If there were any justice, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) would be counted as one of the great movie debuts of all time. (Yes, up there next to Citizen Kane.) In some quarters it is, but the fact that it's a horror film and the fact that it has languished for decades in the public domain (and many, many cheap, sub-par VHS tapes and DVDs) counts against it. Not to mention that younger zombie fans that come to the movie for the first time will most likely be surprised -- and probably disappointed -- as to how slow and thoughtful it really is. But if you consider things besides gore and terror to be important in your horror movies, then Night of the Living Dead endures, not just as one of the great genre movies of all time, but one of the greatest movies ever made, period. (It's currently ranked at #260 on the list of the 1000 greatest movies of all time at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?.)
Night of the Living Dead achieved several notable things during its time. Firstly, it established an artistic tone and a directorial signature that Romero would carry through the rest of his career, up to the present day. Secondly, it was an independent film (produced, of all places, in Pittsburgh) long before "independent film" came to be a marketing term. It was made by a cast and crew of people who genuinely wanted to make it, and -- somehow -- it was actually distributed and shown in theaters. Thirdly, by casting an African-American (the late Duane Jones) in its lead role, by introducing the "basement versus the ground floor" conflict, and by featuring gun-toting rednecks as the clean-up crew, it managed to subtly suggest a few ideas about America at the time, and indeed, it still suggests a few things about America in 2009.
Watch Night of the Living Dead on SlashControl!