harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

Night of the Living Dead, Part II

Scene 34: Ben is able to outmaneuver them and get back to the house (because they've stopped jogging, like zombie #1 at the beginning). Unfortunately, he finds that Harry isn't standing there ready to let him in. He's forced to kick the door in, and then to quickly find a way to block it so the zombies don't follow him.

Needless to say, he's just a bit pissed off.

At least Harry doesn't leave him at the door, struggling to get it boarded back up on his own. Despite his better judgment, he rushes in to help Ben get the door blocked off when he was standing at the cellar and could have left him there on his own. This doesn't buy him much gratitude.

Ben is again very quick with the fists and he gives Harry a beating.

Scene 35: Back at the truck, the remains of Tom and Judy provide a crispy meal for the zombie hoard.

Scene 36: Back in the house, Ben and Harry sit silently both considering their abject failures. Helen comes up to ask if it's three o'clock a.m. yet, as there is to be another broadcast then. With her being down in the basement, she apparently hadn't been told about the dash for the gas, as she doesn't ask about where the truck is, nor immediately Tom and Judy's not being there. Barbra has also been brought upstairs and mistakes the 10 minutes (until the next broadcast) for until they leave. She is very obviously broken in the mind, yet.

Ben tries to come up with a plan B - going for the overturned Cooper car. He wonders if they might not be able to flip it back onto its wheels and then use that to get to safety. Harry again poo-poos any such notion, stating that they'd never be able to travel fast enough, especially with Karen having to be carried and well... Barbra tells them that Johnny has the car keys, so she's not exactly paying close attention, either. Ben suggests that one of them (he's the only one that looks physically fit enough to try) might be able to get to the car - though that leaves the problem of it still being flipped.

When Barbra mentions Johnny having the keys a second time in reference to the Cooper automobile, Ben tries to get her to tell him where her car is, even though she insists he can't start it. Outside, there is banging noises from the zombies that grabs their attention.

Scene 37: They're fighting over what's left of Judy and Tom - especially up for dispute is who gets the intestines (I find it weird how it is always the intestines. They make a nice visual, but really, they're full of poop! Who'd want to bite into that?!) This gives Cooper an eyeful and shocks him even more than the fact of the undead themselves.

Scene 38: At the 0300 broadcast, the newsman reports that radiation levels are being monitored by the space scientists. They continue to increase adding credence to the fact that it is this unexplained type of radiation that is causing the dead to revive. The broadcaster reports that they have location footage that has just been received of a search and destroy mission from the surrounding area (and yet, it's completely sunny out despite being a local broadcast and 3am).

The news guy reports over the images of a hunting party headed by a local Sheriff, that destroying a ghoul's brain will destroy the ghoul. He reports that officials are organizing such parties nationwide (and we'll see these parties both later and in 'Dawn').

Commentary: The funny/sad thing about this, is the on-site reporter thinking the Sheriff will have the zombies cleared out within 24 hours. As we know, by 'Day' this was clearly doomed to be a failed effort, despite the optimism displayed here.

In the midst of the report, the power goes out at the farmhouse, adding to the tensions already among the group (and no one has mentioned Judy or Tom either, yet, making me think that they forgot to place a scene where Helen is informed that they've been killed). As Ben goes down in the cellar to check the fuse box, Harry complains to Helen that he has to get the gun away. Here, he mentions that Tom and Judy were lost because of Ben, but Helen doesn't act shocked even though from our point of view, she's only now learning of their fate.

Helen is generally contemptuous of her husband, but I believe Harry truly does think that Ben is going to get them all killed with his poor decisions (never mind that he thought going for the truck and the gas was a good idea when it was discussed).

Scene 39: With the zombies having gotten a good taste of what they've been craving, they begin to pick up tools to break into the house. (I like that one of the items retrieved is Ben's own torch, now not burning.) They start pounding on the door.

As everyone starts to panic, the zombies start on the windows and their boards....

Ben calls for help as boards are knocked inward, while Helen struggles at the door. Barbra is scared, but still unable to do anything more than sit on the sofa and look around. Ben is forced to drop the rifle to deal with the window issue, and Harry takes this opportunity to grab the gun and hold it on Ben. He orders his wife to the basement, but while he isn't paying attention, Ben throws a board knocking the gun away and then rushes him. They struggle, Ben gets the rifle, and then very cold bloodily shoots him.

In the meanwhile, the front door is broken through and zombies grab at Helen causing Barbra to scream from her place on the sofa. Harry, not quite dead, stumbles to the cellar and down the stairs. He struggles to Karen's bedside where she is unconscious again and wheezing. He collapses.

Upstairs, Helen is frozen in terror as hands grab at her from the broken door. With a crisis now imminent, Barbra calls on the last of her reserves to come out of her funk, again, and runs over to Helen's rescue with a plank of board which she uses effectively to get them to let go of Helen before she can be bitten.

Scene 40: Helen rushes from the door, but now Barbra is struggling with grasping hands. Worse, in a jump cut, we're in the basement and we see Karen looking both better and worse. She's awoken with the same feeding compulsion and has made short work of one of dad's arms....

With Helen rushing down into the cellar, she's met with the gruesome sight and in an action that will be repeated ad nausea in future, doesn't react as if a monster is going to rip her apart. Instead she pitifully keeps calling for Karen, allowing the tot to drive her deeper and deeper into the cellar. After she stumbles and falls, we basically see her give up - her daughter being a ghoul is just one step too far for her to reach.

In the movie's most horrible scene, as Helen cowers and screams, little Karen grabs a trowel and stabs her mother to viciously to death while she doesn't do anything to protect herself....

