To celebrate 50 years of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and leading to the release of my book JOURNEY OF THE LIVING DEAD, I'm tweeting a 50-part tribute to the birth of the modern zombie (inspired by an epic #StarWars EPV thread by @ScottCollura)! Here's how it'll work... /-1 #ZAM18
Starting on April 30 (the date on which the action in NIGHT begins) and ending on October 1 (the anniversary of NIGHT's release), I'll post 50 tweets of selected shots from the film with commentary. Join me tomorrow as we go back to that fateful day in 1967 (yes, 1967)! /0 #ZAM18
We start on the road to Evans City Cemetery PA, and NIGHT instantly slips out of Image Ten's ownership into the public domain. Hastily retitling from NIGHT OF THE FLESH EATERS, the distributor forgot the copyright on the new title card. Credits reveal everyone wore many hats. /1
As the Coles' car (Who? Stay tuned!) nears Evans City Cemetery, we see an entrance sign. Today there are two signs marking the way to the now-famous horror fan tourist spot. Romero's credit screen is strikingly thematic: An American flag flying forlornly over graves. /2 #ZAM18
Barbra and Johnny Cole (I’ll explain soon) reveal a lifetime of family tension as soon as they start talking. Their emotional backstory builds in the next few minutes as the film establishes a primary theme of American family decay. They fail to heed a fateful warning. /3 #ZAM18
Yours truly and @nblitofsky tried to re-create a classic moment in front of the chapel. Some sources have taken to calling them Barbra and Johnny “Blair,” but that’s an incorrect assumption. Barbra kneels by a stone with the name “Cole;” the Blair stone is next to it. /4 #ZAM18
Our first glimpse of the Cemetery Ghoul is followed by some compressed but vital character building. Johnny tells a childhood tale while making sure we see him put on his driving glove, denies God, then teases Barbra with a bit of Karloff. Grandpa may have been right… /5 #ZAM18
Johnny's a good brother after all. Note this ghoul's agile wrestling moves; Bill Hinzman was assistant cameraman when Romero cast him in the iconic role of the Cemetery Ghoul. Barbra, now in shock, clutches the Nicholas Kramer marker, which you can still visit today. /6 #ZAM18
People tend to forget how fast the Cemetery Ghoul was…until he wasn’t. He jogs along quickly early on, and exhibits some serious cognition, using a rock as a tool and focusing on getting Barbra, having never even taken a bite of Johnny. The rules are not yet set… /7 #ZAM18
Our first look at the thematically resonant American farmhouse that will be our primary location. Visual foreshadowing; the gas pump will be important later. Shadow artfully frames Barbra at the door. We are trapped in darkness with her, under siege; it truly begins. /8 #ZAM18
Barbra encounters stuffed animal heads in our first tour of the farmhouse (do those look familiar, Deadites?). Thematic readings abound here: Are these animal trophies regarding her with derision in her plight, or is it sympathy? Are humans now to become the hunted? /9 #ZAM18
Pop Quiz: How smart IS the Cemetery Ghoul? He’s agile for a bit (here is where he slows down) and uses tools (a rock), but does he knowingly isolate Barbra by tearing at a phone wire, or is he just removing a pesky laundry line? YOU decide! (I really thought this as a kid.) /10
Barbra is confronted with a truly grotesque image for 1968 moviegoing audiences, the corpse at the top of the stairs, but there’s little time to process that as Duane Jones makes his first appearance as Ben. With his arrival, the film’s primary character arc kicks into gear. /11
From his first moments in the film, Jones’ Ben showcases his strength and sensitivity, immediately assessing options, and reacting with revulsion and regret at the sight of the corpse. He is stability and thoughtfulness in an upside-down world; Jones is instantly magnetic. /12
In a moment that echoes one from another favorite film, 1959's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Barbra is "marked" by the violence that's taken place in the house. She's about to briefly find her voice again, but that won't last. And yes, that blood is actually Bosco chocolate syrup! /13
NIGHT ghouls exhibit behavior not usually associated with the modern zombie they supposedly invented (most rules come from DAWN 10 years later); they are averse to light, using rocks to angrily snuff out the offending orbs. Also, Ben's about to have an educational encounter. /14
Ben takes out a ghoul (NIGHT co-writer @JohnARusso2) with a tire iron to the head, but we haven’t quite been shown specifically to "aim for the head" yet. Check out the @Criterion Blu-ray for a shocking tale told by Jones about a racist threatening HIS life with a tire iron! /15
