A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Night of the Living Dead is a classic 1968 low-budget horror movie in which men and women trapped in a farmhouse must defend themselves against reanimated corpses. While not as violent and gory as the Living Dead sequels and horror movies to come, there are still plenty of violent moments. Zombies (a word never used in the movie, by the way) are shown eating the organs and entrails of the victims they have recently killed. A young girl turns into a zombie and stabs her mother to death repeatedly with a trowel. Zombies are killed with rifle shots to the head, set on fire, and crushed with tire irons. Humans trying to survive turn on each other, including one scene in which one man kills another with a rifle. While George Romero and those involved with the film deny any sociopolitical message to the movie, it's hard not to see this as a comment on the times during which the movie was made. It's also worth mentioning that the only character who can really be seen as the complete hero is an African-American male -- something unheard of in those days. Occasional mild profanity includes "goddammit," "hell," and "bastards," and there is some cigarette smoking.
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What's the story?
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD begins when a young woman and her brother are attacked in a cemetery by a zombie; the scene then moves to a group of strangers seeking shelter from the ghouls in a remote house. Barricaded inside, they see TV bulletins linking the zombie plague to "radiation" from a Venus space probe contaminating the environment, and they hear the only way to stop a ghoul is to destroy the brain with a well-aimed bullet or cranial blows. The panicked survivors split into two factions, a family called the Coopers, who want to stay barricaded indoors and wait for help, and a more proactive bunch, led by Ben (Duane Jones), an assertive black man, who plan a dash to safety, despite the ghouls massing relentlessly in the dark outside. Spoiler alert: A famously shocking finale indicates that neither of their plans works out.
Is it any good?
George A. Romero's cult classic brought a virtually unprecedented level of realistic gore and disturbing grotesquerie to creature-feature fans (many of them children). When it premiered in 1968, critics and commentators were outraged that kids had been exposed to such a nightmare. Though it's unrated by the MPAA, some posters and ads carried an X rating (for gruesome violence, not sex), and that should tell you something. It's still intense today and pushes a lot of buttons, with its well-rendered camera angles, effective jolts, claustrophobia, and fate-worse-than-death zombie vibe.
Beware: The film is in the public domain, which means there are lots of fuzzy-looking, technically inferior copies on the market, computer-"colorized" versions, and spoof editions with completely dubbed-in gag dialogue (even with a bad-joke soundtrack, the imagery is still disturbing).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about classic horror movies. How does Night of the Living Dead earn a place among the most legendary and groundbreaking of horror movies?
How does the use of black-and-white film make the scary moments seem even creepier? Could it have been just as scary in color? Why or why not?
What are your thoughts on the ending? Intentional or not, how does this ending, and much of the action taking place outside of the farmhouse, seem like a comment on the times in which the movie was made -- the late 1960s? Should movies, generally seen as a form of escapist entertainment, always have happy endings?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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