Filmsite Movie Review
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Trapped Inside Farmhouse by Ghouls: Barricading Themselves

He noticed two of the ghoulish characters breaking the headlights on his truck, and went out to beat them down with his tire-iron. Meanwhile, Barbara was being assaulted inside by a third man who had gained entry into the house and threatened her, forcing Ben to wrestle him and strike him in the forehead with his tire iron. He also struck a fourth man in the face at the open doorway, as four more monstrous creatures approached.

Knowing that they were trapped and surrounded from the outside, he warned: "They know we're in here now." Barbra stared down at the face of the dead ghoul inside, noting that its eyes moved, as Ben was dragging the body across the floor and was shouting at her: "Don't look at it." Outdoors at the back of the house, he set the body on fire to intimidate and scare off the other four creatures who backed off from the flames.

Inside, he searched in two toolboxes, where he found a screwdriver and hammer. In another drawer, he located some nails. He decided to swiftly board up and barricade the doors and windows to be more secure. He asked for Barbra's help in finding some boards to use as barriers, although he realized she was so frozen in fear that she wouldn't be much help. Exasperated by her inability to aid him, he stressed that they had to work together:

"Look, I know you're afraid. I'm afraid too. But we have to try and board up the house together. But we have to try to board up the house together. Now, I'm gonna board up the windows and the doors. Do you understand? We'll be all right here. We'll be all right till someone comes to rescue us. But we'll have to work together. You'll have to help me. Now I want you to go in and get some wood so I can board the place up. Do you understand? Ok?"

As he was gathering pieces of dismantled furniture (an ironing board), planks, and wooden boards to secure the kitchen, she brought him a few pieces of kindling wood from the fireplace. He suggested another easier task for her: "Hey, I want you to pick out some nails. Pick out the biggest ones you can find." After securing the area, he warned that there would be more attacks: "Won't be long before those things'll be back, pounding their way in here."

While dismantling the dining room table for more pieces of wood, he shared his earlier experience. He told how he was in an abandoned pickup truck and listening to its radio, when he witnessed an unexplainable attack by a large group (ten to fifteen) of those "things" chasing after a big gasoline truck that came "screaming right across the road" and into a guard rail. It careened off the main road, and drove straight into a gas station next to Beekman's Diner. It hit both a billboard and a gas pump and became "a moving bonfire." He then realized that the beseiged diner had been encircled by the creatures, and he was now the only survivor. When the individuals began to target him, he described how he plowed over 50-60 of the immovable "things" with the truck:

"I realized that I was alone with 50 or 60 of those things just standing there, staring at me. I-I started to drive. I just plowed right through them. They didn't move. They didn't run, or - just stood there staring at me. Just wanted to crush them. They scattered through the air, like bugs."

As Barbra recollected her own horrific encounter with her brother Johnny in the cemetery with a rambling monologue, she spoke about being teased when she was inexplicably assaulted by a strange man. He grabbed her and ripped at her clothes. After Johnny intervened to defend her, she ran away in fear - and she recalled: "And Johnny didn't come." She became extremely agitated as she relived everything - and went into hysterical shock, and then insanely pleaded and begged for Ben to go and rescue Johnny:

"We've got, we have to wait for Johnny. Maybe we'd better go out and get him. We have to go out and get Johnny. He's out there. Please! Don't you hear me? We've got to go out and get him. Please! We have got to go get Johnny! Please help me! Please!"

Ben refused: "Don't you know what's going on out there? This is no Sunday School picnic." He told her that Johnny was already dead, but she was in denial. She slapped him, and in the most dramatically intense moment in the film, he punched her back in the face to calm her down - rendering her unconscious and incapacitated on the sofa.

Radio Reports of Epidemic of "Mass Murder" By Unidentified Assassins:

He flipped on an antique Zenith radio in the living room, and heard a reporter speak about the continuing crisis - it was the single longest uninterrupted segment of dialogue in the entire film. The mass media emphatically emphasized the panic and threat. He listened to the news of an "epidemic of mass murder" being committed by a virtual army of unidentified assassins with no apparent pattern or reason for the slayings. It was a "sudden general explosion of mass homicide." The assassins were "ordinary looking people" in a trance-like state - "Misshapen monsters" - and law enforcement officials were completely overwhelmed and bewildered by the situation of "mayhem" and "wholesale murder." Eastern and Midwestern communities in the eastern third of the nation were affected, and citizens were encouraged to remain in their homes behind locked doors:

"Because of the obvious threat to untold numbers of citizens, and because of the crisis which is even now developing, this radio station will remain on the air, day and night. This station and hundreds of other radio and TV stations throughout this part of the country are pooling their resources through an emergency network hookup to keep you informed of all developments. At this hour, we repeat, these are the facts as we know them.

