Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 black-and-white independent horror film directed by George A. Romero. Early drafts of the script were titled Monster Flick, but it was known as Night of Anubis and Night of the Flesh Eaters during production. The film stars Duane Jones as Ben and Judith O'Dea as Barbra. The plot revolves around the mysterious Corporeal reanimation of the dead and the efforts of Ben, Barbra and five others to survive the night while trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse.

Romero produced the film on the small budget of $114,000, but after a decade of theatrical re-releases it had grossed an estimated $12 million in the United States and $30 million internationally.[1][2] Night of the Living Dead was strongly criticized at the time of its release for its graphic content, but three decades later the Library of Congress entered it into the United States National Film Registry with other films deemed "historically, culturally or aesthetically important."[3]

The culture of Vietnam-era America had a tremendous impact on the film. It is so thoroughly laden with critiques of late-1960s American society that one historian described the film as "subversive on many levels."[4] While not the first zombie film made, Night of the Living Dead influenced countless films and is perhaps the defining influence on the modern pop-culture zombie archetype.[5] The film is the first of five Dead films (completed or pending) directed by Romero. It has been remade twice, in 1990 and in 2006.


The story begins as siblings Barbra (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) drive to rural Pennsylvania to visit their father's grave. Johnny teasingly frightens his sister, by repeating the words, "They're coming to get you, Barbra!"; whereupon they are attacked by a strange man (Bill Hinzman). Johnny tries to rescue his sister, but is then presumably killed when the man shoves him head-first onto a tombstone. Barbra flees, with the killer in pursuit; eventually she reaches an empty farmhouse where she discovers a half-eaten female corpse, following which she encounters a huge army of undead. Running out of the house, she notices several figures akin to her pursuer; whereupon a man named Ben (Duane Jones) arrives in a pickup truck, drags Barbra back into the house, and barricades the doors and windows. Barbra insists that they must rescue Johnny; she hysterically slaps Ben, he punches her even harder in the face and she collapses.

Meanwhile, hiding in the cellar are an angry married couple, Harry (Karl Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman), their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), who sought refuge at the farmhouse after a group of attackers turned over their car; and teenage couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley). Ben activates a radio while Barbra awakens. Harry asks everyone to hide in the cellar, but Ben deems it a "deathtrap" as there is no escape if the attackers break in, and remains upstairs. Tom agrees with Ben and asks Judy to come upstairs. Harry returns to the cellar to Helen and Karen, who has fallen seriously ill after being bitten on the arm by one of the mysterious attackers. Radio reports explain that a state of mass murder is sweeping across the East Coast of the United States. When Ben finds a television, the emergency broadcaster reports that the recently deceased have become reanimated and are consuming the flesh of living people. Experts, scientists, and the United States military do not know the cause, though one scientist believes the cause to be radioactive contamination from a space probe returning from Venus that exploded in the Earth's atmosphere.

When news reports reveal local rescue centers offering safe refuge, Ben plans to reach the nearest of these and obtain medical care for Karen. Ben and Tom then go to refuel Ben's truck while Harry hurls Molotov cocktails from an upper window to keep the living dead at bay. Fearing for Tom's safety, Judy runs out of the house and follows him. At the pump, Tom accidentally spills fuel, setting the truck ablaze. Tom and Judy attempt to get the truck away from the pump to avoid further damage; but it explodes, killing them both. Ben returns to the house with the undead after him to find Harry retreating to the cellar door, leaving Ben outside to contend with the living dead. Angered by Harry's heartlessness, Ben kicks the door down and attacks him. Meanwhile, the undead approach the truck to feed on Tom's and Judy's carcasses. In the house, a report on the television reveals that, aside from lighting dead bodies on fire, a gunshot or heavy blow to the head will stop any living dead and that posses of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order. Moments later, the living dead attempt to break into the house. While trying to stop them, Harry grabs Ben's rifle and threatens to shoot him, but Ben takes back the gun and shoots Harry, who stumbles into the cellar to find that his daughter Karen has died of the infection on her arm. The undead begin to pull Helen and Barbra through the windows, but Helen frees herself and goes down to the cellar to find a reanimated Karen consuming Harry's flesh. Karen starts to walk slowly towards her and kills her by stabbing her repeatedly with a masonry trowel. Barbra, distracted upon seeing a reanimated Johnny among the living dead, is carried away by the horde and is never seen again. Karen attacks Ben, but he escapes and seals himself in the cellar, which ironically was the plan he was against, and shoots the reanimated Harry and Helen. The next morning, Ben awakens as a posse arrives; but is killed when a member of the posse, mistaking him for a living dead, shoots him between the eyes. Oblivious, the posse member declares, "That's another one for the fire." Ben's body is then placed onto a burning pyre along with other dead bodies


While attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, George A. Romero embarked upon his career in the film industry. In the 1960s, he directed and produced television commercials and industrial films for The Latent Image, a company he co-founded with friends John Russo and Russell Streiner. During this period, the trio grew bored making commercials and wanted to film a horror movie. According to Romero, they wanted to capitalize on the film industry's "thirst for the bizarre."[6] He and Streiner contacted Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman, president and vice president respectively of a Pittsburgh-based industrial film firm called Hardman Associates, Inc., and pitched their idea for a then-untitled horror film.[6] Convinced by Romero, a production company called Image Ten was formed which included Romero, Russo, Streiner, Hardman and Eastman. Image Ten raised approximately $114,000 for the budget.[7][6]


Marilyn Eastman applying Bosco Chocolate Syrup to Karl Hardman for a bloody special effect.

The small budget dictated much of the production process. According to Hardman, "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."[6] Scenes were filmed near Evans City, Pennsylvania, thirty miles north of Pittsburgh in rural Butler County; the opening sequence was shot at the Evans City Cemetery.[8][9]

Special effects were fairly simple and likewise limited by the budget. The blood, for example, was Bosco Chocolate Syrup drizzled over cast members' bodies.[10] Costumes consisted of second-hand clothing, and mortician's wax served as zombie makeup. Marilyn Eastman supervised the special effects, wardrobe and makeup.[6]

Filming took place between June and December of 1967 under the working title Night of Anubis and later Night of the Flesh Eaters.[11][2] The small budget led Romero to shoot on 35 mm black-and-white film. The completed film ultimately benefited from the decision, as film historian Joseph Maddrey describes the black-and-white filming as "guerilla-style", resembling "the unflinching authority of a wartime newsreel." Maddrey adds, it "seem[s] as much like a documentary on the loss of social stability as an exploitation film." [12]

Members of Image Ten were personally involved in filming and post-production, participating in loading camera magazines, gaffing, constructing props, recording sounds and editing.[7] Production stills were shot and printed by Karl Hardman, who stated in an interview that a "number of cast members formed a production line in the darkroom for developing, washing and drying of the prints as I made the exposures. As I recall, I shot over 1,250 pictures during the production."[6]

Upon the completion of post-production, Image Ten found it difficult to secure a distributor willing to show the film with the gruesome scenes intact. Columbia and American International Pictures declined after requests to soften it and re-shoot the final scene were rejected by producers.[13] Romero admitted that "none of us wanted to do that. We couldn't imagine a happy ending. . . . Everyone want[ed] a Hollywood ending, but we stuck to our guns."[14] The Manhattan-based Walter Reade Organization agreed to show the film uncensored, but changed the title from Night of the Flesh Eaters to Night of the Living Dead because a film had already been produced under a title similar to the former.[11]


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 teenage 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. The final draft, written mainly by Romero over three days in 1967, focused on reanimated human corpses—Romero refers to them as ghouls—that feast on the flesh of the dead.[15] In a 1997 interview with the BBC's Forbidden Weekend, Romero explained that the script developed into a three-part short story. Part one became Night of the Living Dead. Sequels Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) were adapted from the two remaining parts.[16] Romero drew inspiration from Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954), a horror / science fiction novel about a plague that ravages a futuristic Los Angeles in the 1970s. The deceased in I Am Legend return to life and prey on the uninfected.[7][17][18] Film adaptations of Matheson's novel appeared in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth and in 1971 as The Omega Man. Matheson was not impressed by Romero's interpretation, telling an interviewer, "It was ... kind of cornball."[19]

