Made before featurettes became de rigueur for cult films on DVD, Thomas Brown’s documentary is admittedly crude and wholly the product of a fan’s adoration for a singular film, but it maintains an oddly refreshing glimpse into the making of one of the most influential horror films of all-time.
The doc’s core is a roundtable discussion where, perhaps for the first time, four of the key players from Night of the Living Dead gathered for an informal talk at the Hardman-Eastman Associates, Inc. offices in 1993 for the film’s 25th anniversary.
Director George Romero is joined by co-writer John A. Russo, co-producer / co-star Karl Hardman, and co-producer Russell Streiner, and their conversation doesn’t offer a trove of new information; what’s notable is the congeniality and camaraderie among the four filmmakers, Romero’s sharp wise cracks, and the democratic dialogue that never favours one specific person.
The main anecdotes cover props, locations, sleeping arrangements while on location, and the film’s original financing plan of 10 producers with $600 each towards an impossible budget, Duane Jones, the film’s violence and gore, the newsroom set, plus references to personnel from the original production who were interviewed in 2009 for the doc Autopsy of the Dead (notably special effects man Regis Survinski).
The quartet’s conversation is also significant for being untainted by the sense of familiarity that would affect later interviews with Romero and Russo, as well as Q&As at conventions which arguably are designed for fans who want to hear ‘classic’ tales from the making of their most beloved films.
Brown’s doc was done at a time when the careers of two of the four had peaked: Romero would finish has last Hollywood film – The Dark Half (1993) - before a seven-year pause until the flawed Bruiser (2000). Since 2000, Romero has directed three more films in the never-ending Night series, whereas Russo would write a handful of forgettable B-films, as well as retool the original Night in an expanded 30th anniversary edition in 1998. Streiner largely stayed away from feature filmmaking, as did Hardman.
There’s also a tone among the subjects wherein one senses everyone was interviewed at the perfect time when they felt comfortable reflecting on what became a lauded genre classic. That seems to be the stance of Brown, who constructed the doc into themed chapters.
Beginning with the film’s original theatrical trailer, the doc goes straight into the roundtable discussion, with film clips supporting some of the key topics, and a slight digression to comments from contemporary genre practitioners, who recall their first encounter with Night, as well as the film’s influence on their work.
The ‘new breed’ of filmmakers is a mix of directors with roots in the exploitation realm: Fred Olen Ray (Evil Toons), Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), David DeCoteau (Creepozoids), Sam Raimi (Evil Dead), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes), Scott Spiegel (Evil Dead II), and the baby-faced editors of Film Threat: Christian Gore, and David E. Williams.
Among the themed chapters, there’s Hardman and wife Marilyn Eastman discussing the film’s makeup and effects, with the former recalling some of the graphic makeup effects tricks he learned while working at RKO during the production of Enchanted Cottage (1945); and Eastman’s gradual switch during filming from theatrical raccoon eye makeup to the gaunt looks that was more successful. The couple go through various photos, and single out a few of the actors they dressed up as ghouls.
Hardman and Eastman also discuss the stock music cues used in the film, and their conversation is taped in a mixing room where one of the original Capitol Hi-Q records plays in the background. They explain how they provided Romero with cue samples, leaving the final score selection up to the director, and describe how most of the cues were slowed down, echoplexed, or tweaked for the final mix.
(Jim Cirronnella, who produced the 2009 doc Autopsy of the Dead, as well as the definitive Night soundtrack CD in 2009, offers a clarification in an interview, explaining the stock cues weren’t treated at all; rather it’s the electronic material created by Hardman and Eastman, as well as dialogue and screams – such as the girl’s killing of her mother – that were tweaked in the mix.)
The doc closes with a stills montage, an on-camera salute from Market Square producer / distributor Michael D. Moore to Romero, and a weird Q&A with kids on their response in seeing a zombie flick made in 1968.
Thus far, this doc has been released only on VHS, and while a bit technically crude, it’s an important record of the film’s main participants that should be reissued on disc, or as a downloadable video.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan