This release begins with the opening from the horrible unrestored version that was available up until this version was released, and what a difference to clearly see the details. Here's the difference between seeing it when I was a kid and seeing it as an adult.
That opening music still fills me with dread as Barbara and Johnny are driving through the country to the cemetery.
Johnny is complaining to Barbara about having to drive 200 miles to put a wreath on their father's grave. The radio is coming back on the air after being off due to a technical problem. Johnny mentions that there's nothing wrong with the radio. Having communications disrupted is never a good sign.
Johnny notices that nobody is around. This is the second sign that something is amiss. Barbara thinks he complains to hear himself talk.
Barbara is praying by her father's grave and it's bugging Johnny. Lightning strikes and Johnny notices a man out walking slowly in the cemetery. He's telling the story of how he scared her and their grandpa said he'd be damned to hell.
He realizes she's still afraid of the cemetery and starts messing with her saying, "They're coming to get you, Barbara. They're coming for you, Barbara... Look! There comes one of them now... I'm getting out of here."
The man with the bad teeth grabs Barbara, and for all Johnny's complaining, he doesn't shy away from defending his sister. I keep hoping that this time Johnny will fight off the ghoul, but nope his head just thudded on the gravestone.
Barbara is taking off running, and that music is making the chase all the more frightening. She falls down, and there go her shoes.
She's in the car and that bad guy is trying to get in. It's horrifying! Here's a smart ghoul who knows how to pick up a rock to break the window to get at her. Did she run into the tree because she took her eyes off the road, or is she just a poor driver? He's chasing her down the road in the deserted countryside. His crooked leg walk is abnormal and disturbing.
She sees the house and runs toward it, stopping at the gas pump. She's running around the side and the real ominous plodding music begins. She sees that he's still approaching and now she's made it inside.
I wonder why she doesn't call out to see if anyone is home. Perhaps it's because it's dark inside? She is thinking well enough to grab a sharp knife. Something is on the floor in the family room. I can't tell what it is, but that's another indication that something is not right here.
She creeps into the room with the dead animals on the wall and we get a stinger to make us jump. We can hear the zombie outside. She looks out and sees him coming. She tries the phone, but it's dead. She looks out the window again and it's now dark and 2 other ghouls have joined the first.
Oh no. She's going up the stairs and ....AAAA! That partially eaten head is still a gruesome sight to see in this film.
She's just run outside and headlights are blinding her. In comes someone who's acting like he knows what he's doing. The suspenseful and threatening music has stopped and it's quiet. He's asking if there's a key to the gas pump. Now he's asking if she lives there and she can't respond. He goes up the stairs and we get a second and longer view of the bloody corpse.
Barbara sees blood dripping from upstairs and, yuck, it dripped on her. This guy is in the kitchen. Barbara asks what's happening and they hear the headlights being broken on the car. These are the most brilliant ghouls ever. Barbara is screaming that she doesn't know what is happening.
The ghouls are getting their skulls bashed with a tire iron. There's one in the house and he's coming toward an unsuspecting Barbara. The with-it dude comes in just in time and drops the tire iron, but luckily manages to reach it while wrestling the ghoul. He just poked it into this guy's skull. There are a lot more of them now. He closes and locks the kitchen door and says they know we're in here now.
The dead guy with a hole in his head is moving his eyes and Ben says not to look at it. He is dragging it outside while the ghouls make a raspy groaning sound. It's just ghoul dudes right now and no ghoul girls. He lit the dead one on fire by the porch. They don't seem to care for that and back off a little.
He comes in and blocks the door and then starts rummaging through the tool box. He flips on the light and tells her to go get some lights on in the house. She's got her knife and is looking like she's in shock. He tells her to get some boards and she isn't responding. He tries to explain to her that he's going to board the place up but he needs her to help him. We don't yet know the fella's name (well we do, but he hasn't been introduced in the film yet).
