17 Feb 2016

ZOMBIE FILM RULES - Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Every genre has cliches, but how well does Romero's original Living Dead film follow the Zombie film rules?

Night of the Living Dead (1968) is considered the first modern zombie film - and possibly the first modern horror film - and established the rules for all those that followed....  (Previously tested as a Slasher film).

The following analysis may contain spoilers for


Johnny and Barbra visit their father's grave in a remote cemetary, little knowing the dead were coming back to life and spending the night in an abandoned farmhouse is the only home for survival...

Yes.  Turn of the radio just as it was about to tell you you're in dangers.


There will be no warning...

"They're coming to get you, Barbra." ~ Johhny.

1a.  Eerie - Barbra and Johnny are visiting a graveyard and there's a thunderstorm coming.  Barbra is afraid of being in the cemetery, something Johnny uses to mess with her.
1b.  News - The radio station comes back on air after technical problems, but Johnny turns it off.
1c.  Sudden - The first of the living dead is shambling around and assumed to be just another person until it attacks Barbra.

Why is there always a zombie apocalypse at the most inconvenient times.


There may be sex and nudity.

"Judy and I are both from around here.  We were on our way to the lake to go swimming.~ Tom.

2a.  Nudity - One of the female zombies is naked.
2b.  Sex - No sex.

There is a scientific concensus on anthropomorphic necroambulism. 


Unknown cause.

"The murders are taking place in villages and cities, in rural homes and suburbs with no apparent pattern nor reason for the slayings. It seems to be a sudden general explosion of mass homicide." ~ Radio announcer.

3a.  Unknown origin - The government looks into the problem and has a theory which is broadcast on TV and radio.
3b.  Vague hints - The television mentions "space experts" being consulted and speculates an connection to a probe sent to Venus that was destroyed when it was returning because it was carrying a high-level radiation.  It seems scientists agree, by the military doesn't think it's confirmed. The television later confirms that radiation levels are rising and assumes that it will peak.
3c.  The originators - Do not appear (unless the scientists/military who appear on TV had some responsibility.)

O Brother, Were Art Thou?


The Living Dead.

"Are they slow-moving, chief?" ~ Reporter.
"Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up." ~ Sheriff McClelland.

4a.  Dead - They are identified as "persons who have recently died" in a report read on the television.
4b.  Rising from the grave - The first of the living dead is in a graveyard and a bit shabby, but it's not clear if he rose from the grave and there are no other zombies rising (although, most wouldn't be recently deceased.  The television reports "A widespread investigation of funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead have been returning to life" with no mention of graveyards.
4c.  Instant decay - It's hard to tell with black and white.  The zombies are specifically stated as being the recently dead, so they won't have decayed much.  Some of the recolourisations instantly add an unnatural colour to the zombies, some leave them naturally coloured.  Even in black and white some seem to have make-up of some sort, but that could indicate the sickness/death that took them rather than decay.
4d.  Origin - Probably radiation from Venus.
4e.  Spread - Presumably any recently dead in the eastern third of the US will come back to life in minutes (possibly in the area hit by radiation from the probe).  The TV does refer to seeking immediate medical help for anyone injured because of possible "complications".  The TV refers to all person who die while the radiation is around will come back.  The body of the woman in the house did not (although it's not clear when she died) and Tom and Judy didn't (they were killed in an explosion, possibly too damaged to come back, the brains were destroyed or the living dead ate them before there was time for them to return.)
4f.  Rudimentary IQ - The first of the living dead seems to have a small amount of thought left, trying the car doors and looking for a brick to smash the window.  Another uses a brick to smash the lights on a car.  Living dead-Karen uses a trowel to kill her mother.
4g.  Rudimentary speech - No speech, not even moans or growling.
4h.  Lost memory - Seemingly.  Living dead-Karen seems not to recognise her mother, or living dead-Johnny his sister.
4i.  Slow/Shambling - The first of the living dead is at first, he does move faster when attacking getting up to a shambling jog.  Ben decribes them as catching up to a truck.
4j.  Swarms - They seem to form into groups fairly quickly.
4k.  Stealth zombies - No real stealth zombies.
4l.  Feeding - The news makes it clear that the living dead are eating their victims.  Tom and Judy are killed in an explosion and eaten.  Johnny is killed by one of the living dead and left to turn.
4m.  Destroy the brains - It is claimed that the radiation reactivates the brains, which is why they need to be destroyed to kill them.
4n.  Exploding heads - No exploding heads.
4o.  The Z Word - Famously never called "zombies."  One news report uses "ghouls" three times.  Other than that they are usually "they," "them" and "those things" or descriptions such as "an army of unidentified assassins," "assassins," "murderers," "ordinary people," "misshapen monsters", "creatures that feast upon the flesh of their victims," a "person who have recently died," and "the unburied dead."

Because there's never a problem with the phone.


The Living.

"If you're stupid enough to go die in that trap, that's your business.  However, I am not stupid enough to follow you." ~ Ben.

