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Night of the Living Dead

Theatrical release poster
Directed by George A. Romero
Produced by Karl Hardman
Russell Streiner
Written by George A. Romero
John A. Russo
Starring Duane Jones
Judith O'Dea
Karl Hardman
Marilyn Eastman
Keith Wayne
Judith Ridley
Kyra Schon
Music by Stock music
Cinematography George A. Romero
Editing by George A. Romero
John A. Russo
Studio Image Ten
Laurel Group
Market Square Productions
Off Color Films
Distributed by The Walter Reade Organization
Release date(s) October 1, 1968 (1968-10-01)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $114,000
Gross revenue $42,000,000 ($689,716,923 in 2008 dollars)
Followed by Dawn of the Dead

Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 independent black-and-white zombie film directed by George A. Romero. Ben (Duane Jones) and Barbra (Judith O'Dea) are the protagonists of a story about the mysterious reanimation of the recently dead, and their efforts, along with five other people, to survive the night while trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse.

George Romero completed the film on a USD$114,000 budget, and after a decade of cinematic re-releases, it grossed some $12 million domestically and $30 million internationally.[1][2] On its release in 1968, Night of the Living Dead was strongly criticized for its explicit content. However, in 1999, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".[3]

Night of the Living Dead was cited by many as being a groundbreaking film; given its release during the Vietnam-era, due to perceived critiques of 1960s American society, historian Adam Rockoff described it as "subversive on many levels".[4] Although it is not the first zombie film, Night of the Living Dead is the progenitor of the contemporary 'zombie apocalypse' sub-genre of horror film, and it influenced the modern pop-culture zombie archetype.[5] Night of the Living Dead (1968), is the first of six Dead films directed by George Romero, and twice has been remade, as a film of the same name in 1990, directed by Tom Savini, and as Night of the Living Dead 3D in 2006.

Contents

Plot

Siblings Barbra (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) drive to a rural Pennsylvania cemetery to place a cross with flowers on their father's grave. Johnny teases his sister, who is afraid of cemeteries, taunting, "They're coming to get you, Barbra!" Suddenly, a pale skinned man (S. William Hinzman) grabs Barbra and Johnny rushes to save her. A fight occurs, but Johnny is able to push the man to the ground, but he gets up and Johnny is killed when he falls and smashes his head into a tombstone. Barbra flees into the car, but the man chases her. Barbra attempts to flee in the car as the zombie attempts to break in, but she does not have the key. She releases the emergency brake, and the car rolls away from the man. Barbra soon crashes into a tree, then abandons the car and escapes into a nearby farmhouse to hide, still chased by the zombie. She soon finds, however, that others like the man are outside. While exploring the empty house, Barbra discovers a hideously mutilated corpse at the top of the stairs.

While attempting to flee the house, she encounters Ben (Duane Jones), who arrives in a pickup truck and defends the house against another pack of zombies. After subduing the pack, Ben sets the bodies on fire, scaring off the remaining zombies. Inside the house, Ben fights off another zombie that emerges from a side room. This is followed by an intense argument about Barbra's desire to search for Johnny. After a brief struggle, Barbra collapses in shock, and Ben carries her to a couch. Ben boards up the doors and windows from the inside, and takes a chair outside and scares off the attackers by setting it afire. Ben finds a rifle and a radio as Barbra lies catatonic.

The two are unaware that Harry and Helen Cooper (Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman), their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), and young couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) have been hiding in the cellar until later. One of the attackers bit Karen earlier and she has fallen ill. Harry wants the group to barricade themselves in the cellar, but Ben argues that they would effectively be trapping themselves. Ben carries the argument, and the group cooperates to reinforce the main part of the house.

The ghouls swarm around the house, searching for living human flesh.

Radio reports explain that an epidemic of mass murder is sweeping across the eastern seaboard. Later, Ben discovers a television upstairs and the emergency broadcaster reveals that the creatures are consuming the flesh of their victims. A subsequent broadcast reports that the murders are being perpetrated by the recently deceased who have returned to life, dubbed 'ghouls'. Experts, scientists and military are not sure of the cause of the reanimation, but one scientist is certain that it is the result of radioactive contamination from a space probe that exploded in the Earth's atmosphere. A final report instructs that a gunshot or heavy blow to the head will stop the ghouls and that posses of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order.

Ben devises a plan to escape using the truck involving all of the men in the house. The truck is in need of fuel, so Ben and Tom go to an outside gas pump while Harry hurls Molotov cocktails from an upper window. On the way out the door, Judy fears for Tom's safety and chases after him. Upon arriving at the pump, Ben places a torch on the ground next to the truck. Tom loses control of the pump, splashing gasoline onto the torch, starting a fire that quickly engulfs the vehicle. Tom tries to drive the truck away from the gas pumps to avoid further damage, but when he goes to exit the truck, Judy gets stuck. Tom goes back into the truck to help her, but the truck explodes, killing them both. Ben runs back to the house to find that Harry has locked him out. He kicks the door open and, in a fury, fiercely beats Harry.

The Cooper family

Some of the undead horde converges upon the truck and begin eating Tom and Judy's charred remains. Meanwhile, others try to break through the doors and windows of the house. Ben manages to hold them back, but drops his rifle. Harry seizes the fallen rifle and turns it on Ben, who wrestles it away from Harry and shoots him. Harry stumbles into the cellar and dies.

Shortly after, Helen discovers that her daughter, Karen, has been transformed into one of the ghouls and is consuming her father's corpse. Karen repeatedly stabs her mother with a cement trowel, killing her, before going upstairs. Meanwhile, the undead finally break into the house and Barbra sees her brother Johnny among them. The undead take Barbra away. Ben retreats into the cellar, locking the door behind him, ironically taking the course of action that Harry had recommended in the first place. The zombies, including Karen, Johnny and the man who attacked Barbra and Johnny at the start of the film, try to break in. Ben shoots the reanimated Harry and Helen Cooper, and waits out until morning, hoping for any chance of escaping the zombies.

