifle and ammunition.
Scene 21: When he returns to the parlor, Barbra is sitting silent on the sofa, a huge bruise obvious on her face.
He tries to talk to her like shortly before he hadn't cold-cocked her and helps her into the shoes he found. He tells her that the place has been boarded up pretty solidly, so they should be alright for the time being until help arrives.
Commentary: Uh, except for that window right behind him which displays not a single bored - oops. Oh, and a second later, her borrowed shoes are not in evidence... oops.
Anyway, he leaves her in the parlor to check out the upstairs (which, considering her penchant for wanting to run out into the zombies seems unwise). On the radio, the newsman now reports that several of the murdered show signs of being partially devoured by their attackers.
Scene 22: Upstairs, Ben hesitates at the body lying at the head of the stairs, a woman, we now make out by her clothing. He shifts her onto an area rug and drags her into a bedroom.
Scene 23: Downstairs we receive another shot of the radio, as the news announcer reports the confirmation that the murderers are practicing cannibalism against their victims. Barbra sits on the sofa absorbing this news and quite probably thinking about Johnny left lying in the cemetery.
She's distracted by the sound of a nearby door, and when she sees a pair of hands open it into the parlor, she takes off with a blood curdling scream. Ben hears the commotion from upstairs and rushes down, but we can already tell that the new people are not undead, because we hear a voice telling Barbra to stop running.
Scene 24: We quickly learn that there have been more people in the basement this entire time, as Ben bitterly complains about the fact he could have used help with boarding up the place. We'll learn that the two newcomers are Harry and Tom. We'll also find that Harry and Ben will spend the entire time nearly throttling each other, including here as Ben yells at them for staying hidden when Barbra was screaming for help earlier, and he was busy trying to single handedly board out the 'killing mob'.
Harry tells him that they had no idea what was going on, but they were safe in the cellar and with all the racket for all they knew, the upstairs were full of 'those things'.
Harry and Ben get into the first of their many arguments about what to do. Harry insists everyone be moved to the cellar, while Ben insists that he's boarded the place up solidly. Harry tells Ben about the fact the mob turned over his car and they were lucky to escape at all. He isn't about to trust some flimsy pieces of wood over the windows. Tom shares that Harry was just so hesitant to open the cellar earlier because his wife and daughter are down there - the implication being that he isn't a bad guy, he's just desperate to protect his family. He also shares a detail that is going to be important to a shocking moment later, when he offhandedly mentions that the Harry's kid was pretty badly hurt during their escape from the mob.
I'll just tell you right now that Harry's wife will be named Helen, the daughter is Karen and Tom's girlfriend is also sheltering with them - Judy (so I guess that's why Judith O'Dea couldn't just be called Judith, but I still wish they'd switched their names. I don't know why I feel compelled to keep calling Barbra by her actress' name).
Ben is willing to let the argument over them staying in the cellar this whole time go, but still argues they should stay upstairs and keep the mob from getting into the house at all. Harry's argument (which we might buy if he wasn't being so abrasive) is that in the cellar there is only one door to protect, and they've arraigned to have it blocked. When he complains to Ben that they were able to roll his car over and Ben tells him even five men could have done that, he tells him that is his point. Only they won't be facing five men, or even 30 men - they'll be facing an unknown amount of dozens, all feeling compelled to get in and murder them all.
Commentary: Both gentlemen have merit to their argument here. There's little reason not to move the essentials - food, water, blankets downstairs, while also allowing everyone to move around the house if for no other reason than to stave off claustrophobia. Not to mention the huge-ass radio is on the first floor, and in those days they were too massive to easily move around the house. They need to keep abreast of what the news can tell them about what is happening and when they can expect the situation to be brought under control. Really, there isn't any reason to be arguing so vociferously like this, as Tom will point out more than once, except that Ben and Harry immediately get off on the wrong foot and neither one of them is willing to concede to the other. Both of them are egotists who want to be in control of the house, and for that reason, they're both equally responsible for making it more difficult to take sensible steps to survive than there should be in this situation. What I really blame on both of them, though, is inspiring future lazy and/or just plain bad script writers to default to unlikeable asshats screaming at one another until it's time to get killed in way too many future movies.
Tom also points out that the cellar doesn't have a back exit - one way in means being trapped if they do get through their barricade. At least if they're upstairs, there are multiple places to run.
