On a trip into the countryside to place flowers on their father’s grave Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbara (Judith O’Dea) are attacked by a strange man. Barbara flees for her life and takes refuge in an abandoned farm house. Ben (Duane Jones) arrives and announces more creatures are coming. While shoring up the house against the creatures other survivors emerge. Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) and Tom (Keith Wayne) begin the argument about what should be done. Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman) and Judy (Judith Ridley) respond by contributing their views. Everyone arrives at two undesirable options: to remain hold up with a growing horde of cannibals outside or to take the Cooper’s wounded daughter and make a run for a shelter miles away.
Romero instills in us a sense of isolation with his use of distance in his shots. The opening shot is a long winding road with a car in the far distance. Inside the house Barbara is commonly shot in the background alone as she suffers through shock. The dialogue has plenty of sharp back and forth which feels authentic and maintains high tension. It is interesting to see how a movie monster so iconic was first imagined compared with what it has evolved into today.
The movie does show its age, as of this writing it is 51. The organ music seems more in keeping with films much older than this. Despite lower production values the movie remains relevant because of the ways it can be interpreted. For instance, zombie bites cause infection and zombies can be killed by destroying the brain. Does that symbolically mean speech coming from the mouth converts a person and it’s an idea in their head that motivates their actions? Regardless of interpretations…
I give this enduring classic 5 out of 6 reels.