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Why Is Night of the Living Dead a Classic of Horror Movie

2021-10-28 来源: 51Due教员组 类别: Essay范文


本文试图探究和分析《活死人之夜》成为经典恐怖电影的深层原因。由乔治·A·罗梅罗(George A.Romero)制作和导演的《活死人之夜》改变了僵尸电影的模式,成为恐怖电影的里程碑,也是美国僵尸恐怖电影史上的转折点。这部电影获得了惊人的经济成功,在国内外都获得了令人羡慕的票房。在这部电影上映之前,观众肯定已经制作、放映和观看了许多其他恐怖电影。然后,一些人可能会想,这样一部黑白电影怎么会成为恐怖电影史上的经典。其在世界范围内得到认可和流行的原因值得进一步分析。事实上,这部电影的成功并非毫无根据。情节简单巧妙,对每一个人物都进行了细致生动的描写和表达,深入探讨了人物生死关头的人性,深刻反映了社会文化和现实,,《活死人之夜》一直是一部经典之作,尽管美国已经有很多恐怖电影上映,但它从未被人们所忽视。

This essay attempts to explore and analyze the underlying reasons why Night of the Living Dead is a classic of horror movie. Produced and directed by George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead changes the pattern of zombie films, and becomes a milestone of horror films as well as a turning point in American zombie horror movies history. The film becomes an amazing financial success, grossing an enviable and prosperous box office both domestically and internationally. Before the release of this movie, many other horror movies certainly have been produced, shown and seen by moviegoers. Then, some people may wonder how can such a black-and-white film become a classic in horror movie history. The reasons for its worldwide recognition and popularity are worth further analysis. Actually, the success of the movie is not groundless. With a simple and ingenious plot, detailed and vivid descriptions and expressions of each character as well as a deep exploration into the human nature of the characters in a life-and-death situation, and poignant reflections of social culture and reality, Night of the Living Dead always remains a classic and never gets overshadowed even though a great number of horror films have already been coming out in the United States.

The plot of the film is plain and ingenious. The first advantage of the plot worth mentioning is the detailed and reliable explanations of the cause of the undead. With the scriptwriter’s clever arrangement of a radio in the farmhouse, Ben and Barbra are able to learn about the cause of the undead. That is because a space probe returning from Venus brings back mysterious high-intensity radiation which can reanimate the brain of the dead, cause mutations, and turn the dead into the undead. The characteristics of the undead are that they move slowly and stiffly, attack humans and eat them, and those who are bitten by them will become zombies too. Such a detailed explanation of the cause of the undead is rather convincing and unarguable as the radiation brought back by the space probe is mysterious and unprovable by common people. The plainness of the plot is also impressive. With simple special effects and moderate mood depictions of the actors and actresses, this black-and-white movie wins the hearts of numerous viewers through a plain but ingenious plot. The movie begins with the scene that Barbra and her brother Johnny go to rural Pennsylvania for a yearly visit to their father's grave.Unfortunately, they meet a monster who is in trance with stiff movements. The monster kills Johnny and chases Barbra. Almost scared to death, Barbra flees to a nearby farmhouse where she meets Ben who is also seeking refuge from the undead. The owner of the house has been killed, and an angry married couple, Harry Cooper, Helen Cooper, with their daughter Karen Cooper and a teenage couple, Tom and Judy, are also hiding in the farmhouse. In the following section, the movie just shows how these people hiding in the farmhouse seek survival from the undead and from each other. Then, one after another of them die either eaten by the zombies or killed in the exploded truck.When some of them become zombies themselves, they start to eat their partners in the farmhouse. And finally, Ben, the only survivor after a whole days struggle, is unfortunately killed not by the zombies but by a member of the posse who mistakes him for one of the zombies and shoots him through the forehead.The movie ends when Ben’s body is thrown into the posse's bonfire. This is the whole plot of the movie, and it is easy to understand and to remember. Apparently, both the scriptwriter and the director of the movie are trying to impress viewers with a simple plot and with more emphasis on the process of the peoples survival struggle in that life-and-death situation.

