Introduction to the George Romero Classic
This page deals with the original Night of the Living Dead, the sequels, the remake, and even its references. You’ve find that positions on this films are a bit different that what most people think. Regardless, they are all classics of Rsychotroic film. As I write this, it has been less than a year since George Romero has been dead for less than a year. This is bad period for that because of a lot of icons of psychotronic film (eg, Richard Matheson) are dying. The big exception has been Roger Corman, who I’ve come to think less of as time as come on. He helped a lot of people early on, but that became less and less the case as moved on.
To me, Night of the Living Dead starts if the Richard Matheson novel, I am Legend. (I’ll write a page about that and it’s different versions.) Decades ago, Romero used to admit his debt to the first filmed version of it The Last Name on Earth (1964). But then, he started saying that he had never seen the film after his film was released. Maybe. But the movies are very similar. I find it almost impossible that he didn’t see it and that he didn’t get inspiration from it.
It’s a fine film and he can always find it on YouTube. I think it’s beautifully shot:
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
For whatever reason, Night of the Living Dead was made and released in 1968. Even though it has a far greater reputasion, it isn’t nearly as well made except the script (which is better) and the acting (which is certainly as good). Because of a mistake, the film did not have a copyright notice printed on it. In those days, this was necessary. As a result, George Romero, John Russo, and the rest of the bunch that created the masterpiece made very little money from the film.
Here is the copy from Archive.org:
Dawn of the Dead
It is very sad indeed. If Disney managed to lose all of its profits from one of his yearly hits, the company would still make a profit that year. It wouldn’t really change the future of the company. But it was four years later before we directed his next film, 3 years before he directed his next film, There’s Always Vanilla, and a full decadee before he was able to direct sequel, Dawn of the Dead.
Thankfully, even though he made the film for less than two million dollars, he managed to make $55 million dollars and that’s just from theaters. It’s probably twice that with tape rentals and sales.
Day of the Dead
Romero will be remembered as a zombie filmmaker, that’s certainly not how he saw himself. He was interested in a lot of different things. Certainly, after the remarkable success of Dawn of the Dead, he could have short Day of Dead, but he waited 7 years. Again, he shot the film for just $3.5 million and made $34 million from box-office receipts alone.
Night of the Living Dead (1990)
No one thought it was a good idea to remake Night of the living Dead. Imagine if someone said they were going to remake Cirizen Kane? But there was a reason for it. First, because of the copyright mess-up, the people who had made the original version made no real money from it. And this was a remake by the same people.
Ad to this that the original film really did have problems. It was worth making.
But Joe Bob Briggs said what everyone was thinking:
Me of little faith.
Night of the Living Dead — regarded by the drive-in-going public of the world as the greatest movie ever made–was rewritten two years ago, and a remake was announced. Not only did it have the blessing of George Romero, but George Romero was gonna WRITE and PRODUCE the remake.
Excuse me, but this would be like Mark Twain waking up one morning and saying “You know that Huck Finn thing I did? I don’t like it anymore. I’m doing it AGAIN.”
And so everbody went “George! No! Please! You’re senile! Don’t try it!”
But he did it. He turned over the direction to Tom Savini, his special-effects makeup guy, the man who’s made a whole career out of building slimy pus-filled ghoul faces.
We kept trying to talk him out of it. “George, don’t do it! We LOVE the black-and-white! It won’t work in color!”
But he kept on.
Menahem Golan, the Israeli king of the ninja flick, announced he was producing the remake.
“No! Menahem! Please! This will be a bigger turkey than ‘Treasure of the Four Crowns’!”
And Menahem said, “What is ‘Treasure of the Four Crowns’?”
And we yelled back, “‘Treasure of the Four Crowns’ is a 3-D Indiana Jones ripoff full of Spanish extras that you made in 1982!”
And Menahem said, “I made that?”
And then they got to the point of no return: they started casting the lead roles–in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh, the city where it all started. 1967. George Romero was an unknown director of TV commercials. One day he wrote a script called “Night of the Flesh Eaters.” He hired some amateur actors. He conned a crew into working for him. He got investors. Seven months later, the modern horror film was born. (The distributor retitled it “Night of the Living Dead.”)
One night, for no reason, the zombies rise up out of the earth and start devouring the United States. Seven people are holed up in a Pennsylvania farmhouse, trying to decide which is worse–fighting the flesh-eating zombies or fighting each other.
And zombies have never been the same since.
The “Zombie Stomp,” the herky-jerky movement of Romero’s drunken, stumbling zombies, has been adopted by zombies in every movie since then. Brain-eating first became a staple of the American zombie diet in this flick. And it was the first movie where the white guy wasn’t the hero. Women did the clear thinking. The black guy did the fighting and protecting. And the white males just got in the way.
