Night of the Living Dead
For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on ATVN with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.
As we countdown to the Astound TV Network’s special Halloween Marathon (24 hours of specialty Halloween-based movies and shows, starting at 9am on Monday, October 31st), we focus this week on one of the all-time classic horror films!
There are quite a few classic horror films that provided the genesis to a seemingly endless supply of successful film series, sequels and spin-off ideas.
But one of the biggest “landmark” films of the genre was Night of the Living Dead.
The film’s producer/director/writer/editor George Romero graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and embarked on a career in the film industry in the early 1960s. His first job was directing and producing industrial films and commercials for television before he decided to venture into horror films.
He teamed up with his friends John Russo and Russell Streinder to form their own production company, The Latent Image, later to be called Imagine Ten, and wanted to capitalize on the flurry of scary films that remained popular during the 1960s.
Originally written as a horror-comedy under the title Monster Flick, the concept was reworked several times by Romero and Russo. Ultimately, the final concepts involved a young man who runs away from home and discovers rotting human corpses scattered across a meadow that aliens use for food. “Flesh eaters” and reanimating human corpses were also thrown into the script, with several of these last-minute ideas paving the way for later-produced sequels years later.
The film initially had trouble getting picked up by film studios, with rejections including calling the script “too cornballish.”
Undaunted, Romero took $6,000 and found ten partners to also invest the same amount to raise money to produce the film independently.
Money was still an issue when it came to shooting the actual film locations and sound stages. Several shooting sites consisted of condemned buildings scheduled for demotion, cemeteries or structures that needed significant renovations.
Chocolate syrup drizzled over bodies were used for blood and roasted ham and other donated meats were used for body parts and charred flesh. Most costumes consisted of items found in second-hand stores and others were bought on the cheap from Goodwill.
Also because of budget constraints, Romero had to use cheaper 35mm film to shoot. Ironically, critics praised the decision to use lower quality video to give the film a “grainy” feel and enhance the scary aspects of the film’s content.
Romero also caught a break casting university professor-turned-actor Duane Jones in the starring role. Jones found the writing low-brow and the unintelligent dialogue insulting and refused to read the lines as written. Instead, he rewrote much of the dialogue on his own.
Co-star Judith O’Dea also didn’t like her lines and stated in several interviews that both she and most other cast members actually AD-LIBBED most of the lines throughout the entire shooting of the film!
Another unique aspect of this movie: the film distributors originally would not send the pictures out with the ending they shot and insisted that Romero and his team re-shoot the final sequences. They stated that moviegovers would not accept the ending as-is and ordered that a “Hollywood” ending be inserted.
Romero refused and the film’s ending stands today as it was originally intended.
To say that the film proved to be a success and has withstood the test of time would be an understatement. In addition to originally grossing more than $30 million at the box office (on an original budget of $114,000), the film was deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1999.
We will look at more of Duane’s starring performance in this film and his trailblazing legacy in a future blog entry here at the “Showplace.”
In the meantime, be on the lookout for Night of the Living Dead along with other Halloween holiday favorites coming up as part of Monday’s 24-hour “Halloween Takeover” marathon on ATVN.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on the Astound TV Network, check out the weekly listings here.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.