AFI Movie Club: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – American Film Institute

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AFI Movie Club: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

It was more than a half century ago this week that director George A. Romero first unleashed an iconic, unholy terror upon an unsuspecting movie-going populace. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has shambled its way inexorably and pervasively onto the popular landscape – and is ranked #93 on AFI’s list of the most thrilling American films of all time. 

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – Reelgood

Watch this exclusive video from the AFI Archive in which George A. Romero discusses the early response to his film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Movie Trivia About Today’s Film

DID YOU KNOW? 

Now recognized as a pioneering icon of the horror genre, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD marked George A. Romero’s feature film debut as a director and screenwriter.   

DID YOU KNOW? 

Although the budget was said at the time to be under $100,000, later sources recorded production costs of $125,000, financed by roughly 30 independent investors. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Principal photography on the 35mm, black-and-white picture – then titled NIGHT OF THE FLESH EATERS – took place on a 10-acre plot of land in Evans City, PA, outside Pittsburgh. Director George A. Romero complained of bad weather and lack of local production facilities and skilled laboratory technicians, but he said that shooting there was advantageous as it allowed him and his colleagues greater artistic control. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

The role of Ben was originally written as a lower-class, uneducated person. The casting of Duane Jones – who had studied in Norway and Paris, spoke multiple languages and was in the middle of completing his M.A. at NYU – led to him upgrading the dialogue to how he felt the character should present himself. Jones has also said of his casting, “It never occurred to me that I was hired because I was Black. But it did occur to me that because I was Black, it would give a different historic element to the film.” 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Local Pittsburgh late-night horror show host Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille made a cameo appearance as a television reporter.  

DID YOU KNOW? 

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was controversial for its stark nihilism and gore. Because the film’s distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, did not subscribe to the MPAA’s rating system, tickets were ostensibly accessible to moviegoers of all ages. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Despite its controversial reception at the time of release, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was a commercial success – and in 1999 was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Registry of culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

There have been an additional five “living dead” films directed by George A. Romero – including DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), LAND OF THE DEAD (2005), DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009). Romero also penned a 1990 remake of his original film, which was directed by pioneering effects icon Tom Savini. 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

 

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-Controversial at the time for its bleak nihilism and brutal violence, does NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD still manage to retain its visceral terror more than half a century later? 

-Does seeing the film’s events unfold in stark black and white have the effect of increasing its horrors? Why or why not? 

-What effect does the film’s low budget have on creating its distinctly visceral terrors? 

-Would it have been as effective in color – or with an increased budget? Why or why not? 

-How do the film’s equally iconic subsequent installments build on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s mythology and genre innovation? What is your favorite of the Romero sequels? 

-How does the casting of a Black heroic lead affect the narrative and the dynamics of those trapped in the farmhouse? 

-How would you rate NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD? 

 

New to AFI Movie Club? Want to learn more?

AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience.

Learn more in our FAQ section.

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