Barbara is supposed to be getting wood, but she is looking at a music box. This girl is meant to be zombie food. Ben is prying boards off any place he can. This guy is a survivor. Barbara found some small bits of kindling by the fire place. She goes to help our hero hold up a door that he's nailing across the kitchen door. She realizes she's in the way and moves aside. He hands her a box and tells her to pick out the biggest nails she can find.
The scene changes and he's nailed boards on the windows and says the room is secure. He says it won't be long until those things are pounding their way in. Apparently, they are afraid of fire.
He's taking apart the kitchen table and telling her that he was at Beakman's (Beetman's?) diner where he found the truck. There's a radio inside that he jumped in to listen to when a big gasoline truck came screaming across the road with lots of those things chasing it, grabbing and holding on. The truck went across the road and he slammed on his brakes to keep from hitting it. Barbara is looking dazed while he tells about it. He says the truck went through the billboard and ripped over a gas pump and became a moving bonfire and he could hear the man screaming, but the things were backing away from it. He looked back at the diner and saw the place had been encircled and that the screams had stopped and he was alone with 50 or 60 things standing there staring at him. He started to drive and plowed through them and they didn't move or run. He wanted to crush them.
Barbara is finally talking and tells how she and Johnny were riding through the cemetery to put a wreath on their father's grave. She suddenly notes that it's hot and this guy's face says that he knows she's not all put together. She's telling how a man started walking up the road and Johnny was teasing her saying, "He's coming to get you Barbara," that Johnny ran away and she was going to apologize to the man. Now she's getting excited saying the man grabbed her and ripped at her clothes. The guy is telling her to calm down. She tells how Johnny fought the man and she was afraid and she ran and Johnny didn't come. She is saying they have to go out and get Johnny. She's screaming and grabbing the guy. He tells her her brother is dead. She slaps him and he socks her a good one. And now she's out. He lays her out on the couch and loosens her overcoat.
He's turning on a radio and getting static, but finds a station saying it will remain on the air day and night to keep people informed. It's mentioning an epidemic of mass murder by an army of unidentified assassins with no apparent pattern or reason for the slayings. The guy continues to nail boards. He looks out the window and sees three ghouls by the truck. The radio report continues while the guy lights a fire in the fireplace, gets a chair and douses it with lighter fluid. He makes a torch from a table leg with a curtain wrapped around it. The radio tells people the safest course is to stay inside. The guy drags the chair out and lights it and the ghouls yell.
He goes inside and starts boarding a window and as the radio report continues, we see that all the windows and doors are boarded. He checks that she is okay on the couch and goes to another room to take a door off the hinges. Barbara has woken up and is sitting up on the couch. The radio is saying people should go home and lock their doors and windows, while the guy finally takes a break and lights a cigarette.
He is going through a closet and finds a pair of ladies shoes while the radio reports that victims look as though they have been torn apart and that it started two days ago. Now he's found a rifle and some ammo in the closet. That's a good thing to find.
He comes in and tells Barbara he found a gun and some bullets and some shoes, which he puts on her feet for her as she is unresponsive. He tells her the place is boarded up and they should be alright since they have a gun bullets food and radio. The radio is saying to seek shelter in a building and he acknowledges that's what they're doing and they're doing alright.
He tells her he's going upstairs and he can hear if anything tries to get in he'll be down to take care of it. She doesn't acknowledge him. We hear the radio saying that victims show evidence of being partially devoured.
The guy is upstairs and we are seeing the corpse on the stairs from a different angle. I will try to pretend that I did not see a normal, not eaten face as the guy drags her away on a blanket. We are back downstairs hearing the radio report that the killers are eating the flesh of the people they murder. Barbara hears a sound from behind a door and sees a hand and two men suddenly enter the room.
Ben comes down with the gun and the young guy tells him not to shoot and the bald guy hears the radio and goes over to it. The guy is looking at the two in disbelief saying he could have used their help. The baldy says they were in the cellar and it's the safest place.
