I know, I know, I know. I’m an odd duck, and I’ve never argued otherwise, nor would I ever. As I’ve long tried to be as clear as possible on this point, Horror movies just don’t scare me the way they do other folks. Typically, I need more of an idea to inspire me to be genuinely up-in-arms over anything, and the slowly-closing-in-lumbering-zombie films just don’t have the stuffing to frighten me. Is it because I’m a good runner? That may play into it. Is it because I’m a nihilist? Well, I hope that wouldn’t be the case. Is it because I figure a legitimate zombie apocalypse will never take place? Maybe.
What I do have is an incredible amount of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the feature. Let me tell you why.
For the uninformed, Romero’s Night isn’t the first film to explore zombies. Many film scholars credit that to 1932’s White Zombie – starring the great Bela Lugosi in a key role, I’ve seen and reviewed it right here – but I have read about a few other flicks that kinda/sorta flirted with zombie-like creations or creatures before even that. The difference in those early days was that there really were no hard and fast rules about what such a thing was, would be, and/or might become … and – for all intents and purposes – Romera’s film deserves an awful lot of the credit for ushering the modern era of zombiehood. It had rules. It made the horde a force of nature. And it never relented.
Also (and, again, I’m going on my limited research into this unique group of Horror films), Night was I think the first time audiences were faced with a societal collapse tied directly to these monsters. The resulting chaos as explored in the film – both the circumstances on the farm as well as the accompany news radio and television broadcasts – elevated the level of terror to something exponentially greater than anything seen before. On film, it’s one thing to flee for one’s life from a vampire, a werewolf, or a thing with gills. Having to do that from an entire town, an entire county, or an entire state? This was new territory the writer/director mapped out, and – as we all know today – storytellers almost rabidly took to the premise, so much so that decades later it’s still a phenomenon that interests (and frightens) audiences.
Considering Night as a stand-alone experience, it’s about as bare bones as you can get.
Night was independently produced, and – as most indie features – it carries with it a bit of messaging.
Depending upon one’s interpretation, the film could be said to be anti-Establishment (especially if the flesh-eaters are viewed as the possible result of living in society). When I’ve come up against that argument in groups, I’m quick to point out – however – that the zombies seem to work only effectively as a team; individually, they’re outrun, outgunned, outmaneuvered, etc. I do concede that the group of survivors inevitably fall apart because of their unwillingness to cooperate with one another, so maybe it’s really all a vicious circle.
Whether one agrees with it or not, racial division could be cited as part of Night’s fabric as well. While no character spends any great amount of time commenting on such differences, there’s a clear level of distrust between Ben (who is black) and Harry (played by Karl Hardman, who is white). It’s fair to suggest that both are belligerent to one another – Harry’s indifference specifically directed at his kinda/sorta adversary nearly costs Ben his life on more than a single occasion – so the suggestion of racist behavior deserves an examination.
Lastly, there’s no denying that Night’s ending – one that sees Ben surviving the ordeal only to be accidentally shot dead by his “saviors” – might imply that life and its accompanying struggles have an inherent meaninglessness to them. No matter what one faces and no matter how hard any battle is fought (won or lost), each of us is still destined for an ending that scares the Hell out of us. What we did? It won’t matter. What we achieved? It was fleeting. If the best we can hope for is to be gone from a simple mistake, then let’s make it quick and possibly painless – like that fateful shot-in-the-brain Romero defines as the only way to stop a walker – as opposed to spending a night exhausting oneself in an uphill campaign.
As I said in the opening, my take on this Night is far from the norm, and it’s certainly pretty far off from one who appreciates quality genre projects as much as I do. While I always give the flick the respect I believe it’s owed – I’ll even give it a thumbs up when reflecting on its goodness – it’s still one I rarely throw on when I’m in the mood for a good scare.