NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 25 YEAR DOCUMENTARYWritten and Directed by Thomas Brown
Photographed and Produced by J.R. Bookwalter
Q: Why is Tempe Video's 25 year retrospective on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD this video worth picking up?
A: Seeing Film Threat's Chris Gore a decade ago when he weighed a buck twenty-five dripping wet. I never would have recognized the guy if he weren't singled out. Like me, the years have not been kind to Gore's waistline.
Gore isn't the only industry professional who looks back upon George Romero's seminal horror classic with fondness, along with him are Wes Craven, John Landis, Toby Hooper, and Sam Raimi. Four men who have each made their own mark in the field. What each have to say is pretty standard. Almost all covered the same material, and more in depth, in IFC's recent documentary The American Nightmare.
The real fun begins when Romero, John Russo, and some of the original cast and crew get together and reminisce about the shoot for what feels like the first time in all 25 years. There's something magical watching these men look back and try to peace together their different takes of what really went on behind the scenes. While never saying it directly, their smiles and laughter give them away, all involved regard Night of the Living Dead as their crowning achievement in life.
Of all the moments remembered, none is done more lovingly than the days following the casting of Duane Jones. Over the years, much has been written about the politics behind the move, a black man in the lead of a film where he puts white folk in their ignorant place. Outside of Sidney Poitier, this was unheard of in the 1960's. To hear Romero and Russo tell it, there were no politics involved in the decision whatsoever. Jones was the best man for the part, black or white. When Duane realized that the filmmakers were not pushing him to succeed for the sake of the film, but instead for Duane to succeed as an actor, and as a man, he broke down and cried on the set.
Duane's story illustrates how personal Night of the Living Dead was for all involved. It was never meant to be a calling card for George Romero. It was never meant to be an openly political film. And it was certainly never meant to be a benchmark of American cinema. It was meant to be a film where nobodies from the middle of nowhere could shine for 90 minutes.
This 25-year retrospective works best when revealing those personal relationships behind the camera that got the film made. For a film so savage, it was made so innocently. Tempe Video's documentary is the perfect companion to the legendary film. It's much better than anything you'll find on the butchered 30 year anniversary 2-disc DVD set.