In the morning, a posse approaches the house, hunting the remaining ghouls. Hearing the commotion, Ben ambles up the cellar stairs into the living room. Sheriff McClelland spots him through a window, and, mistaking him for a zombie, orders one of the posse members to shoot him. Still shots are shown of the vigilantes dragging Ben's body from the house and placing it on a pyre, next to the zombie that had attacked Barbra at the start of the film, as the closing credits roll. The film ends with a brief clip of the pyre burning.

Production

While attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Romero embarked upon his career in the film industry. In the 1960s, he directed and produced television commercials and industrial films for The Latent Image, a company he co-founded with friends John Russo and Russell Streiner. During this period, the trio grew bored making commercials and wanted to film a horror movie. According to Romero, they wanted to capitalize on the film industry's "thirst for the bizarre".[6] He and Streiner contacted Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman, president and vice president respectively of a Pittsburgh-based industrial film firm called Hardman Associates, Inc., and pitched their idea for a then-untitled horror film.[6] Convinced by Romero, a production company called Image Ten was formed which included Romero, Russo, Streiner, Hardman and Eastman. The initial budget was $6,000 with the ten members of the production company investing $600 each for a share of the profits. When it was found that another $6,000 was required another ten investors were found but this was also soon found to be inadequate. Image Ten eventually raised approximately $114,000 for the budget.[6][7]

Evans City Cemetery in 2007.

The small budget dictated much of the production process. According to Hardman, "We knew that we could not raise enough money to shoot a film on a par with the classic horror films with which we had all grown up. The best that we could do was to place our cast in a remote spot and then bring the horror to be visited on them in that spot".[6] Scenes were filmed near Evans City, Pennsylvania, 30 miles (48 km) north of Pittsburgh in rural Butler County; the opening sequence was shot at the Evans City Cemetery on Franklin Road, south of the borough. The indoor scenes (upstairs) were filmed in a downtown Evans City home that later became the offices of a prominent local physician and family doctor (Allsop). This home is still standing on South Washington St. (locally called Mars-Evans City Road), between the intersecting streets of South Jackson and Van Buren. The outdoor, indoor (downstairs) and basement scenes were filmed at a location northeast of Evans City, near a park. However, the basement door (external view) shown in the film was actually cut into a wall by the production team and led nowhere. As this house was scheduled for demolition, damage during filming was permitted and the site is now a turf farm.[8].[9][10]

Marilyn Eastman applying Bosco Chocolate Syrup to Karl Hardman for a bloody special effect.

Props and special effects were fairly simple and limited by the budget. The blood, for example, was Bosco Chocolate Syrup drizzled over cast members' bodies.[11] Consumed flesh was roasted ham and entrails donated by one of the actors who also owned a chain of butchers shops. Costumes consisted of second-hand clothing from cast members and Goodwill. Zombie makeup varied during the film. Initially makeup was limited to "Racoon" faces, white skin with blackened eyes, but as filming progressed mortician's wax was used to simulate wounds and decay to make the zombies more frightening. As filming was not linear the "Racoon" faces appear sporadically. Eastman supervised the special effects, wardrobe and makeup.[6] Filming took place between June and December 1967 under the working title Night of Anubis and later Night of the Flesh Eaters.[2][12][13] The small budget led Romero to shoot on 35 mm black-and-white film. The completed film ultimately benefited from the decision, as film historian Joseph Maddrey describes the black-and-white filming as "guerrilla-style", resembling "the unflinching authority of a wartime newsreel". Maddrey adds, it "seem[s] as much like a documentary on the loss of social stability as an exploitation film".[14]

Members of Image Ten were involved in filming and post-production, participating in loading camera magazines, gaffing, constructing props, recording sounds and editing.[7] Production stills were shot and printed by Karl Hardman, who stated in an interview that a "number of cast members formed a production line in the darkroom for developing, washing and drying of the prints as I made the exposures. As I recall, I shot over 1,250 pictures during the production".[6] Upon completion of post-production, Image Ten found it difficult to secure a distributor willing to show the film with the gruesome scenes intact. Columbia and American International Pictures declined after requests to soften it and re-shoot the final scene were rejected by producers.[15] Romero admitted that "none of us wanted to do that. We couldn't imagine a happy ending. . . . Everyone want[ed] a Hollywood ending, but we stuck to our guns".[16] The Manhattan-based Walter Reade Organization agreed to show the film uncensored, but changed the title from Night of the Flesh Eaters to Night of the Living Dead because a film had already been produced under a similar title to the former.[13]

Writing

Co-written as a horror comedy by John Russo and George A. Romero under the title Monster Flick[12], an early screenplay draft concerned the exploits of teenage aliens who visit Earth and befriend human teenagers. A second version of the script featured a young man who runs away from home and discovers rotting human corpses that aliens use for food scattered across a meadow. The final draft, written mainly by Romero during three days in 1967, focused on reanimated human corpses — Romero refers to them as ghouls — that feast on the flesh of the living.[17] In a 1997 interview with the BBC's Forbidden Weekend, Romero explained that the script developed into a three-part short story. Part one became Night of the Living Dead. Sequels Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) were adapted from the two remaining parts.[18]

Romero drew inspiration from Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954), a horror/science fiction novel about a plague that ravages a futuristic Los Angeles. The infected in I Am Legend become vampire-like creatures and prey on the uninfected.[7][19][20] Discussing the creation of Night of the Living Dead, Romero remarked, "I had written a short story, which I basically had ripped off from a Richard Matheson novel called I Am Legend."[21] Romero further explained:

I thought I Am Legend was about revolution. I said if you’re going to do something about revolution, you should start at the beginning. I mean, Richard starts his book with one man left; everybody in the world has become a vampire. I said we got to start at the beginning and tweak it up a little bit. I couldn’t use vampires because he did, so I wanted something that would be an earth-shaking change. Something that was forever, something that was really at the heart of it. I said, so what if the dead stop staying dead? ... And the stories are about how people respond or fail to respond to this. That’s really all [the zombies] ever represented to me. In Richard’s book, in the original I Am Legend, that’s what I thought that book was about. There’s this global change and there’s one guy holding out saying, wait a minute, I’m still a human. He’s wrong. Go ahead. Join them. You’ll live forever! In a certain sense he’s wrong but on the other hand, you’ve got to respect him for taking that position.[22]

Official film adaptations of Matheson's novel appeared in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, in 1971 as The Omega Man, and the 2007 release I Am Legend. Matheson was not impressed by Romero's interpretation, feeling that "It was ... kind of cornball",[23] though he later said, "George Romero's a nice guy, though. I don't harbor any animosity toward him".[24] Regarding Romero's use of I Am Legend as inspiration, critic Danél Griffin remarked, "Romero freely admits that his film was a direct rip-off of Matheson's novel; I would be a little less harsh in my description and say that Romero merely expanded the author’s ideas with deviations so completely original that [Night of the Living Dead] is expelled from being labeled a true 'rip-off'."[25]

Russo and Romero revised the screenplay while filming. Karl Hardman attributed the edits to lead actor Duane Jones:

The script had been written with the character Ben as a rather simple truck driver. His dialogue was that of a lower class / uneducated person. Duane Jones was a very well educated man [and he] simply refused to do the role as it was written. As I recall, I believe that Duane himself upgraded his own dialogue to reflect how he felt the character should present himself.[6]

Eastman modified cellar scenes featuring dialogue between Helen and Harry Cooper.[6] According to lead actress Judith O'Dea, much of the dialogue was improvised. She told an interviewer, "I don't know if there was an actual working script! We would go over what basically had to be done, then just did it the way we each felt it should be done".[26] One example offered by O'Dea concerns a scene where Barbra tells Ben about Johnny's death:

The sequence where Ben is breaking up the table to block the entrance and I'm on the couch and start telling him the story of what happened [to Johnny] it's all ad-libbed. This is what we want to get across [...] tell the story about me and Johnny in the car and me being attacked. That was it [...] all improv. We filmed it once. There was a concern we didn't get the sound right, but fortunately they were able to use it.[26]

Casting

Ben, played by Duane Jones

The lead role of Ben was played by unknown stage actor Duane Jones. His performance depicted Ben as a "comparatively calm and resourceful Negro", according to a contemporary (1969) movie reviewer.[27] Casting Jones as the hero was, in 1968, potentially controversial. At the time, it was not typical for a black man to be the hero of a film the cast of which included white actors and actresses. Social commentators saw that casting as significant; on the other hand, Romero said that Jones "simply gave the best audition".[28] After Night of the Living Dead, he co-starred in Ganja and Hess (1973), Vampires (1986), Negatives (1988) and To Die For (1989) before his death in 1988.[29] Despite his other film roles, Jones worried that people only recognized him as Ben.[30]

Judith O'Dea, a 23-year-old commercial and stage actress, played Barbra. She had once worked for Hardman and Eastman in Pittsburgh, so they called her to audition. O'Dea was in Hollywood seeking to enter the movie business. She remarked in an interview that starring in the film was a positive experience for her, although she admitted that horror movies terrified her, particularly Vincent Price's House of Wax (1953). Besides acting, O'Dea performed her own stunts, which she jokingly says amounted to "lots of running". Assessing Night of the Living Dead, she states "I honestly had no idea it would have such a lasting impact on our culture". She was just as surprised by the renown the film brought her: "People treat you differently. [I'm] ho-hum Judy O'Dea until they realize [I'm] Barbra from Night of the Living Dead. All of a sudden [I'm] not so ho-hum anymore!"[26] Following Night of the Living Dead, O'Dea appeared in the television film The Pirate in 1978 and feature films Claustrophobia, October Moon, and The Ocean.[31]

The supporting cast had no experience in the film industry prior to Night of the Living Dead. The role of Tom remained Keith Wayne's only film role (he committed suicide in 1995).[32] Judith Ridley later co-starred in Romero's There's Always Vanilla (1971).[33] The cemetery zombie who kills Johnny in the first scene was played by S. William Hinzman, in a role that launched his horror film career. Hinzman was later involved in the films Season of the Witch (1973), Flesheater (1988), Legion of the Night (1995), Santa Claws (1996), and Evil Ambitions (1996).[34]

Cast members Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman and Russell Streiner performed prominent acting roles. Hardman and Eastman co-starred as Harry and Helen Cooper (Eastman also played the female zombie who plucks an insect off a tree and eats it) while Streiner played Johnny, Barbra's brother. Hardman's 11-year-old daughter, Kyra Schon, played Karen Cooper. Image Ten's production manager, George Kosana, played Sheriff McClelland.[35] Romero's friends and acquaintances were recruited as zombie extras. Romero stated, "We had a film company doing commercials and industrial films so there were a lot of people from the advertising game who all wanted to come out and be zombies, and a lot of them did". He adds amusingly, "Some people from around Evans City who just thought it was a goof came out to get caked in makeup and lumber around".[36]