There is an epidemic of mass murder being committed by a virtual army of unidentified assassins. The murders are taking place in villages, cities, rural homes and suburbs with no apparent pattern or reason for the slayings. It seems to be a sudden, general explosion of mass homicide. We have some descriptions of the assassins. Eyewitnesses say they are ordinary looking people. Some say they appear to be in a kind of trance. Others describe them as being...

So, at this point, there is no really authentic way for us to say who or what to look for and guard yourself against. Misshapen monsters. Reaction of law enforcement officials is one of complete bewilderment at this hour. So far, we have been unable to determine that any kind of organized investigation is yet underway. Police, sheriffs' deputies, and emergency ambulances are literally deluged with calls for help. The scene can best be described as mayhem.

Mayors of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Miami, along with the governors of several Eastern and Midwestern states have indicated the National Guard may be mobilized at any moment, but that has not happened as yet. The only advice our reporters have been able to get from official sources is for private citizens to stay in their homes behind locked doors. Do not venture outside for any reason, until the nature of this crisis has been determined and until we can advise what course of action to take. Keep listening to radio and TV for any special instructions as this crisis develops further. Thousands of office and factory workers are being urged to stay at their places of employment, not to make any attempt to get to their homes. However, in spite of this urging and warning, streets and highways are packed with frantic people trying to reach their families, or apparently to flee just anywhere. We repeat: The safest course of action at this time is simply to stay where you...

Ladies and gentlemen, we've just received word that the President has called a meeting of his Cabinet to deal with the sudden epidemic of murder which has seized the eastern third of this nation. The meeting is scheduled to convene within the hour. Members of the Presidential Cabinet will be joined by officials of the FBI and the Joint Chiefs behind closed doors. A White House spokesman, in announcing this conference, says there will be an official announcement as soon as possible following that meeting. This is the latest dispatch just received in our newsroom. Latest word also from National Press Services in Washington, DC now tells us that the emergency Presidential conference which we've just mentioned will include high-ranking scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. That's the extent of this latest bulletin. Repeating...

All radio and TV stations throughout this part of the country, including the one to which you are listening, have joined their facilities in an emergency network to bring you this news as it develops. We urge you to stay tuned to radio and TV and to stay indoors at all costs.

Late reports reaching this newsroom tell of frightened people seeking refuge in churches, schools and government buildings, demanding shelter and protection from the wholesale murder which apparently is engulfing much of the nation. Law enforcement officials are at a loss to explain or, even at this hour, even to theorize about the reasons for this wave of murder. So far (inaudible), give the public his support.

Chief T.K. Dunbar of Camden, North Carolina, was quoted as saying, Quote:

'Tell the people, for God's sake, to get off the streets. Tell 'em to go home and lock their doors and windows up tight. We don't know what kind of murder-happy characters we have here.'

End quote. That's Chief Dunbar of Camden, North Carolina. So far the only descriptions, the only clues anyone has of the killers come from frightened witnesses of some of the slayings. These eyewitness accounts variously describe the murderers as ordinary looking people, misshapen monsters, people who look like they're in a trance, and things that look like people but act like animals. Some eyewitnesses tell of seeing victims who look as though they have been torn apart.

This whole ghastly story began developing two days ago with a report of the slaying of a family of seven in their rural home near Belleverde. Since then, some reports of senseless killings began snowballing in a reign of terror which has hopscotched in an (inaudible), disconnected (inaudible). Efforts to keep track of the murder reports by the placing of markers on a map seem to indicate a general spreading from the extreme Southeastern United States north and west. Our newsman, who has been on the telephone talking with officials of other cities, have determined that none of this kind of mass murder has yet been reported west of the Mississippi River, except in the extreme Southeastern portion of Texas. Similar killings have been reported around the Houston and Galveston areas but nothing like the..

It was only late yesterday that it became clear that we were facing some kind of national emergency. When first reports began filtering in, newsmen and law enforcement agencies were of the opinion that... "

During the lengthy broadcast, the very capable, smart and resourceful black man lit a fire in the fireplace and then used a makeshift flaming torch (constructed from a table leg) to ignite an armchair doused in lighter fluid that he had dragged outside - to scare off the attackers who were assembling nearby. He also solidly boarded up and secured all windows and entrances into the house. Afterwards, Ben was exhausted and paused for a cigarette. He was relieved to discover a lever-action, Winchester Model 1894 rifle in a closet and a shoebox filled with ammunition, as Barbra stirred and awoke from her stupor. He felt confident about their security in the boarded up house, now with a gun and bullets, their food, and their contact with the outside world through the radio, and believed that they would soon be rescued:

"Sooner or later, someone's bound to come and get us out."

