B/W Film Appreciation Thread Pt 2: Night of the Living Dead

Once again we bring you a thread to enlighten you on the glories of Black and White Cinema.

I’m going to try to make the film choices ones that can easily be found on VHS and DVD (Preferably DVD where many old films have been restored quite nicely) at a local video stores. So some classics may not make the list (Chien Andalou is likely not to show up). Exceptions will be of course, and perhaps we might have an open week where any film may be discussed as a Favourite B/W.

Once again we invite those who have the attitude that there are no Good B/W films to view the topic film of the week and join in. You don’t have to like the film but you do have to state clearly why you don’t.

Your homework assignment for this week is to view and discuss George Romero’s Classic Night of the Living Dead

This one was shot in 1967 in Pittsburgh PA, on a minimal budget. Those Budgetary considerations lead to the use of Black and white stock. Did that have an effect on how the film was shot and did that hinder or improve the film?

And one of the burning Questions for this week will be:
Can Gore be gross without colour?
as a Bonus, how does it compare with its colour counterparts?

As a note Part 1 was Dr Strangelove which is still open for discussion.


Night was much better than either of the sequels or the color remake. Whether that had anything to do with the b/w film or the overall quality of the story is a good question. I always thought the zombies looked stupid in blue. Night is also much tighter film-making than either of the sequels. The story is better, the characterizations are stronger and the situation is more horrifying. Romero was playing the zombies for laughs by the second film and by the third the series was nothing more than a shoot-em-up.

Where “black and white” makes a huge difference in Night is Ben’s being black in a 1968 film. According to sources I’ve read Romero swears up and down that the casting of a black man in that part was not deliberate, but the racial tone it brings to the film adds immeasurably to the depth.

Rosenbaum and Hoberman’s book Midnight Movies has some good discussion on all three of the original Romero Dead movies. I have not read a later edition so I don’t know if they’ve revised it to include anything on the remake.

Best line of the film: “Yeah, they’re dead, they’re all messed up.”

I agree that the black and white film makes the movie hold up a lot better visually than Dawn of the Dead. I love Dawn, but the blue zombies and pink blood make it look a bit silly at times. I think that the corpse Barbara finds while going up the stairs in the house is more effective than some of the goofier zombies of Dawn.

Of course, the fact that all the zombies are dressed like it’s 1978 makes Dawn look a lot more dated than Night, too, though I realize that isn’t really a fault of the movie.

I also think the black and white adds to the documentary-esque mood that pervades the film, particularly in the excellent use of still shots at the end.

I must have been about 9 or 10 the first time I saw this film. It scared me silly and the commentary from an older fellow viewer didn’t seem to help things. Watching even the first few scenes when the first zombie makes its appearance, I remember learning about clothes being cut to fit a cadaver. The whole idea was horrible to me.

Watching the film again when I was older, I imagined it would be a less frightful experience, but I’m still scared watching it. It’s the tension of them staying in that house that gets to me. As far as gore, I’m not easily grossed out and lot’s of blood in a film doesn’t do much for me. (Unless you count the scene with hooks in Hellraiser.) I did think as far as gore goes, the scene in the basement with the gardening implement was gory without being over-the-top. Either it made a pretty realistic noise, or I made one up for that scene, because I can hear it as I recall the scene. I think being filmed in b&w added to that scene’s gore factor, I don’t think it would have worked as well in color.

To me, each time I’ve watched the film, I feel drained at the end. Even knowing what’s going to happen to the lead, I still feel a bit like the wind has been knocked out of me at his demise. I’ve seen the remake (didn’t like it as well), Night Of The Living Bread (funny), but none of the other ones.

Black and white does nothing to diminish the experience of this film. The zombies clawing through the windows and chowing down on human flesh still make makes my stomach churn. I also agree with Otto’s assessment of race. The racial tension in this film between Ben, Barbara, and Cooper keeps things interesting in between zombie attacks. Overall, it is the fear and paranoia that pose a greater threat than the undead.