Russo and Romero revised the screenplay while filming. Karl Hardman attributed the edits to lead actor Duane Jones: "The script had been written with the character Ben as a rather simple truck driver. His dialogue was that of a lower class / uneducated person. Duane Jones was a very well educated man ... [and he] simply refused to do the role as it was written. As I recall, I believe that Duane himself upgraded his own dialogue to reflect how he felt the character should present himself." The cellar scenes featuring dialogue between Helen and Harry Cooper were also modified by Marilyn Eastman.[6]

According to lead actress Judith O'Dea, much of the dialogue was improvised. She told an interviewer, "I don't know if there was an actual working script! We would go over what basically had to be done, then just did it the way we each felt it should be done."[20] One example offered by O'Dea concerns a scene where Barbra tells Ben about Johnny's death:

The sequence where Ben is breaking up the table to block the entrance and I'm on the couch and start telling him the story of what happened [to Johnny] ... it's all ad-libbed. This is what we want to get across ... tell the story about me and Johnny in the car and me being attacked. That was it ... all improv. We filmed it once. There was a concern we didn't get the sound right, but fortunately they were able to use it.[20]


The limited budget curtailed the ability of Image Ten to hire well-known actors. The cast consisted of Pittsburgh stage actors, members of the Image Ten production crew, and acquaintances of Romero. Involvement in the film propelled many cast members into the motion picture industry.

File:Duane Jones as Ben in Night of the Living Dead bw.jpg

Duane Jones as Ben.

The lead role of Ben went to unknown African American stage actor Duane Jones. His performance depicted Ben as a "comparatively calm and resourceful Negro," according to one reviewer at the time.[21] Casting Jones was potentially controversial. In the mid-twentieth century it was unusual for a black man to play the hero in a film that starred white actors, and commentators saw Romero's choice of Jones as significant. Romero, on the other hand, said that Jones "simply gave the best audition."[22] After Night of the Living Dead, he co-starred in Ganja and Hess (1973), Vampires (1986), Negatives (1988) and To Die For (1989) before his death in 1988.[23] Despite his other film roles, Jones worried that people only recognized him as Ben.[24]

Image Ten cast 23-year-old commercial and stage actor Judith O'Dea as the waifish Barbra. Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman contacted O'Dea, who had once worked for them in Pittsburgh, to audition for the part. O'Dea was in Hollywood searching for a break-out role in motion pictures. She remarked in an interview that starring in the film was a positive experience for her, although she admitted that horror movies terrified her, particularly Vincent's Price's House of Wax (1953). Besides acting, O'Dea performed her own stunts, which she jokingly says amounted to "lots of running." Assessing Night of the Living Dead, she states "I honestly had no idea it would have such a lasting impact on our culture." She was just as surprised by the renown the film brought her: "People treat you differently. [I'm] ho-hum Judy O'Dea until they realize [I'm] Barbara [sic] from Night of the Living Dead. All of a sudden [I'm] not so ho-hum anymore!"[20] Following Night of the Living Dead, O'Dea appeared in the television film The Pirate (1978) and feature films Claustrophobia (2003), October Moon (2005) and The Ocean (2006).[25]

The supporting cast had no experience in the film industry prior to Night of the Living Dead. The role of Tom remained Keith Wayne's only film role (he committed suicide in 1995),[26] but Judith Ridley co-starred in Romero's There's Always Vanilla (1971).[27] The cemetery zombie who kills Johnny in the first scene was played by S. William Hinzman, a role that launched his horror film career. Hinzman was later involved in the films Season of the Witch (1973), Flesheater (1988), Legion of the Night (1995), Santa Claws (1996), and Evil Ambitions (1996).[28]

Image Ten members Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman and Russell Streiner performed prominent acting roles. Hardman and Eastman co-starred as Harry and Helen Cooper (Eastman also played the female zombie who plucks an insect off a tree and eats it) while Streiner played Johnny, Barbra's brother. Hardman's eleven-year-old daughter, Kyra Schon, played the role of Karen Cooper. Image Ten's production manager, George Kosana, played Sheriff McClelland.[29]

Romero's friends and acquaintances were recruited as zombie extras. Romero stated, "We had a film company doing commercials and industrial films so there were a lot of people from the advertising game who all wanted to come out and be zombies, and a lot of them did." He adds amusingly, "Some people from around Evans City who just thought it was a goof came out to get caked in makeup and lumber around."[30]