Bald man is arguing with the guy about why he didn't come up and help when they heard a girl's scream. He says the cellar is the safest place and the guy says the house is boarded up and they're safe. The young guy says the man's wife and daughter is downstairs and the kid is hurt. The young kid tells Mr. Cooper they could strengthen everything up. Mr. Cooper says they've got a million windows up there and that those things turned over their car.
Cooper says if they are in the cellar, they only need to worry about one door. The young kid says if they did get in, there's no back exit and if a rescue party came they wouldn't know. Cooper says the cellar is the safest place and the man says it's a death trap. Cooper says he's going down there and he's locking it up and not opening it.
Young guy looks out the window and sees about 20 things. As the guy walks by a window, hands reach in to grab him while the young guy cuts off the fingers. The guy gets his gun and shoots the ghoul, but it doesn't fall. He shoots again, but it keeps coming until he finally puts a hole in its forehead. Now there are lots of ghouls and one is naked. Another is noisily eating an insect.
Cooper is saying they've got to get to the cellar and he's taking the girl. The man tells him to go down, but he's not taking anything from up there. He asks if the young guy is going down there with Cooper. He tells Cooper he can be boss down in the cellar, but he's the boss up there. Young guy calls Judy to come up with him. Cooper goes into the cellar and bolts it. Judy sits on the arm of the couch by catatonic Barbara.
Cooper goes down where his wife is watching over their hurt daughter and says they're safe. She asks about Tom and Judy and he tells her they want to stay up there and there is also a man and a girl upstairs. He asks if the kid is alright. Mom says she's doesn't know what it is but she feels warm and she made a bandage from a sheet in the laundry. He says they'll be begging him to let them down there. She says it's important for him to be right. He mentions what he heard on the radio and she starts yelling at him about having a radio upstairs and boarding themselves up down there. She says they may not enjoy living together but dying together is not going to solve anything.
Tom calls down and says Ben found a TV. Mrs. Cooper is excited and asks if Judy can come downstairs so she and Harry can come upstairs. Cooper looks torn between wanting to be right and wanting to go see what's on TV.
Tom asks Judy if she'll do it and she asks if she has to. Tom says nothing will get done with them down there. Judy goes down and tells Helen she'll take care of her. Helen sees Barbara exploring some crochet work on the arm of the couch and Tom explains her brother was killed.
Helen lights a ciggie and gets Barbara's attention when she strikes a match. She introduces herself as Helen Cooper, Harry's wife. Harry is complaining about the weak spots upstairs and how they can't see out the windows. Helen tells him Barbara's brother was killed.
Tom and Ben come in with the TV and Harry tells Barbara she should watch and try and understand what's going on. Ben tells him to leave the girl alone. Tom has got the TV working. Murders are being committed by creatures who feast on the flesh of their victims. The TV reporting is giving a documentary and realistic feel to the action.
Now they're hearing that people who have recently died are returning to life and seeking human victims. They are reporting that there are rescue stations for people to go to. Ben says they have a truck but it needs gas and Tom says there's a pump out by the shed. The reporter is asking why space experts are being consulted. He says there was a satellite shot to Venus that started back but was purposely destroyed by NASA because it was carrying a high level radiation. The TV switches to an interview and reporters are asking officials if the radiation is the cause of the mutation.
Ben says they need to get out of there and recognizes Willard when it appears as a list of the rescue stations. Cooper questions how they can get out of there. We switch back to the TV report where an expert says it's important to get medical help for anyone who's been injured. Ben asks how bad the kid is hurt. He tells Helen to go back down and send Judy back up.
A man on TV is describing a cadaver with all four limbs amputated, but some time that morning it opened its eyes and tried to move.
Helen goes down and tells Judy they want her upstairs. Karen says to her mommy, "I hurt." We hear back on the TV it's only a few minutes before a dead body reanimates. He says bodies must be burned immediately, that they're just dead flesh and dangerous.
