Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent horror film written, directed, photographed and edited by George A. Romero, co-written by John Russo, and starring Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea. The story follows seven people who are trapped in a rural farmhouse in western Pennsylvania, which is under assault by an enlarging group of cannibalistic, undead ghouls.
Having gained experience through directing television commercials and industrial films for their Pittsburgh-based production company The Latent Image, Romero and his friends Russo and Russell Streiner decided to fulfill their ambitions to make a feature film. Electing to make a horror film that would capitalize on contemporary commercial interest in the genre, they formed a partnership with Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman of Hardman Associates called Image Ten. After evolving through multiple drafts, Russo and Romero’s final script primarily drew influence from Richard Matheson‘s 1954 novel I Am Legend. Principal photography took place between July 1967 and January 1968, primarily on location in Evans City; aside from the Image Ten team themselves, the cast and crew consisted of their friends and relatives, local stage and amateur actors, and residents from the area. Although the film was his directorial debut, Romero utilized many of the guerrilla filmmaking techniques he had honed in his commercial and industrial work to complete the film on a budget of US$114,000.
Following its theatrical premiere in Pittsburgh on October 1, 1968, Night of the Living Dead eventually grossed US$12 million domestically and US$18 million internationally, earning more than 250 times its budget and making it one of the most profitable film productions ever made at the time. Released shortly prior to the adoption of the Motion Picture Association of America rating system, the film attracted widespread controversy and negative reviews upon its initial release for its explicit violence and gore, but it soon garnered a cult following and acclaim among critics, and has appeared on lists of the greatest films ever made by such outlets as Empire, The New York Times and Total Film. Frequently identified as the first modern zombie film and a touchstone in the development of the horror genre, retrospective scholarly analysis has focused on its reflection of the social and cultural changes in the United States during the 1960s, with particular attention being directed towards the casting of Jones, an African-American, in the leading role. In 1999, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Night of the Living Dead spawned a franchise that includes five official sequels released between 1978 and 2009, also directed by Romero. The film has also inspired several remakes as a result of its public domain status. An official remake, written by Romero and directed by Tom Savini, was released in 1990 and has similarly gained a small cult following.
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