“Night of the Living Dead” at Phoenix Center for the Arts - Halloween Night
PHOENIX CENTER FOR THE ARTS - THIRD STREET THEATRE
1202 N 3RD ST, PHOENIX, AZ 85004
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 31 8PM
PHX Film Collective is excited to bring you a special Halloween night film screening! It's the first screening at our new home, Phoenix Center for the Arts, in their Third Street Theatre.
We will be having a costume contest with prizes provided by our sponsor, Bookmans Entertainment Exchange. One prize will be given for best overall costume, and another for best movie-themed costume, so come wearing your best Halloween duds.
The film will be preceded with a presentation from Tom Samp, about the influence George A. Romero's seminal 1968 zombie film had on the horror genre, as well as social issues that are still relevant today.
They're coming to get you, Barbara!"
Considered a third-rate drive-in bloodfest 50 years ago, “Night of the Living Dead” has grown in stature, and changed the face of horror movies, especially the zombie genre. (It is interesting to note that the word “zombie” is never used in this film.) Its images foreshadowed works as varied as "The Exorcist" (1973) and the popular "Walking Dead" series. It is the perfect Halloween film, right before the Day of the Dead!
This terrifying movie pushed the boundaries of screen gore, but has about it a sense of humanity that lifts it above the typical, disposable horror film experience “Night of the Living Dead” gets under your skin, unsettles you, and makes you feel something beyond simple shock. It lingers with you long after it’s over.
The plot kicks off in high gear: a group of strangers, stranded in a farmhouse, attempt to escape and survive the onslaught of flesh-eating ghouls. Thankfully, no explanation is given for why the recently deceased are coming back to prey on the living. Instead, we're immersed in the pure terror of our collective nightmares.
Looking back on the film, we might see it as a metaphor for the primal fear of human decay; or for the terror of inevitable death and the lengths to which we try to hold it off. We might even notice its darkly comic take on life after death. But for those who just like to be scared at the movies, rarely have there been such moments of giddy horror as there are in “Night of the Living Dead”.
In addition, there is surprisingly good character development, and most of the performances are competent and convincing. We are frightened on behalf of these people who are trapped under extraordinary circumstances, and we are devastated when they come to harm. The human interactions give the film weight and honesty, between hellish interludes that feature moaning ghouls chomping on human limbs and entrails.
This was the debut of the late, great director George A. Romero. Made for a miniscule $114,000, it is reported that the film grossed over 250 times its budget, and had the biggest box-office draw in Europe in 1969. The black-and-white film is cleverly directed with limited resources, and has a somewhat primitive appeal. The amateurish, newsreel-like quality, the funhouse-mirror camera angles and the melodramatic, vaguely familiar music work in its favor, somehow making its terrors seem more frighteningly real.
Romero cast a black actor, Duane Jones, as the film's central character. Jones was selected not because of his race, but because he gave the best audition. His being a black man was never in the script, and is never mentioned in the film. For the time, that was unusual, even groundbreaking in an era of racial turmoil, when movies like “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” were treating racial themes like problems that needed solving. Jones’ character is heroic and reasonable; Jones himself insisted that the character be played as more intelligent and more resourceful than was portrayed in the screenplay.
This remarkable aspect of the film was ignored amid the outcries against its “pornographic” violence (which, by today’s standards, is ridiculously mild.)
The ironic fate of Jones’ character may have been an unintentional indictment of that era. Seen today, the unexpected finale gives the movie another level of relevance, and makes a statement about our culture, where mindless consumption, destruction, and injustice can make a victim of any of us. After the shocks we've endured, the last sequence leaves us with a quietly eerie feeling.
They’re coming to get you—indeed!
- Tom Samp