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by M.L. Lewis 2 months ago in movie review
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Night Of The Living Dead

Scare Rating- 7 out 10

Every Sunday we shall explore the scientific inaccuracies in various zombie films, TV shows, books, and maybe even plays. I will then give them a scare rating of 1 to 10, 10 meaning the most accurate if it were to happen in today's society. And, what better time to start than zombie appreciation month. Warning this article will contain spoilers so the reader's digression is advised.

Zombies come in all shapes and sizes. Some run fast as lightning, while others shamble like they are in desperate need of some Starbucks. Whatever you enjoy there is a zombie for everyone. Today, we shall explore the 1968 classic film Night Of The Living Dead. As many of you know, this holds the record for being the first zombie film to portray them as flesh-eating monsters. George A. Romero created the monster to highlight the social issues of the time. Night of The Living Dead used its zombies to portray the racial oppression of America at the time, to highlight how small groups of people fail to band together to complete a basic task and our fear of space exploration. A fairly new concept at that time as we were currently working on trying to land a man on the moon. A feat that we will accomplish a year after the film's release.

The film begins with Barbara and Johnny driving up to the cemetery to visit their father's grave. Johnny is complaining that the trip took three hours, which is our first inaccuracy. According to Google Maps, the trip would have taken them at least one hour. The reason it took this long is that Interstate 279 and Interstate 376 didn't exist until 1972. The film takes place in the year 1968 so that needs to be taken into consideration when observing for inaccuracies. While looking for the grave Johnny mentions that he is tired since he lost an hour of sleep due to Daylight Savings. This is another inaccuracy since the film takes place in May, and Daylight Savings occurs in March. After placing the flowers on the grave Johnny teases Barbara about being scared while foreshadowing his own demise. I believe Barbara's fear of cemeteries is perhaps deeply rooted in the Voodoo zombie craze of the time. Haitians and other Voodoo practitioners believe that people can raise from their graves and be forced into becoming slaves to a master, or Bokor, who performs this feat through a religious ceremony. During this scene, Barbara is confronted by a zombie, or Ghoul as they are called in the film. She is saved by Johnny who intervenes and fights off the creature. Unfortunately, his act of heroism costs him his life as the Ghoul hits Johnny's temple against a gravestone, killing him (which is an accurate way to die). When the Ghoul shifts attention to Barbara this causes another inaccuracy. We humans have a primal attraction to warm meat. That is how we were able to survive for so long, and why warm meals bring us slight comfort. Zombies have resorted back to this caveman-like logic when it comes to food, hence why they are driven to eat any warm animal in their path they can get with ease. This logic is seen later in this film when one Ghoul eats a bug, and another a snake. So, according to this primal logic, the Ghoul should have been enjoying Johnny, and not chasing Barbara. Johnny's corpse would have stayed warm for at least 12 hours as it was springtime, and the weather was pretty mild. When the Ghoul does chase Barbara this was accurate as Rigor Mortis had not set in yet. So, the Ghoul will maintain the same speed it had before turning. His use of tools also indicates how long it has been since he turned. The human brain remains fully functional for ten minutes after the person died. His ability to use the car door handles and the rock to smash the window shows he must have turned in the last ten minutes.

Shortly after Barbara crashes the car she runs until she finds a nearby farmhouse. The back door is open, and the home is ransacked. She goes for the phone but discovers it is dead. A common problem when the lines are overrun with calls and is still an issue today. At that time it was a group of people, primarily women, sitting in front of a very large integrated panel of wires and plugs that ran our phone systems. At the time of filming, 9-1-1 didn't exist. So, the only way to reach help was through the operator. While searching the house Barbara peaks outside and witnesses another inaccuracy. When she looks outside it is completely dark out. The sun normally sets during the spring and summer season around 8:45-9 PM. For total darkness like this, it would have taken a total of 70-140 mins. This would indicate that we jumped from 8 PM (which she mentions at the beginning of the film) to 10 PM, and given our current timeline this kind of jump is not realistic in the slightest. She then heads upstairs where she is startled by the owner's dead wife on the floor. Given the approximately from the house to the cemetery, I'm assuming that the first zombie we encountered was her husband. The reason she didn't change however is, as we can see, her face and brains are eaten. She is unable to change due to missing the brains needed to perform the necessary functions of a zombie. This also throws a monkey wrench into the timeline as it would not explain how he was able to eat her and get down to the cemetery in time to retain full brain function to use tools.

