Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Fright of the Living Dead"

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
The "Night of the Living Dead" FEAR Poster

FEAR that deadliest of all emotions clutching at your heart the... Night of the Living Dead.

Lack of punctuation aside, the skull-oriented "Fear" poster, with the focus on the fright factor, is one of the more unusual promotional efforts done for the movie. While most movies of the time were merely hyped as scary, not delivering on the full extent of the promise, "Night" was one that the posters and hype were unable to communicate the true horrors fully.

There's little that can be said about "Night" that hasn't been said already, and by better writers than me. What I can do is simply relate what it means to me, which is something unique to each person. If you haven't seen it yet, (is there anyone out there that hasn't?) then this post contains spoilers, and you might want to go watch it first then come back. It's required viewing for any horror fan.

While watching the movie again last night (I've lost count of how many times I've seen it), I was struck by how that poster described one scene in the movie particularly. If there was any character most affected by the terror, it was poor Barbara. Already skittish about being in the cemetery at the start, the teasing by her brother didn't help things. Then when the attacks begin, her fragile psyche began to fracture, the fear pounding at her mental defenses like the zombies pounding at the doors. As she takes refuge in the farmhouse, her mind also begins to take refuge in the deeper basement levels of shocked isolation. Unable to face the reality of the situation, she begins a rapid descent into a withdrawn catatonia and state of shock.

Actress Judith O'Dea portrayed a woman whose fear eats away at her before the living dead ever get a chance. We see her begin to fall apart as events beyond her understanding close in around her, going from hysterical denial to simply sitting and staring into space, disconnected from the situation and people around her. Only at the end, as she is grabbed by her reanimated brother and dragged out into the hungry crowd of dead clutching hands, does she seem to come to her senses and make an effort to fight back. Sadly, it is too late, as she is overcome and devoured alive.

I made this series of screen captures below to illustrate the emotional meltdown, from one short scene as Barbara relates to Ben how she and Johnny were attacked and her brother killed. The outburst ends with her unreasonable demand that they go find him, and when Ben tells her that her brother is dead, she slaps him. One quick jab by Ben to the jaw later, Barbara faints, overcome by the emotion, and retreats from reality for the rest of the film.

Although there is an impulse to laugh at the display and consider it overacting by Judith and histronics by Barbara, within the context of the film it plays as a pathetic and pitiable expression of terror too terrible to handle. It seems to indicate a psychological problem brought to the surface and exacerbated by the end of normalcy.

Now, that's Acting, folks! A whole movie's worth of emoting (possibly several), compressed into one short scene about a minute long. Under different circumstances she might have been given the "Shatner Award For Acting Excellence" statue. As it is, we are left hoping we never come to such an emotionally-devasting place where we fall apart in like manner. But if you do laugh at least once while watching it, I can't really blame you. Watching a nervous breakdown in progress is funny until it happens to someone you know.

Oh, and for a change of gears, from fear to fun, here is the next installment of strips from "Garfield In Disguise."

To be continued!


Patrick said...

NOTLD...All true horror fans must bow down before the altar of the almighty NOTLD!! I picked up an awesome set of NOTLD trading cards at a convention in Las Vegas many years ago...One of my favorite horror collectibles!

Frederick said...


Oh, yes, I have those as well, tucked away in card pages in one of my card notebooks! I treasure them too.

Karswell said...

Cool man, some of those foreign posters I've never seen before.

pup don said...

This is one of my favorite horror movies of all time and Barbara's meltdown is one of my favorite scenes. I used to be able to recite it verbatim, to the extent that when my friend got Judith O'Dea's autograph at the Zombie Jamborie in Pittsburgh he had her inscribe "There's no more candy!!!" because he was so used to me running around shouting it for so long. LOL!

Some years ago the performance art music group Squonk Opera did a production called "Night of the Living Dead: The Opera". It was like taking the Rocky Horror idea and pumping it up through the roof! They played original music that sometimes acted as background and sometimes drowned out the dialogue but commented on the action, as in the scene where the young couple accidentally blow up the truck and get eaten and the group would sing "We are burning in the fires we make". They group each dressed up as characters in the movie, sometimes donning green stockings over their faces to portray zombies. It was unreal. I went three times in a week before it closed. I wished someone had captured a video of these performances because they were so great.