Directing

Night of the Living Dead was the first feature-length film directed by George A. Romero. His initial work involved filming shorts for Pittsburgh public broadcaster WQED's children's series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.[16][37] Romero's decision to direct Night of the Living Dead essentially launched his career as a horror director. He took the helm of the sequels as well as Season of the Witch, The Crazies (1973), Martin (1977), Creepshow (1982) and The Dark Half (1993).[38] Critics saw the influence of the horror and science-fiction films of the 1950s in Romero's directorial style. Stephen Paul Miller, for instance, witnessed "a revival of fifties schlock shock... and the army general's television discussion of military operations in the film echoes the often inevitable calling-in of the army in fifties horror films". Miller admits, however, that "Night of the Living Dead takes greater relish in mocking these military operations through the general's pompous demeanor" and the government's inability to source the zombie epidemic or protect the citizenry.[39] Romero describes the mood he wished to establish: "The film opens with a situation that has already disintegrated to a point of little hope, and it moves progressively toward absolute despair and ultimate tragedy".[40] According to film historian Carl Royer, Romero "employs chiaroscuro (film noir style) lighting to emphasize humanity's nightmare alienation from itself".[41]

While some critics dismissed Romero's film because of the graphic scenes, writer R. H. W. Dillard claimed that the "open-eyed detailing" of taboo heightened the film's success. He asks, "What girl has not, at one time or another, wished to kill her mother? And Karen, in the film, offers a particularly vivid opportunity to commit the forbidden deed vicariously."[42] Romero featured social taboos as key themes, particularly cannibalism. Although zombie cannibals were inspired by Matheson's I Am Legend, film historian Robin Wood sees the flesh-eating scenes of Night of the Living Dead as a late-1960s critique of American capitalism. Wood asserts that the zombies represent capitalists, and "cannibalism represents the ultimate in possessiveness, hence the logical end of human relations under capitalism." He argues that the zombies' victims symbolized the repression of "the Other" in bourgeoisie American society, namely civil rights activists, feminists, homosexuals and counterculturalists in general.[43]

Music and sound effects

The music score of Night of the Living Dead was not composed for the film; Karl Hardman told an interviewer that the music came from the extensive film music library of WRS Studio. Much of what was used in the film was purchased from the library of Capitol Records, and an album of the soundtrack was released at one point. Stock music selections included works by WRS sound tech, Richard Lococo, Philip Green, Geordie Hormel, William Loose, Jack Meakin and Spencer Moore.

Some of the music in the film had previously been used on the soundtrack for the science-fiction B-movie Teenagers from Outer Space (1959). The eerie musical piece during the tense scene in the film where Ben finds the rifle in the closet inside the farmhouse as the radio reports of mayhem play in the background can be heard in longer and more complete form during the opening credits and the beginning of The Devil's Messenger (1961) starring Lon Chaney Jr. Another piece, accompanying Barbra's flight from the cemetery zombie, was taken from the score for The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) and had also been used in the final episode of television's The Fugitive, which had aired one year earlier.

According to WRS, "We chose a selection of music for each of the various scenes and then George made the final selections. We then took those selections and augmented them electronically". Sound tech R.Lococo's choices worked well, as Film historian Sumiko Higashi believes that the music "signifies the nature of events that await".[44]

Sound effects were created by WRS Studio in Pittsburgh. "Sound engineer Richard Lococo recorded all of the live sound effects used in the film". Lococo recalled, "Of all the sound effects that we created, the one that still gives me goose bumps when I hear it, is Marilyn's screaming as [Helen Cooper] is killed by her daughter. Judy O'Dea's screaming is a close second. Both were looped in and out of echo over and over again".

A soundtrack album featuring music and dialogue cues from the film was compiled and released by Varese Sarabande in 1982; however, it has never been reissued on CD.

In November 2008, recording group 400 Lonely Things released the album Tonight of the Living Dead, "an instrumental album composed entirely of ambient music and sound effects sampled from Romero's 1968 horror classic".[45]

Reception

Night of the Living Dead premiered on October 1, 1968 at the Fulton Theater in Pittsburgh.[46] Nationally, it was shown as a Saturday afternoon matinée — as was typical for horror films at the time — and attracted an audience consisting of pre-teens and adolescents.[47][48] The MPAA film rating system was not in place until November 1968, so even young children were not prohibited from purchasing tickets. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times chided theater owners and parents who allowed children access to the film. "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them," he said. "They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else." According to Ebert, the film affected the audience immediately:

The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying... It's hard to remember what sort of effect this movie might have had on you when you were six or seven. But try to remember. At that age, kids take the events on the screen seriously, and they identify fiercely with the hero. When the hero is killed, that's not an unhappy ending but a tragic one: Nobody got out alive. It's just over, that's all.

[48]

Spanish language poster advertising Night of the Living Dead in Spain.

One commentator asserts that the film garnered little attention from critics, "except to provoke argument about censoring its grisly scenes".[49] Despite the controversy, five years after the premiere Paul McCullough of Take One observed that Night of the Living Dead was the "most profitable horror film ever [...] produced outside the walls of a major studio".[50] The film had earned between $12 and $15 million at the American box office after a decade. It was translated into more than 25 languages and released across Europe, Canada and Australia.[49] Night of the Living Dead grossed $30 million internationally, and the Wall Street Journal reported that it was the top grossing film in Europe in 1969.[1][51]

More than 40 years after its release, the film enjoys a reputation as a classic and still receives positive reviews; Night of the Living Dead currently holds a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes,[52] and it is regarded by many as one of the best films of 1968.[53][54][55][56] In 2008, the film was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[57] The New York Times also placed the film on their Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[58]

Night of the Living Dead was also awarded two distinguished honors decades after its debut. The Library of Congress added the film to the National Film Registry in 1999 with other films deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".[3][59] In 2001, the film was ranked #93 by the American Film Institute on their 100 Years...100 Thrills list, a list of America's most heart-pounding movies.[60] The film also ranked #9 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

Reviews

Reviewers disliked the film's gory special effects. Variety labeled Night of the Living Dead an "unrelieved orgy of sadism" and questioned the "integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers".[61] New York Times critic Vincent Canby referred to the film as a "junk movie" as well as "spare, uncluttered, but really silly."[62]