Upon discovery of the body, Barbara runs from the house just as Ben pulls up to it. They both run inside, and Ben locks the door. He says he needs gas, but he checked the pump by the house and it was locked. This is not possible since we just watched him pull up. Also, how could the car be out of gas already since he left a gas station in town with it? Even if the pump wasn't locked the truck he is driving, the 1951 Chevrolet 3600, doesn't take diesel. So, if he did put the fuel in it, it would wreck his engine. You see, during the 60s the government pushed all farm vehicles to take diesel instead of gasoline, which was successful by 1970. Given it's a small family farm, they probably joined the movement early on. When he asks Barbara for the key to the pump she is frozen and unable to speak. This is an accurate response for someone going through this type of thing. The correct term for it is called emotional shock, or psychological trauma. Scientists discovered that when faced with a severe crisis most people freeze out of fear. The reason Ben is not as affected by the shock as she is a play on the times. In the 60s men were conditioned to be the protector and provider of the home. Men went to work and paid the bills, while the women stayed home and tended to the domestic needs. Also given his age, I'm assuming he is in his mid-20s/early 30s it's a good chance he has seen active combat. At the time we were in the Vietnam War, and as an African American, it was a good chance he was on the front lines in active combat areas. The ghouls going for the truck is accurate, in terms of them confusing it for a warm meal. By now the zombies are moving slightly slower because of rigor mortis setting in. Unfortunately, they are still getting the brain function wrong, something that will continue through the rest of the movie. While securing the house he mentions that the creatures are afraid of fire. This goes back to the Voodoo zombies as this was believed to be a known fear of theirs. When all the points of entry are boarded up Ben turns on the radio because he hasn't found the TV yet, as he was unable to explore the house. This is another thing the film got right. Back in the 1960s TVs were very expensive. So much so that the average consumer couldn't afford it.

Once the house is properly boarded up, Ben decides to head upstairs. While up there, other survivors emerge from the basement to explore all the noise. They are Harry and Helen Cooper, Tom, and Judy. Ben comes to Barbara's aide as she screams at the intruders approaching her. Ben and Harry begin to fight over what to do in terms of shelter, dividing the survivors. Once everyone decides what to do Harry returns to the basement to be with his wife and sick daughter Karen. Judy and Tom agree to stay upstairs to be with Ben. When Helen discovers they have a radio she demands to go upstairs with them. Harry gives in and everyone regroups upstairs. At this point, a small TV has been found. They set it up to hear the latest news report. The reporter states that the unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims. This would apply to the hospitals, but the morgues and funerals as those bodies would have undergone the embalming process already rendering the brain useless. Later in the report, he says that the Civil Defense is setting up rescue stations with armed National Guards in various towns. Even though this concept wouldn't work today due to people's deep distrust in the government, back then it wasn't a thing. People trusted the government a little better, so they would have been willing to go to these safe-havens. The locations mentioned are real, and many are still open today. During this report, it is explained that the possible cause of it was a space Exploration Satellite that was returning to Earth from Venus. NASA noticed upon entry that it had a mysteriously high level of radiation. So, they shot it out of the sky before it landed. This radiation is what caused the dead to rise. This means that the zombies are space zombies. This could also explain why they are maintaining brain function past the time it normally would. However, the space theory was never confirmed in the film, so the cause remains undetermined. Upon hearing the news report our survivors decide to attempt to reach their nearby rescue station. Tom mentions there is kerosene being kept in the basement which wasn't uncommon. Being out in the country, chances are the home probably gets blackouts quite a bit. Also, near the beginning of the movie a kerosene lamp can be seen in the background. The way they assemble the Molotov cocktails is the correct way to do so. I should also point out that the reason every character has matches instead of lighters is that matches were free at that time. They were handed out in restaurants, bars, motels, and any business at that time as it was used to promote the company. Zippo lighters were on the pricey side and disposable lighters weren't invented until 1972.

