Movies come and movies go. But in the end, it’s the truly brilliant ones that survive. The classics are classics for the very reason that they survive to become classics. And when it comes to zombie movies, there is no other film that has survived the test of time like George A Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead. Filmed in black and white when many films were going color (a budget constraint– which was just over $100,000), it was met with strong criticism due to its “explicit content” and depiction of extreme violence.
Over the decades, it has become a cult classic and garnered critical acclaim; so much so that the Library of Congress for Preservation in the National Film Registry selected the movie as a film deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
But Romero and Company lost ownership of their groundbreaking masterpiece long before that fact was recognized.
Before Night of the Living Dead found distribution, it was called Night of the Flesh Eaters. Image 10 (Romero and Company) placed a copyright indication after the title, as was required by US Law. The eventual theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, decided to rename the film Night of the Living Dead (to avoid litigation from the producers of The Flesh Eaters (1964)) and neglected to place a copyright indication on the prints. This would eventually place the film in the public domain, taking ‘ownership’ out of the hands of the creators.
So not only did NOTLD launch a completely new horror sub-genre, but due to the unfortunate screw up, it unwittingly created the most copied, ripped-off, riffed-on, adapted and unofficially sequel-ed horror movie of all time.
It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then there should be a whole lot of love out there for NOTLD. And while the love is almost unanimous with fans of the genre — a good lot of the trash that passes for “love” and tribute over the decades has been nothing short of desecration.
So we would like to honor Night of the Living Dead, and turn lemons into lemonade by examining some of the more interesting adaptations. These are the ones that attempted to pay homage to the master — not rip it off. And in the last installment of this series, we will examine some of the truly god-awful garbage produced in the name of the Living Dead, and explain why they are so god-awful.
But first up, an awesome tribute…
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (2009)
This truly unique re-imagining is not to be confused with the atrocious Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012), which should not be confused with the equally atrocious Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006). What this 2009 film brings to the table is originality, so lacking in most of the other “adaptations” (and I use that term loosely). Neoflux Productions describes their creative endeavor:
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated is a collaborative artistic mash-up of George Romero’s cult classic. Nearly 150 International artists and animators chose their favorite scenes and re-envisioned them through their own artwork, with no restrictions on style, media or process – resulting in an eclectic ‘art show’ interpretation of the seminal 1968 film, all placed over the original’s audio. With work ranging from oil paintings to comic illustrations and sock puppets to CGI and stop-motion – NOTLD:R not only pays the respect due to this most important work in horror history, but encourages viewers to experience the film in a brand new light that bursts with the humor and horror of a new generation of artists. Art is dead…yeah, it’s all messed up.
None of this is a snow job. Completely different styles of art are knitted together– sometimes only seconds long, completely in sync with the original movie’s audio track (which remains untouched). The pacing of the movie is maintained by the sound track, which really drives home how outstanding it really was. The results are still all in black and white, with some segments artificially aged to fully melt them together. I found myself mesmerized by most of the images and animations (numbering apparently in the thousands), keen to see how the next iconic scene would be played out.
The entire production is not without its faults. Some of the sequences seem to have slipped through the Quality Assurance department (if that department was more than just film creator and gallery curator/ experimental animator, Mike Schneider). Schneider, extended the invitation for anyone in the horror community to take scenes from this seminal work and respond to them through their art. As Schneider explains:
We, as fans, accept the film as an absolute. Changes would be alienating and copying would be pointless. Instead, what we have done is what artists have always done.. responded to the world around us and offered others the chance to see it as we do.
The patchwork of different styles works– mostly. The most memorable scenes from NOTLD generally had a larger number of contributors, which are often spliced together in rapid sequence. And yes– this works most of the time.
This is a truly brave production, and one worthy of standing as a true tribute to the 1968 Night of the Living Dead. As an aficionado of the original, I have to say I hadn’t heard of this production. Many people haven’t, which is a shame. Check it out– it’s worth it! I am sure George would approve.
Check out these frame-grabs from Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated– ones that illustrate the diverse media used to retell Romero’s classic…