Night of the Living Dead (1968)

90 mins | Horror | 2 October 1968

Full page view
HISTORY

Night of the Living Dead marked George A. Romero’s feature film directing and screenwriting debut, and the first production for Image Ten, a Pittsburgh, PA-based offshoot of commercial and industrial film producer Latent Image. Romero had previously worked as a grip at MGM’s headquarters in New York City, according to a 17 Jan 1968 Var article. Although the budget said to be under $100,000, later sources, including the 3 Dec 1969 Var and 27 Dec 1969 LAT, listed production costs of $125,000, financed by roughly thirty independent investors.
       Principal photography on the 35mm, black-and-white picture, then titled Night of the Flesh Eaters, took place on a ten-acre plot of land in Evans City, PA, outside Pittsburgh. An abandoned house and “out buildings” on the property served as sets. In an interview in the 27 Dec 1969 LAT, Romero complained of Pittsburgh’s bad weather and lack of production facilities and skilled laboratory technicians, but he stated that shooting there allowed him and his colleagues artistic control, and was therefore preferable.
       The 17 Jan 1968 Var stated that “Chilly Billy” Cardille, a late-night horror show host in Pittsburgh, made a cameo appearance as a television reporter.
       Footage was processed by CFI. As of mid-Jan 1968, post-production was underway, with editing, sound mixing, and scoring nearly completed. Several months later, items in the 18 Sep 1968 DV and Var announced the acquisition of worldwide rights by the Walter Reade Organization’s distribution arm, Continental Distributing, Inc. A 2 Oct 1968 opening in ten Pittsburgh-area theaters was scheduled. The release was set ... More Less

Night of the Living Dead marked George A. Romero’s feature film directing and screenwriting debut, and the first production for Image Ten, a Pittsburgh, PA-based offshoot of commercial and industrial film producer Latent Image. Romero had previously worked as a grip at MGM’s headquarters in New York City, according to a 17 Jan 1968 Var article. Although the budget said to be under $100,000, later sources, including the 3 Dec 1969 Var and 27 Dec 1969 LAT, listed production costs of $125,000, financed by roughly thirty independent investors.
       Principal photography on the 35mm, black-and-white picture, then titled Night of the Flesh Eaters, took place on a ten-acre plot of land in Evans City, PA, outside Pittsburgh. An abandoned house and “out buildings” on the property served as sets. In an interview in the 27 Dec 1969 LAT, Romero complained of Pittsburgh’s bad weather and lack of production facilities and skilled laboratory technicians, but he stated that shooting there allowed him and his colleagues artistic control, and was therefore preferable.
       The 17 Jan 1968 Var stated that “Chilly Billy” Cardille, a late-night horror show host in Pittsburgh, made a cameo appearance as a television reporter.
       Footage was processed by CFI. As of mid-Jan 1968, post-production was underway, with editing, sound mixing, and scoring nearly completed. Several months later, items in the 18 Sep 1968 DV and Var announced the acquisition of worldwide rights by the Walter Reade Organization’s distribution arm, Continental Distributing, Inc. A 2 Oct 1968 opening in ten Pittsburgh-area theaters was scheduled. The release was set to expand to an additional forty-one theaters on 4 Dec 1968, according to a Var item published that day.
       The picture was a commercial success. According to the 27 Dec 1969 LAT, it had taken in an estimated $2.5 million in box-office receipts, to that time. However, critical reception was largely negative. While the 10 Jan 1969 LAT review praised the low-budget horror film’s effectiveness and imagination, the 15 Oct 1968 DV review not only panned Night of the Living Dead but called into question the morality of the filmmakers, distributors, and fans of such a gory production. Since the Walter Reade Organization did not subscribe to the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) production code, tickets were accessible to moviegoers of all ages, prompting even more concern among critics. An item in the 28 May 1968 Var noted that Reader’s Digest reprinted Roger Ebert’s Chicago Sun Times review, which asked “how parents can willingly send their children to a film sadistic, violent, and truly terrifying.”
       Regardless of critical backlash, Night of the Living Dead developed a cult following, and, in 1999, was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Registry of culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films. It was also ranked ninety-third on AFI’s 2001 100 Years…100 Thrills list of the most thrilling American films of all time. As of the writing of this Note, five sequels written and directed by Romero have been released: Dawn of the Dead (1979), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2008), and Survival of the Dead (2009, see entries). Two remakes, Night of the Living Dead directed by Romero collaborator Tom Savini (1990, see entry) and Night of the Living Dead 3D directed by Jeff Broadstreet (2006, see entry), were released, as was a remake of Dawn of the Dead directed by Zack Snyder (2004, see entry).
       In an interview in the 2 May 1990 Var, Romero stated that the original edit of Night of the Living Dead included multiple explanations of how the zombies might have come to be, “similar to Hitchcock’s open-ended ‘The Birds.’” However, when the Walter Reade Organization came on board to distribute, exposition detailing those explanations was cut from the picture, and a “remaining tv broadcast in the film alluding to Outer Space turned it into science fiction.” Romero considered the 1990 remake, which he wrote and executive produced, to be a second chance at offering “contrasting explanations” for the zombies’ origins.
       The film was initially copyrighted by Image Ten as Night of the Flesh Eaters, according to the 2 May 1990 Var. Walter Reade subsequently changed the title but failed to copyright it, and Night of the Living Dead became part of the public domain until 1986, when Image Ten secured a new copyright. In the meantime, numerous “bootleg” versions of the original picture were sold by various home video outlets.
       A 28 May 1968 DV item reported that the Walter Reade Organization had sued United Artists (UA) Theatre Circuit over $20,073 in unpaid license fees for three of its pictures recently exhibited in UA theaters, including Night of the Living Dead. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
18 Sep 1968
p. 4.
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1968
p. 3.
Daily Variety
28 May 1969
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
10 Jan 1969
Section G, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
27 Dec 1969
Section A, p. 6.
New York Times
5 Dec 1968
p. 59.
Variety
17 Jan 1968
p. 34, 41.
Variety
18 Sep 1968
p. 13.
Variety
18 Sep 1968
p. 19.
Variety
4 Dec 1968
p. 18.
Variety
11 Dec 1968
p. 19.
Variety
28 May 1969
p. 34.
Variety
6 Aug 1969
p. 18.
Variety
3 Dec 1969
p. 4.
Variety
2 May 1990
p. 25.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Night of Anubis
Night of the Flesh Eaters
Release Date:
2 October 1968
Premiere Information:
Pittsburgh opening: 2 October 1968
New York opening: 4 December 1968
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
90
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

