As with any other horror genre, the groundbreaking zombie movie is the best. "Night of the Living Dead" is a cult gem that has inspired every zombie movie after it, with its low-budget look and cast of excellent, unknown actors. And, of course, the flesh-eating undead who are rising to kill the living.
A crashed satellite starts emitting radiation, which somehow causes the dead to rise out of their graves to devour the living. Don't ask how, because it doesn't matter. Barbara (Judith O'Dea) is visiting a grave with her brother -- when suddenly a shambling, dead-faced man murders him, and chases her down the road to a farmhouse, where she manages to hide.
But she's not alone -- a kindly man named Ben (Duane Jones), a young couple, and a family are also hiding there. And without weapons or protection, they have very little chance of survival. The refugees barricade themselves for protection -- but now there are hundreds of zombies closing in. They must fight with fire and their wits... but it may not be enough to save them all.
"Night of the Living Dead" is one of those horror movies that chills viewers right down to the marrow. Romero creates a nightmarish, claustrophobic atmosphere in his movie, where no matter where you go, you're trapped -- and the humans might kill you if the zombies don't. The finale is a tragic, but very realistic twist.
Originally filmed in murky black-and-white, Romero manages to make this film feel creepy even when the zombies aren't there. And while they're hiding in the farmhoruse, he takes the time to make it realistic -- the refugees grate on each other in a believable way ("I ought to drag you out there and FEED you to those things!").
But then things get creepy, gross AND action-packed, when they slip out to fight the zombies. Romero switches the tone from eerie to downright terrifying -- the characters just reek of desperation -- and builds it up to a slam-bang finale. And along the way, we get terrified people fending zombies off with torches -- what could be better?
Duane Jones is the standout performance here: he's strong, kindly, take-charge and resourceful, but he also knows how to kick undead butt. By the finale, his character is the one that is remembered. But he was backed by excellent actors in Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, and dozens of zombie extras. Those people were amazing!
Stripped-down and stark, "Night of the Living Dead" is the sort of movie that should never be watched at night, and might make you look twice before going outside. Creepy, innovative and bizarre.