Things I liked:

  • Johnny with his polka-dot tie and pocket protector
  • Dr. Grimes’ cadaver story
  • Ben getting to kill Cooper not once, but twice!
  • Judy is hot
  • Bonus points for the naked zombie

Things I disliked:

  • The musical score: basically just a “Da Da DUM!!!” whenever
    anything scary happens.
    -The crazy science (Venus radiation)

Best line: “I oughta drag you out there and feed you to those things” -Ben

This movie rocks! The absence of color is what sets the whole mood. If this was shot in color, it would be a joke and not scary at all. Great movie!

Best line is actually: “Their dead, their all messed up!”

*It was me that nominated this movie!!!

Fagjunk Theology: Not just for sodomite propagandists anymore.

…a classic…I love brain suck movies…the flesh munching and slurping of ones brain though an eyesocket or hole bitten through the skull is heightened in B&W

Brain suck??

Are you sure you are even thinking of the right movie? You can really tell someone who has no idea what a Romero Zombie is.


Essentially My opinion is that the grainy black and white images seem to give the film an almost documentary fell which helps the viewer believe in what they are seeing. The stark night shots with a Well lit cirlcle around the house but pitch black sky gives a sense of total isolation that the characters must have been feeling. The shadow play is more minimal but by removing any sense of artistic shots the documentary feel is enforced.

The casting also works. I honestly think Ben was not purposely cast as a black man and that is what works. Here is a three dimensional character who doesn’t purposefully represent the racial tensions at the time.

He makes no out ward statements on his blackness nor does he give any moralizations. Because of that we can see his position more clearly. There is a racism but it is subtle, like real life. There is no cartoony character making a token racist statement to show how bad some people are. Instead we have a realistic argument between two men and under it there seems to be the assumption that each man can’t trust the other due to race as well as the strong headedness of both.

It works so well that the end packs more of an impact and brings home an idea better than the “message movies” like the Defiant ones

Yeah, there wasn’t any brain sucking in the original , that i can remember(haven’t seen it in about 12 years, excuse me for living)…but it is a common in many other flicks
I do remember the reportage feeling in the b&w version, especially in the nite scenes, kind of like b&w wartime photojournalism

I definitely enjoyed the original to the color remake, but that also had a lot to do with the re-writing of the script that I thought sucked. As for “can B&W be gorey”? Hell yeah. As pointed out before, the dead body at the top of the stairs is one of the most grotesque things I’ve seen. Like with most things, growing up, I felt “Movies didn’t get this bad until recently,” so seeing a scene like that in what I perceived as an “Old time movie” was rather shocking to me. And anyone who thinks otherwise can just check out the eyeball cutting scene in Un Chien Andalou…the most grotesque scene ever put to film.
When it comes to horror films, I always love the black and whites. Sure, many of them are campy by today’s standards, but the atmosphere the film presents…it forces the photog and director to do a lot with shadows, which are integral in horror suspense. The dark, luminous outside, filled with lord knows what…a wonderful sense of dread and despaire. I love Dawn of the Dead because of it’s sense of “you can never get away,” but I have to admit, Night definitely has it beat on the immediate sense of danger.

The Dead do not excuse the living they just consume them :wink:

Absolutely the b&w works in the film’s favor.

I wonder if it even has something to do with the fact that colors are muted in the dark (in real life) - watching vivid color in the “dark” (our eyes haven’t adjusted to the dark but we’re supposed to be seeing ‘dark’ things) would’ve made it feel much less real.

The script of the original was just tight as all get out, too. There are hints from the TV reports that that sheriff has already been killing live people before they show up at the end.

There’s also the haunting aspect of the movie that the men with the sheriff - at some level - must know they’re killing some real live people with the zombies. I mean, when they pull Ben out, they’re pulling him out of a house surrounded by ‘live’ and ‘dead’ zombies (why were the live ones there, if not for fresh meat?), and the inside of the house also has some dead zombies, most with bullet holes in their heads, and there’s a rifle next to Ben. I want to think that even occurred to Romero when he wrote it, and that the characters are in denial about it, or are rationalizing that you can’t help some mistakes, etc. Lord knows lots of friendly-fire casualties probably get swallowed and never mentioned in real life.