Scene 25: Tom notes that there are about ten out front, which Ben confirms is more than there were (although, why they seem to want to congregate around this lone house in the middle of nowhere is a question never asked nor answered) and Ben tells him there are more out back. As he walks into the kitchen to check on the numbers there, hands smash through the glass and grab at him on the first direct assault against the house (with the exception of the one zombie who busted the back door open and discounting the times when the zombies freely walked in, thanks to leaving the doors opened).
Tom quickly discovers that hammering at the grasping hands has no impact, he literally destroys the fingers of one zombie and there is no withdrawing or screams of pain. In addition, Ben gets his purloined rifle in place to shoot another in the chest and discovers the thing won't fall and doesn't stop.
Ben fires again into the man's torso, and again, it doesn't do more than distract until he hits it in the head. But dozens more are closing in on the house to replace him, including hunky shirtless guy that I appreciate and naked woman who seems unnecessary (and I have to wonder if this is an inserted shot - could you have naked women [even zombie ones] walking around in 1968 horror). Anyway, they wander aimlessly, but in the general direction of the farmhouse. Many have severe damage which they appear to ignore - one zombie grabs a beetle off of a tree and eats it.
Commentary: I want to delve into the zombies a bit here. While there has never been any doubt about the cannibalism aspect of zombiedom, the impact of them on other animal life has been unclear. Here we get the bug eating scene, while in "Dawn" we don't really get any idea on whether the zombies are consuming everything that lives or not. In 'Day', we see that alligators have come in from the Everglades, so clearly reptiles are not impacted by the zombie's eating habits, but it remains unspoken and un-shown whether warm-blooded animals are at risk. And, clearly, the bugs here are being consumed despite not having blood, per se, but this could just be an anomaly. By the time of the 'Dawn' remake, only humans are preyed upon as it's a plot point that a dog is completely ignored by the allegedly ravenous horde. I personally like the idea that all warm blooded life is being wiped out in the zombies ever expanding circle of consumption. Of course, the mechanism for their digestion presents more problems - as is the reason that they don't consume more than several bites from their victims before moving on. One could theorize that there is a compulsion to eat, which they quickly grow bored of when it doesn't do anything to satisfy, causing them to move onto the next victim, where they again attempt to satisfy this compulsion. I'd also theorize, just for the fun of it, that they in fact cannot digest anything. They just consume until their stomachs explode - being dead, they don't notice this but just continue shoveling flesh down their gullets, filling their abdominal cavities ever fuller until their own flesh has decomposed badly enough that they can no longer do so. The brain must be the last of the body to finally degrade, but eventually, assuming anyone remains, humankind will find the plague passed as zombies are destroyed and simply rot enough for the brain to degrade. I'd also argue that in Romero's universe, zombiedom is unable to be transmitted to other animals. The genes affected, therefore, must be those that make us human - though it would be interesting to wonder if other primates are in fact being zombied and we simply don't visit any zoos or jungles to find out... Yeah, I know - hello, it's a movie and there doesn't have to be this whole scientific set of rules about how this all works. I think about it anyway.
Scene 26: Back in the house, the zombies crashing through the window convinces Harry he's right in insisting everything and everyone be moved into the cellar. Ben not only disagrees, but makes it clear he's willing to fight for the radio, the food, catatonic Barbra and everything else upstairs. He tells Harry he can feel free to do downstairs, if he wants, but nothing else is and he puts Tom on the spot to make his choice as well.
Commentary: Harry is a grade-A ass, but here Ben is really coming off as the controlling jerk. He's really striking me as unlikeable here with his insistence on hogging all of the supplies as if he's King of the Castle. This is especially galling because he asks if this is Harry's house, when he states they have a right to a share of the food and water in the cellar. Ben, it isn't your house either - in fact, it also wasn't your truck you used to get there. On the other hand, Ben has done a hell of a lot of work to secure those within from the horde, so he's not exactly without a claim to the resources that Harry left behind when he rushed everyone downstairs (seemingly from the moment they arrived).... Again, neither is in the right, here and they spend too much time and energy at cross purposes as both try to be in control. By the way, Barbra has become a real fifth wheel here, which always bugged me. The story focused on her and then suddenly she gets shunted to being a passive couch decoration.
Before Harry returns to the cellar stronghold, Tom calls Judy upstairs.
Scene 27: Harry blocks up the door again, and complains bitterly to his wife. Helen throws out a few comments about his having ignored Barbra's screams before and when he tells her he wasn't about to take any chances, she says drolly, "Of course, not". I quickly get the idea that his wife and he didn't have the greatest of marriages even before this world fell apart. Also down there is the injured daughter Karen, who is lying on a board above he cement floor. She's unconscious.