Other intriguing variations in ghoul behavior: One grabs his head in shock, perhaps pain; and as with light, they cower from flame (unlike their WALKING DEAD descendants, who walk right into a blaze). Also, Russo’s dispatched ghoul eyes Barbra! …Not really, it’s a blooper. /16
After an attempt to engage Barbra (the calendar reads December 1966, pretty much establishing this as April 1967), Ben leaves her to descend into a zombie-like state. Barbra is mesmerized, child-like, by a music box. Artful, poetic shots spotlight Romero’s superb direction. /17
A clear view of the calendar, and Barbra cradles useless pieces of wood as Ben goes into action to protect them. We now reach the film’s dramatic focal point, a stunning bit of acting by Jones as he disassembles a table while telling the tale of Beekman’s Diner. Buckle up. /18
There is more atmosphere and dread in Ben quietly and regretfully telling the Beekman’s Diner story than in the rest of the film. Jones’ performance is beautifully measured and hypnotic. His softly uttered “I just wanted to crush them” is one of my favorite line deliveries. /19
Barbra's retelling of the events we already saw at the beginning of the film is in stark contrast to Ben's tale. She is upset, frenetic, spiraling out of control. Ben is almost immediately unsettled by her behavior and wants her to calm down, or she could endanger them both. /20
The 1st of 2 scenes that always elicit gasps from students; '68 audiences were shocked too. Barbra slaps Ben, and he HITS back. You can see her chin bruise from then on. His unbuttoning of her coat to make her comfortable also confuses students at first. Is he…? (He isn’t.) /21
A montage of survivalist housekeeping begins with another artful shot, as Ben enters a room framed by timbers, trapped by necessity and duty. He sets a fire for the houseguests, boards up the house, and lights the first in many cigarettes for this movie; more on this later. /22
Ben succumbs to toxic Alpha Male posturing soon, part of his downfall, but it's endearing that in his closet rummage, he grabs not just a gun/ammo for protection/survival, but shoes to make Barbra more comfortable. He’s a good person, and he's trying in a terrible situation. /23
Ben may be trying, but now it’s time to test him and set up the film’s 2nd half, in which a key modern zombie theme is introduced: The real enemy is the guy in the house with you, not the ghoul at the door. Welcome to the party, Harry Cooper (note Tom is peacemaker at once). /24
Ben’s standoff with Harry (subtly racist, not overtly) is the toxic downfall of everyone. Harry is bent, trollish, wielding a weapon; Ben stands tall. If they looked past the Alpha Male posturing, they might realize Harry was probably right. The women are utterly excluded. /25
A key scene establishing one of the most vital modern Romero-zombie rules. With no dialogue to explain, we watch as Ben deduces that only a shot to the head takes out a ghoul (he’s killed a couple with head trauma, but now has proof of their invulnerability to body shots). /26
Marilyn Eastman's ghoul eats a bug then it's a dual verbal attack on Harry. Ben calls him stupid & sends him away-“You can be the boss down there, I’m boss up here,” & Helen tells him “We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn’t going to solve anything.” Ouch. /27
Barbra continues to exhibit zombie/child/animal behavior with the doily. In the midst of SO MUCH SMOKING, Helen introduces herself to Barbra as if her presence is the most obvious thing in the world. Her body language, compared to Harry, conveys quiet strength & defiance. /28
Romero uses extreme angles (and a cameo!) to energize a static sequence of a first glimpse of the wider world via TV. The businesslike newscast-like the radio-grounds the film with reassurance. But (stolen shots show us) the gov't is hiding something. /29 
"I hurt." Karen’s condition is a ticking clock. As the men in the house plan the group's escape, Ben eyes Tom – who he must now trust – with suspicion. As the only black man in the house, is Ben seeing potential enemies within as well as without? /30 
The one scene I'd cut; Judy, give me those scissors. It tries to add depth to Tom & Judy, but the dialogue/delivery is leaden. Ah well, they try. Tom’s “wind” comment recalls the plague on the wind in this film’s immediate forebear, LAST MAN ON EARTH. /31 
It’s a flurry of action as Ben and Tom prepare to go to the gas pump. Ben removes the carefully-labelled “upper right corner” board (oops), Harry–to his credit–tries to save Judy from herself, but Judy seals her fate. And Tom’s. And everyone else's. /32 