The plan begins with Tom, and unfortunately, Judy driving the car up to the pump while Ben waved a homemade torch around. This is a very bad idea to do around any fuel pump. Yeah, diesel fumes may be less combustible than gas, but still flammable. So, based on that I'm a little iffy on Ben shooting off the lock and not causing an explosion from the beginning. Static electricity has been known to cause fires at gas pumps, but I'll give them a plot hole pass on it since they weren't pumping at that time. So, there weren't a whole lot of fumes around. Despite this, they quickly set the truck on fire as Ben picks up the torch, just as Tom loses control of the nozzle, spraying the whole side of the truck with diesel. According to the manufacturer's handbook right where the fire started is where the gas tank was. The minute the truck caught fire it would have exploded right at that spot. There would not have been enough time to drive it off to safety. Tom, being their so-called car expert, would have known that. Also, I don't understand why Judy didn't use the passenger side door, which was clear enough to get out. Instead, she decided to slide across to the driver's seat, snagging her jacket. This action leads to both of their deaths. Diesel doesn't exactly explode like that because it tends to burn slower than gas, but this is just the beginning of their diesel inaccuracy. The flashpoint of it is at 125 degrees Fahrenheit and can reach temperatures as high as 410 degrees Fahrenheit. Since we just witness them die in an explosion, chances are that fire had to be 125 degrees to ignite. The flesh of a human body can begin burning at 118 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time the fire is burnt out, they would be charcoal skeletons. Normally, a fire like this would burn for hours, however, within minutes of returning to the house the fire is out and the corpses are unharmed.

We have another time jump as Helen mentions that there should be a 3 o'clock broadcast. Given that it's still night out the time would be 3 AM. This puts the new report they watch into an inaccuracy. Not the information being said, but the way it looks. It looks like it was shot during the daylight hours which goes against the film's entire timeline as the film began at 8 PM. Nobody understood what to do until much later in the film, possibly around 10 PM-12 AM. So, there is no way possible for the news team to be interviewing a sweep team during the day. They mentioned in the report that they were in the area that our survivors are in, so they couldn't be in a different time zone that could explain the sun being out. During the broadcast, the power dies, swallowing the house in total darkness. The Ghouls begin grabbing weapons and smashing their defenses as we know by now is inaccurate. The survivors quickly crumble into chaos. Harry takes Ben's gun while he tries to hold the boards in place. Ben uses a fallen board to get the gun back. He shoots Harry, who stumbles to the basement and dies. His wife Helen gets grabbed by the creatures through the crumbling door. She is saved by Barbara, who tries her best in holding the door intact. Helen runs to the basement to find her daughter has turned. She is killed by Karen who stabs her with a garden spade as she is still within that ten-minute window of brain function. Things aren't getting better upstairs as the door gives way. Barbara is pulled into the horde of Ghouls by a now zombified Johnny. Ben cuts his loss and realizes the safe house is gone. He makes a break for the basement. While down there he shoots the Coopers as they turn. By morning the rescue team has arrived. They are searching for survivors using I'm assuming cadaver dogs to sort out the living from the dead. Ben comes upstairs to see what is happening. He is mistaken for a Ghoul and is killed.

Overall, the movie was exciting. The biggest fascination I have with it is seeing how far we've come with our flesh-eating monsters. Makes me excited to see what we come up with next. Despite having a few hiccups in its inaccuracies, it wasn't that bad. They got more right than wrong, so I think a seven out of ten is a fair assessment. What do you think?

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About the author

M.L. Lewis

Doom and gloom is all I know. My heart skips a beat at the thought of armageddon. I've been preparing for the apocalypse my whole life. I have been studying it for so long that I am currently working on my Ph. D. on the subject.

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