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Night of the Living Dead

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Night of the Living Dead

Original 1968 theatrical 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
Music by Stock music
Cinematography George A. Romero
Editing by George A. Romero
John A. Russo
Distributed by The Walter Reade Organization
Release date(s) October 1, 1968
Running time 96 min.
Country Flag-icon-us
Language English
Budget $114,000 (estimated)
Followed by Dawn of the Dead

Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 black-and-white independent film horror film directed by George A. Romero. Early drafts of the script were titled Monster Flick, but it was known as Night of Anubis and Night of the Flesh Eaters during production. The film stars Duane Jones as Ben and Judith O'Dea as Barbra. The plot revolves around the mysterious reanimation of the dead and the efforts of Ben, Barbra and five others to survive the night while trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse.

Romero produced the film on the small budget of $114,000, but after a decade of theatrical re-releases it had grossed an estimated $12 million in the United States and $30 million internationally.

The culture of Vietnam-era America had a tremendous impact on the film. It is so thoroughly laden with critiques of late-1960s American society that one historian described the film as "subversive on many levels. The film is the first of five Dead films (completed or pending) directed by Romero. It has been remade twice, in 1990 and in 2006.

PlotEdit

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Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Bickering siblings Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra drive to a rural Pennsylvania cemetery to place a wreath on their father's grave. Johnny teases his sister, who is afraid of cemeteries, taunting, "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" A pale-faced man, (S. William Hinzman), lumbers toward the pair. The man suddenly grabs Barbra and Johnny rushes to save her. While fighting the man, Johnny falls and smashes his head on a gravestone. Barbra flees in Johnny's car, driving it into a tree. She runs into a nearby farmhouse to hide and soon discovers that others like the man are outside.

File:Judith O'Dea clutching grave in Night of the Living Dead bw.jpg
In the abandoned house, Barbra is joined by Ben, who arrives in a pickup truck and attacks the mysterious figures with a tire iron. Ben boards up the doors and windows from the inside with dismantled furniture and scraps of wood as Barbra becomes hysterical. Ben finds a rifle and a radio as Barbra lies incapacitated on a couch in the living room. The two are unaware that Harry and Helen Cooper (Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman), their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), and teenage couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) have been hiding in the cellar. One of the attackers bit Karen earlier and she has fallen ill. The group reluctantly cooperates to reinforce the house, but constant arguing between Ben and Harry hamper their efforts.

Radio reports explain that an epidemic of mass murder is sweeping across the eastern seaboard of the United States. Later, Ben discovers a television set upstairs and the emergency broadcaster reveals that the murderers are consuming their victims' flesh. A subsequent broadcast reports that the murders are being perpetrated by the recently deceased who have returned to life. Experts—scientists and military generals—are not sure of the cause of the reanimation, but one scientist is certain that it is the result of radiation emanating from a Venus 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 "living dead" and that posses of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order.

File:Zombies NightoftheLivingDead.jpg
Ben devises a plan to escape using his truck but it needs refueling. He exits the house armed with the rifle and a torch. Tom and Judy offer assistance, but when they arrive at a fuel pump near the house Ben accidentally sets the gasoline ablaze with his torch. The truck explodes with Tom and Judy inside. Ben runs back to the house to find that Harry locked him out. He kicks the door open and punches Harry repeatedly. Some of the living dead begin eating Tom and Judy's charred remains, the others try to break through the doors and windows of the house. Ben manages to hold them back, but drops his rifle. Harry quickly seizes the fallen rifle and turns it on Ben. Ben wrests the rifle away from Harry and shoots him. Harry stumbles into the cellar and dies.

Shortly thereafter, Helen discovers that her daughter has been transformed into one of the living dead and is consuming her father's corpse. Karen stabs her mother with a cement trowel, killing her, before going upstairs. Meanwhile, the undead finally break into the house. Barbra sees her brother Johnny in the mass. The resultant shock causes her to lower her defenses and she is carried away into the crowd. Ben rushes into the cellar and shoots the reanimated Harry and Helen Cooper. In the morning, a posse approaches the house and proceeds to kill the remaining zombies. Hearing the commotion, Ben ambles up the cellar stairs into the living room and is shot in the head by a posse member who mistakes him for a zombie. His body is carried from the house and burned with zombie corpses.

All spoilers have been stated and have ended here.

ProductionEdit

While attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, George A. 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."[1] 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.[1] Convinced by Romero, a production company called Image Ten was formed which included Romero, Russo, Streiner, Hardman and Eastman. Image Ten raised approximately $114,000 for the budget.[1][2]

File:Boscosyrup.jpg

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."[1] Scenes were filmed near Evans City, Pennsylvania, thirty miles north of Pittsburgh in rural Butler County; the opening sequence was shot at the Evans City Cemetery.[3][4]

Special effects were fairly simple and likewise limited by the budget. The blood, for example, was Bosco Chocolate Syrup drizzled over cast members' bodies.[5] Costumes consisted of second-hand clothing, and mortician's wax served as zombie makeup. Marilyn Eastman supervised the special effects, wardrobe and makeup.[1]

Filming took place between June and December 1967 under the working title Night of Anubis and later Night of the Flesh Eaters.[6][7] 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 "guerilla-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." [8]

Members of Image Ten were personally involved in filming and post-production, participating in loading camera magazines, gaffing, constructing props, recording sounds and editing.[2] 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."[1]

Upon the 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.[9] 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."[10] 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 title similar to the former.[6]

WritingEdit

Co-written as a horror comedy by John Russo and George A. Romero under the title Monster Flick, 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 over three days in 1967, focused on reanimated human corpses—Romero refers to them as ghouls—that feast on the flesh of the living.[11] 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.[12]

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 in the 1970s. The deceased in I Am Legend return to life and prey on the uninfected.[2][13][14] Film adaptations of Matheson's novel appeared in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth and in 1971 as The Omega Man. Matheson was not impressed by Romero's interpretation, telling an interviewer, "It was ... kind of cornball."[15]

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." The cellar scenes featuring dialogue between Helen and Harry Cooper were also modified by Marilyn Eastman.[1]

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."[16] 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.[16]

CastingEdit

The limited budget curtailed the ability of Image Ten to hire well-known actors. The cast consisted of Pittsburgh stage actors, members of the Image Ten production crew, and acquaintances of Romero. Involvement in the film propelled many cast members into the motion picture industry.

