“It is clear that all of us must have a deep-seated fear of being set upon, attacked, by unfeeling, uncaring personages who do not take the time to know and respect, but only to ate us. We all dread the witch hunters, the lynch mob, the terrorists who plant bombs to kill those they’ve never met. The existence of this primal fear, this dread, within our psyches, and its vivid evocation, is the truly basic reason for the success of Night of the Living Dead.” –Night script writer, John Russo
You know it, you love it, you can’t live without it. Or at least you say so because, as a horror fan, you’ve been taught that it is the be-all, end-all, the alpha and the omega of zombie films. The one, the only, Night of the Living Dead. With this book (hyperbolicly subtitled Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever) , Joe “Phantom of the Movies” Kane gives us a thorough and comprehensive look behind the scenes that, while heavily peppered with opinion and conjecture, makes an interesting and edifying read for anyone obsessed or even interested in Romero’s gut munching classic. Plus, they throw in John Russo’s original screen play as a gift for completists, as well as testimonials from some of films great names like Frank Hennenlotter and Peter Jackson.
Sure, you already know that Romero heard about Martin Luther King’s assassination while driving the only existing copy of the film to New York while trying to secure distribution. Everyone knows the intended subtext of those haunting stills at the end. You, being the little smart-aleck that you are, probably noticed that much of the blood was Bates bathwater special (chocolate syrup). But, do you know what little Kyra was actually stabbing with that garden trowel while we all saw the death of her poor, poor mother? Basically, Joe Kane answers any question you could wish to ask, as well as many you would likely never think to, about the history, production and cultural impact of the film. His style is smooth and engaging, making for a smooth and comfortable read back through time. In addition, there are a fair amount of photos from the set as well as stills of promotional material (gotta love those Death Certificates and Insurance Policies). You really can’t ask for more information.
In addition, the testimonials and interviews with other cinema greats are a nice treat. You get affectionate memories from the likes of my personal eighties grindhouse hero, Frank Hennenlotter, as well as Allen Arkush and William Lustig. There is also some exploration of the children of the dead with Stuart Gordon, Peter Jackson and Danny Boyle. My favorite, though, is Lloyd Kaufman’s gibbering, hilariously insane but sincerely awestruck commemoration of the film that defined a genre.
However, I can’t help feeling that the book is needlessly fluffed. Roughly half of the non-script material is rather thin and often catty look at Romero’s post-Night career and movies that were influenced by or outright ripped off the original. While I do think that a look at the long term affect of the film on horror cinema at large was warranted and I was quite interested in the discussion of the huge legal issues that followed a simple copy mistake, I would’ve been much happier with about 75 less pages. The information provided on everything past the eponymous work is spare and lacks the depth of research that Joe obviously put into the main portion. Worse, he sinks to rather childish complaining about many of those works that feel out of place following the serious tone of the preceding material. Frankly, I think he should have kept his discussion to the Night in question if he wasn’t going to take the rest as seriously.
Come the morning round-up of undead corpses, this is a must for any die-hard collector of undead memorabilia and would do well in the libraries of most casual fans as well. Despite the fluff and name calling in the second half, the first half collects enough information, both legendary and obscure, to be worth the price and the script at the end adds in some extra value.