In other words, it was also the first DEMOCRATIC zombie movie. In the fifties, all the heroes were Republicans, fighting against Russian-type space aliens that were trying to take over our minds, and the women all stood by their men. In George Romero’s movies, the women have to knock the men out of the way with a rifle butt to get a good crack at the mostly white, mostly male zombies. (Actually, the zombies are pale yellow in the remake, but I don’t think George is making an Asian statement yet.)
In 1968 George had a hard time getting anybody to release Night of the Living Dead, but by 1970 it was already considered the greatest horror film in history. Romero has made two sequels, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, and one of the original producers has done an excellent comedy version, Return of the Living Dead. The original movie has probably been seen by more people, worldwide, than any other horror flick except Psycho.
And now they’ve done it again.
They’ve not only done it again. They’ve done it better.
This time, with professional actors, with color, with special effects, with zombies that out-zombie the original zombies, they’ve told the exact same story, with about five minutes of changes in the plot, JUST ENOUGH to give it a great surprise at the end, and even though you’ve seen it before, and even though you know what the zombies are gonna do, and even though you know what each of the people inside the house are gonna do, it still scares the bejabbers out of you and satisfies the first rule of drive-in moviemaking: anybody can die at any moment.
I’m humiliated that I was such a doubter.
I apologize to Mr Savini and Mr Romero.
As he should be. It’s a great film!
The Last 3 Dead Films
As I write this, I have not seen the last three “dead” films. But I will, and I’ll tell you all about it. There are:
- Land of the Dead
- Diary of the Dead
- Survival of the Dead
All then seem to have made money except for the last one. And with the video market, it’s very hard to tell. As I said, I haven’t seen any of these films. I’m looking forward to whiching all three of the early ones and the three later ones. I’m not especially looking forward to the remark of Night of the Living Dead, because I watch it quite a lot. I watched earlier today. It’s such a great film. if you haven’t seen any of these films, this is the one you should watch.
Check back here often, because there will be a lot fo read. We’re already over 2,1000 words, and I hven’t even been getting ready!
Night of the Living Dead 1968 vs 1990
Back in 1997, I found myself in a motel room in New Jersey. I was incredibly sick with nothing to pass the time but a television that had Showtime on it. Or maybe it was some other pay station. Anyway, the only thing I remember watching on it was Night of the Living Dead. It wasn’t the original, however. It was the 1990 remake that was directed by Tom Savini. Most people already know that I admire the film. And it bothers me that I have virtually no luck getting anyone to watch it with me.
I’m not quite sure why it is that people are resistant to the remake. But it seems to be one of two things. Some people so love the original that they are offended that the film was remade — even if it was done so by the same people. And other people were so scarred by the original that they really don’t want to relive the experience. For all its simplicity, the original Night of the Living Dead was really effective. It’s still a frightening film today.
The two versions of the film allow us to consider what it is that makes a film great. And people get very confused about that. Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane are both great films. But that doesn’t mean that they are great to watch today as entertainment. Even if you take all the racism out of of Birth, it’s still a two hour long silent film that doesn’t include a century’s worth of advances in film syntax and acting. Kane holds up far better, but it still isn’t a whole lot of fun. Most of Welles’ films would be a better choice, but if you want that kind of film, I’d recommend The Trial or Touch of Evil.
Why the Original Is Great
The original Night of the Living Dead is great because people hadn’t seen anything like that before. There were some. The Last Man on Earth has some of the same elements. But what makes the film really work is not just that there are zombies trying to kill everyone, but that everything is not well in the house. In particular, Ben and Harry want to kill each other. It adds tremendously to the suspense. The film works — especially compared to other films of that time.
Now, of course, every zombie movie does this and more. But it is Night of the Living Dead’s place in cinema history that makes it great. It wouldn’t be great if it were made today. It would no longer be cutting edge. What’s more, it’s problems would stand out more as we aren’t as terrified.
You Should See Night of the Living Dead 1990
The remake of Night of the Living Dead is not a great film in the way that the original is. But it is a far more enjoyable one. The character of Barbra has been updated and doesn’t spend the whole film screaming. True, she does come a bit too close to Ripley at times. But overall, she’s a very believable character and a compelling hero. The film also fixes what always struck me as a cheap ending — tacked on politics of the most shallow nature. Instead, we get, “They’re us. We’re them and they’re us.” And that, combined with, “There’s another one for the fire,” provides a profound and chilling message — should you want one.
I highly recommend that you watch the film if you get a chance. I just bought it for six dollars. And it was as good as it was when I first watched it almost 20 years ago.