By Marty Mulrooney
Night Of The Living Dead (Behind The Scenes Of The Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever) by Joe Kane offers fresh insight into the classic 1968 George A. Romero zombie horror film of the same name. Shot on a shoe-string budget of $114,000, the film grossed over $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally and remains a hit with audiences even today. Joe Kane – recognised as ‘the best movie critic in America’ by Entertainment Weekly – not only goes behind the scenes of this classic horror film, but also details the five-decade legacy that it has created. The book also includes the original Night Of The Living Dead screenplay by John Russo.
“We made it a good film. The fans made it a classic.”
– Night Of The Living Dead producer Russell Steiner
The book is well laid out, starting with a comprehensive history of earlier films that influenced Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, from 1932’s White Zombie to 1966’s Plague Of The Zombies. It then continues to thoroughly explore the formation of Romero’s production company ‘The Latent Image’, before detailing the process that led to the realisation of their debut feature film Night Of The Living Dead.
Beyond this now classic horror film, Kane also examines the various sequels, spoofs, remakes, colourisations and outright rip-offs that popped up over the subsequent years following its release, whilst simultaneously keeping a close eye on each of the major player’s separate careers, especially that of zombie-maestro George A. Romero.
“We had the zest and determination to work together as a group to pull our ideas off. We could not have anticipated that the Monster Flick would eventually be called a ‘classic’. But we fully expected, every step of the way, that we would make a very good motion picture of its type, better than most other pictures in the genre. We were that cocky.”
– Night Of The Living Dead screenwriter John Russo
By far the most fascinating chapters of the book are the ones that deal with the period of time during which Night Of The Living Dead was conceived, scripted, cast, and filmed. Offering much more than just light trivia – although there are many insightful titbits scattered throughout – these chapters serve to pull the reader directly back to a time when something truly special was happening, namely the inception of the modern zombie film. As a case study for independent guerrilla filmmaking, this is perhaps one of the most fascinating examples available in print. Chocolate sauce substituting for blood, the local population volunteering as zombies and a condemned Pennsylvanian farmhouse are all merely pieces of a much larger puzzle.
Sadly, the book does loose some steam during its later passages, especially during the final third of the main chapters. Although comprehensive with its coverage of the overall story from 1966 to the present day, many of Romero’s later non-zombie flicks over the years were admittedly pretty dire. Reading about them certainly proves interesting to a degree, but overall, whenever the book deviates from the pillar-stone topics of Night Of The Living Dead and its official follow-ups, it seems to fall a little flat and can even become a struggle to read.
“I cut a groove out of the machete in the shape of the guy’s head and we ran blood tubing into his hair. We shot that in reverse – I placed the machete on his head and actually pulled it off. When you see the scene played forward, it looks like it’s going into his head, and you can’t see the groove in the blade because it happens so fast.”
– Special effects artist Tom Savini recalls a scene from Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Thankfully, the final chapters do gain momentum again and are helped along in no small part by some wonderful guest interviews, including directors Peter Jackson (Dead Alive) and Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) who each discuss how Romero has influenced their own contributions to the genre.
Finishing the entire reading experience on a high, the original Night Of The Living Dead script by John Russo is included at the back of the book. Different in many ways from the final film that was released, the character of Ben is perhaps the most radical change from page to screen. It is actually revealed during Chapter 4: Casting a Cult Classic that black actor Duane Jones brought an ‘understated quality’ to the role. Rather than reading it as originally written – the voice of a generic, lower class, uneducated man – Jones reinterpreted the character and in the process created an unforgettable protagonist.
“We have met the zombies and they are us.”
– Director George A. Romero
Overall, Night Of The Living Dead (Behind The Scenes Of The Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever) by Joe Kane offers some superb insight into the filmmaking process for both horror fans and George A. Romero buffs alike. It does have some chapters that drag – the title is slightly misleading, with the book’s scope far more extensive than initially hinted at – yet overall, this remains a fascinating book that will undoubtedly resonate with readers who are both familiar with and appreciative of Romero’s directorial efforts over the years.
8 OUT OF 10