Fifty-four years ago today one of the greatest heroes of all-time was born when the best zombie movie ever made came out! George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was released on October 1, 1968, and without Ben, (played by Duane Jones) there is no Rick Grimes, no 28 days of Jim, and Shaun never gets red on him. From the moment we meet him Ben is the “Rifleman”, the “sheriff”, the head dude in charge, not just because he needs to be, but because it’s who he is. A severely overlooked and underappreciated character that was arguably the first horror movie “badass”. Ben is as cool and collected as you could ever hope to see someone be in a zombie apocalypse, especially given his manic sidekick, Barbara, turning into screaming, wriggling, manic Jell-O every chance she gets. When we look back on the era that NOTLD was made, it was the literal height of the civil rights movement, and at the time, probably a pretty unpopular choice to have a black lead in an all white cast, but Romero did it anyway because Jones was the best for the job. Something that doesn’t happen often even today. Romero’s movie didn’t see color, and it was literally made in black and white, a nuance quite intentional on Romero’s part, and yet a subliminal gift his movie gives to the audience. A characteristic of the movie that the picture would be massively altered by without. NOTLD is and always will be a timeless horror classic for its suspense, daring, and character, but mostly for its foresight. And the cinematic world is a better place for it.
Hats off to Duane, George, and the gang, and a very happy birthday to the one and only ORIGINAL… Night of the Living Dead.