If you are a fan of Night of the Living Dead, you must see Birth of the Living Dead, a documentary about the making of the iconic horror film and its influence on popular culture.
George Romero’s stories about the ragtag cast and crew, a motley assemblage of friends and business associates, are priceless. It was everyone’s first movie — and as if by magic, they created something completely different. The film also puts Night in the context of its time; they may not have set out to make an allegory for the turbulent late-sixties, but that’s what they ended up with.
One of the interesting things I learned was that Night was originally released in theaters as a matinée feature aimed at kids; it was typical in those days for theaters to run low-budget sci-fi and horror stuff on weekend and holiday afternoons.
Harmless fun — but Night of the Living Dead was like no horror movie ever made.
I vividly remember seeing it at one of those afternoon shows. As my mother dropped us off in front of the movie house in Mineola, a pimply faced teenager with thick glasses accosted us. “I hope you brought a spoon! This movie’s so scary it’ll make you swallow your tongue!”
I was really little, like 7 or 8 years old, along for a fun day out with my older sister and cousins. Swallow my tongue? Bring a spoon? Now I was beginning to worry.
Well, it turns out that spoonboy was correct.
The film was so intensely disturbing and terrifying that several times during the movie we ran from the theater screaming and cowered in the lobby. It was just too much.
Film critic Roger Ebert happened to attend one of these matinée screenings, in a crowd full of children, and wrote this:
The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying.
A good time was had by all!