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Barbara (Judith O'Dea) & her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) visit the
grave of their father to leave some flowers ... when Barbara is attacked by a
weird man (Bill Heinzman), & when Johnny comes to help her, the man kills
him in cold blood. In shock, Barbara runs away, & takes refuge in a nearby
farmhouse, where she finds a mutilated corpse ...
Soon a man, Ben (Duane
Jones) arrives at the house too, claiming to be on the run from a horde of
maniac killers, & he starts boarding up the house. Only when he's done some
more people - Cooper (Karl Hardman), his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman), their
injured daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), young Tom (Keith Wayne) & his
girlfriend Judy (Judith Ridley) - who have hidden in the cellar all the time,
make themselves known ... & it's soon evident that Ben & Cooper will be
fighting over leadership of the group, as Cooper wants to hide in the cellar (a
deathtrap for Ben), Ben wants to stay above (too easily overrun for Cooper),
which causes them to fight over pretty much everything, & neither of both
is willing to give in ...
Meanwhile the TV informs about the situation: it
seems not only the area they are in but the whole east of the USA is overrun by
living dead people, who are not only lethal but also carnivorous ... but the
army has instated rscue centers & urges all (still alive) citizens to go
With their house surrounded by zombies but a truck almost out of gas
& a gaspump nearby, Ben devices a plan for all of them to leave the house,
escape the zombies & make it to a rescue center, a plan that involves
massive molotov cocktail throwing (zombies dislike fire) ... but it goes
totally wrong when the truck catches fire & blows up, & Tom & Judy
with it. Ben gets locked out of the house by Cooper, & when he finally
makes his way back in, tensions are high ...
Ultimately John shoots Cooper
when Cooper wants to get his hands on John's gun, Barbara spots her brother
Johnny - now dead - among the zombies & is reunited with him (to her
disadvatnage), & Helen Cooper is killed by her own daughter who has since
died from her injuries & beome a zombie herself.
Only Ben survives,
ironically down in the cellar (his death trap), but the next day, when the
national guard arrives, they shoot him as a zombie.
Even if Night
of the Living Dead is quite some decades old & was obviously made on
the cheap, it's still the most impresive of the modern zombie movies
(movies that don't feature the classic voodoo variety of walking dead but the
zombies as lethal carnivorous creatures which are a menace to humankind as
such), for quite a variety of reasons:
First & foremost does the film
carry a feeling of claustrophobia that makes the terror as such believable,
& which in later zombie films was never again achieved.
Second, the utter
normality of the zombies, not disguised by much fancy make-up - like in later
zombie movies -, makes them all the more creepy, that connected with the fact
that it's these normal people eating other (normal) people.
(which might be the most disturbing) it shows that we humans don't need zombies
to kill us ... we can do that ourselves much better (as at least half of the
principle players are not killed by zombies).
As a whole, Night of the
Living Dead was successful enough to eventually spawn 2 direct sequels, Dawn
of the Dead in 1978 & Day of the Dead in
1985 - both also
directed by George A.Romero -, as well as a gazillion of rip-offs ranging from
the good to the interesting to the totally ridiculous (both in a good & in
a bad way).