Hey there acolytes young & old. Been awhile huh? Well, to be honest with all of you The Black Saint has been experiencing some physical difficulties as of late. When you get as old as I am…these things happen. But I have a nice little interview for you here. The gentleman’s name is Gary Streiner and if the name is familiar to you it’s probably because he’s the younger brother of Russell Streiner of “Night Of The Living Dead” fame. He worked on the film as a member of the sound department & also appeared as one of the hunters who were shooting zombies down at the end.
Since then he has continued to work in the industry but now he has a new cause, that cause is called “Save The Chapel”. The chapel in question is one that sits on the property currently occupied by the Evans city cemetery. It is featured in the film in the beginning as Johnny & Barbara are visiting their father’s grave. Gary believes this is a bit of film history, and he’s right. It’s one of the last remaining reminders of “Night Of The Living Dead” & it’s importance to the horror genre. He wants to restore & rescue it from demolition. The cemetery’s board of directors have given him one year to raise the funds he needs to restore it to it’s past glory. The chapel will be torn down if the money isn’t raised by the end of the time period given to Gary, and we can’t let that happen. Not on our watch anyway!
Here is a short chat that Mr. Streiner & I had speaking about his passion, and how we can help make his dream become a reality.
HN: OK Gary, let’s get right to the heart of the matter. What exactly is it you’re trying to accomplish here?
GS: What’s happened is there is a very iconic building that is seen at the beginning of “Night Of The Living Dead” (NOTLD from here on). It’s in the background when Johnny & Barbara are getting out of their car at the very beginning of the film. It’s one of the only existing landmarks that remains from “NOTLD” outside of the gravestones themselves. Now it is in danger of being torn down. The cemetery association doesn’t have the funds to fix it & they were worried that it was becoming a liability because of it’s current state of disrepair (Chunks are falling off it, etc..). They have no real use for it anymore. It was being used to store all of the maintenance equipment that the cemetery used for a while. As the blades kept getting wider on the mowing tractors that were used in the cemetery over the years it was discovered that they just didn’t fit into the chapel any longer. They were just too big & wide to get in the door. So another storage facility was built to store of all the larger equipment. The chapel eventually served no function to the association & it was going to be torn down. Fortunately, I live in the area & I knew of the situation but I never actually thought they would go through with it. Then I received definitive word that the chapel was going to be torn down by the end of the Summer. So I had a meeting with the cemetery’s board of directors & I stated to them that I though I could gather up the fans of “NOTLD” and find a way to raise the funds necessary to save the chapel. Flash forward 6-8 weeks & we’re headlong into this mission!
HN: How much do you estimate that you’ll need to make this come to pass?
GS: Well, I don’t know exactly yet because we haven’t settled on a contractor who’ll do the job for us yet but currently the estimate is $50,000 dollars. We have a long road to haul here but there are “NOTLD” fans worldwide & we’ve been given a year to get it done. I think if we can have half of the money by Spring at the latest, nobody is going stop us from saving the chapel because then they’ll know it’s a serious venture & not just some boondoggle that a bunch of fans thought up.
HN: Is your brother Russell (Johnny in the film) involved in any way?
GS: He’s supported us by attending several functions that we’ve had, greeting fans & participating in panel discussions. He’s totally behind it though. Kyra Schon is as well. Everybody is for it at this point.
HN: Which leads me to George Romero & John Russo. What, if any support have they offered up till now?
GS: George is definitely behind it. I’ve spoken to him about it & in fact, he was doing a write up regarding our cause for distribution to the fans & I think he’s finished it but I have to follow up on that. George is a very busy man nowadays & he can be hard to get a hold of. The piece is basically about his feelings towards the chapel & what it means to him. The fans live & die on that stuff. It’s been quite a while since George has actually stated anything like this publicly. He’s certainly behind it though and he’s told me that if there is a need for him to come down here he would certainly come down to help us out.
HN: That’s great! I would think that somewhere down the line he would be needed to really get this ball rolling.
GS: It’s actually going to be something special when it happens for sure. In addition, we’re actually talking about having a screening in the cemetery of the film in the Spring. Sort of a “Spring Refresher” if you will. That’ll all depend on how much money we’ve collected by March & if the cemetery board would allow us to have it done. That would be an amazing opportunity for George to make an appearance for the cause and it would be an amazing fund raising opportunity as well. We’ve already had people from all over the world tell us that if that happens, they’ll be here. Which is really outstanding to hear.