While visiting their father's grave, a sister and brother, Barbara and Johnny, are attacked by a strange, disheveled man. Leaving the unconscious Johnny behind, Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse and discovers a horribly mutilated corpse. Meanwhile, the strange man has been joined by several other ghoulish figures who are trying to help him break into the farmhouse. Suddenly, Ben, a young black salesman also seeking refuge, appears and fights his way past them into the house. While barricading the windows and doors, he explains to Barbara that a mutation resulting from radiation has caused the dead to arise and devour the living. Ben learns from a television report that fire frightens the ghouls and that they can be killed by a bullet or blow to the brain. Barbara and Ben then find that they are not alone in the farmhouse: in the basement are teenaged couple Judy and Tom as well as married couple Helen and Harry and their young daughter, Karen. Unknown to Helen and Harry, Karen has been injured by the ghouls and is slowly acquiring their disease. Ben improvises a plan to help Tom and Judy escape; but they panic and die in a fire and are devoured by the zombies. The ghouls finally burst through the barricades, and Ben accidentally shoots Harry; Barbara is dragged away by her brother Johnny, who has become a ghoul; and Helen is murdered and eaten by her infected daughter. By morning, when the living have succeeded in suppressing the dead, only Ben has survived by barricading himself in the basement of the farmhouse. But he is mistaken for a ghoul and shot through the head when he looks ... +


While visiting their father's grave, a sister and brother, Barbara and Johnny, are attacked by a strange, disheveled man. Leaving the unconscious Johnny behind, Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse and discovers a horribly mutilated corpse. Meanwhile, the strange man has been joined by several other ghoulish figures who are trying to help him break into the farmhouse. Suddenly, Ben, a young black salesman also seeking refuge, appears and fights his way past them into the house. While barricading the windows and doors, he explains to Barbara that a mutation resulting from radiation has caused the dead to arise and devour the living. Ben learns from a television report that fire frightens the ghouls and that they can be killed by a bullet or blow to the brain. Barbara and Ben then find that they are not alone in the farmhouse: in the basement are teenaged couple Judy and Tom as well as married couple Helen and Harry and their young daughter, Karen. Unknown to Helen and Harry, Karen has been injured by the ghouls and is slowly acquiring their disease. Ben improvises a plan to help Tom and Judy escape; but they panic and die in a fire and are devoured by the zombies. The ghouls finally burst through the barricades, and Ben accidentally shoots Harry; Barbara is dragged away by her brother Johnny, who has become a ghoul; and Helen is murdered and eaten by her infected daughter. By morning, when the living have succeeded in suppressing the dead, only Ben has survived by barricading himself in the basement of the farmhouse. But he is mistaken for a ghoul and shot through the head when he looks out a window at a posse sent to destroy the zombies. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.