5a.  Individuals - It begins with Barbra who survives a single attack and finds an abandoned house.
5b.  Group of survivors - Others arrive at - or were hiding in - the house.
5c.  Characters - The main group will include:
  • The hero - Ben, takes charge when he arrives and becomes pretty bossy himself.
  • The heroine - Barbra, although she starts as the main character, she quickly falls apart becoming the weepy character.  She does, initially ditch her heals, find a way to use the car to get away without keys and finds a knife before she falls apart.  Judy, the love interest of Tom never accends 
  • The bossy guy - Harry Cooper, Arrogant, but trying to protect his family.  And, as Ben ends up surviving (mostly) by hiding in the cellar .
  • Bossy guy's female companion - Helen Cooper, Harry's wife.  Some early dialogue suggests the marriage was already in trouble, but she tends to publically side with Harry while privately seems to support Ben more.
  • The secondary hero - Tom, was hiding with Harry Cooper, almost immediately sides with Ben and becomes his follower.
  • The weepy girl - Barbra, as noted above.  Judy is sullen, never as weepy as Barbra.
  • Child - Karen Cooper, Harry and Helen's daughter.
  • The crazy guy - No crazy guy beyond Harry.
  • Unbeliever - No unbeliever beyond the initial incredulity of the radio and television announcers.
  • The gang leader - N/A.
5d.  Man is the real monster - Harry and Ben seem to prove that.  Perhaps the clean-up crew, too.
5e.  Steep learning curve - Not really long enough.  Ben seems to have it all together from the beginning and Harry seems pretty good with Molotov cocktails.
5f.  Final Girl and Final Guy - The hero and the heroine are the last two, with Ben, the hero surviving to the end (where he is killed.)

He was like that when I got here.



"Police and sheriff's deputies and emergency ambulances are literally deluged with calls for help.." ~ Radio announcer.

6a.  Standing around talking for no reason when endangered - The worst example is Judy, not talking, but standing between the front door and the vehicle after deciding to leave the house then possibly changing her mind.
6b.  Grieving - Doesn't really come up, beyond Barbra's catatonia, and Helen's shock on seeing her daughter feeding on her husband.
6c.  Making accidental noises - Doesn't come up.
6d.  Being unable to smell decaying flesh - Probably too soon for them to smell, also no real stealth attacks.
6e.  Engaging hand-to-hand combat with zombies - A couple at the doors and windows, but not direct fights.
6f.  Hiding secret bite - N/A.  Karen, who is acknowledged as injured is possibly the closest to this.
6g. Unwilling to kill the bitten - It is not clear in Karen is bitten or just dies of her injury.
6h.  Unwilling to kill the undead - Barbra and Helen seem to let undead loved ones kill them.  Ben is willing to re-kill Harry and Helen.
6i.  In-fighting - Lots of infighting between Ben and Harry, possibly leads to Helen being killed by living dead-Karen, but only peripherally.
6j.  Fighting at all - Ben beats Harry up, and later after a fight for a gun, Ben fatally shoots Harry.
6k.  Having sex - N/A.
6l.  Being cowardly - Harry.  He runs to the cellar without letting Ben in, but quickly reverses his decision, unfortunately Ben has already busted the door open and beats Harry up.
6m.  Betraying the group - N/A.
6n.  Going anywhere they shouldn't go in a slasher film
  • Down to the Basement - There was a long fight about whether the basement was safer than the main house.  Pretty much turns out that the annoying guy was right, as a number of people were killed upstairs and Ben survived the night by escaping into the basement.
  • Upstairs - People went upstairs.  Seemed OK.
  • For a Shower - N/A.
  • Into old sheds or out buildings - N/A.
  • Running off to the “safety” of the forest - N/A.
  • Anywhere alone - N/A.
  • Anywhere Remote, Isolated or Confined - The house is isolated.
  • Any Old, Abandoned or Presumably Haunted Buildings - The basic premise.
6o.  Relying on anything they shouldn't in rely on a slasher film
  • Communications devices - The radio station was initially out when it could have warned of danger.  The phones in the house where out (recorded message).  The radio and TV later work fine, but gave information that caused conflict.
  • Lighting - There was no real problem with the lighting until near the end of the film when they lost all power.  There is some question as the whether having all the lights on attracted the zombies or warded them off.  The zombies smashed the lights on the car and mass attacked immediately after the lights went off.
  • Vehicular Transport - Barbra gets to the car safely but finds no keys.  Later the truck needs refueling leading to an explosion killing Tom & Judy.
  • Their Own Legs - Barbra falls twice while running from the first of the living dead.
  • The Authorities – The TV seems to show the authorities doing pretty well cleaning up the zombies and the end of the film supports that.  Unfortunately, they accidentally shoot and kill Ben.
  • Weapons – The gun is only used on the living dead a couple of times.
  • Escape Routes - The escape route - filling the truck with fuel and driving to a rescue centre - is cut off when the fuel run ends with the truck exploding.
6p.  Being over-confident - Possibly Harry and Ben at different times.
6q.  Making a plan that is too complex - They had a plan to refuel the car, which ended in the car exploding and two deaths.
6r.  Making a plan - The groups main plan was stay in the house.  It pretty much failed.
6s.  Assume they're safe - I don't think that was done.
6t.  Be happy - I don't think anyone was happy.  Judy is accused of smiling all the time.
6u.  Just one last thing - No supply runs.  Getting fuel was deadly enough.
6v.  Never assume anyone or anything is dead - Only happened, really, with the body upstairs. And it seemed to stay dead.

