Reflections on the Living Dead: Zombies I Have Known
While 1932’s White Zombie is the first zombie movie, none have shaped the zombie discourse more than George Romero’s Living Dead films. Those movies created everything we “know” about zombies, as well as ushered a new kind of horror movie. In Reflections on the Living Dead, Romero and others look back.
Reflections on the Living Dead: Memories of Night of the Living Dead
Image via Image Ten
Originally released in 1993 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of Night of the Living Dead, Reflections on the Living Dead is a comprehensive documentary. In the 1960s, George Romero had formed the company The Latent Image with John Russo and Russell Streiner. However, they had grown tired of making commercials and wanted to try making a movie. As they explain in the documentary, horror wasn’t their first choice. Instead, they kind of stumbled upon it. They couldn’t make westerns, for example, because they didn’t know anyone with horses.
They got together with Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman from a local film company called Hardman Associates, Inc. Together they formed a new company, Image Ten, and the ten principals each invested $600 in their new movie. They figured with a $6000 budget, they could make a horror movie as good as any they’d seen. In the end, they would raise around $114,000 (around $850,000 today).
The story and script went through rounds of revision before they settled on the final screenplay. It was not originally a zombie–or ghoul, as the movie calls them–film. The first version was about teenage aliens. Then it became a story about aliens who eat people. Russo suggested that the aliens eat the recently deceased, because that was easier than their digging up bodies. Inspired by Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend, Romero seized upon the idea of an infected horde. And the rest is history.
The Documentary Details
The documentary features a roundtable of the filmmakers involved, including Romero, Russo, Streiner, and Hardman. Eastman is represented with interviews from the time the film was made. In their discussion, they cover the making of the film. Other segments go into detail about how they came up with specific elements, like the makeup they used. (Fun fact: The “blood” in the movie is just Bosco’s Chocolate Syrup.) They also depict how Hardman and Eastman picked the 1930s music used in the movie, since they couldn’t afford new music.
In addition to this look behind the scenes, the documentary features commentary on how the movie influenced horror in general. And we’re not just hearing from random fans. No, instead, the movie scores interviews with some of the most iconic names in horror, like Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), and Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street).
Thomas Brown wrote and directed the documentary, his only credit besides the J.R. Bookwalter movie Maximum Impact.
Living Critics’ Corner
Although this was originally made in 1993, under the original title Night of the Living Dead 25th Anniversary Documentary, it’s not as well-known as it should be. With Tempe rereleasing it in 2020, though, more people will be able to see it. For those who have already seen it, though, it is worth it. While it’s not glossy or slickly made, it’s an important account of the making of an important movie–one that’s, after all, been preserved in the National Film Registry.
Reflections on the Living Dead is available on demand on Roku – sign up and watch it on HorrorMax TV!
featured image via Tempe Digital
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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.