Nevertheless, some reviewers cited the film as groundbreaking. Pauline Kael called the film "one of the most gruesomely terrifying movies ever made — and when you leave the theatre you may wish you could forget the whole horrible experience. . . . The film's grainy, banal seriousness works for it — gives it a crude realism".[63] A Film Daily critic commented, "This is a pearl of a horror picture which exhibits all the earmarks of a sleeper."[64] While Roger Ebert criticized the matinée screening, he admitted that he "admires the movie itself".[48] Critic Rex Reed wrote, "If you want to see what turns a B movie into a classic [...] don't miss Night of the Living Dead. It is unthinkable for anyone seriously interested in horror movies not to see it."[65]

Since the release, critics and film historians have seen Night of the Living Dead as a subversive film that critiques 1960s American society, international Cold War politics and domestic racism. Elliot Stein of The Village Voice saw the film as an ardent critique of American involvement in Vietnam, arguing that it "was not set in Transylvania, but Pennsylvania — this was Middle America at war, and the zombie carnage seemed a grotesque echo of the conflict then raging in Vietnam".[66] Film historian Sumiko Higashi concurs, arguing that Night of the Living Dead was a horror film about the horrors of the Vietnam era. While she asserts that "there are no Vietnamese in Night of the Living Dead, [...] they constitute an absent presence whose significance can be understood if narrative is construed". She points to aspects of the Vietnam War paralleled in the film: grainy black-and-white newsreels, search-and-destroy operations, helicopters, and graphic carnage.[67]

Some feminist writers have criticized the film for portraying Barbra, the chief female character, as catatonic and helpless.

While George Romero denies he hired Duane Jones simply because he was black, reviewer Mark Deming notes that "the grim fate of Duane Jones, the sole heroic figure and only African-American, had added resonance with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X fresh in the minds of most Americans."[28][68] Stein adds, "In this first-ever subversive horror movie, the resourceful black hero survives the zombies only to be killed by a redneck posse".[66] The deaths of Ben, Barbra and the supporting cast offered audiences an uncomfortable, nihilistic glimpse unusual for the genre.[69]

The treatment of female characters attracted criticism from feminist scholars and critics. Women are portrayed as helpless and often excluded from the decision-making process by the male characters. Barbra suffers a psychological breakdown so severe after the loss of her brother that she is reduced to a semi-catatonic state for much of the film. Judy is portrayed in an extreme state of denial, leading to her own death and that of her boyfriend. Helen Cooper, while initially strong-willed, becomes immobilized and dies as a result.[70]

Other prevalent themes included "disillusionment with government and patriarchal nuclear family"[66] and "the flaws inherent in the media, local and federal government agencies, and the entire mechanism of civil defense".[71] Film historian Linda Badley explains that the film was so horrifying because the monsters were not creatures from Outer Space or some exotic environment, "They're us".[72] Romero confessed that the film was designed to reflect the tensions of the time: "It was 1968, man. Everybody had a 'message'. The anger and attitude and all that's there is just because it was the Sixties. We lived at the farmhouse, so we were always into raps about the implication and the meaning, so some of that crept in."[28]

Influence

Living dead Karen Cooper eating her father's corpse.

Romero revolutionized the horror film genre with Night of the Living Dead; per Almar Haflidason, of the BBC, the film represented "a new dawn in horror film-making".[73] The film has also effectively redefined the use of the term Zombie. Early zombie films like Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932) and Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie (1943) concerned living people enslaved by a Voodoo witch doctor; many were set in the Caribbean.

The film and its successors spawned countless imitators that borrowed elements instituted by Romero: Tombs of the Blind Dead, Zombie, Hell of the Living Dead, Night of the Comet, Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps, Children of the Living Dead, and the video game series Resident Evil (later adapted as films in 2002, 2004, and 2007), Dead Rising, and House of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead is parodied in films such as Night of the Living Bread and Shaun of the Dead, and in episodes of The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror III", 1992), South Park ("Pink Eye", 1997; "Night of the Living Homeless", 2007) and Invader Zim (Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom, 2001;).[74][75][76] The word zombie is never used, but Romero's film introduced the theme of zombies as reanimated, flesh-eating cannibals.[46][77]

Night of the Living Dead ushered in the splatter film sub-genre. As one film historian points out, horror prior to Romero's film had mostly involved rubber masks and costumes, cardboard sets, or mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. They were set in locations far removed from rural and suburban America.[78] Romero revealed the power behind exploitation and setting horror in ordinary, unexceptional locations and offered a template for making an "effective and lucrative" film on a "minuscule budget".[4] Slasher films of the 1970s and 80s such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), for example, "owe much to the original Night of the Living Dead".[79]

Revisions

The film has been subject to numerous revisions. This screenshot is from the 2004 colorized version of the film.

Colorization and Conversion to 3-D

The first revisions of Night of the Living Dead involved colorization by home video distributors. Hal Roach Studios released a colorized version in 1986 that featured ghouls with pale green skin.[80] Another colorized version appeared in 1997 from Anchor Bay Entertainment with grey-skinned zombies.[81] In 2004, Legend Films produced a new colorized version. Technology critic Gary W. Tooze wrote that "The colorization is damn impressive", but noticed the print used was not as sharp as other releases of the film.[82] In 2009, Legend Films coproduced a colorized 3-D version of the film with PassmoreLab, a company that converts 2-D film into 3-D format[83]. This version will receive a full theatrical release in Europe, followed by a limited theatrical release in the United States[84] According to Legend Films founder Barry Sandrew, Night of the Living Dead is the first entirely live action 2-D film to be converted to 3-D.[85][86].