HN: The young lady who alerted me to this whole movement (Thank you LL!) also told me about some sort of function that’s supposed to take place later this year…?
GS: Actually I believe it’s going to happen in May. I don’t have a lot of details on it yet because it’s still in the planning stage. A friend of mine, Will Bozarth, has a band called “Goddamn Zombie” and he’s approached a venue to host an event for the cause. It’s actually taking place on May 19th and you can find more information on it & us on Facebook at “Living Dead Festival” or “Save The Chapel”. We’d love for all of your readers to join us. It’s going to take place at Goodbye Blue Monday which is located in Brooklyn, NY. The details are still being hashed out right now but there’ll be a screening of the film as well as various raffles taking place over the course of the evening. As well as some kick ass music from Goddamn Zombie & other bands as well. We just had a screening at the Strand theater in Celionopel, PA & we raised about $1000 dollars which was pretty amazing actually because more than half of that was made from raffles. We don’t even have an official design yet to put on t-shirts & posters but we still did really well with very few resources. Our design should be done by this weekend, knock on wood. A fan named Terry Callan has donated his artistic abilities to us & designed a design for our official t shirts, posters & such. I’m sure that once we have the finished design that we’re going to sell a ton of shirts. It’s going to be really, really cool.
HN: You’re Russell’s younger brother right?
GS: Yes, I am.
HN: I was wondering “How much younger?” I mean to say were you even alive when “NOTLD” was initially released?
GS: (Laughing) Oh yeah! I was the sound engineer on the film. I’m six years younger than Russell. I’m just young enough to be a pain in the ass to him! I was in the film as well. At the very end during the still shots that played over the end credits. I’m in one of those stills as one of the badasses who are out shooting zombies in the head. That’s my claim to fame. I’m one of the original owners of “Image Ten” as well, which was the corporation set up to actually produce “NOTLD”.
HN: You’re putting so much effort into getting this whole movement off the ground that it’s obviously a labor of love for you. I wonder what, in your heart, does “NOTLD” mean to you?
GS: Well, the funny thing is that it’s not so much as what the film means to me. Of course I’m enormously proud of having such a close association with something that has become so popular. My real passion…my drive comes from the fans. I think it would be really hard for a fan to do this, to spearhead this fundraiser. I think it would have to come from one of us, one of the people who had actually participated in the film. I’m not saying that it couldn’t be done by a fan or a group of fans but I think that, logically, having one of us start it up makes more sense. My role is just that of the cheerleader actually. I just want to preserve a bit of history that’s associated with the movie, that being the chapel. It’s part of the legacy of “NOTLD” which I would like to see live forever. If the building goes down that’s just eroding away a bit of the legacy of the film. And there has been so much lost already. Of course the original house where the filming took place has come down & we’ve lost some of the key players who acted in the film as well, Duane Jones especially. We’re not getting any younger & there is going to come the day where the chapel is going to be one of the only reminders of the film that remains. All of the people who worked on the film will be gone. But there will always be fans of the movie & they’re going to want to come here to where the film was produced. Even more than they do now, especially in October during Halloween season. We were up in the cemetery a few weeks ago filming a piece for our local news station when a car drove up & stopped to watch. I walked up to it & I noticed it had a Michigan license plate on it. I asked them if they were “NOTLD” fans & sure enough they were! It happens all the time, people from around the world come here to see where the film was filmed. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of getting the word out to the fans as to what our ultimate goal is so far. It’s been six weeks & we’ve added about 1300 members to our group which I’m told is pretty impressive & we’re adding about 50 new members a day so it’s still getting out there.
HN: I hadn’t even heard of it till yesterday actually!
GS: Exactly! And that’s not your fault, that’s our fault. But we’re trying & Facebook has been a key component in helping us get the word out. Everyday there’s some new, bigger entity that’s joining us and there really isn’t anybody who’s even remotely interested that doesn’t want to help us. There are very few people who would say “No, we don’t want to help” and even if there were they wouldn’t be stupid enough to say it out loud!
HN: I would imagine the few genre fans who wouldn’t want to support the cause would most assuredly keep that information to themselves for fear of being obliterated!
