Rob Kuhns’ look back at the origins of George A Romero’s genre-defying classic made its debut at Tallgrass last year, where it picked up the doc award. Since then, it’s gone on to screen at Napa Valley, Florida, Cinequest, Big Sky, Woods Hole, Sitges, Woodstock, and the Southern Circuit.
In 1968, a new kind of cinematic zombie emerged, paving the way for countless of imitators and later homages like the popular AMC series adaptation of the comic book series THE WALKING DEAD. As Kuhns’ film notes, Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD wasn’t the first film to feature this particular sort of undead, and, in fact, didn’t use the term in the film itself, but Romero’s version – shambling, relentless creatures – has served to define them moreso than their previous, racist-tinged voodoo depictions. The amiable director, still able to tell a good yarn at 73 years old, appears here to share all the details, noting how he and his makeshift crew made the first film for virtually nothing, in Pittsburgh, a place decidedly not known for film production, and had a hell of a time selling it. But beyond this fairly standard behind-the-scenes kind of info, Kuhn invites intriguing analyses of NIGHT on racial and political lines from critics like Elvis Mitchell and Mark Harris and filmmakers like Sam Pollard and Larry Fessenden (the latter also serving as producer here), who all demonstrate infectious enthusiasm for the film and its legacy. While Kuhn’s doc heavily relies on talking heads, it makes good use of extensive clips from Romero’s classic as well as appealing illustrated sequences to make its points and turn up the visual interest, and results in a project that should be equally of interest for genre fans and for the more casual viewer.