30th Anniversary Edition

In 1999, co-writer John A. Russo released a modified version called Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition.[87] He filmed additional scenes and recorded a revised soundtrack composed by Scott Vladimir Licina. In an interview with Fangoria magazine, Russo explained that he wanted to "give the movie a more modern pace".[88] Russo took liberties with the original script. The additions are neither clearly identified nor even listed. However, Entertainment Weekly reported "no bad blood" between Russo and Romero. The magazine, however, quoted Romero as saying, "I didn't want to touch Night of the Living Dead".[89] Critics panned the revised film, notably Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News. Knowles promised to permanently ban anyone from his publication who offered positive criticism of the film.[90]

Stage adaption

In 2006, a musical adaption of the show was created and written by Jack Schultz and was performed at the Riverfront Playhouse in Downtown Aurora, IL. It starred Jackson Schultz as Ben, Caitlin Borek as Barbara, Dylan Hayworth-Weste as Tom, Sherry Schultz as Helen, Heidi Schultz as Judy and Shawn Dooley as Sheriff McClelland. The script and lyrics were written by Jack Schultz with music co-written by Kathleen Dooley.[citation needed]

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated

Teaser one-sheet.

A collaborative animated project known as Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated is currently playing several film festivals[91][92][93][94][95] and is set for DVD release in April 2010 by Wild Eye Releasing[96][97][98]. This project aims to "reanimate" the 1968 film by replacing Romero's celluloid images with animation done in a wide variety of styles by artists from around the world, laid over the original audio from Romero's version.[99] Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated premiered theatrically on October 10, 2009 in Ramsey, New Jersey[100] at the Zombie Encounter and Film Festival.[101]

Film series

Night of the Living Dead is the first of six ...of the Dead films directed by George Romero. Following the 1968 film, Romero released Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead; the most recent sequel, Survival of the Dead, has been completed and is awaiting release. Each film traces the evolution of the living dead epidemic in the United States and humanity's desperate attempts to cope with it. As in Night of the Living Dead, Romero peppered the other films in the series with critiques specific to the periods in which they were released.

The same year Day of the Dead premiered, Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo released a film titled Return of the Living Dead that offers an alternate continuity to the original film than Dawn of the Dead, but acted more as a parody or satire and is not considered a sequel to the original 1968 film. Russo's film spawned four sequels. Return of the Living Dead sparked a legal battle with Romero, who believed Russo marketed his film in direct competition with Day of the Dead as a sequel to the original film. In the case Dawn Associates v. Links, Romero accused Russo of "appropriat[ing] part of the title of the prior work", plagiarizing Dawn of the Dead's advertising slogan ("When there is no more room in hell [...] the dead will walk the earth"), and copying stills from the original 1968 film. Romero was ultimately granted a restraining order that forced Russo to cease his advertising campaign. Russo, however, was allowed to retain his title.[102]

Night of the Living Dead has been remade twice, with a third announced for a 2010 release. The first remake, debuting in 1990, was directed by special effects artist Tom Savini. The remake was based on the original screenplay, but included more gore and a revised plot that portrayed Barbara[103] (Patricia Tallman) as a capable and active heroine. Tony Todd played the role of Ben. Film historian Barry Grant saw the new Barbara as a corrective on the part of Romero. He suggests that the character was made stronger to rectify the depiction of female characters in the original film.[70] The second remake was in 3-D and released in September 2006 under the title Night of the Living Dead 3-D. Directed by Jeff Broadstreet, the characters and plot are completely different from the 1968 original. Unlike Savini's 1990 film, Broadstreet's project was not affiliated with Romero.[104][105] On November 1, 2009, it was announced that Prairie Coast Films, a Canadian production company began pre-production on another updated remake of the 1968 film. The film is to be released in October 2010[106].

On September 15, 2009, it was announced that Simon West planned a 3D prequel to the original movie, to be titled Night of the Living Dead: Origins 3D[107][108]. The movie is being directed and co-written by Zebediah de Soto[109][110], with lead writer D.R. Schwartz[111]. The cast includes Tony Todd as Ben, Danielle Harris as Barbara, Joe Pilato as Harry Cooper, Alona Tal as Helen Cooper, Bill Moseley as Johnny and newcomers Erin Braswell as Judy and Mike Diskint as Tom.[112][113][114][115][116][117]

Copyright status

Night of the Living Dead lapsed into the public domain because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright indication on the prints. In 1968, United States copyright law required a proper notice for a work to maintain a copyright.[118] Image Ten displayed such a notice on the title frames of the film beneath the original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters. The distributor removed the statement when it changed the title.[119] According to George Romero, Walter Reade "ripped us off".[120]

Because of the public domain status, the film is sold on home video by several distributors. As of 2006, the Internet Movie Database lists 23 copies of Night of the Living Dead retailing on DVD and nineteen on VHS.[121] The original film is available to view or download free on Internet sites such as Google Video, Internet Archive and YouTube.[122][123][124] As of October 2, 2008, it was the Internet Archive's second most downloaded film, with 515,561 downloads.[125]

Several notable DVD releases have been issued by The Weinstein Company/Genius Products, 20th Century Fox/Legend Films (a new colorized version), and Anchor Bay Entertainment.

