What a lame ending. If it weren’t for the sufficiently uncanny end credits, I’d finish Night of the Living Dead thinking it was supposed to be a comedy.
Actually, if it weren’t for that lame ending, I’d be starting this response much differently. Night of the Living Dead has one of the most sublime opening half hours of any film I can recall. Unfortunately, the hour or so following that opening is melodramatic nonsense mixed with some really awkward gore.
The opening third, following Judith O’Dea from her zombie attack in the cemetery to discovering the farm house, to introducing Duane Jones and his fortifying of the house… it’s all absolutely amazing. It’s easily the best work I’ve seen from Romero–he takes a single person, essentially, and makes them more interesting (as we soon discover) than a room full of them. O’Dea’s performance during this section is maybe the best example of someone in shock on film.
Unfortunately, this sublime filmmaking does not last. Around a half hour in, Karl Hardman and Keith Wayne show up. Hardman’s performance is so terrible, it destroys the film. Even without the ending and the silly zombie flesh eating… Hardman ruins it. He’s just too terrible.
Having him come in after Jones, one wonders how Romero didn’t realize he had a great performance from Jones and a laughable one from Hardman.
The film quickly becomes a drawn-out melodrama. There is some suspense with the zombies, but the characters aren’t worth caring about.
Directed and photographed by George A. Romero; written by John A. Russo and Romero; edited by Russo and Romero; produced by Karl Hardman and Russell Streiner; released by The Walter Reade Organization.
Starring Duane Jones (Ben), Judith O’Dea (Barbra), Karl Hardman (Harry), Marilyn Eastman (Helen), Keith Wayne (Tom), Judith Ridley (Judy), Kyra Schon (Karen Cooper), Charles Craig (Newscaster), S. William Hinzman (Cemetery Zombie) and George Kosana (Sheriff McClelland).