Ring Casting Naomi Watts Martin Henderson Term Paper

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Night of the Living Dead

George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) is not only the single most influential zombie movie of all time, it is also reputed to be one of the first movies to employee color-blind casting. This casting choice actually added an entire racial and historical impact to the film which dramatically strengthened its overall impact. Though the entire movie was revolutionary for its time and genre, the final sequence in which the final main character (the black lead, Ben) is mistaken for a zombie and killed by his long-awaited rescuers is shocking and challenging even to modern film-goers. This is the sequence which is herein analyzed for five characteristics: the plot significance of this segment, the implications of the sequence for the genre, the use of film technique to build and guide the horror, the use of coloration and lighting for narrative purposes, and the various additional methods of manipulating audience sympathies and responses.

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The plot of Night of the Living Dead is relatively straightforward. For some unknown reason, perhaps due to radiation from space, the dead are coming back to life animated by the desire to devour flesh. There are six significant living characters trapped in a single house, which belongs to none of them. The lead female Barbara, has come there fleeing from the zombies who ate her brother in a cemetery -- in the end her brother is the one who eats her, as she hesitates to run from him. Ben, the lead male who survives to the end, has come there after a series of misadventures on the road, and has learned a great deal about dealing with the zombies. Hiding in the basement are two married couples (and the sick child of one of them). The first pair is a very young couple, Judy and Tom, who die early on when they are stupid enough to light their own truck on fire in a botched attempt to get gasoline and leave the house for a prearranged shelter. The second set is a scared middle-aged couple, Harry and Helen, both of whom are eventually killed by their daughter after she becomes a zombie.

Term Paper on Ring Casting Naomi Watts Martin Henderson Assignment

Over the course of the film, however, one sees the de-evolution of those trapped in the house as stress and fear makes them all more catatonic and/or violent towards one another. As the characters become more zombie-like, it seems to become evident that they will eventually be taken and converted by the zombies. When Ben seemingly avoids this fate, and then in this analyzed sequence is nonetheless perceived as a zombie and thus killed, there is an important plot element which compares the audiences expected final result (the zombification of the characters) with the results the zombie hunters also expect -- and shows how this expectation leads to the death of the heroic lead. In this final sequence, the zombie threat is overcome and a shambling line of armed redneck hunters cross the land armed with rifles and supported by helicopters. They kill all the zombies they encounter. Ben, who hears this sound, emerges from hiding and goes to the window to see who has come. The snipers see him in the window, and despite the fact that he has a gun, they assume he is a zombie and shoot him in the head. He falls roughly dead, and the men come with meat hooks to drag his body off to be burned.

This sequence is vital to understanding the deeper meaning of the film. At the end of the remake of Night of the Living Dead (using a Ramero line borrowed from the sequel, Dawn of the Dead), Barbara cries out, "They're us. We're them and they're us." This is the real key to the meaning of this film -- that the zombies are being used as a commentary on the actual nature of humans when all their culture and restraint is stripped away. It is this final scene, where uninfected humans shoot down another uninfected human, with no more feeling than zombies kill one humans or humans kill zombies, that proves this point. Everything in the sequence contributes to that end.

In order to establish this idea that humans and zombies are essentially the same, this ending sequence subtly but dramatically shifts the genre of the film from fantastical, nightmarish horror into a graphically realistic and historical sort of horror. This film was obviously intended as part of the classic horror genre. Ramero had chosen to shoot in black and white, which linked the content with an era of older classic films (such as the Universal Dracula, or Frankenstein) and like these he used a great deal of ominous shadows and dramatic monsters. The basic plot of humans against supernatural foes, which had existed consistently in horror films up to this day is very nicely portrayed here with the monstrous, cannibalistic, shambling hordes. Ramero additionally brings in a somewhat modern element regarding the fears of radiation which had previously been seen in many B-style horror and science fiction films about atomic monsters. The horror genre has been clear throughout the film, in a variety of conventions that are dealt with and considered. The stereotype of the mindless bimbo who falls prey to the monster is there in Barbara. The brave hero is present in Ben. The hopeless common folk blinded by tradition or fear are adequately represented in Harry, who so frequently opposes Ben. Of course, the use of cemeteries, of taxidermic animals, of dramatic shadows and light, of creepy background music, and so forth, all add to the horror genre classification and are the standard fare of fantasy horror. Yet if this were all the movie had to offer it would be less than revolutionary. The final sequence subtly changes from this fantasy-horror genre and wrenches the moment into the present, bringing in imagery of racial riots and unrest, of man's inhumanity to man, and of historical horrors such as the holocaust.

This transition is developed in several ways. First, the historical feel is aided by the presence of strong reminders of the present, such as newsreel like style of the footage which shows arriving helicopters, or the vaguely "home video" feel that one has regarding the footage of hunters. This is aided as well by the sound effects such as constant radio reports, the static, canned sound of the dialogue in this section compared to the rest of the movie, and the loudness of the dogs and sirens. However, the majority of this historical feel is brought about immediately after the death of Ben. At this point, the film switches suddenly to being a series of black and white still images that have a grainy, pixelated feel as if they had been printed in an old half-tome newspaper style. These images show a sheriff and many white men with meat hooks and rifles standing around the body of this fallen black man. Another photo shows them hooking him and dragging him, and another of the men carrying him. There is a striking resemblance between these images and the surviving photographs of lynching parties that had been so frequent in the last thirty years before the making of this film. Many times blacks were lynched by large parties of white men, and mutilated, while their killers posed for proud photos. After a few beats of this, the pictures slowly shift to portraying the piled zombie corpses that are being prepared to be burned. These corpses all have sunken cheeks and darkened eyes, and the way the bodies lie upon one another is strikingly visually reminiscent of the way in which photographs of the Holocaust show bodies of Jewish victims in mass burials. Combining the way in which the live-action sequences of the hunters was shot (as if it were a news reel rather than a carefully planned art film) with the way these photographs suggest a hard reality, the sense of fantasy careful inculcated by the dramatic shadows and dialogue of the earlier segments is here shattered by a strange realism. By making this shift from fantasy to historical horror, the idea that humans are as bad as the zombies is clearly driven home.

The key to bringing this shift home and keeping the audience responsive is intrinsic in the film-making technique used throughout this sequence. Up until the point where it switches to stills, the cuts become increasingly rapid-fire and jagged, so that even in sustained actions scenes there begin to be frequent sudden disjointing cuts. This helps to increase a sense of fear and edginess among viewers who might otherwise be tempted to relax now that the "good guys" were winning. The rapidity of these cuts increases from a relatively steady pace at the beginning of the sequence until at the end there are cuts happening so quickly that four cuts will pass in the moment it takes a man to aim a gun, fire, hit his target, and pull his gun back.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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