File:Duane Jones as Ben in Night of the Living Dead bw.jpg

The lead role of Ben went to unknown African American stage actor Duane Jones. His performance depicted Ben as a "comparatively calm and resourceful Negro," according to one reviewer at the time.[17] Casting Jones was potentially controversial. In the mid-twentieth century it was unusual for a black man to play the hero in a film that starred white actors, and commentators saw Romero's choice of Jones as significant. Romero, on the other hand, said that Jones "simply gave the best audition."[18] 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.[19] Despite his other film roles, Jones worried that people only recognized him as Ben.[20]

Image Ten cast 23-year-old commercial and stage actor Judith O'Dea as the waifish Barbra. Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman contacted O'Dea, who had once worked for them in Pittsburgh, to audition for the part. O'Dea was in Hollywood searching for a break-out role in motion pictures. 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's 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] Barbara [sic] from Night of the Living Dead. All of a sudden [I'm] not so ho-hum anymore!"[16] Following Night of the Living Dead, O'Dea appeared in the television film The Pirate (1978) and feature films Claustrophobia (2003), October Moon (2005) and The Ocean (2006).[21]

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),[22] but Judith Ridley co-starred in Romero's There's Always Vanilla (1971).[23] The cemetery zombie who kills Johnny in the first scene was played by S. William Hinzman, 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).[24]

Image Ten 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 eleven-year-old daughter, Kyra Schon, played the role of Karen Cooper. Image Ten's production manager, George Kosana, played Sheriff McClelland.[25]

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."

DirectingEdit

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.; last accessed June 24, 2006.</ref> 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).

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.

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."

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 served to heighten 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."

ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman interview, quoted at Homepage of the Dead; last accessed June 24 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 George A. Romero, Preface to John Russo, The Complete Night of the Living Dead Filmbook (Pittsburgh: Imagine, Inc., 1985), pp. 6–7, ISBN 0-911137-03-3 .
  3. Neil Fawcett, "Evans Cemetery: Then and Now" at Homepage of the Dead; last accessed June 24 2006.
  4. Alan Jones, however, mistakenly cites the Allegheny Cemetery on Butler Street in Pittsburgh as the filming location. Alan Jones, The Rough Guide to Horror Movies (New York: Rough Guides, 2005), p. 118, ISBN 1-84353-521-1 .
  5. "The Filming" of Night of the Living Dead at Homepage of the Dead; last accessed June 24 2006.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Frightful Facts" at House of Horrors; last accessed June 24 2006.
  7. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named IMDbbusiness
  8. Joseph Maddrey, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004), p. 51, ISBN 0-7864-1860-5 .
  9. Jason Paul Collum, Assault of the Killer B's: Interviews with 20 Cult Film Actresses (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004), p. 4, ISBN 0-7864-1818-4 .
  10. George A. Romero interview, quoted at "George A. Romero Bio", Special Features, Dawn of the Dead, Special Divimax Edition (DVD, Anchor Bay, 2004), ASIN B0001611DI.
  11. John A. Russo, The Complete Night of the Living Dead Filmbook (Pittsburgh: Imagine, Inc., 1985), ISBN 0-911137-03-3 , quoted in "Treatment/Original Script," Bonus Materials, Night of the Living Dead, Millennium Edition (DVD, Elite Entertainment, 2002), ASIN B00005Y6Y2.
  12. George A. Romero interview, Forbidden Weekend, February 2 1997, available here; last accessed June 24, 2006.
  13. Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (1954; New York: Orb Books, 1995), ISBN 0-312-86504-X .
  14. Marco Lanzagorta, review of Night of the Living Dead, Millennium Edition DVD, at Pop Matters; last accessed June 24 2006.
  15. Richard Matheson interview, in Tom Weaver, Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: The Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999), p. 307, ISBN 0-7864-0755-7 .
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Judith O'Dea interview, in Collum, Assault of the Killer B's, p. 4.
  17. Kevin Thomas, review of Night of the Living Dead, Los Angeles Times, January 10, 1969, reprinted in The A-List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films, ed. Jay Carr (Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2002), p. 199, ISBN 0-306-81096-4 .
  18. George A. Romero, quoted in Jones, Rough Guide to Horror Movies, p. 118.
  19. Duane Jones at the Internet Movie Database; last accessed June 24 2006.
  20. Duane Jones interview, Bonus Materials, Night of the Living Dead, Millennium Edition (DVD, Elite Entertainment, 2002).
  21. Judith O'Dea at the Internet Movie Database; last accessed June 24 2006.
  22. Keith Wayne at the Internet Movie Database; last accessed June 24 2006.
  23. Judith Ridley at the Internet Movie Database; last accessed June 24, 2006.
  24. S. William Hinzman at the Internet Movie Database; last accessed June 24 2006.
  25. Full Cast and Crew for Night of the Living Dead at the Internet Movie Database; last accessed June 24 2006.

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