NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Updated: Apr 14, 2022
Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent horror film written, directed, photographed and edited by George A. Romero, co-written by John Russo, and starring Duane Jones and Judith O'Dea. The story follows seven people who are trapped in a rural farmhouse in western Pennsylvania, which is under assault by an enlarging group of cannibalistic, undead ghouls.
Principal photography took place between July 1967 and January 1968, primarily on location in Evans City; aside from the Image Ten team themselves, the cast and crew consisted of their friends and relatives, local stage and amateur actors, and residents from the area. Although the film was Romero's directorial debut, he utilized many of the guerrilla filmmaking techniques he had honed in his commercial and industrial work to complete the film on a budget of approximately $100,000. USD. The US movie rating system was instituted on November 1, 1968. The film, released October 1, 1968, so is one of the last films released in the US without a rating.
Since its release, some critics and film historians have interpreted Night of the Living Dead as a subversive film that critiques 1960s American society, international Cold War politics, and domestic racism. Other prevalent themes included the flaws inherent in the media, local and federal government agencies, and the entire mechanism of civil defense politics, and domestic racism. Romero confessed that the film was designed to reflect the tensions of the time:
"It was 1968, man. Everybody had a 'message'. The anger and attitude and all that's there is just because it was the Sixties. We lived at the farmhouse, so we were always into raps about the implication and the meaning, so some of that crept in."
Originally the film was 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 adolescent 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. Russo came up with the concept that they would be the recently dead only because they could not afford to bring long-dead people out of their graves. He also came up with the idea that they would be flesh-eaters. The final draft, written mainly by Russo during three days in 1967, focused on reanimated human corpses – Romero refers to them as ghouls – that consume the flesh of the living.
Night of the Living Dead spawned a franchise that includes five official sequels released between 1978 and 2009, all of which were also directed by Romero. The film has also inspired several remakes as a result of its public domain status. An official remake, written by Romero and directed by Tom Savini, was released in 1990 and has similarly gained a small cult following. As a remake I have to say that I think Tom Savini did it proud. He made it so close to the original storyline and even the characters had been cast really well to resemble the original actors.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD MARKER
DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
February 5, 2022 saw Team H schlep to PA to do more horror movie film location hunting, and on our list we just had to visit where George A. Romero's first ever film, Night of the Living Dead, was shot. This groundbreaking movie kick started the zombie franchise into popular culture and made Romero a household name in the horror genre.
Our first stop was a little rural Pennsylvanian borough known as Evan's City to find a marker which officials had placed to commemorate Night of the Living Dead. It was erected in October, 2015 as part of the city's HalloWeekends, where Halloween events would take place throughout October, which let's face it, only seems appropriate for this unveiling.
"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". - Karl Hardman
EVANS CITY CEMETERY
DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
The cemetery featured in Night of the Living Dead is Evans City Cemetery, located off Franklin Road, which is only a short drive out of Evans City.
George A. Romero chose Evans City Cemetery for the first scene due largely to its isolated location. The crew didn't want to be interrupted by onlookers or police inquiring about their presence. The cemetery, on top of a hill in a heavily wooded area, allowed them privacy.
The entrance to the cemetery has not changed much over the years, although the sign has been replaced. Due to the amount of snow on the driveway we had to leave the car parked at the bottom and slip and slide our way through the snow on foot to the top. On our way up we encountered two fans of the film heading down towards us, how did we know they were fans? When they saw us they started walking like zombies, to which we laughed and then stopped to chat briefly.
When Barbara is fleeing the ghoul from the cemetery she crashes the car into a tree, we believe the big tree on our photo may be the tree she hit? (photo taken looking downhill).
Russell Streiner's mother owned Barbara and Johnny's car and let them use it for filming. The cemetery scene took two days to film and during a break in filming someone ran into the car, leaving a dent that was easily visible on camera. George A. Romero rewrote the scene so the car came to a stop after crashing into a tree, thus then revealing the dent.
When reaching the top of the driveway the first thing you will notice is the chapel which is briefly featured in the movie. In 2011 the chapel was due to be demolished as it had become derelict. Thankfully it was saved from the wrecking ball when Gary Streiner started a fundraiser to help fix the chapel. With the help of loyal Night of the Living Dead fans a whopping $50,000 was raised to repair the chapel and put it back to its former glory. In 2014 the work was finished, and a Living Dead Festival was organized by Gary which took place on Saturday October 11, 2014. George A. Romero was the guest of honor and it only seemed apt that George should be the one to cut the ribbon on the newly refurbished building.
Finding the gravestones as seen in the film was a little tricky due to the sheer amount of snow covering the ground and the fact that some of the trees as seen in the movie are missing. The missing trees are because after the film's production, a tornado hit the cemetery which uprooted some of them and also pulled more than 200 bodies to the surface. Now that's pretty spooky, you must admit!
Romero always got asked if the tombstone Barbara is kneeling in front of was fake or not. "Are you kidding?" says John A. Russo, "We couldn't afford fake tombstones in those days."
Obviously, as we traversed the cemetery we were quoting "They're coming to get you, Barbara." quite a lot. I mean, how could you come here and not? In fact, in any cemetery for that matter.
DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
The house used for this film was loaned to the filmmakers by the owner who planned to demolish it anyway. When the production came across the farmhouse location, George A. Romero jokingly stated "Well, we can do that for you." The production had to completely clean up the farmhouse to make it appear livable. John A. Russo notes the kitchen was the first room they cleaned, as they felt a clean place to have lunch was the most important factor to having a workable set.
A new house has since been built at the same location, with the chimney on the new house facing the same direction as the front of the old house. The surrounding fields and the driveway were used for filming various shots too. Be aware that the farm is on private land so please do not wander onto their driveway, just set that camera zoom to maximum.
KOHLER LANE & BRIDGE
DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
The Bridge is located on Ash Stop road just outside Evans City. The area still looks the same as it did in the movie, however the metal framework of the bridge has been removed. Kohler lane is also seen in the film which is right next to the bridge.
DATE(S) VISITED: SEP 4, 2020
On our way to Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum we stopped in Cumberland, MD to refuel E.T. (that’s the cars name btw) and got our Night of the Living Dead on whilst here.
Radio Announcer: "Civil defense officials in Cumberland have told newsmen that murder victims show evidence of having been partially devoured by their murderers. Consistent reports from witnesses to the effect that people who acted as if they were in a kind of trance were killing and eating their victims prompted authorities to examine the bodies of some of the victims. Medical authorities in Cumberland have concluded that in all cases, the killers are eating the flesh of the people they kill. And so this incredible story becomes more ghastly with each report. It's difficult to imagine such a thing actually happening, but these are the reports we have been receiving and passing on to you, reports which have been verified as completely as is possible in this confused situation."