Ben is sharing plans to make molotov cocktails to try and escape. Cooper says there's a key ring that may have a key to the gas pump. Ben says they can toss the molotovs from upstairs while the rest get to the truck and go for the gas tank. Tom decides to drive the truck and that he and Ben will go. He tells Cooper to toss the cocktails from upstairs and then lock the door. He says after they get the gas and get back to the house, they'll worry abut how to get everyone in the truck.
Tom says Judy always has a smile for him. She is cutting strips for the molotov cocktails. She wants to call the folks, and says that they'll be worried. She asks if they're doing the right thing. She asks why he has to go and he tells her he knows how to handle the truck and the pump. She says they're safe and he says they are now, but there will be more things. They share a kiss. The tender moment doesn't bode well for their survival.
Judy tells Barbara they have to go downstairs. Ben says she's right and she has to go downstairs a little while and then they can all leave. Barbara animates somewhat about the prospect of leaving.
Cooper goes upstairs to throw the cocktails and Ben and Tom go to unboard the front door. Judy catches Tom's eye as they unboard the door. Cooper gets the cocktails ready upstairs and ghouls in underwear are shuffling around. Cooper starts tossing the cocktails and the dead people disperse from around the truck. They yell and some catch fire. Cooper runs down and tells them to go.
Tom rips a zombie's shirt off and gets in the truck and gets it started. Stupid Judy decides she's going with them and runs out the door. Cooper closes the door behind her and Ben tells her to get in and starts shooting ghouls. He's not a very good shot. He gets in the back of the truck and waves a torch to ward them off. Cooper tries to peer out the window at them. The truck makes it's way to the pumps with the ghouls following.
Tom goes to unlock the pump but the key won't work. Ben shoots the lock off and Tom grabs the nozzle and throws gas on the torch. The truck catches fire and Tom says they have to get away from the pump. Ben is calmly putting out the fire with the blanket, but Tom takes off in the truck. Ben yells at him to get out. Cooper watches from the window. Judy's jacket is caught as they are getting out of the truck and it explodes with both of them inside. Cooper goes away from the window and lots of ghouls go after the stranded Ben. He holds them off with the torch and makes his way back to the house.
He yells at Cooper to let him in, but Cooper won't do it. Ben kicks the door in and Cooper runs to help him board it up. Once it's securely boarded, he punches Cooper repeatedly. He says he ought to drag him out there and feed him to those things.
Meanwhile, BBQ Tom and Judy are now on the menu and the ghouls are having a grand old picnic slurping on livers and hands and fighting over intestines. It's pretty gross. Ben sees it through the window.
Helen comes up and asks if it's 3 o'clock since there's a broadcast at 3:00. Barbara starts saying they'll leave soon. Ben asks Helen if Willard is the nearest town. She tells how they were trying to get to a hotel. He asks where there car is and Cooper says to forget it that it's a mile away. Ben asks how the girl got hurt. Helen says one of the things grabbed her and Cooper finishes that it bit her on the arm. Barbara is talking about how you can't start the car because Johnny has the keys. Ben finally hears her and asks if she has a car and where it is. They hear the ghouls outside and we see the naked ghoul and more of them sucking on drumsticks and waving intestines around.
They turn the TV back on and the reporter reports that the levels of radiation continue to increase and while it continues dead bodies will continue to be transformed into flesh eating ghouls. All persons who die will come back to life to seek human victims. The news cameras have returned from a search and destroy mission with Sheriff McClelland. They report a ghoul can be killed with a shot or blow to the head.
The Sheriff is telling someone to put the thing in the fire, that they don't want it getting up again. He said they killed 19 that day. The reporter asks if he'd have a chance if he was surrounded and he said there's not problem to shoot it or beat it in the head or burn them with a torch. He asks the chief if they're slow moving and he says, "Yeah, they're dead, they're all messed up." He asks if they can wrap it up in 24 hours but he doesn't know. He says they'll be working through the night and mentions that they're working their way toward Willard.
