Do you remember the first Zombie movie you ever saw? For me, it was Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
Picture it, Toronto 1984. I was home six from school one day, remote in hand and ensconced on the couch to recuperate while my mother did her housework. She had no idea what I was up to, and if she had known, I may not be where I am today. But that film both scared and scarred me, albeit in a good way. It began my love affair with the genre and that’s something I’m truly thankful for.
So let’s learn a little more about it…
Night of the Living Dead was directed by George A. Romero who also co-wrote the screenplay with John A. Russo. It stars Duane Jones as Ben, Judith O’Dea as Barbara, and Karl Hardman as Harry, among others. The film was almost exclusively shot in Pittsburgh and is famous for not having a copyright notice anywhere in the film, plunging it into the public domain for quite some time.
The following are a number of interesting facts about the movie:
- When the zombies are eating the bodies in the burnt-out truck they were actually eating roast ham covered in chocolate sauce. The filmmakers joked that it was so nausea inducing that it was almost a waste of time putting the makeup on the zombies, as they ended up looking pale and sick anyway.
- Readers Digest tried to warn people away from watching the film in 1968 by claiming if it’s ever watched, it will inspire cannibalism.
- Bosco chocolate syrup was used to simulate the blood in the film.
- The zombie hand that Tom (Keith Wayne) hacks up with a kitchen knife was made of clay and filled with chocolate syrup.
- During the filming of the cemetery sequence, shot on two separate days, an unexpected accident caused a fast change of script. The car driven by Barbara and Johnny into the cemetery was actually owned by the mother of Russell Streiner. Unfortunately, sometime between the two filming sequences, someone ran into the car and put a dent in it that would easily be visible on camera. George A. Romero rewrote the scene so the car would come to a stop by crashing into a tree.
- The Evans City Cemetery was the cemetery used in the original version of the film, but it could not be used for the 30th anniversary edition. Before filming the new footage, a tornado had torn through the Evans City Cemetery, and ironically, it unearthed several graves.
- The house used for this film was loaned to the filmmakers by the owner, who planned to demolish it anyway, thereby ensuring that they could do whatever they wanted to the house.
- One of the original ideas for the script before its many revisions called for Barbara to be a very strong, charismatic character. Instead, George A. Romero and the producers loved Judith O’Dea’s portrayal as a catatonic and terrified young girl much better, and edited the script to accommodate the part. Eventually, the idea of Barbara being a strong, central character would be revisited in Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990). **Take that critics!!**
- The word “zombie” is never used. The most common euphemism used to describe the living dead is “those things,” mostly by Cooper. Other characters refer to the creatures as “ghouls.”
- One of the Walter Reade Organization’s publicity stunts was a $50,000 insurance policy against anyone dying from a heart attack while watching the film.
- When Ben is nailing wooden boards to the door, small numbers can be seen on them. These were written on the backs of the boards so they could be removed and replaced in between shots, preserving continuity. Some numbers are visible because some of the boards were nailed on backwards.
- Tom Savini was originally hired by George A. Romero to do the makeup effects for this film. The two were first introduced to each other when Savini auditioned for an acting role in an earlier film that never got off the ground. Romero, remembering that Savini was also a makeup artist (he had brought his makeup portfolio to show to Romero at the audition), called Savini to the set of his horror movie. However, Savini was unable to do the effects because he was called to duty by the US Army to serve as a combat photographer in Vietnam. Savini later appeared in Dawn of the Dead (1978) and directed Night of the Living Dead (1990).
- George A. Romero has readily admitted that Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962) was a big influence in his making of this film.
- The first movie filmed in Pittsburgh.
- One of the most successful independent films ever made.
- George A. Romero smashed a butterfly on set to prepare everyone for a difficult scene, much to their shock. It was such an unpleasant moment in an otherwise pleasant shoot.
- This film is ranked at #9 on Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004) special.
- One of the first films to graphically depict violent murders on-screen.
- Night of the Living Dead premiered on October 1, 1968 at the Fulton Theater in Pittsburgh. 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. 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 with such potent content for a horror film they were entirely unprepared for.
So what are your thoughts on the film? Does it strike a chord with you at all?