Starting with one of the film's only really overt "day for night" shots, everything that could go wrong goes wrong. We're about to see in gory detail why the NIGHT ghouls are known as "flesh eaters," but not necessarily in quite the way people think. /33 
First, Ben and Harry are about to collide. As with most bullies, Harry doesn’t have the courage to back up his bluster, but we know Ben will fight for what he believes. His patience with Harry is at an end, and Harry's help is too little, too late. /34 
Tom and Judy Buffet time. Key points: these early ghouls fight over food, and they eat cooked/dead meat - some of the reasons why the ghouls of NIGHT are the beginning of the modern zombie, but NOT the end. Ben’s revulsion here is a great touch too. /35 
Great character touches (Helen's wistfulness, Harry's matter-of-fact cynicism) punctuate the survivors pivoting to Plan B. The joy is watching Ben's sudden realization that Barbra's sing-song scolding about “the key” might indicate another way out. /36 
The survivors get a rare glimpse of activity in the outside world, and through reporter Bill Cardille and Sheriff McClelland, get a sense that things may be containable. NIGHT is not apocalyptic in that sense...but will it have a happy ending? Please. /37 
As we enter the final act in this tragedy, the lights go out (were they deliberately cut off by the ghouls?), amping up the already palpable claustrophobia & Romero’s chance to frame his characters in chiaroscuro shots that heighten emotional tension. /38 
A more-or-less organized siege begins as the ghouls use tools to batter their way into the survivors’ no-longer-safe haven. There is purpose in their attack, even cooperation; in the end, are the ghouls a more efficient unified force than the living? /39 
With his own wife vulnerable, Harry crouches troll-like again, giving up all pretense of being out for anyone on that floor other than himself. Seizing the gun will hasten his own death & end the struggle for dominance with no one’s benefit. /40 
Is Ben finally unleashing his rage on Harry specifically, or on ALL white men that always treat him as “less than?” There’s a glimmer of satisfaction in Ben’s expression as he watches Harry fall through the basement door and into his own private Hell. /41 
I’ve been very critical of Harry, but in his final moments he's driven by one goal: get to his daughter. Could it be that under the subtextual racism, verbal abuse, and overblown ego, he’s a concerned father? Or is he an abuser trying to silence her? /42 
It took the entire film, but Barbra finally wakes up (it reminds me of waiting for Coop to BE Coop in the new TWIN PEAKS). Seeing Helen in distress - and perhaps the glimpse of an old friend, the Cemetery Ghoul - finally spurs her to action! /43 
One of the film’s most oft-stated themes–the destruction of the American nuclear family from within, young consuming the old–is played out as Karen eats her father & kills her mother, not like a ghoul but like a human, stabbing Helen in the HEART. /44 
This scene always shocks & repels my students. It Just. Keeps. Going! Repetitive stabbing. Shrieking music. Daughter destroys mother; even new generations of viewers feel the taboo to their bones. Note Karen's shadowed eye suggests a skull-like look. /45 
Another family reunited in oblivion. Is Johnny (he makes sure to show his glove for ID since his glasses are gone) back for revenge or brotherly devotion? Either way, the circle is closing, and look who else returns to play a role in the conclusion! /46 
With the house filled with the living dead, Ben gets past Karen and puts down her parents for good. The last man alive, his revulsion & rage is still right there on his face as he surveys the scene and pumps bullets into Harry. Some things never die. /47 
Morning. Happy ending? Well… The posse cleans up (note the ghouls show pain at being shot), the Sheriff takes Cardille’s coffee, and Cardille lights up (cigs again). NIGHT is NOT an apocalyptic film; “everything appears to be under control”…almost. /48 
The scene that made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD immortal. Providing students with their second shock, and scholars like me with decades of theorizing about the intent and meaning of the film makers, Ben’s death is the thematic lynchpin of the movie. /49 
White men stab Ben with meat hooks to move his corpse. Did Romero really intend the stark shift into newsprint to evoke contemporary riot coverage? In the end, Ben rests next to the pale Cemetery Ghoul, all boundaries between them eliminated in death. /50 
I hope you all enjoyed this five-month thread on a horror classic. Happy 50th anniversary to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD! Now if you'll excuse me, @nblitofsky and I have a movie to start watching before midnight... /end
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