Bad hair day.


Standard Plot

"We've heard all we need to know.  We have to try to get out of here." ~ Ben.

7a.  Normal life - Quickly establishes that Barbra and Johnny are visiting thier father's grave.
7b.  Sudden outbreak - It seems sudden from what happens to Barbra, Ben's description of the events at Beekman's Dinner and the radio stories.
7c.  Meetings - Ben finds Barbra in the farmhouse, and later the others emerge from the celler.
7d.  Civilisation will collapse - Not soon enough for that to happen.  It's widespread enough ("eastern third of this nation") and dangerous enough for radio stations to pool thier resources for emergency broadcasting, but it appears that the government has things in control at the end.
7e.  Looting becomes scavenging - Ben does some savenging in the house, probably not looting since they don't leave.
7f.  Gangs/bandits/cannibals - The only gangs are the authorities and the militias helping them.
7g.  Finding a place to hole up - The main characters do so in the farmhouse.  The radio and TV initially even advise people to do so, although rescue stations are later established.
7h.  Avoiding contecting to people - Mostly they avoided connecting with others.
7i.  Suicidal - Possibly Barbra, but mostly not.
7j.  Undead loved-ones - Two of the last three people killed Helen and Barbra were killed by living dead family members.
7k.  Mindless sacrifice - Possibly Barbra.
7l.  Limited food/water/bullets - Too early for such limits.  Getting fuel became an issue.
7m.  Escape from a place - They're advised to leave and find a rescue station.
7n.  Armoured vehicle - N/A.  The vehicle they did have was a death trap for two of the characters.
7o.  Don't let me turn/save a bullet - N/A.
7p.  Injury - The child, Karen, is injured.
7q.  Heroic sacrifice - None.
7r.  Death of the last survivor - Having survived the night after the living dead had all been kill off, Ben is accidentally shot by the authories, ending the film (apart from stills during the closing credits).

Barbra was looking for shelter, Ben it's break and enter.


There will be social commentary.

"You can be the boss down there.  I'm boss up here." ~ Ben.

8a.  We are already zombies - Not covered.
8c.  Racism - By vitrue of casting the best person for the lead role - who happened to be black - in the 60s, the film took on racial overtones, especially his shooting by rednecks at the end.  
8d.  Working together - When they work together, two die.  When they don't everyone dies.  It's not a strong message if it is at all.
8e.  Man is the real monster - Two people are killed by other humans (one deliberately, one presumably accidentally), two in an accidental explosion and three by zombies.
8f.  Zombies are people, too - No really covered.
8g.  Other - Romero cites "I Am Legend" as his inspiration and says that story was about revolution.  Some crtiics at the time saw it as being about war, especially the then current war in Vietnam or the cold war.  Alternately, the weakening of the character of Barbra and the weakness of Helen and Judy is said to show a portrayal of women as weak.

Ben never was a morning person.

There is no happily ending

"Hit him in the head. Right between the eyes... Good shot.  OK, he's dead.  Let's go get him.  That's another one for the fire."  ~ Sheriff McClelland..

9a.  Downer ending - Local authorities come to clear up the area and shoot most of the living dead.  Then they shoot the last survivor, Ben.
9b.  Sudden end - Ben is shot, the sheriff tells people to put his body in the fire.  The credits roll of stills of that happening. 
9c.  Disaster porn - Stills of the dead and clean up.
9d.  No cure - The radiation was said to be increasing.  Presumably as the radiation went away, so would the problem.  The clean-up also seemed to be pretty successful.

RULE #10

"They know we're in here now." ~ Ben.

The name of the film was changed from "Night of the Flesh Eaters" to "Night of the Living Dead" the copyright noticed which has lead to more sequels, remakes and adaptions than may otherwise occur.

10a.  Sequels - The film has two semi-official sequel series, Romero's "Dead" series (with the first follow-up "Dawn of the Dead") and the "Return of the Living Dead" series.   Due to international releases of various films, it is the beginning of a complex series of over 50 related films.
10b.  Remakes - The film has been directly remade twice, in 1990 and 2006 and used for the basis for "Mimesis:  Night of the Living Dead"
10c.  Adaptations - Not an adaptation of anything, but inspired by Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend."


  • Rules that are followed in this film:  1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10.
  • Rules that are partially followed, or not clear, in this film:  4, 7.
  • Rules not followed by the film: 3.

    ~ DUG.

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