Night of the Living Dead was the first feature-length film directed by George A. Romero. His initial work involved filming shorts for Pittsburgh public broadcaster WQED's children's series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.[14][31] Romero's decision to direct Night of the Living Dead essentially launched his career as a horror director. He took the helm of the sequels as well as Season of the Witch, The Crazies (1973), Martin (1977), Creepshow (1982) and The Dark Half (1993).[32]

Critics saw the influence of the horror and science-fiction films of the 1950s in Romero's directorial style. Stephen Paul Miller, for instance, witnessed "a revival of fifties schlock shock... and the army general's television discussion of military operations in the film echoes the often inevitable calling-in of the army in fifties horror films." Miller admits, however, that "Night of the Living Dead takes greater relish in mocking these military operations through the general's pompous demeanor" and the government's inability to source the zombie epidemic or protect the citizenry.[33]

Romero describes the mood he wished to establish: "The film opens with a situation that has already disintegrated to a point of little hope, and it moves progressively toward absolute despair and ultimate tragedy."[34] According to film historian Carl Royer, Romero "employs chiaroscuro, noir-style lighting to emphasize humanity's nightmare alienation from itself."[35]

While some critics dismissed Romero's film because of the graphic scenes, writer R. H. W. Dillard claimed that the "open-eyed detailing" of taboo served to heighten the film's success. He asks, "What girl has not, at one time or another, wished to kill her mother? And Karen, in the film, offers a particularly vivid opportunity to commit the forbidden deed vicariously."[36]

Romero featured human taboos as key themes, particularly cannibalism. Although zombie cannibals were inspired by Matheson's I Am Legend, film historian Robin Wood sees the flesh-eating scenes of Night of the Living Dead as a late-1960s critique of American capitalism. Wood asserts that the zombies represent capitalists, and "cannibalism represents the ultimate in possessiveness, hence the logical end of human relations under capitalism." He argues that the zombies' victims symbolized the repression of "the Other" in bourgeois American society, namely civil rights activists, feminists, homosexuals and counterculturalists in general.[37]

Music and sound effects[]

The eerie and disturbing music score of Night of the Living Dead was not composed for the film. Karl Hardman told an interviewer that the music came from Hardman Associates's extensive film music library. Much of it used in the film was purchased from the library of Capitol Records, and an album of the soundtrack was released at one point. Stock music selections included works by Ib Glindemann, Philip Green, Geordie Hormel, William Loose, Jack Meakin and Spencer Moore.[38] Some of the music was earlier used as the soundtrack for the science-fiction B-movie Teenagers from Outer Space (1959) The eerie musical piece during the tense scene in the film where "Ben" finds the rifle in the closet inside the farmhouse as the radio reports of mayhem play ominously in the background can be heard in longer and more complete form during the opening credits and the beginning of The Devil's Messenger (1961) starring Lon Chaney Jr. Another piece was taken from the final episode of television's The Fugitive, which had aired one year earlier.[39] According to Hardman, "I chose a selection of music for each of the various scenes and then George made the final selections. I then took those selections and augmented them electronically."[6] Hardman's choices worked well, as Film historian Sumiko Higashi believes that the music "signif[ies] the nature of events that await."[40]

Sound effects were created by Hardman and Marilyn Eastman: "Marilyn and I recorded all of the live sound effects used in the film (two 10 inch reels of edited tape)." Hardman recalled, "Of all the sound effects that we created, the one that still gives me goose bumps when I hear it, is Marilyn's screaming as [Helen Cooper] is killed by her daughter. Judy O'Dea's screaming is a close second. Both were looped in and out of echo over and over again."[6]


Night of the Living Dead premiered on October 1 1968 at the Fulton Theater in Pittsburgh.[41] Nationally, it was shown as a Saturday afternoon matinée—as was typical for horror films of the 1950s and 1960s—and attracted an audience consisting of pre-teens and adolescents.[42][43] The MPAA film rating system was not in place until November 1968, so theater managers did not prohibit even young children from purchasing tickets. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times chided theater owners and parents who allowed children access to the film. "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them," complained Ebert. "They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else." According to Ebert, the film affected the audience immediately:

The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying.[43]


Spanish language poster advertising Night of the Living Dead in Spain.

One commentator asserts that the film garnered little attention from critics, "except to provoke argument about censoring its grisly scenes."[44] Despite the controversy, five years after the premiere Paul McCullough of Take One hailed Night of the Living Dead as the "most profitable horror film ever ... produced outside the walls of a major studio."[45] The film had earned between $12 and $15 million at the American box office after a decade. It was translated into more than 25 languages and released across Europe, Canada and Australia.[44] Night of the Living Dead grossed $30 million internationally, and the Wall Street Journal reported that it was the top grossing film in Europe in 1969.[46][1]

Night of the Living Dead was awarded two distinguished honors thirty years after the debut. The Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry in 1999 with other films deemed "historically, culturally or aesthetically important in any way."[47][3] In 2001, the American Film Institute named the film to a list of one hundred important horror and thriller films, 100 Years...100 Thrills.[48] This film was #9 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.


Reviewers disliked the film's gory special effects. Variety labeled Night of the Living Dead an "unrelieved orgy of sadism" and questioned the "integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers."[49] New York Times critic Vincent Canby referred to the film as a "junk movie" as well as "spare, uncluttered, but really silly."[50]

Nevertheless, some reviewers recognized the film as groundbreaking. Pauline Kael called the film "one of the most gruesomely terrifying movies ever made—and when you leave the theatre you may wish you could forget the whole horrible experience. . . . The film's grainy, banal seriousness works for it—gives it a crude realism."[51] A Film Daily critic commented, "This is a pearl of a horror picture which exhibits all the earmarks of a sleeper."[52] While Roger Ebert criticized the matinée screening, he admitted that he "admires the movie itself."[43] Critic Rex Reed wrote, "If you want to see what turns a B movie into a classic ... don't miss Night of the Living Dead. It is unthinkable for anyone seriously interested in horror movies not to see it."[53]

Since the release, critics and film historians have seen Night of the Living Dead as a subversive film that critiques 1960s American society, international Cold War politics, and domestic racism. Elliot Stein of The Village Voice saw the film as an ardent critique of American involvement in Vietnam, arguing that it "was not set in Transylvania, but Pennsylvania—this was Middle America at war, and the zombie carnage seemed a grotesque echo of the conflict then raging in Vietnam."[54] Film historian Sumiko Higashi concurs, arguing that Night of the Living Dead was a horror film about the horrors of the Vietnam era. While she asserts that "there are no Vietnamese in Night of the Living Dead, ... they constitute an absent presence whose significance can be understood if narrative is construed." She points to aspects of the Vietnam War paralleled in the film: grainy black-and-white newsreels, search-and-destroy operations, helicopters, and graphic carnage.[55]

File:Ben giving Barbra slippers in Night of the Living Dead bw.jpg

A scene that portrays Barbra as helpless. Ben puts slippers on her feet as she is catatonic.

While George Romero denies he hired Duane Jones simply because he was black, reviewer Mark Deming notes that "the grim fate of Duane Jones, the sole heroic figure and only African-American, had added resonance with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X fresh in the minds of most Americans."[56][57] Stein adds, "In this first-ever subversive horror movie, the resourceful black hero survives the zombies only to be killed by a redneck posse."[54] The deaths of Ben, Barbra and the supporting cast offered audiences an uncomfortable, nihilistic glimpse unusual for the genre.[58]

The treatment of female characters attracted criticism from feminist scholars and critics. Women are portrayed as helpless and often excluded from the decision-making process by the male characters. Barbra suffers a psychological breakdown so severe after the loss of her brother that she is reduced to a semi-catatonic state for much of the film. Judy is portrayed in an extreme state of denial, leading to her own death and that of her boyfriend. Helen Cooper, while initially strong-willed, becomes immobilized and dies as a result.[59]

Other prevalent themes included "disillusionment with government and patriarchal nuclear family"[54] and "the flaws inherent in the media, local and federal government agencies, and the entire mechanism of civil defense."[60] Film historian Linda Badley explains that the film was so horrifying because the monsters were not creatures from Outer Space or some exotic environment, "They're us."[61] 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."[57]


George Romero revolutionized the horror film industry with Night of the Living Dead. According to Almar Haflidason of the BBC, the film represented "a new dawn in horror film-making."[62] Early films that featured zombies such as Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932), Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and John Gilling's The Plague of the Zombies (1966) involved living human zombies enslaved by a Voodoo witch doctor; many were set in the Caribbean.

