Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever
Trade Paper, 316 pages, $16.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
“We are in a typical rural cemetery, conceivably adjacent to a small church … although a church is felt rather than confirmed. The stones range from small identifying slates to monuments of careful design … an occasional Franciscan Crucifix, or a carved image of a defending angel. Over a hundred years of death indicated in stones syllabic with their year and the status of the families they represent.” Poetic? Yes. Atmospheric? Definitely. Foreboding? Not quite yet, but soon. The passage comes from John Russo’s screenplay of Night of the Living Dead, the iconic film in which lyrical and creepy script descriptions translated into shocking and unforgettable visuals. The screenplay is only one example of the cornucopia of carnage delights in Joe Kane’s Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever. Included in this insightful, information-packed book are such topics as: Shooting the Dead (a peek at the filming process) and Casting a Cult Classic. The volume is filled with details and anecdotes; reviews of George Romero’s works; dissections of rip-offs and homages. It is a Halloween treat for movie mavens and fervent fans of horror.
The book deals predominantly with Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its sequels and remakes; authorized and unauthorized. It also, however, exhaustively examines zombie films in general: Looking at both the historical precursors of Romero’s ground breaking movie, and its subsequent cinematic impact on the subgenre. In sections labeled Zombie Movie Milestones, the author interviews Peter Jackson (Dead Alive), documentary film maker Roy Frumkes (Document of the Dead), and Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) about the influence of Romero’s undead oeuvre. Jackson provides an amusing riposte to Kane’s question, “How would you like audiences to regard Dead Alive?” The response: “Dawn of the Dead I think of as the zombies in the shopping mall. And Re-Animator is the zombies in the medical laboratory. And Evil Dead is obviously the zombies in the cabin. I hope people think of Dead Alive as the one with the guy with the zombie mother in the 1950s.” A reply of Boyle’s prompts a “Hello, remember Janet Leigh in Psycho?” reaction: “Because as soon as you put a star in a film, there’s kind of an agenda where you know they’re gonna survive basically and they’re gonna be the story.” Included in Zombie Movie Milestones is an excellent look back at Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, with some pithy quotes from actor Jeffrey Combs.
Literary allusions/mash-ups and sociology mix with zombies like gin and tonic; at least for pop culture analysts. Kane suggests that in current fiction “We’re still waiting for Of Mice and Men-Eating Zombies wherein George is forced to shoot Lenny in the head after the latter is bitten by rabid rabbits and comes back as a … zombie! To say nothing of The Old Man and the Z.” He also espouses the theory that “Even more than casual Fridays, zombies may be our contemporary corporate-driven consumerist culture’s biggest safety valve: You can pretend to be one and stand up for your zombie rights, or you can hunt them down and kill them sans a shred of conscience.”
Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever contains the right combination of reverence and humor. Author Kane marries wit with research and looks at the cultural ramifications of an innovative genre classic. As stated in the Wes Craven’s foreword, “It was something hybrid that mixed terror and laughter and social comment into one heady, totally unpredictable witches’ brew of entertainment unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.” Joe Kane takes that thesis statement and runs with it full tilt. He captures the awe; the thrill; the freshness; of a film that ultimately transformed horror cinema.