Commentary: Helen's slow death is both upsetting and horrible, even today. Even without showing more grue then chocolate syrup splashed around, it takes her awhile of being stabbed in the gut to finally expire and the awful way she basically allows it to happen rather than fight back or try to crawl away... well, let's say that Helen was awfully likable and watching her end this way is stomach churning.

Scene 41: Things are just as bad upstairs, where Ben is forced to retreat, while Barbra fights on pretty valiantly at the door ... until she sees Johnny, returned as a ghoul who has found his sister. As she screams to an uncaring universe not for this to be true, she's dragged out to her dismemberment. Ben tries to get to her, but it is far too late from the moment she let her guard down upon seeing her brother.

As the undead make it into the house, we watch Ben, the last survivor retreating toward the cellar - where behind him, comes Karen!

She damned near bites his arm, but he's able to throw her away long enough to get to the door. In an ironic twist, he barricades the door to the cellar, doing exactly what Harry had been pushing for him to do since he'd made his presence known.

The zombies make a show of force against the cellar door, but with the thick cross planks that Harry arranged, it holds just as he had hoped. Ben stumbles down the steps to find the remains of Harry and his wife, she with a trowel jutting from her chest.

Even as he watches, Harry sits up - and gets a rifle blast to the head. Ben looks sick, despite it being Harry and despite the fact that technically he'd killed him. His wife next suddenly opens her eyes which causes another rifle shot. Ben throws the rifle away in frustration and despair, but quickly rethinks it when he hears the racket above his head. He quickly retrieves the rifle and settles in to fight for his life if they break through the door.

Scene 42: Sometime after dawn, a helicopter flies overhead and we see zombie hunting parties making their way step by step through the fields nearing the farmhouse. The chopper comes in for a landing - we cut to scenes of men with guns, dogs, police units, and the reporter on the scene. The Sheriff talks to the reporter for a minute and also orders some men to check out the farmhouse, close by.

Reporter dude tells the camera man, who's on his way to check in with the office to let them know they'll meet up with the National Guard later, but that things appear to be well under control (see 'Day' ... this is illusion).

In the meanwhile, the Sheriff joins the crew heading toward the farmhouse.

Scene 43: In the cellar, a fitfully dozing Ben hears the dogs. He stirs. Ever so cautiously he makes his way upstairs and finds that the zombies that had filled the house have wandered off. With help finally having arrived, Ben lets out a sigh of relief - only to be shot in the head by his 'rescuers'. "That's another one for the fire!" the Sheriff compliments the shooter.

We close on grainy photos of the hunters and the bonfire for the bodies....

Commentary: Need I even say how devastating this ending is? Coming before the cynical seventies when protagonists died off regularly, I can't imagine what this might have been like for the audience, except to compare my own reaction. Even though I'd heard more than enough about this famous film before I saw it, I wasn't prepared for how I felt watching Ben die when by rights, he should have been saved. After all of the struggle to have none of our main characters live through this horror is hard to take, but none more so than this death and the horrible photos of smiling, laughing WHITE men with guns following directly on from it brings up deeply disturbing images of every lynching we've ever seen in old photographs. But more than that, this realization hits us like a sledgehammer, because we've stopped seeing Ben as a black man during the course of the movie. We've so identified him with the hero that he's stopped being the transgressive black guy in a 60's horror movie who managed to make it, and become nothing more than our identity figure regardless of skin color. He's just Ben - and thank God, he made it... and then he's snatched away from us suddenly and brutally and those photographs... those awful grainy photographs with the Sheriff's nonchalant voice over the credits.... Wow.

It has the effect of making us angry and sick and it's brilliant. In retrospect, it's even worse because we know that not only was he killed for no reason (they didn't have to shoot before they double checked) but we know that everything they're doing is worthless in the long run  -  they won't win. Society will fall anyway and we can only wonder if maybe Ben got off lucky this way, which is something we don't want to think - we want him to have made it and to have gained a new appreciation for life... but all we're left with is this feeling of bereavement....

The Good: Ben. Flawed, violent, not exactly noble but he's strong and smart and capable.

Helen - likable, ready to help in anyway she can and not willing to leave the others to fend for themselves. She is so likable.

The final zombie assault on the house when everything just goes wrong. It's unbelievably tense for a film of this era - no wonder people were left shocked and deeply affected. As things just goes from bad to worse we see our main heroine taken out into the night to her doom, right when she re-found her strength and we thought she'd survive.

Helen's death - brutal, harrowing, pathetic and hard to take. We want her to get up off that floor - we want her to fight for her life, but she doesn't and she takes an extended amount of time to die.

The downbeat ending is hard to accept with our liking Ben so much and the appalling undercurrent due to those grainy photographs, but it's also utterly brilliant in its devastation and utter lack of mercy.

The Bad: Well, to be honest the music is largely repetitive and I wish we'd gotten far more ambient sound only scenes.

Harry and Ben's conflict was really overplayed, largely repetitive in nature and full of yelling.

Despite starting out strongly, as soon as Ben is introduced Barbra becomes an irritating twit. I wish she'd come out of her catatonia sometime prior to just before she becomes a victim.

Other Thoughts: I also think both the beginning and the news reports are a bit drawn out special news reports on the television take up more time than they should have. Rather, it would have been nice if the zombies hadn't stopped trying to break into the house for such extended periods in the middle of the film.

The Score: This movie is a classic for a reason. It's not just the visuals, though that is part of it, but it's the characters - flawed, but you're not wishing they'd hurry up and die (except maybe Harry). There is that middle section before the attempt to get the truck gassed up that is a bit of a slog to get through, but the last half hour is amazingly tense. I'll never get Helen's death out of my mind's eye and the ending is absolutely devastating. The effects for the majority of it hold up to anything today, even if not as explicit and I highly recommend it.      4.0 out of 5

Tags: review night of the living dead

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