The film and its successors spawned countless imitators that borrowed elements instituted by Romero: Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), Zombie (1979), Hell of the Living Dead (1980), Night of the Comet (1984), Return of the Living Dead (1985), Night of the Creeps (1986), Children of the Living Dead (2001), and the video game series Resident Evil (later adapted as films in 2002, 2004, and 2007), Dead Rising, and The House of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead is parodied in films such as Night of the Living Bread (1990) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) and in episodes of The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror III", 1992) and South Park ("Pink Eye", 1997; "Night of the Living Homeless", 2007 ).[63][64][65] The word zombie is never used, but Romero's film introduced the theme of zombies as reanimated, flesh-eating cannibals.[66][41]

Internet sites all over the world are dedicated to the film and its genre. Sites such as the Night of the Living Dead site and The Zombie Initiative owe their entire existance to Romero's 1968 film.

Night of the Living Dead also ushered in the slasher and splatter film sub-genres. As one film historian points out, horror prior to Romero's film had mostly involved rubber masks and costumes, cardboard sets, or mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. They were set in locations far removed from rural and suburban America.[67] Romero revealed the power behind exploitation and setting horror in ordinary, unexceptional locations and offered a template for making an "effective and lucrative" film on a "minuscule budget."[4] Slasher films of the 1980s such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), for example, "owe much to the original Night of the Living Dead."[68]

Night of the Living Dead also has a comic book version, by Double Take.[69]


The first revisions of Night of the Living Dead involved colorization by home video distributors. Hal Roach Studios released a colorized version in 1986 with pale green skin ghouls (evil spirits that feed on corpses). Another colorized version appeared in 1997 from Anchor Bay Entertainment with flesh-colored zombies.[70] In 2004, Legend Films produced a colorized version for distribution by 20th Century Fox.[71][72]

Co-writer John Russo released a modified version in 1999 titled Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition.[73] He filmed additional scenes and recorded a revised soundtrack composed by Scott Vladimir Licina. In an interview with Fangoria magazine, Russo explained that he wanted to "give the movie a more modern pace."[74] Russo took liberties with the original script, introducing odd didactic qualities that the original lacked. The additions are neither clearly identified nor even listed. However, Entertainment Weekly reported "no bad blood" between Russo and Romero. The magazine, however, quoted Romero as saying, "I didn't want to touch Night of the Living Dead."[75] Critics panned the revised film, notably Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News. Knowles promised to permanently ban anyone from his publication who offered positive criticism of the film.[76]

The film has been remade twice. The first, debuting in 1990, was directed by special effects artist Tom Savini. The remake was based on the original screenplay, but included more gore and a revised plot that portrayed Barbara[77] (Patricia Tallman) as a heroine. Tony Todd played the role of Ben. Film historian Barry Grant saw the new Barbara as a corrective on the part of Romero. He suggests that the character was made stronger to rectify the depiction of female characters in the original film.[59] The second remake was filmed in 3-D format and scheduled for release in September 2006 under the title Night of the Living Dead 3-D. Directed by Jeff Broadstreet, the characters and plot are similar to the 1968 original. Unlike Savini's 1990 film, Broadstreet's project was not affiliated with Romero.[78][79]

The World Stage Premiere of "Night of the Living Dead" was on October 26, 2006, at the Stella Adler Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The play was produced by the Gangbusters Theatre Company[80], was translated for the stage by Leon Shanglebee, and Directed by Christian Levatino.

Copyright status in the U.S.[]

Night of the Living Dead lapsed into the public domain because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright notice on the prints. In 1968, United States copyright law required a proper notice for a work to maintain a copyright. Image Ten displayed such a notice on the title frames of the film beneath the original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters. The distributor removed the statement when it changed the title.[81] According to George Romero, Walter Reade "ripped us off."[82]

Because of the public domain status, the film is sold on home video by several distributors. As of 2006, the Internet Movie Database lists 23 copies of Night of the Living Dead retailing on DVD and nineteen on VHS.[83] The original film is available for download at no cost on Internet sites such as Night Of The Living Dead and Internet Archive.[84][85] As of 3 January 2007, it was the Internet Archive's most downloaded film.[86] Elite Entertainment released a director-approved and fully-restored version of the film. The first Elite release was a laserdisc in which Romero participated in the supplements. The first Elite DVD was released as a single-layer DVD and some of the extras from the laserdisc were dropped due to space limitations but they were included in Elite's current Millennium Edition.