Helen reports that Karen feels warm, that perhaps she's in shock, but she really can't tell what is wrong with her.
Now, it's time for Harry to turn on Helen, as well, as she's angered by not only his 'need to be right', but his locking them down there when the only source of information is upstairs. She wants him to un-barricade the door so they can hear any new instructions from the authorities on what to do. When Helen hears from Tom that Ben found a television set on the second floor, she's even more insistent that they go up and see what is being broadcast over the emergency stations. Judy is tapped to sit with Karen.
Scene 28: Judy is hesitant about returning to the cellar with the gravely ill Karen, but Tom convinces her that they can't get anything done with split into two groups and holding animosity toward one another. He begs her to do this for him, so that he can encourage Harry and Helen to cooperate with the whole of the group. Obviously, it is more Harry's cooperation that is the stumbling block....
Commentary: Unsurprisingly, since this is the latter 60's, the women go out of their way to get along and cooperate and support one another. Tom also is a peacemaker trying to bridge the gulf between Ben and Harry. I would gladly be trapped with any of them. Ben, while always thinking ahead at the moment of crisis, quickly becomes authoritarian as soon as the immediate needs are taken care of - it would quickly become a problem being stuck with him over an extended period of time, especially since once he's decided a course of action he seems to go out of his way not to bother listening to any other opinions (possibly, this is just because Harry's crossed him the wrong way, but I get the sense it is more than that). Harry, of course, wants to be the voice of authority immediately, and it's not hard to think he's used to Helen backing down which would make being locked up with him unbearable over any length of time. I'd probably hang out upstairs... a lot... to get away from him and Ben.
Almost as soon as Helen gets upstairs, she immediately assumes responsibility for helping the clearly traumatized Barbra. It just makes me like Helen all the more. Tom mentions that Barb's brother was killed (an assumption that started with Ben, but it isn't an unreasonable one) and Helen is full of sympathy.
Barbra in the meantime seems focused completely on a doily pattern as a way to avoid everything going on around her, adding to her drag on them as a group trying to survive the extraordinary events.
Commentary: I hate to say this about Barb, but she's too weak to cope and she puts everyone else at risk because they have to worry about protecting her. If Ben wasn't being such an ass, he would have had her put in a bed upstairs, or even allowed Harry to take her into the cellar, since that is there retreat point, anyway if they can't get out any other way. If they did have to make a sudden run for it out into the night, it's not too hard to guess at this point that Barbra wouldn't make it. Cold perhaps, but that's the way my brain would be working in this situation....
Scene 29: Harry paces, waiting for Ben and Tom to return with the television set from upstairs. He spends the whole time complaining first that the boards over the windows aren't strong enough to do any good and then complaining that they're blocking the view so they can't see how many of them are outside. Keeping track of the numbers seems to be very important to Harry, as if whether there are 10 or 100 will make any difference if they decide to break in. Helen angrily suggests he find a way to help somebody.
Tom and Ben return then with the tv and after they get it plugged in, warmed up and tuned (no digital cable in them days), they get in a new bulletin. This is where everyone finds out that the gangs of cannibal murderers are in fact the recently dead returned to life. In addition to reporting this incredible fact, the news also reports that people are no longer being encouraged to remain their homes, but instead to report to heavily guarded rescue stations where food, water, medicines and troops are available for their safety (but we'll find out in 'Dawn' that these rescue stations will be overrun one by one).
Ben brings up the truck and Tom mentions the gas pumps, but is informed that they're locked up and Ben doesn't know where the key for it is. The newsman also now informs the public that they haven't gotten any answers to their questions to the President's cabinet about why space experts are being consulted over an Earth bound issue. He brings up a possible answer in the Venus probe which recently started its way back to Earth, but never arrived as far as anyone knows when NASA claims to have destroyed it in space due to anomalous high level radiation (as mentioned before, however, radiation or a space bug is never confirmed as the cause).
Commentary: This next bit involves a reporter waylaying a NASA official and a General. The official insists there's an obvious causal effect, while the General tries to interject that there isn't any direct evidence of that. My problem with the scene though, is that it comes so late in the movie that all of the cities has been reported to be suffering from the phenomena. Except, apparently, Washington DC since we see these people out on the street, relatively unconcerned that zombies are supposed to be everywhere. There are even cars and buses on the street without any sort of gridlock or chaotic traffic. Everyone in DC appears very well behaved for facing ravenous hordes of the animated recently dead. Even more bizarrely, the city is lit up as if they're out in the daylight, even though it's very clearly still dark in Pennsylvania where our protagonists are holed up....