As the report continues, the power goes out. Ben asks if the fuse box is in the cellar but Cooper doesn't know and Ben goes to check. While he's gone he tells Helen he has to get the gun. He says 2 people are dead on his account. We see the ghouls picking up rocks and table legs and begin to beat at the doors and windows. They are breaking in and Ben and Helen are trying to hold them off while Cooper is eyeing the gun. When Ben drops it, he grabs it and asks if he wants to stay up there now. He tells Helen to get in the cellar. Ben leaves the window and hits him with a board and wrestles the gun away from him and shoots him in the gut.
The ghouls are breaking through the door and grabbing at Helen. Barbara is on the couch and Cooper is stumbling downstairs. He goes over to where his daughter is on the table and he collapses. More ghouls break in and grab Helen. Barbara rushes over with a board to try and help her and Helen gets away and goes downstairs to see Karen gnawing on a part of her dad. She calls her baby and as Karen advances on her, she falls over and the little girl grabs a trowel and Helen just lays there while she stabs her a lot.
Barbara and Ben are struggling with the horde at the door and they finally break in and it's Johnny at the door who carries Barbara off into the crowd and there's nothing Ben can do. They come into the house and little Karen comes up from behind to grab him.
He goes into the cellar and bolts the door while the ghouls fill the house and pound at the cellar door. Ben finds the Coopers downstairs and he shoots Harry as he starts to reanimate. He looks over at Helen with the trowel in her chest and when she opens her eyes, he shoots her and then throws away the gun. The sounds of shuffling and moaning upstairs continues. He grabs his gun and aims it at the door while the ghouls mill around upstairs.
It's daybreak and the birds are singing as a helicopter flies over a search and destroy team fanning out across a field. More arrive with dogs and the Sheriff tells some men to get some dogs and check out the house behind the trees. The news reporter says everything appears to be under control.
Ben is dozing in the cellar but wakes when he hears the sound of dogs and gunshots. The Sheriff is at the burned out truck and says somebody had a cookout. Ben hears sirens and begins to go up the stairs. The posse is shooting random ghouls. Ben unlatches the cellar door and makes his way through the house. He is looking through the window and the Sheriff tells Vince to hit him between the eyes. Vince is a good shot and Ben falls to the ground with a hole in his head.
The gritty stills at the end showing the hooks they use to drag Ben's corpse out to the burning pile as credits roll is more unsettling than if the video continued showing the action. It gives it more of a documentary and realistic feel. The bonfire is lit and now it's the end.
What an ending! To be thinking that the situation is under control and help is on the way only to have the rescuers take out our main hero. It remains the film that scares me most above all others. It was not easy to write running commentary on this film. I type pretty fast, but there's so much going on all at once in this movie. The addition of the radio and TV providing information while the characters go about securing the home was brilliant. Some of it gets missed as background noise on initial viewings, but when you go back and really listen to what's going on in the news reports, it lends another dimension of realism and fear.
When I was younger, it was just the zombies that frightened me, but as I got older, it was interesting to ponder which character was right in his response to the situation. While Ben is the more likable, upstanding character, who seems to have a level headed command of the situation, the despicable Harry may have had a reasonable argument about locking themselves in the cellar. The windows and doors were a weakness that could not withstand the onslaught of the ghouls, whereas the cellar door was able to hold them at bay. Of course, Ben suggested that if they got in, they could make their retreat to the cellar, which is what he ended up doing. The ending is tragic and wonderful. It just wouldn't have had the same impact if he had been rescued at the end. Everybody dies. Wow. I can only imagine what it was like to have seen this in the theater when it was first released. I would have been sleeping with the lights on for months.
If you're interested in reading more about NOTLD and George Romero's Zombie Trilogy, check out Brother John's article HERE.