Sgathaich: Night of the Living Dead

Halloween image of Sgathaich with spider webs, bones and wearing a witches hat

Dear readers, While I was having a break my mind was able to rest preventing me from becoming like the things you shall be reading about for the next 4 weeks. For as once more the nights draw in to protect us from the ever-approaching early plastering of Christmas. It is time for the dead to walk.

I have made it very clear that I’m not a fan of the zombie genera of late. The over use of the zombie apocalypse story has resulted in it losing any meaning while the zombies themselves made so essentially magical they are more magical in how they work than zombies in actual magical settings. But it was not always the case nor is it always the case. There are good inventive ideas behind the story. I think it best to start this month with what is probably the single most important piece of zombie fiction to this day.

I’m going to skip over the explanation of how this movie accidently entered the public domain earlier and move right to talking about the film.

screen shot from Night of the Living Dead with the title and a head with a skeletal dead appearance

Night of the Living Dead

I think it’s very much to the film’s strength that George A Romero had a very clear set of rules on how the Ghouls worked. And yes, you heard that right, not Zombies, Ghouls. This movie was so influential in creating how we view what is a zombie, they weren’t even called zombies in films, that was something other people started calling them not Romero. Here they are clearly reanimated bodies of the freshly dead. Also, no full explanation is given other than it’s suspected that radiation from Venus brought back by a satellite may be the cause. No real concept of a zombie virus is presented and the one person who dies and thus zombified by a bite is explained by just the Ghouls carrying viruses in them, as would happen being bitten by any rotting corpse. So, these Ghouls are not the magic plague zombies that you see in most movies. They are slow moving (Romero puts it best, ZOMBIES DONT RUN). Killed by damaging the brain or immolation. In fact, the film shows that after the initial night the zombie apocalypse is being handled rather well, as opposed to basically every other media that just says we’re all doomed. (Once again because they made them basically magical and the military and armed forces somehow incompetent).

But to the plot. The film is a rather slow burn at start as it builds up tension. It starts with a scenic drive by the siblings Barbra and Johnny who are heading to the graveyard to pay respects to their dead father, something they do yearly. Johnny is very dismissing of it and even teases his sister about things from their past using the iconic line now “they’re coming to get you Barbra”. Shortly after, she is attacked by a strange looking somewhat shrivelled man, Johnny goes to protect her but is killed. Barbara flees entering an old farmhouse that is the main centre point of the story. She wonders about silently, reminiscent of the zombies themselves, as she’s clearly in shock. Not even saying much as the character who is considered the lead Ben appears. Ben does a lot more talking as he tries to shore up the defences while Barbra is nearly Catatonic.

The story is very much about how people behave in a crisis situation. The Ghouls are the crisis. Only in the second half do we start to get any info about what may have caused this. It’s really about a group of people trapped in this house and how they behave, and that’s the movie’s strength. The tensions begin to start when a group that was hiding in the cellar emerge and the father Harry constantly tries to assert that the cellar is the best place to be, though not for actual safety it’s more because he demands to be right, he must be right. This means there is a lot of friction between him and Ben which in many ways leads to the survivor’s end. Harry’s attitude is exacerbated by the fact his daughter is sick so it is adding to the pressure that he’s feeling.

The Ghouls are seen a number of times outside the house as their numbers grow through the night (including a naked one) as they just slowly wander towards it. The closest real action outside of that being when they start eating the remains of people. It is a slow shambling horde rather than some wave.

The ending is very chilling, for though the armed militias are clearing up the Ghouls very effectively, Ben the last survivor is shot by them without them even checking if he was a zombie. Man, coldly gunning him down. Ben was black. The films lead in the 60s was a black man who was presented without any racial stereotypes of the time. He was just another man dealing with this situation. Yet at the end the last survivor who was black is just unthinkingly gunned down by the white militia that was meant to be their saviours.

The film changed what we view as zombies. Until then the voodoo kind was what zombies were and was why Romero in this film did not call them zombies. But now we had a new version, the walking dead. This is what people would view them as from now on. The concept would be further strengthened in the sort of sequel Dawn of the Dead, though I cite that since the ending pointed out the problem was being handled that’s a different continuity where things weren’t going as well.

Rating: 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃

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