GS: Right! And we’re covering two things: Number one it covers the history of Evans City, which doesn’t have a lot of history behind it. And it also helps to open the eyes of the people who live in Evans City. I don’t think they realize how aware people are of this cemetery or of the city it’s in. I don’t think they understand how with a little bit of effort, they can bring more fans of the film to the cemetery & hence, to the city which would definitely have a positive effect on it’s economy which is desperately needed. Evans City is a small town, limping along every year and never quite making enough money off of taxes to keep us going. I’m going to a townhouse meeting soon to see if we can get some signs erected saying “Welcome to Evans City, the home of “Night Of The Living Dead”. We have to start taking pride in that!
HN: Wait a minute. Are you telling me that there are no signs acknowledging that the film was made there?
GS: That’s EXACTLY what I’m telling you.
HN: I am absolutely amazed by that. One of the seminal films of the horror genre was filmed there and there is nothing there noting it? That’s incredibly sad in a way.
GS: They just don’t think that way here. Remember, these are really small town people here. They understand that “NOTLD” is a big movie but they don’t understand that the little town they live in was a big part of the film’s success. That’s what makes this place a nice, unique place to live in actually because it’s not a big city that’s crowded with people but it was whee one of the greatest horror films ever made was produced. That’s something that should be acknowledged at the very least. I was really worried that the cemetery association was not going to allow me the opportunity to save the chapel initially or tell me I had only two months to do it. It’s a very small town…
HN: I would think that just the potential of how much revenue they could generate by letting people know that the film was made there would provoke someone to do something to try and take advantage of that.
GS: The funny thing is that when I came back here, I own some property here but was always working so I spent a lot of time living elsewhere. But about six years ago I decided to come back here for keeps. Once I arrived I realized I had to do something to keep me alive, not in a employment sense but in a mental sense. Somebody from the historical society here at Evans city had gotten in touch with me regarding the 30th anniversary of the film. At first I wasn’t too enthused about it but I took place in a small celebration. About a month afterwards, I got a call telling me that the chapel was in danger of being torn down and then I realized why I came back. Preserving the legacy of “NOTLD” is what I was meant to do. The fact that I live in the town where it was made & that I had a hand in it’s creation sort of makes me feel like “The Chosen One”.
HN: “The Chosen One”. How cool is that? To be able to say that somehow you ended up back where it all started & now you’re trying to put the town on the map because of that. It’s fate that brought you back.
GS: Yeah, I’m carrying the torch so to speak.
HN: Let’s talk about you for a bit. What other films have you worked on?
GS: I did two more films with George after “NOTLD”. One was called “There’s Always Vanilla”. I think it was actually released as “The Affair”. It wasn’t one of George’s bigger films. Afterwards I worked with him on “Season Of The Witch”. I worked on those two but I realized that the chemistry was changing at the Latent Image (The name that replaced “Image Ten”) and I decided it was time to move on. I worked with my brother & John Russo at a company called “New American Films” for a while. And then my father in law got me a real sweet gig as a plant manager at an industrial plant that he was opening up here at Evans city. That’s how I ended up back here to live in the first place. I was commuting back & forth and it was becoming something of a drag & it’s so beautiful here so I bought some property and came back to stay while I was working at the plant. This lasted for about 2-3 years before I decided to get back into the film business which took me all over the country. I was working on the production side of the business and then I got into the advertising side of it. Once I did that I became sort of a captive of the big city. I worked all over the country, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles before ending up in New York. But all of my friends were still here in Evans city. I just drifted away from them for awhile. I realized that a lot of people who worked on the movie were appearing at these horror conventions. Russ, John, Kyra & others had been doing them for a while, they weren’t even called horror conventions at the time. They were more like comic book conventions & the like. But I did a few of those and realized how many hard core people were really into the film. And I began thinking about how I could do something to celebrate the film, either for it’s 40th anniversary or it’s 45th which would be in 2013.
HN: I met most of the remaining cast members at a con celebrating the 30th anniversary of the film a few years ago. My daughter had actually purchased a hatchet shaped purse with blood dripping on it and she got it autographed by pretty much every single cast member who was still alive at the time…and George as well. It’s really incredible to look at and I would imagine it’s worth a pretty penny now. She’ll never part with it. Ever.
GS: She shouldn’t! It’s only going to get more valuable as time goes on. And that’s the beauty of anything related to “NOTLD” now. There’s very little actual memorabilia that exists from the film anymore. If you go to some of the more high end auction houses you might find a original poster from the film for $2-3,000 dollars which is an insane amount of money for a poster. I can remember when the distributor sent us boxes of posters back in the beginning & at the time we were shipping out the film to various parts of the country ourselves. We actually had so many posters that we would ball them up & throw them in the boxes that contained the film reels as stuffing. You know, the way people use old newspapers to stuff packages with? That’s what we used the posters for!