See also

References

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  3. ^ a b "U.S. film registry adds 25 new titles", November 16, 1999, at CNN; last accessed June 24, 2006.
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  5. ^ "Zombie Movies" in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, ed. John Clute and John Grant (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), p.1048, ISBN 0-312-19869-8
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  8. ^ What park? And where was the house, exactly? And yes, we DO need to know.
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  83. ^ Johnny Ramone Tribute Includes Night of the Living Dead in 3D
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  111. ^ The Official D.R. Schwartz Blog
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Further reading

  • Becker, Matt. "A Point of Little Hope: Hippie Horror Films and the Politics of Ambivalence". The Velvet Light Trap (No. 57, Spring 2006): pp. 42–59.
  • Carroll, Noël. "The Nature of Horror". Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46 (No. 1, Autumn 1987): pp. 51–59.
  • Crane, Jonathan Lake. Terror and Everyday Life: Singular Moments in the History of the Horror Film. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-8039-5849-8.
  • Dinello, Daniel. Technophobia!: Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. ISBN 0-292-70986-2.
  • Harper, Stephen. "Night of the Living Dead: Reappraising an Undead Classic". Bright Lights Film Journal (Issue 50, November 2005): online.
  • Heffernan, Kevin. Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953–1968. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8223-3215-9 .
  • Heffernan, Kevin. "Inner-City Exhibition and the Genre Film: Distributing Night of the Living Dead (1968)". Cinema Journal 41 (No. 3, Spring 2002): pp. 59–77.
  • Jancovich, Mark, Antonio Lazaro Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andy Willis, eds. Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Manchester, Eng.: Manchester University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7190-6631-X
  • Lowenstein, Adam. Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-231-13246-8.
  • Moreman, Christopher M. "A Modern Meditation on Death: Identifying Buddhist Teachings in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead," Contemporary Buddhism 9 (No. 2, 2008): pp. 151–165.
  • Newman, Robert. "The Haunting of 1968". South Central Review 16 (No. 4, Winter 1999): pp. 53–61.
  • Paffenroth, Kim. Gospel of the Living Dead. Baylor University Press, 2006.
  • Pharr, Mary. "Greek Gifts: Vision and Revision in Two Versions of Night of the Living Dead". In Trajectories of the Fantastic. Ed. Michael A. Morrison. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. ISBN 0-313-29646-4.
  • Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. ISBN 0-7914-3441-9.
  • Russell, Jamie. Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema. Surrey: Fab Press, 2005. ISBN 1-903254-33-7.
  • Shapiro, Jerome F. Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film. London: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-415-93660-8.
  • Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-231-05777-6.
  • Young, Lola. Fear of the Dark: 'Race', Gender and Sexuality in the Cinema. London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-09709-6.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Several zombies from Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 black-and-white horror film directed by George A. Romero.

Contents

Johnny

  • They're coming to get you, Barbra!

Ben

  • Now get the hell down in the cellar. You can be the boss down there, but I'm boss up here!
  • Don't you know what's goin' on out there? This is no Sunday School picnic!
  • You know a place back down the road called Beekman's? Beekman's Diner? Anyhow, that's where I found that truck I have out there. There's a radio in the truck. I jumped in to listen, when a big gasoline truck came screaming right across the road! There must've been ten, fifteen of those things chasing after it, grabbing and holding on. Now, I didn't see them at first. I could just see that the truck was moving in a funny way. Those things were catching up to it. Truck went right across the road. I slammed on my breaks to keep from hitting it myself. It went right through the guard rail! I guess - guess the driver must've cut off the road into that gas station by Beekman's Diner. It went right through the billboard, ripped over a gas pump, and never stopped moving! By now it was like a moving bonfire! Didn't know if the truck was going to explode or what. I still hear the man... screaming. These things, just backing away from it! I looked back at the diner to see if - if there was anyone there who could help me. That's when I noticed that the entire place had been encircled. There wasn't a sign of life left, except... by now, there were no more screams. I realized that I was alone, with fifty or sixty of those things just... standing there, staring at me! I started to drive, I - I just plowed right through them! They didn't move! They didn't run, or... they just stood there, staring at me! I just wanted to crush them! And they scattered through the air, like bugs.

Helen Cooper

  • We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything.

Karen Cooper

  • I hurt

Dialogue


Johnny: Do you remember one time when we were small, we were out here? It was from right over there, I jumped out at you from behind the tree, and Grandpa got all excited, shook his fist at me and said "boy you'll be damned to hell!" [laughs] Remember that? Right over there. Boy, you used to really be scared here.
Barbara: Johnny!
Johnny: Hey, you're still afraid aren't ya?
Barbara: Stop it, now! I mean it!
Johnny: [in a creepy voice] They're coming to get you, Barbara!
Barbara: Stop it! You're ignorant!
Johnny: They're coming for you, Barbara!
Barbara: Stop it! You're acting like a child!
Johnny: They're coming for you!
Cemetery zombie
[points to the cemetery zombie]
Johnny: Look, there comes one of them now!
Barbara: He'll hear you!
Johnny: Here he comes now! I'm getting out of here!

[looking at the burned bodies of Tom and Judy]
Sheriff McClelland: Boy, somebody had a cookout here.
Vince, Posse gunman: Yeah, it sure looks like it.

Cooper: Did you hear me when I told you they turned over our car?
Ben: Oh, hell! Any good five men could do that!
Cooper: That's my point! There's not going to be five, or even ten! There's going to be twenty, thirty, maybe a hundred of those things, and as soon as they find out we're here, this place'll be crawling with them!
Ben: Well, if there's that much, they'll probably get us wherever we are.

Cooper: [to Barbara] Now you'd better watch this and try to understand what's going on.

[Ben looks at him]

Cooper: I don't want anyone's life on my hands.
Helen: Is there anything I can do...?
Ben: I don't wanna hear any more from you, Mister! If you stay up here, you take orders from ME! And that includes leaving the girl alone!

Cooper: Look! You two can do whatever you like! I'm going back down to the cellar, and you'd better decide! 'Cause I'm gonna board up that door, and I'm not going to unlock it again no matter what happens!
Tom: Now wait a minute, Mr. Cooper.
Cooper: No, I'm not going to wait! I've made my decision, now you make yours!
Tom: Now wait a minute! Let's think about this! We can make it to the cellar if we have to! And if we do decide to stay down there, we'll need some things from up here! So let's at least consider this a while!

Newscaster: Reports, incredible as they may seem, are not the results of mass hysteria.
Cooper: "Mass hysteria?" What do they think, we're imagining all this?
Ben: Shut up!