Ben reiterates they need to get out of there and to a rescue station. Helen further exposits (new word!) that the medical personnel may be able to help Karen if they can get her to a hospital or first aid station. Of course they're still left with the central problem of how to get the truck filled up with gasoline without being mobbed by hungry sets of teeth.
After hearing from the news reports that no one yet knows of any complications of injury by the undead (like, say, they're turning into zombies - oops - Spoiler!), Ben asks how badly off Karen is. It's clear Helen just doesn't know, so he sends her back down to look after her daughter. In the background, Harry is naturally poo-pooing any possibility of them making a run for it.
Scene 30: In the basement, Karen has woken up and complains of body aches. Helen doesn't understand why she's so sick when all she got was a small bite on her bicep. (Uh, ignoring the zombie issue, maybe it's because the human mouth is bacteria central? Did we not know how dangerous a human bite can be back then, especially in circumstances where the wound isn't properly cleaned?)
As Judy is heading back upstairs, on the news a scientist being interviewed informs everyone that cadavers will reanimate within minutes of their bodily functions ceasing. Immediate cremation is highly recommended.
Scene 31: Judy is sent by Ben to find sheets to rip into strips. Tom looks for jars and mentions kerosene in the basement to make explosive cocktails for use to keep the zombies off of them. Harry, for once helping, points out that there is a large key ring in the cellar that may have the key to the locked pumps.
Commentary: Ben has changed his story about the truck, again, too. Now he didn't get in just to listen to the radio... he found it 'abandoned'. With him being relatively unfamiliar with the truck's clutch, Tom offers to drive it. That makes Ben and Tom as the ones to go out and get the truck gassed up. Ben's plan is relatively reasonable if their first choice isn't to just stay put and wait things out where they are. My only suggestions would be expecting Mr. Cooper to run upstairs, launch some cocktails to drive the zombies away from the truck, then run back downstairs to relock the door behind them until they return. It would make far more sense for Judy to remain at the door and close and lock it immediately than to force Harry to run down the stairs and hope the zombies don't get in while he's huffing and puffing his way.
Scene 32: Switching locations, we're with Judy when Tom comes into a bedroom upstairs. She's barely gotten any strips cut from the sheets and he presses her to hurry. She tells him that she's worried about the folks worrying about them. She wishes the phones would work so she can let them know they're alright. Unspoken is the thought that 'the folks' might be dead already... or walking dead.
Judy is having second thoughts about the plan to leave the safety of the house, but Tom insists that what is happening isn't going to blow over. He compares it quite aptly to a flood - they have to go to the rescue station 17 miles away, just like they had to retreat one time because of the flood they had. He reminds her that she didn't want to leave then, either. She worries about him being the one to go out there, but he tells her about Ben not being able to handle the manual transmission or the gas pump.
Commentary: The only part I hate about this Tom/Judy scene is the awful soapy music.
Scene 33: Judy escorts Barbra down stairs until after the operation is complete, while Harry goes up stairs to lob the cocktails. The undead have taken to become really noisy, too.
With the plan put into action, Judy decides she has to go with them, causing some looks of concern from Tom. Tom himself, independently of Judy's distraction, nearly gets himself ate, but manages to get into the truck cab and get the engine started up. The truck bed is soon surrounded with Ben in the back, but he drives them off with a torch.
While Harry watches from the boarded windows (remember when he was complaining he couldn't see anything because of the boards in the way? yeah, bitcher was all) as the threesome makes it down to the barn where the gas pump is. As Ben watches the zombies come down the road after them, Tom reports that the key won't work!
No problem, Ben blasts the lock with the rifle, causing gas to start going all over the place, but Tom grabs up the nozzle anyway and tries to get it to the tank. Alas, the controlled stream of gasoline from the nozzle hits the torch Ben dropped to the ground when they arrived and the truck catches on fire!
Tom exclaims that they have to get away from the pump, and while Ben is using an old throw rug to beat out the flames on the ground, Tom tries to get the truck away from the fire. Unfortunately, the flames are very near to the truck's gas tank and it ends about the way you'd expect.
Tom and Judy are tragically killed and Ben is trapped out hundreds of yards from the house with an army of undead between him and the relative safety it offered.
Spoilers, as with all reviews on this site.