HN: The original posters? Good god almighty…..
GS: (Laughing) Yeah, can you imagine that? What they might be worth today boggles my mind. But who knew how popular the film would become? We just thought we had a pretty good little horror movie. We never imagined that it would be anything more than that. If anyone of us had even a half of a notion of how big this was going to be…people think I’m crazy but there are parts of the cemetery that have fallen to the ground & I tell them to save them because they are worth something to someone somewhere. I have a ton of stuff from the cemetery that I plan on auctioning off on Ebay to raise money for the Chapel.
HN: It’s all worth something. Better to try & raise money with the pieces than to just toss them in a dumpster & have to pay someone to throw it all away.
GS: That gets back to what I was saying before. That’s what the people here don’t understand, that someone would pay good money for what they consider to be junk. They have no concept of how that is even possible.
HN: I suppose it’s a hard concept to wrap your mind around though. Especially if you’re from a small town like Evans. The idea that someone would pay money for what is essentially just a plank of wood or a stone seems a bit ludicrous at first. But they know nothing of the hard core fans/collectors that eat stuff like this up.
GS: You know they had no clue that people were selling cemetery dirt from the cemetery here on Ebay for $20 bucks a vial. And it wasn’t even dirt from this cemetery. They just scooped up some dirt from outside their door & put it up on Ebay as authentic dirt from the cemetery in “NOTLD”. The stuff I have can all be authenticated.
HN: Like they say, there’s a sucker born every minute.
GS: As I said, everything I will sell can be authenticated. And we’ve been getting a lot of items related to the film that have been graciously donated by the fans for us to sell for the chapel as well.
HN: Will there be a website where everything can be seen & where people can learn more about you & the chapel?
GS: The website, should be up in a day or two. It’s called “Fixthechapel.com”, we couldn’t get “Save The Chapel”. There will be a lot activity there but Facebook has really been what has kept the movement growing. I feel like I can communicate with people better through Facebook. It’s a kind of symbiotic relationship. People are only looking at our Facebook page because they love “NOTLD”, no other reason. And this is what social networking is all about, meeting like minded people & becoming friends with them. I’ve been dreaming about this for six years now & it’s finally becoming a reality. I hope more positive things come from the group than just saving the chapel. Writers need directors, directors need composers, etc…Like minded people will have the ability to meet each other in the group hopefully. This is why it’s so important for me to do this interview with you. I never turn down an interview and if because of this interview I get ten more people to look at the page & hopefully become part of the movement will be wonderful! And if those ten tell ten more & so on….then it will have been all worth the effort.
HN: Well I think that you ought to see a spike in your membership on Monday morning after this gets posted on horrornews.net & I’m sure you’ll see a few more dollars in the till as well.
GS: Absolutely! Obviously I want to fill the cash barrel as quickly as I can. And it’s not my nature to ask or beg for anything but if you’re running a fund raiser that’s what you’re doing in essence. I think there’s a really nice balance in the group right now & everyone knows what the mission is right now & everyone is ready to step up now. As a matter of fact, after I hang up here I’m going to research PayPal & see if I can work out getting donations using that service. Hopefully we’ll have a link on the website eventually where people can donate immediately to help us.
HN: Well I’m sure I can speak for all of us here at horrornews.net when I say that I wish you the greatest of success with this.
Let me just say that Gary is an incredibly entertaining man to speak with & I truly enjoyed my time with him. His drive to make this happen is infectious & more importantly, just. This chapel is a piece of horror history that needs to remain standing and all of us can help by donating whatever we can. Its all appreciated and it adds up really quickly. Together all of us can make Gary’s dream a reality & say we had a part in keeping the chapel standing. If you’re a true fan of the genre, how can you not donate to this cause? Let’s all gather our resources together & spread the word. Let’s make this thing happen acolytes.
The official website address is www.fixthechapel.com, please head to it right after you finish reading this & learn more about how you can help.
A short televised piece on Gary’s dream can be seen here: http://www.wpxi.com/news/29640129/detail.html (Thanks to wpxi.com)
You can see the design for the event & more outstanding artwork from it’s creator Terry Callen here: www.facebook.com/screamingbrainstudio
I implore all of you to click on these links to learn more about how you can help SAVE THE CHAPEL! Every little bit will help.
Gary Streiner (Night Of The Living Dead)