Night of the Living Dead constitutes the first of five Living Dead films directed by George Romero. Following the 1968 film, Romero released Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), and Survival of the Dead (2010), with Diary and Survival acting as a reboot to the franchise. Each film traces the evolution of the zombie epidemic in the United States and humanity's desperate attempts to cope with it. As in Night of the Living Dead, Romero peppered the other films in the series with critiques specific to the periods in which they were released.

The same year Day of the Dead premiered, Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo released a film titled Return of the Living Dead. Russo's film offers an alternate continuity to the original film than Dawn of the Dead, but acted more as a parody than a sequel. Russo's film spawned four sequels. The last—Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave—was released in 2005 as a television movie.

Return of the Living Dead sparked a legal battle with Romero, who believed Russo marketed his film in direct competition with Day of the Dead as a sequel to the original film. In the case Dawn Associates v. Links (1978), Romero accused Russo of "appropriat[ing] part of the title of the prior work," plagiarizing Dawn of the Dead's advertising slogan ("When there is no room in hell ... the dead will walk the earth"), and copying stills from the original 1968 film. Romero was ultimately granted a restraining order that forced Russo to cease his advertising campaign. Russo, however, was allowed to retain his title.[87]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Night of the Living Dead at VH1.com; last accessed June 24 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Business data for the film at the Internet Movie Database; last accessed June 24 2006; however, places the box-office gross of $12 million at January 2000, not 1979.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "U.S. film registry adds 25 new titles," November 16, 1999, at CNN; last accessed June 24 2006.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Adam Rockoff, Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978–1986 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2002), p. 35, ISBN 0-7864-1227-5.
  5. "Zombie Movies" in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, ed. John Clute and John Grant (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), p. 1048, ISBN 0-312-19869-8
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman interview, quoted at Homepage of the Dead; last accessed June 24 2006. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Hardman/Eastmaninterview" defined multiple times with different content
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Further reading[]

  • Becker, Matt. "A Point of Little Hope: Hippie Horror Films and the Politics of Ambivalence." The Velvet Light Trap (No. 57, Spring 2006): pp. 42–59.
  • Carroll, Noël. "The Nature of Horror." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46 (No. 1, Autumn 1987): pp. 51–59.
  • Crane, Jonathan Lake. Terror and Everyday Life: Singular Moments in the History of the Horror Film. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-8039-5849-8 .
  • Dinello, Daniel. Technophobia!: Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology. my lolAustin: University of Texas Press, 2006. ISBN 0-292-70986-2 .
  • Harper, Stephen. "Night of the Living Dead: Reappraising an Undead Classic." Bright Lights Film Journal (Issue 50, November 2005): online.
  • Heffernan, Kevin. Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953–1968. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8223-3215-9 .
  • Heffernan, Kevin. "Inner-City Exhibition and the Genre Film: Distributing Night of the Living Dead (1968)." Cinema Journal 41 (No. 3, Spring 2002): pp. 59–77.
  • Jancovich, Mark, Antonio Lazaro Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andy Willis, eds. Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Manchester, Eng.: Manchester University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7190-6631-X .
  • Laderman, Gary. The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Toward Death, 1799–1883. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-300-07868-4 .
  • Lowenstein, Adam. Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-231-13246-8 .
  • Newman, Robert. "The Haunting of 1968." South Central Review 16 (No. 4, Winter 1999): pp. 53–61.
  • Pharr, Mary. "Greek Gifts: Vision and Revision in Two Versions of Night of the Living Dead." In Trajectories of the Fantastic. Ed. Michael A. Morrison. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. ISBN 0-313-29646-4 .
  • Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. ISBN 0-7914-3441-9 .
  • Shapiro, Jerome F. Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film. London: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-415-93660-8 .
  • Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-231-05777-6 .
  • Young, Lola. Fear of the Dark: 'Race', Gender and Sexuality in the Cinema. London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-09709-6 .

External links[]