‘They won’t stay dead!’
Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent zombie horror film directed by George A. Romero from a screenplay co-written with John Russo. It stars Duane Jones (Ganja & Hess), Judith O’Dea and Karl Hardman.
Filming took place between June and December 1967 under the working title Night of Anubis and later Night of the Flesh Eaters. The film premiered on October 1, 1968, having been completed on a budget of just $114,000. Director Romero and co-writer John Russo acknowledged that Richard Matheson’s 1954 novella I Am Legend was an inspiration for their script.
After decades of cinematic re-releases, the film was a massive financial success, grossing $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally.
Night of the Living Dead was heavily criticised during its release because of its explicit content, but eventually received critical acclaim and was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
In November 2016, the Museum of Modern Art and The Film Institute completed a 4K restoration of the film. In an interview with The Verge, film producer Russ Streiner remarked:
“The intention of the restoration was not to vacuum up all the dust particles. More than the images themselves, we wanted to restore what the images were trying to tell. It shouldn’t be clean and pristine. It should look how it felt 48 years ago, and the professionals did exactly that.”
“What we have now, for good or for bad, is exactly what I shot,” Romero added. “This is closer than anything we’ve seen to the definitive version of the film. It’s in the right format, 1.33:1, and that’s never been seen before either.”
On February 19, 2018, The Criterion Collection released the restored 4K version on Blu-ray.
- New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, co-screenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner
- New restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary R. Streiner, and presented uncompressed
- Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film
- New program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez
- Never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel
- New program featuring Russo about the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead filmmakers got their start
- Two audio commentaries from 1994, featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and more
- Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley
- New programs about the editing, the score, and directing ghouls
- New interviews with Gary R. Streiner and Russel W. Streiner
- Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots
- An essay by critic Stuart Klawans
Cast and characters:
- Duane Jones as Ben: He was an unknown stage actor. Casting Jones as the hero was potentially controversial, in 1968. It was not typical for a black man to be the hero of a U.S. film when the rest of the cast was composed of white actors at the time, but Romero said that Jones “simply gave the best audition”. He was in a few other films after Night of the Living Dead. He continued as a theater actor and director until his death in 1988.
- Judith O’Dea as Barbra Blair: Judith O’Dea, a 23-year-old commercial and stage actress. Starring in the film was a positive experience for her, she remarked in an interview. She admitted that horror movies terrified her, particularly House of Wax (1953).
- Karl Hardman as Harry Cooper
- Marilyn Eastman as Helen Cooper: Eastman also played a female undead eating an insect.
- Keith Wayne as Tom
- Judith Ridley as Judy
- Kyra Schon as Karen Cooper
- Charles Craig as Newscaster / Undead
- Bill Hinzman as Cemetery Living Dead: The cemetery living dead who kills Johnny in the first scene. Hinzman also appeared in new scenes that were filmed for the 30th-anniversary edition of the film.
- George Kosana as Sheriff McClelland
- Russell Streiner as Johnny Blair
- Bill Cardille, a.k.a., “Chilly Billy Cardilly.” Cardille was well-known locally as a Pittsburgh TV man who had his own horror movie show, Chiller Theatre
“I supposed the idea was to make a fast buck before movies like this are off-limits to children. Maybe that’s why Night of the Living Dead was scheduled for the lucrative holiday season when the kids are on vacation. Maybe that’s it, but I don’t know how I could explain it to the kids who left the theater with tears in their eyes.” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Reader, 1969
“Romero’s genius lies in the way he builds up tension throughout the film – as the zombies grow in number, seemingly unstoppable – until the sense of terror becomes all-consuming, intensified by the speed with which his characters collapse under the stress of their new-found situation.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“Night of the Living Dead generates seat-clutching tension and a surprising amount of intentional humour by playing around with the audience’s idea of what to expect from a cheap, ordinary horror movie.” Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies
” …an influential, milestone ‘splatter’ film. The ultra-low budget film was shot in grainy 35 mm black-and-white with natural lighting and hand-held cameras to accentuate the fear facing the besieged farmhouse occupants. It featured an unknown cast – and reinvented the genre with its crude “drawbacks” which actually improved the film since they lent a documentary feel and reality that made the film all the more horrific.” Tim Dirks, AMC Filmsite