Theory About Invaders, and Reports of Cannibalism:

In the background, the radio reporter (with fragmented sentences) also mentioned there was the possibility of a conspiracy, and a theory about the cause of the mass killings - outer space alien creatures:

"However, as these reports were increasing dramatically, it was soon apparent that we have seen more than the usual run of lawlessness...some officials began to suspect an obscure kind of conspiracy, such as creatures from outer space. So again, we join with law enforcement agencies in urging you to seek shelter in a building. Lock the doors and windows securely. Be cautious of any suspicious strangers and keep tuned to your radio and television for survival instructions and further details of this continuing story."

Catatonic and dazed, Barbra couldn't respond, as he told her: "Everything's all right for now," as he proceeded upstairs, but would be alert to any problems. The radio resumed its ghastly reporting about the "savage killers" who were allegedly devouring their murder victims - clear evidence of cannibalism:

"Civil defense officials in Cumberland have told newsmen that murder victims show evidence of having been partially devoured by their murderers....Consistent reports from witnesses to the effect that people who acted as though they were in a kind of trance were killing and eating their victims prompted authorities to examine the bodies of some of the victims. Medical authorities in Cumberland have concluded that in all cases, the killers are eating the flesh of the people they murdered....And so this incredible story becomes more ghastly with each report. It's difficult to imagine such a thing actually happening but these are the reports we have been receiving and passing on to you, reports which have been verified as completely as is possible in this confused situation. It is happening and it would appear that no one is safe from this wave of mass murder."

The Coopers and Tom Emerge From Cellar: Arguments About the Safest Place (The Cellar or the Upstairs)?

Upstairs, the black man was dragging the decaying female corpse to one of the other rooms, when he heard Barbra's distressed screams from downstairs. She was startled by the emergence, into the living room, of survivors who had been hiding in the cellar. The individuals included:

  • Harry Cooper (the film's co-producer Karl Hardman), a loud-mouthed, white, domineering family man, a less than capable know-it-all
  • Tom (Keith Wayne), a local teenager

Harry insisted the "safest place" was in the basement - but didn't emerge to help them. The black man queried the incredible claim: "You mean you didn't hear the racket we were making up here?" And he also mentioned Barbra's noisy screams that would have been impossible to not hear: ("Anybody would know somebody that needed help"). Harry confirmed he had heard screams, but was uncertain about what was happening above him:

"We thought we could hear screams, but for all we knew, that could have meant those things were in the house after her....The racket sounded like the place was being ripped apart. How were we supposed to know what was going on?"

The black man became confrontational - angered that the newcomers hadn't volunteered to help him when he was feverishly working to protect the home. During a lengthy argument between the two men, there were obvious unspoken racial and generational tensions between them. Harry insisted on returning to the stronghold of the cellar ("The cellar's the safest place!"), where they only needed to board up or protect the one entryway ("Just one door, that's all we have to protect"), but there were no windows for them to see what was happening. The black-man and Tom both disagreed with him, and bluntly told Harry that they were remaining upstairs:

  • Tom: "Down in the cellar, there's no place to run to. I mean, if they did get in, there'd be no back exit. We'd be done for...down there, with no windows, if a rescue party did come, we wouldn't even know it."
  • Black-Man: "The cellar is a death-trap."

Harry described how their family had fled from the same flesh-eating killers when the Cooper's car was overturned (about a mile from the farmhouse). After a discussion about their various options, it was wisely proposed that everyone would stay upstairs, until it became necessary to flee to the cellar, where they might be boxed in if "those things get in the house - you've had it!" The black man asserted: "At least up here, you have a fighting chance."

Eight to ten rotting-flesh killers with outstretched arms were seen approaching the farmhouse - and as the black man walked by a partially-boarded up window in the kitchen, in a jump-out-of-your-seat moment, hands reached out to grab at him. He fired rifle shots at the intruders, but the shots to the body were mostly ineffective. A further horde of murderous assassins emerged walking toward the house, including a rear-view of one nude female from a morgue with a burial tag still attached to her left wrist. Another corpse-like, elderly female ate a squirming worm off a tree trunk.

The argument between the abrasive father and the strident black-man ended when the armed hero forcefully spoke about remaining upstairs to defend everything there, including the food and the radio, as he ordered Harry away:

"Now, get the hell down in the cellar. You can be the boss down there. I'm boss up here...I'm not boxing myself in down there."

Before Harry boarded himself into the cellar with his two family members, Tom summoned his pretty girlfriend Judy (Judith Ridley) to join him upstairs, and then he argued for unity through the closed cellar door: "We'd all be a lot better off if all three of us were working together" - his words fell on deaf ears. Harry and his wife Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman) and their injured, 11 year-old ill daughter Karen Cooper (Kyra Schon) - bitten earlier on the arm by one of the ghouls - remained hidden in the cellar.

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