Wesley R. Ball’s review published on Letterboxd:
They're coming to get you, Barbara!
In 1968, George A. Romero and a ragtag team of filmmakers made history, on a minuscule budget of $114,000; using barebones props and set pieces to nearly single-handedly invent an entire subgenre of horror. Night of the Living Dead is one of the most influential horror films ever made, and the greatest example of the zombie subgenre it created (apart from perhaps Romero's other masterpiece Dawn of the Dead). But there's so much more that can be appreciated from Night than simply the creation of an entirely new type of horror. It's a fascinating history piece to see just how much people can create with almost nothing.
For a fifty year old film, there's a ton of terror and tension in Night of the Living Dead that can hardly be matched by today's horror standards. The eerie black and white cinematography, squeezed into a tight frame with its 1.37 aspect, creates an illusion of claustrophobia that is only heightened when we are brought indoors. The character development between these plain humans struggling to survive is superb, setting the foundation that would later be imitated by other lesser zombie stories, most notably The Walking Dead. But the character acting in Night of the Living Dead transcends the typical portrayals found in any other horror film. There is sheer terror and dramaticism, you can feel the adrenaline oozing out of these actors' glands as they fend off hoards of the undead.
As a sociopolitical commentary, Night of the Living Dead is proven now more than ever to be a timeless reminder of the world we live in. At the time of its release, it bore a powerful message of the overbearing racism that had plagued the country for years on end, with the inclusion of a black actor in its leading role as a subtle landmark in cinematic history. This doubly hammers the potency of the ending into its place, where a world in chaos can hardly tell friend from foe, and allies and even innocents end up killed in the process.
It's a startlingly dark film for the time of its release- this and Rosemary's Baby released in the same year kickstarted a new level of tension for horror films that would essentially cause the genre to raise its stakes for the sake of truly terrifying its audience. But in Night of the Living Dead, the consequences of its characters' actions resonate- people die, horribly and suddenly, creating a far more acute style of horror that hadn't been placed upon audiences as much up to that point. Romero became a master in his art, following up his low budget piece with the equally thrilling and even more daring Dawn of the Dead, in full living color and with even more gruesome stakes and outcomes. Nobody ever really managed to match the greatness Romero obtained with his best zombie films, and it's doubtful that anyone ever will. No other horror film has managed to so delicately intertwine its terrific terror with subtle yet powerful sociopolitical messages, and the perfect balance between fiction and alarming reality is what makes Night of the Living Dead a standout masterpiece among the rest of its kind, and one of the most timeless horror films ever created.