In attempt to grease the gears that drive your desire for Halloween thrills and chills, and as general preparation for our special midnight Halloween broadcast of George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), the following is a rundown of relevant and possibly interesting tidbits concerning this cult classic. Low on budget but high on body count, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD arguably paved the way for a swarm of aesthetically-similar independent films.
Although Night of the Living Dead is thought by many to have launched the zombie genre, the word “zombie” is never used in the movie. Instead, the infected are referred to as “ghouls,” “those things,” and other terms by the characters.
All told, the budget for the movie was only $114,000. The film was shot in black and white not to add atmosphere, but to save money on film stock since it was more expensive to shoot in color at the time.
Actor/co-producer Karl Hardman (who played Harry Cooper, the father in the basement) also worked a number of other roles in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: makeup artist, electronic sound effects engineer, and set photographer for closing credits stills.
The character of Ben was originally written to be an angry and rude truck driver, but actor Duane Jones was a well-educated, well-spoken man, and the part was ultimately re-written with that in mind. Jones was concerned with the depiction of another “Angry Black Man” cliché, and he lobbied for the removal of the scene in which his character hits Barbara.
The music for the film was from a Capital Records Hi-Q stock music library, originally used in TEENAGERS FROM OUTERSPACE (1959). The filmmakers paid $1500 for the rights.
As a publicity stunt, the Walter Reade Organization distributed the film with a $50,000 insurance policy against anyone who died of a heart attack while viewing it.
Director George A. Romero stated that CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) was a major influence on the production of his movie. CARNIVAL OF SOULS was also a low-budget indie horror film, shot on a shoestring budget of $33,000. The crew consisted of director Herk Harvey and just five other people.
Film critic Roger Ebert chronicled his first viewing of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which was a 40-cent matinee screening of the film attended mostly by young children. He described how midway through the movie, the audience’s (namely children’s) reaction changed from being delightfully scared to unexpectedly horrified as the plot transitioned into more gruesome episodes—ghouls ripping apart and eating corpses, a daughter turning into a ghoul and stabbing her mother to death, and policemen shooting the ghouls and burning the carcasses. Ebert went on to criticize the fact that the Chicago Police Censor Board rated the movie for general audiences.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was produced before the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system went into effect.
The Library of Congress selected the movie for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1999, despite being labeled as sadistic and exploitative upon its initial release.
Nearly ten years passed between the release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and its sequel DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). For the sequel, director George A. Romero teamed with Italian producer Dario Argento, who at the time was known for his work in the giallo genre, which includes film and literature of slasher-type stories.
Following the foreign distribution of DAWN OF THE DEAD (under the title ZOMBI), many unofficial remakes and knockoffs were produced and the genre took off.
Romero planned to have all the main characters die in DAWN OF THE DEAD, as he had done in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Even with that in the script, he decided halfway through the shoot to keep some characters alive and to leave some sort of order in the world of the story. He maintains that this wasn’t a plot device to leave room for another sequel, but rather to simply keep a few characters that he liked alive.
In an interview, Romero described how director Edgar Wright arranged a screening of his film SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) for him. Romero was living on an island off the coast of Florida. A man from Universal showed up at his door chained to a print of the film in a briefcase. Romero was then escorted to the local theater with a 40-watt bulb projector, and he watched the film before it was released to the public. Immediately after viewing, he called Wright and the film’s co-writer and star Simon Pegg and told them he thought their film was “dark” but “hilarious.”
Aaron Linskens blogs and volunteers for Reel 13 / WNET. He was born on Halloween but does not consider himself to possess any insightful or revolutionary knowledge of horror, supernatural, or costume-related things.
File photo of Aaron. Just kidding. Another still from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD