One of the most beloved and recognized movies ever made, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead set the standard for a new age of zombie mayhem, one in which the dead walk and hunt the living for their juicy flesh. According to this book’s title, author Joe Kane (The Phantom of the Movies) intended to go behind the scenes and explore the making of this classic film. And Kane starts of relatively well but is somewhat overwhelmed by his topic. As a result, the book becomes more of an overview of the entire zombie genre, as well as an expose of George A. Romero’s career.
The early chapters in the book do provide some interesting anecdotes regarding the film, its creators, cast, and crew. For example, we learn a little about The Latent Image, a film-production house that makes industrial films and commercials. We also learn about the first film concept, a horror comedy, before the creators—writer John Russo and director Romero among them—switch to a plot that would become the genesis for Night of the Living Dead.
Rather than stay on topic, Kane moves on, exploring Romero’s movie history, from his early flops (Jack’s Wife and There’s Always Vanilla) to his dead films through Survival of the Dead to his big-budget experiments like The Dark Half and Bruiser. Although these chapters are interesting, they deviate from the book’s theme—that of the first film, Night of the Living Dead.
For example, I would have enjoyed reading more about some of the creators, such as writer John Russo and producer and actor Russ Streiner (he’s Johnny, who gets to utter that classic line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”). Kane hints at difficulties from a “business and creative perspective” between Romero and Russo, for example, but never elaborates.
Kane also hints at a possible dislike of the film by its lead actor, Duane Jones, but once again does not explore further. Other key players, such as Karl Hardman, Judith O’Dea, Marilyn Eastman, and Kyra Schon are sketched out but never discussed in detail. It would have been interesting to have dedicated a chapter to each person, with perhaps interview pieces culled together, along with detailed biographies. Keith Wayne (Tom) was a singer and actor who committed suicide, for example. I would have loved to learn even more about him.
As an overview, Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever is a solid book. Kane is a good, engaging writer, his chapters tight and provocative enough to keep the reader reading. The guest essays vary in quality, with some of the guest writers plugging their own films more than discussing the influence of Night of the Living Dead. Kane also provides short interviews with some of these filmmakers, such as Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) and Peter Jackson (Dead Alive), which delver deeper into how Night of the Living Dead influenced the future of the “dead screen.”
The center of the book consists of several glossy pages filled with black-and-white images of Night of the Living Dead movie stills, and more importantly, some rare behind-the-scenes images. This addition makes this book an even bigger treat, as Kane discusses some of the photos in early chapters.
As a sourcebook on George A. Romero’s dead films (and other films), this book is an excellent read. For those who have not read much about this film, this book is an essential purchase, as it will provide you with plenty of history about the production of these films. And Kane pulls no punches, discussing both the good and the bad, including the horrible things that have been done to the film, such as colorizing it and then later even adding new scenes to “re-imagine” it.
Overall, I really enjoyed Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever. Even if you own other books that cover the dead films, get this one, too. It’s a very good read, one that even jaded horror fans will enjoy.