The most wonderful part of the movie lies in its detailed and vivid descriptions and expressions of each character as well as a deep exploration into the human nature of the characters in that life-and-death situation. The distinctive characters are well-arranged: Barbra is a beautiful girl; Johnny, Barbras brother, is eaten by the undead; a teenager couple is deep in love; a married couple with a daughter is selfish; all of them are hiding in a bleaker house with zombies everywhere and they are struggling for survival. Everything happens with several people in a narrow space. Barbra feels unable to accept the fact that her brother is eaten by the undead and at last her zombie brother rushes into the house and eats her. The teenager couple, Tom and Judy, is deep in love. Judy always encourages Tom with a bright smile. An accident happens and the truck explodes when they try to refuel the truck to save other people in the house. They die and their charred body remains are eaten by the undead. As for the married couple, Harry Cooper and Helen Cooper, Harry is very selfish, only caring about himself and trying to kill his partners. During his fight with Ben, he is killed by Ben and eaten by his own daughter Karen Cooper who already becomes a zombie. Ellen is a nice woman, taking good care of her insensible daughter. Unexpectedly, her daughter becomes a zombie after waking up and kills her mother with a masonry trowel. The black man, Ben, managers to make it until next morning in that dangerous situation. Unfortunately, he is mistaken as a zombie by a member of the posse and gets killed. Each character in the movie is given a vivid description when each of them is undergoing the horrible experience. Their anxieties, fear, horror-struck mental states are detailedly shown. But what is shocking to the viewers is not their fear but the human nature they demonstrate in the life-and-death situation. Taboos of human nature are the major theme of Night of the Living Dead, and the scene of people-eating pushes forward the taboos to the acme. Although it is a low budget movie, nevertheless it catches each characters mentality and expression, and succeeds in giving an in-depth depiction of the fear, despair, struggle and helplessness of each person trapped in the farmhouse. It also tells how people establish trust and faith in strangers in an enclosed space under intensive exterior pressure with  zombies everywhere. The selfishness of the married couple is expressed thoroughly. When they are in danger, each of them tries to escape without caring about each other. And finally they all pay a heavy price when both of them are killed by their own daughter. As for the teenager couple, Judys smile is powerful and encouraging to Tom, and Judy can actually stay safe in the farmhouse but she chooses to take the risks by going out together with Tom. Perhaps in many viewers eyes, such a kind girl should not die. But she dies with Tom when the truck explodes. Ben is a typical character in the movie. He acts as a hero almost throughout the movie but becomes a coward at the end. On the most critical moment, he forgets to protect people around him, and he even kills his partner in order to get the gun to protect himself. Maybe this is what the director wants to tell the movie viewers: both hero and coward are relative. This movie is horrible not because it shows many bloodcurdling zombies, but because how the selfish people kill each other when they are supposed to unite together to flee from dangers. Here, the director seems to let viewers ask who are really the undead and who is the true hero, zombie or human. Perhaps, everyone is a zombie except himself or herself.

Night of the Living Dead is also well praised for its poignant reflections of social culture and reality. On the one hand, similar to literature, film, a form of art, is also influenced by social culture and in turn reflects social culture. As an influential and classical horror film, Night of the Living Dead introduces earliest concept of ghost horror which expresses some concerns of deadly mutations raised by nuclear war in that particular time. It is normally constructed by people’s knowledge and thoughts based on social culture, which somehow gives people nowadays a way to explore the society and history in the past. In the film Night of the Living Dead, Ben is the leading role and is depicted as a comparatively calm and resourceful hero who is also the leader in the whole story. When another leading role Barbra escapes into the farmhouse and meets with Ben, she doesn’t tell the truth of her relationship with her brother Johnny. Instead, she tries to imply that Johnny is her partner. According to Stephen Harper, “This suggests Barbra’s uncertainty regarding the intentions of her interlocutor, perhaps because he is a man, perhaps because he is black” (2005:9). And at the end of this movie, as the heroic figure Ben successfully survives but is dramatically shot by a member of the posse who apparently regards him as a zombie by mistake. The member of the posse does not try to figure out whether Ben is a zombie or not; he just pulls the trigger of the shotgun without even thinking. Is that really caused by carelessness? How does this scene imply the social justice and social anxiety? After the Civil Right Act was signed in 1964 which officially ended the racial segregation at public occasions, the Night of the Living Dead was filmed 4 years later. However, as a matter of fact, the black people in the United States did not literally get respects. This film could in some way tell and show its viewers that racism still existed in the United States at that time. Harper explains that this type of film showing catastrophe is an indication of American concerns of radical social changes (2005:10). On the other hand, social reality is also demonstrated in the movie. Night of the Living Dead depicts a zombie as a walking, relentless and cannibalistic ghoul. Is there any connection with the reality? Harper claims that the Night is a reflection of political and social anxieties by late 1960s, and the zombie is a rhetorical figure of younger generation of Americans who tend to overthrow traditions like some groups of people who are homeless, AIDS sufferers, drug users (2005:15). The skinny and diseased-like zombie in the film is probably a kind of satire of those dragsters. Based on Susan M. Behuniak’s research, the zombie is represented in the movie as a “dispossessed” entity which is no longer controlled by mastermind and becomes ghouls moving relentlessly and stiffly. She also says, “Romero’s zombie, which is slow, autonomous, lacking cognition but recognized by its victims, becomes the reference for some cultural responses to AD (Alzheimer’s disease)” (2011:73). It can be said that Night of the Living Dead is a miniature of the social reality in the United States. Moreover, Harry Cooper in the film is depicted as a selfish and timid old man who is backward-looking at all times and tries to isolate himself to board up in the basement. When Ben and some other guys get out of the house to fight for survival, Harry Cooper cowardly closes the door, indifferent to others’ lives. According to Harper, Cooper’s personality could be a metaphor of the isolationism that many middle class people at that time started to have more isolated lives (2005:21). These personalities in the movie were actually representations of the mainstream in 1960s.

In conclusion, Night of the Living Dead has the milestone significance in the horror movie history. It is indeed a classic with its impressive plot, character depictions and reflections of social culture and reality. As the pioneer of the horror movie, it absolutely establishes the unique status of modern corpse movie, and is imitated, honored and even spoofed by many later similar horror movies. It seems it is Night of the Living Dead that puts forward the basic laws of corpse movies which are accepted and utilized by later corpse movies. These laws include setting some mysterious causes for the reanimation of the dead, the assumption that the dead eat only human beings but not other zombies, and the presupposition that when one gets bitten by a zombie, he or she will be infected and becomes a zombie shortly. It is believed that the influence of the movie will continue. A classic is a classic.



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