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Night Of The Living Dead (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

If you haven't quite gotten your horror fix this autumn season, UW Cinematheque is honoring the great George A. Romero with a new 4K DCP restoration of his archetypal zombie apocalypse film Night Of The Living Dead (1968). In the half-century since its independent release, the film's grainy and grim social commentary about the Cold War and the Vietnam War, race relations, and fear of invasion and disease have permeated popular culture like few other works of fiction, as evidenced by the substantive success of everything from the Resident Evil (Biohazard) games to The Walking Dead comic/TV series. While the central claustrophobic scenario here is remarkably simple, Romero threads his story of survival amongst strangers in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse with a riveting, relentless dread. He also shies away from the notion of a singular hero to broadly regard each character's heightened response to societal deterioration in a group that includes a stage actress, a teenage couple, and a suburban family. When levelheaded outsider Ben (Duane Jones) takes precautionary measures to protect the group against the "marauding ghouls" and vigilante death squads, he is met with resistance by obstinate patriarch Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), further muddying a clear and effective course of action. The indecisive antagonism inside the farmhouse is carefully balanced by a surprisingly literary narrative unearthing outside, as radio and news broadcasts periodically sound to expound the escalating nationwide epidemic of random murder and cannibalism. In Night Of The Living Dead's fever pitch of a denouement, it reaches the daring heights of Hitchcock (The Birds) and Polanski (Repulsion)'s psychological terrors. —Grant Phipps