I read a essay once where Ben’s killing was explored as a metaphor for the assassination-happy 60’s (King, both Kennedy brothers) and the zombies were visual analogies to U.S. soldiers stumbling through the hell of Vietnam.

Granted, interpretive criticism can only go so far before it gets silly. I always thought it was odd that Romero denied putting any kind of subtext into NOTLD, but has admitted to much deliberate subtext and social metaphor in the next two Dead installments and his vampire film “Martin”. Certainly his last film, “Bruiser”, is chock-a-block full of satire and “message”.

NOTLD is a film that did a pretty good job of scaring the shit out of me the first time I saw it (at the age of 9, on late-night TV), and the b/w image is absolutely essential to this. It’s a hard thing to put in intellectual terms, but certain films just wouldn’t be the same without their b/w contrast…I’m thinking of Eraserhead, Schindler’s List, and Raging Bull. Perhaps the absence of color makes the image less “busy” to the eye, hence, the story being conveyed is much more immediate and stark.

Romero zombies are my favorite movie monsters. I even like the NOTLD remake. Shame that I can’t find anywhere to rent it.

I’m going to have to disagree with Otto and Fabioclone: the key to the racial issue in NOtLD is there is none. Ben’s race is never mentioned, never alluded to,–it’s the first movie where a black character is allowed to slip the confines of race.

gobear- I pretty clearly read Cooper as a racist. Well, if not a racist, at least someone who was in keeping with the white middle-class mentality of the late 60’s. Read what kingpengvin wrote on the subject. Yeah, there were no racial slurs or other obvious cliches. But when Cooper locked Ben out of the house, I wondered if his only motivations were self-preservation and jealosy. When Cooper stubbornly refused to listen to Ben’s plan, I assumed he couldn’t deal with the reversal of the racial heirarcy. When Cooper grabbed the gun and turned it on Ben… well you get the picture.
Last summer, I worked with one of the most racist men I have ever met. Around black people, you never would have known it. He was as friendly as can be, making jokes, small talk, etc. Behind their back is when the slurs reared their dirty heads. My point is that racists in real life aren’t complete idiots. Cooper went along with Ben until he saw his chance to grab the gun. Yes, I could be reading too much into it. But just because Romero didn’t put it in the movie doesn’t mean it’s not there.

The script is unusual in that it’s a tightly-written story of messy events. There’s such a sense of hopelessness – first because of the sheer horror of ordinary people rising from the dead as mindless flesh-eating zombies, then because a few people whose very lives depend on cooperating can’t stop fighting each other. And it’s not even because there’s a “good guy” and “bad guy”. Ben is reasonable and brave, and uses his best judgement, but his decisions lead to disaster. Cooper isn’t a villain, he’s just stressed-out and scared. Barbara has a nervous breakdown, and I can’t really blame her. As the only survivor, Ben finally barricades himself in the basement, like Cooper wanted to do in the first place. They could have all survived down there and been rescued in the morning, rather than trying to hold out upstairs.

(In the color remake, Cooper ends up taking a third course – going up in the attic. This is a good solution, because it puts them out of reach of the zombies, but makes it possible for them to see what’s going on outside.)

My favorite line in the original: “They’re dead…they’re all messed up.”

In the color remake: “This Hell on Earth. This is pure Hell on Earth.”

Well, I have doubt that Cooper is a racist, but that’s just one part of his overall jerkdcom. You’ll note that he is condescending and rude to everyone, not just Ben. He belittles his wife, he mocks Barbara, he talks down to Tom and Judy.

I read KingPengvin’s post, but I still stick with my interpretation. I think that ignoring race is far more radical than including a racial subtext. YMMV.

Or put it this way–I think Cooper would have treated Ben the same way if he had been played by a white actor.

Listen to Romero’s commentary track on the Millennium Edition DVD of NotLD. (Do NOT under ANY circumstances buy the so-called Thirtieth Anniversary edition–it was butchered by John Russo.)