Field Reporter: Are they slow-moving, chief?
Sheriff McClelland: Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up.

A young girl zombie and her victim
Ben: How long have guys you been down there? I could have used some help up here!
Cooper: That's the cellar. It's the safest place.
Ben: You mean you didn't hear the racket I was making up here?
Cooper: How were we supposed to know what was going on? Could have been those things for all we knew!
Ben: That girl was screaming. Surely you know what a girl screaming sounds like. Those things don't make any noise. Anybody would know somebody needed help!
Tom: Look, it's kind of hard to know what's going on from down there.
Harry Cooper: We thought we could hear screams, but for all we knew, that have meant those things were in the house after her.
Ben: And you wouldn't come up here and help?
Tom: Well, if there were more of us...
Harry Cooper: That racket sounded like the place was being ripped apart. How were we supposed to know what was going on?
Ben: Now wait a minute. You just got finished saying you couldn't hear anything down there. Now you say it sounded like the place was being ripped apart. It would be nice if you get your story straight, man.
Harry Cooper: All right, now you tell me! I'm not gonna take that kind of a chance when we've got a safe place! We lock into a safe place, and you're telling us we gotta risk our lives just because somebody might need help, huh?
Ben: Yeah, something like that.

Field Reporter: Chief, if I were surrounded by eight or ten of these things, would I stand a chance?
Sheriff McClelland: Well, that's no problem, if you got a gun shoot 'em in the head. That's the sure way to kill 'em. If you don't get yourself a club, beat 'em or burn 'em. They go up pretty easy.

Sheriff McClelland: Aim between the eyes.
[Gunman shoots and kills Ben]
Sheriff McClelland: Good shot! OK, he's dead; let's go get 'im. That's another one for the fire.

Cast

External Links

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Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 horror movie from director George A. Romero. This low-budget picture was followed by three sequels, along with several parodies and spinoffs.

Plot

A nineteen year-old (Aaron Hammer) goes to his home town to get a job application as a headhunter. After having a curious talk, the manager starts to follow him awkwardly to the bus stop. Martin frantically calls his mother and tells her he thinks his manager is planning to kill him. She is not able to get their in time, so Martin has to take an airplane. At the airport, he meets his mother and a few of his high school friends, including a troubled Kevin Timmerman who is being abused by his large family. When Martin finds out the plain has a delay due to bad snowy weather, Martin plans to stay at a nearby hotel.

While leaving the airport and returning to his home town, Martin is surprised to hear that a warning over the radio is calling a "zombie" attack at his town, that the dead have risen from the cemetery nearby. He thinks this is a prank, but screams and commotion suggest otherwise. The threats and tension grow increasingly, and Martin and a group of about fifteen other people run to a family of three's house. One of them is Martin's ex-girlfriend, Madeline. The group does not find any news or coverage on the TV, but does happen to get information on the local radio station. They say the attack is genuine. Martin and Madeline start to hear pounding and realize a "Frankenstein"-like zombie is trying to get in the locked door. At first, they think it is funny he cannot get in and they tease him. But he then uses his claws and an axe to hack down the door. While trying to stop him, a guy named Hunter gets the claws of Frankenstein in his chest, eventually killing him. The others scurry. But Madeline, Martin and Ossie stay. Ossie gets his chest axed to the other two leaving. The group franticlly looks for the shotgun. While trying to find it, Frankenstein kills a girl on the top floor, sending the bedroom down to the basement because of Frankenstein's weight. One of them is the couple's daughter. While in the basement, Martin tries to stab the zombie with the family's crucifix through the vent upstairs, without success. The father, Tim gets the gun and eventually kills the stranger. Staying their longer, Martin explains to the group his manager must have been a zombie, and that the outbreak must be spreading through the air but they have trouble believing him. The next day, the group hears screaming and looks out the half-hacked door to see a group of the townspeople being chased by the zombies. Disturbing sounds include screaming and struggling that eventually turns into failure. Those who try to get in, including Kevin Timmerman get killed.

After the attack, the group goes out to escape, but only Martin and a few others survive. After being attacked by werewolves and vampires, Martin calls his father at his deserted old house. He is able to come, along with Martin's best friend, Erik and he asks him if others around the area or world know about the current situation. It appears no one does and they get in the car. But with numerous attempts, it does not work. They then have to walk home, but Erik stays behind to try to start the car or stay in Martin's old house. On the way down about two blocks, they find a figure in the middle of the street walking toward them. They both argue whether its a zombie or not, and the credits roll before we know what or who it is, hinting to the audience to make up their own mind.

Development and Production

Origanlly, every single thing that happened in Night of the Living Dead except for the dialouge was based on a dream Aaron Hammer had. Even Martin's famous line: "I think he's planning to kill me" was from his dream. Even the scenes of black and white alternating to color and scenes with black and white but with red blood. Hammer thought it had to have been turned into a movie and so he met up with Patrick Kubrick, thinking he was the perfect director for that sort of film. Kubrick also casted Lauren Paul in the movie as Hammer had intended. Along with Cindy Hammer, Jeff Hammer, Erik Nelson, and Eric Malterer as Kevin Timmerman.

Music and Sound Effects

The film actually has little music. In fact, two songs were adopted from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The beginning titles is simply the sound of a heart beat and background sound effects that eventually leads the heart to beat faster. It then moves on to The Shining theme song. In the theatrical release, when Ossie gets axed, there is no music in the whole entire scene. But when it was released on DVD, it added a score from The Shining when Mr. Halloran gets axed by Jack Nicholson.

Sound effects for the zombies were added on during the editing process. In the "Frankenstein" scene, he never actually makes any noise. The sound of the axe going in one's body was actually the sound of an axe going into meat and animal bones. Ketchup and water was used as blood and turned into red later on. Other than this, these are actually the only effects and music used during the entire film, which gives it some realistic-like power.

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