The Date is Monday September 31st, 1968 and twenty-four hours from now Night of The Living Dead will open at the Fulton Theater in Pittsburgh, PA and four days later nationally in theaters in both large cities and small towns. Zombie films had been made before but no film will change the way we viewed the undead and indirectly the whole apocalypse scenario film like a small independent that cost in the neighborhood of $114,000. Before we dive into talking about what came before how about some background.
George Andrew Romero (born February 4, 1940) is an American-Canadian film director, film producer, screenwriter and editor, best known for his series of gruesome and satirical horror films about a hypothetical zombie apocalypse, beginning with Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Romero was born in New York City, to a Cuban-born father of Spanish parentage and a Lithuanian American mother. His father has been reported as born in A Coruña with his family coming from the Galician town of Neda, although George A. Romero once described his father as of Castilian descent. His father worked as a commercial artist. Romero attended Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University. After graduating in 1960, he began his career shooting short films and commercials. One of his early commercial films, a segment for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in which Mr. Rogers underwent a tonsillectomy, inspired Romero to go into the horror film business. He, along with nine friends, formed Image Ten Productions in the late 1960s, and produced Night of the Living Dead. The movie, directed by Romero and co-written with John A. Russo, became a cult classic and a defining moment for modern horror cinema.
Other inspiration for Romero's filmmaking, as told to Robert K. Elder in an interview for The Film That Changed My Life, was the film The Tales of Hoffmann.
"It was the filmmaking, the fantasy, the fact that it was a fantasy and it had a few frightening, sort of bizarre things in it. It was everything. It was really a movie for me, and it gave me an early appreciation for the power of visual media—the fact that you could experiment with it. He was doing all his tricks in-camera, and they were sort of obvious. That made me feel that, gee, maybe I could figure this medium out. It was transparent, but it worked."
The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)
The Tales of Hoffmann is a 1951 British film adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's opera The Tales of Hoffmann, written, produced and directed by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger working under the umbrella of their production company, The Archers. It uses a soundtrack recorded for the film conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham; principal singers are Bond, Ayars, Grandi, Rounseville, and Dargavel; the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays. The film's production team includes cinematographer Christopher Challis and production and costume designer Hein Heckroth, who was nominated for two 1952 Academy Awards for his work.
In a tavern in Nuremberg, the young Hoffmann tells three stories of past loves—Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. He recounts the stories during the interval of a ballet, which stars his new love Stella. Léonide Massine and Robert Helpmann have roles in each story. Olympia is an automaton or robot created by scientist Spellanzi, which Hoffmann falls for, ignorant of its artifice. Antonia Crespel is a doomed virtuoso soprano suffering from an incurable illness, who succumbs to the malady, breaking the heart of Hoffmann and her father, Crespel. In Venice, Hoffmann falls for Giulietta, a courtesan, but she does not love him, and is also a confidence trickster. Due to a double-cross from one of Hoffmann's adversaries, Dr Miracle, she dies at the end of the third act. Finally, in Nuremberg, Hoffmann explains that all three women are aspects of a ballet dancer named Stella. However, it is artistic inspiration which drives Hoffmann, and a muse, Nicklausse, who has supported him throughout his romantic intervals, leads him to recognize this. Stella is then rejected by Hoffmann, but goes off with Count Lindorf while several students enter the bar for drink and entertainment.
Three films that followed were less popular: There's Always Vanilla (1971), Jack's Wife / Season of the Witch (1972) and The Crazies (1973) were not as well received as Night of the Living Dead or some of his later work. The Crazies, dealing with a bio spill that induces an epidemic of homicidal madness, and the critically acclaimed arthouse success Martin (1977), a film that deals with the vampire myth, were the two well-known films from this period. Like many of his films, they were shot in or around Pittsburgh.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent horror film directed by George A. Romero, starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea and Karl Hardman. It premiered on October 1, 1968, and was completed on a US$114,000 budget. The film became a financial success, grossing $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally. Night of the Living Dead was heavily criticized at its release owing to explicit content, but eventually garnered critical acclaim and has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." The film has entered the public domain due to an error by the distributor.
The story follows characters Ben, Barbra, and five others trapped in a rural farmhouse in Pennsylvania which is attacked by unnamed "living dead" monsters which later became known in popular culture as zombies. Night of the Living Dead was the basis of five subsequent Living Dead films (1978–2010) also directed by Romero, and has inspired remakes.
As we explore zombie movies that were made before 1968 you will notice they differ not only from what Romero made but also from each other even so much as being part of a comedy plot.
White Zombie (1932)
White Zombie is a 1932 American independent Pre-Code horror film directed and produced by brothers Victor Halperin and Edward Halperin. The screenplay by Garnett Weston, based on a book by William Seabrook, tells the story of a young woman's transformation into a zombie at the hands of an evil voodoo master. Béla Lugosi stars as the antagonist, Murder Legendre, with Madge Bellamy appearing as his victim.
White Zombie is considered the first feature length zombie film. A sequel to the film, titled Revolt of the Zombies, opened in 1936. Modern reception to White Zombie has been more positive than its initial release. Some critics have praised the atmosphere of the film, comparing it to the 1940s horror film productions of Val Lewton, while others still have an unfavorable opinion on the quality of the acting.
Young couple Madeleine and Neil are coaxed by acquaintance Monsieur Beaumont to get married on his Haitian plantation. Beaumont's motives are purely selfish as he makes every attempt to convince the beautiful young girl to run away with him. For help Beaumont turns to the devious Legendre, a man who runs his mill by mind controlling people he has turned into zombies. After Beaumont uses Legendre's zombie potion on Madeleine, he is dissatisfied with her emotionless being and wants her to be changed back. Legendre has no intention of doing this and he drugs Beaumont as well to add to his zombie collection. Meanwhile, grieving 'widower' Neil is convinced by a local priest that Madeleine may still be alive and he seeks her out.
I Accuse (1938)
J'accuse! is a 1938 French war film directed by Abel Gance and starring Victor Francen. It is a remake of the 1919 film of the same name, which was also directed by Gance.
J'accuse (1919) is a French silent film directed by Abel Gance. It juxtaposes a romantic drama with the background of the horrors of World War I, and it is sometimes described as a pacifist or anti-war film. Work on the film began in 1918 and some scenes were filmed on real battlefields. The film's powerful depiction of wartime suffering, and particularly its climactic sequence of the "return of the dead", made it an international success, and confirmed Gance as one of the most important directors in Europe.
After serving in the trenches of World War I, Jean Diaz recoils with such horror that he renounces love and personal pleasure to immerse himself in scientific research, seeking a machine to prevent war. He thinks he has succeeded, but the government subverts his discovery, and Europe slides with seeming inevitability toward World War II. In desperation, Diaz summons the ghosts of the war dead from the graves and fields of France to give silent, accusing protest.
The Ghost Breakers (1940)
The Ghost Breakers is a comedy film directed by George Marshall and starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. The movie was adapted by Walter DeLeon from the play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard, no relation to Paulette. Along with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Hope's own The Cat and the Canary, it is cited as a prime example of the classic Hollywood horror-comedy.
Mary Carter inherits her family's ancestral home, located on a small island off Cuba, and, despite warnings and death threats, decides to take possession of the reputedly haunted castle. She is joined by radio broadcaster Larry Lawrence who, believing he has killed a mob gunman, flees New York with his butler, Alex. Once on the island the threesome enter the eerie castle and after viewing the ghost of one of Mary's ancestors and fighting off a menacing zombie, they find the key to the castle's treasure but are interrupted by an all-too-human foe.
Spooks Run Wild (1941)
Spooks Run Wild is an American comedy horror film and the seventh film in the East Side Kids series, starring Bela Lugosi, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and Bobby Jordan. Released in 1941, it was directed by Phil Rosen, in his first and only outing in the series, and produced by Sam Katzman (under the company name Banner Pictures). It is based on an original script by Carl Foreman and Charles R. Marion.
The boys are sent to a mountain camp. Stranded in a small rural town, they hear about a "monster killer" roaming the countryside. At night, they sneak out. Peewee is shot by a grave-digger, and they are forced to seek aid at an old mansion. The owner of the mansion (Lugosi), insists that the boys spend the night. After seeing PeeWee walk around the house in a trance, the boys decide that the man turned him into a zombie. They gang up on him and tie him up. The nurse at the boys camp (Dorothy Short) sets out to find the missing boys with Von Grosch (Dennis Moore), who has come to rid the town of the killer- or has he?
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
I Walked with a Zombie is a 1943 horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur. It was the second horror film from producer Val Lewton for RKO Pictures. Producer Val Lewton was forced to use the film's title by RKO executives. Officially, the film was based on an article written by Inez Wallace for American Weekly Magazine. Lewton asked his writers to use Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre for giving the story a narrative structure and to do research on Haitian voodoo practices. Anna Lee was originally slated for the Frances Dee role, but had to bow out due to another commitment.
A young Canadian nurse, Betsy Connell, arrives in St. Sebastian in the West Indies to care for Jessica Holland, wife of wealthy sugar plantation owner Paul Holland. For Betsy, she seems to be living in paradise, despite Paul's dim view of his surroundings. His half-brother Wesley Rand is much cheerier. When Betsy finally meets Jessica, she finds her walking in the garden late at night as though she were in a trance. Dr. Maxwell explains that Jessica had a severe tropical fever that burned out portions of her spine, leaving her in a zombie-like state. Maxwell and Betsy recommend insulin shock treatment. Betsy also begins to wonder if voodoo might be able to cure her.
Scared Stiff (1953)
One of the 17 movies made by the Martin and Lewis team, it was released on April 27, 1953 by Paramount Pictures. The team's ninth picture, Scared Stiff is a remake of Paramount's previous effort, The Ghost Breakers, a 1940 "scare comedy" starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, also directed by George Marshall. The property has proven successful for Paramount in decades past and they've also filmed two versions in the silent era The Ghost Breaker (1914) directed by Cecil DeMille and The Ghost Breaker (1922) starring Wallace Reid. According to Lewis, both he and Martin were against making the picture, as they found the original to be satisfactory. However, because the film was a Paramount property that producer Hal B. Wallis felt was one that could be successful in the comedy team's hands, he held the two to their contract for the film.
Nightclub singer Larry Todd breaks off his romance with a beautiful showgirl when he realizes she's the girlfriend of a murderously jealous gangster. While on the run, Larry mistakenly believes he kills one of the mobsters and is helped to escape police by heiress Mary Carol, who smuggles Larry and partner Myron to Cuba. Mary has inherited a haunted castle on an isolated island and, ignoring ominous warnings and threats, decides to take possession. While there, the trio hunt for a hidden treasure and encounter a ghost, a zombie, and a mysterious killer.
I Bury the Living (1958)
I Bury the Living is a horror film directed by famed B-movie director Albert Band, father of Charles Band, and starring Richard Boone and Theodore Bikel.
Through a series of macabre "coincidences," the newly-elected director of a cemetery (Richard Boone) begins to believe that he can cause the deaths of living owners of burial plots by merely changing the push-pin color from white (living) to black (dead) on a large wall map of the cemetery that notes those plots.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Carnival of Souls is a 1962 independent horror film starring Candace Hilligoss. Produced and directed by Herk Harvey for an estimated $33,000, the film did not gain widespread attention when originally released, as a B-movie; today, however, it is a cult classic. Set to an organ score by Gene Moore, Carnival of Souls relies more on atmosphere than on special effects to create a mood of unease and foreboding. The film has a large cult following and is occasionally screened at film and Halloween festivals. It has been cited as an important influence on the films of both David Lynch and George A. Romero.
A street race results in one of the cars careening off a bridge and into the muddy river below. Of the three people in that car, only Mary Henry emerges alive from the river. Mary seems desensitized to life after that incident. She escapes that town and the memory of the accident by accepting a job in another town in Utah as a church organist, despite she not being religiously minded. She vows never to return. However, on her drive to Utah, she begins to see visions of a man - almost as an apparition - who she believes is out to get her. Other strange occurrences are that she at times seems possessed, and at other times seems to be physically invisible to the world. All these occurrences make her at times repulsed by her lecherous rooming house neighbor, John Linden, while other times feeling the need for his companionship. Despite the help of a therapist, Mary believes that specifically the visions of the man have something to do with an abandoned carnival site located at the outskirts of town, the carnival site to which she is nonetheless drawn.
The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)
The film was shot in black and white at Shepperton Studios in London. Location filming was done at the village of Shere in Surrey. It was one of several 1960s British horror films to be scored by the avant-garde Elisabeth Lutyens, whose father, Edwin Lutyens, designed Manor House Lodge in Shere, a small property which features prominently at several points in the film.
After a mysterious gas attack which kills off most of the earth's population, a few survivors gather at a country inn to figure out a plan for survival. However, the gas attack is only the first step in an alien invasion, in which groups of killer robots stalk the streets, able to kill anyone with the a mere touch of their hands. The group's members find additional weaponry in a nearby drill hall, but the robots continue their campaign of terror, which only increases when their victims rise from the dead as zombies, eager to kill anyone who might try to stop them. Yet despite frictions within the group -- and the birth of a baby, which further complicates matters -- most of the members survive, and head to a nearby airport, where they commandeer a plane and fly towards an unknown destination, where perhaps additional survivors await their arrival.
The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
Production on the film began on 28 July 1965 at Bray Studios. It was shot back-to-back with The Reptile using the same sets, a Cornish village created on the backlot by Bernard Robinson. The film was released in some markets on a double feature with Dracula: Prince of Darkness.
Young workers are dying because of a mysterious epidemic in a little village in Cornwall. Doctor Thompson is helpless and asks professor James Forbes for help. The professor and his daughter Sylvia travel to Thomson. Terrible things happen soon, beyond imagination or reality. Dead people are seen near an old, unused mine. Late people seem to live suddenly. Professor Forbes presumes that black magic is involved and someone has extraordinary power. He doesn't know how close he is: the dead become alive because of a magic voodoo-ritual, and so they must serve their master as mindless zombies...
- George A. Romero - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) – IMDb
- The Tales of Hoffmann (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Night of the Living Dead (1968) – IMDb
- Night of the Living Dead - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- White Zombie (1932) – IMDb
- White Zombie (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- I Accuse (1938) – IMDb
- J'accuse! (1938 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- J'accuse (1919 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Ghost Breakers (1940) – IMDb
- The Ghost Breakers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Spooks Run Wild (1941) – IMDb
- Spooks Run Wild - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- I Walked with a Zombie (1943) – IMDb
- I Walked with a Zombie - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Scared Stiff (1953) – IMDb
- Scared Stiff (1953 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- I Bury the Living (1958) – IMDb
- I Bury the Living - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Carnival of Souls (1962) – IMDb
- Carnival of Souls - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) – IMDb
- The Earth Dies Screaming - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Plague of the Zombies (1966) – IMDb
- The Plague of the Zombies - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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