NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on the Big Screen, The Way Mom Saw It
One of my favorite stories that my mom would tell was the one about when she went to see NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for the first time. It was the late 1960s, and she wasn’t quite 20 yet, when she and a friend went to check it out together. They got to the theatre in Oceanside, NY a little early, and the usher sold them tickets and told them they could go in. My mother and her friend walked into the packed theatre just in time to see the stunning ending, and what happened to Ben, before seeing any of what happened before it. The way she told it, she was shocked. Fortunately, seeing the ending first didn’t deter her from staying and watching the movie from the beginning.
I keep that story in my mind every time I reach the end of NOTLD. It’s the only real horror connection my mother and I ever had. When I started going to conventions, I would always show her the pictures of me and the celebrities, and tell her how my experience was; she would always be interested, because I was so avid about cons. But it was always different when I would tell her about an encounter with Romero. Her smile would get a little wider, and she would tell me that story about her first time with the film again. And then my smile would get a lot wider.
I suppose that story is part of the reason I’ve wanted to see NOTLD on the big screen for so many years. In 2008, I was supposed to get that chance. My trip to Texas Frightmare Weekend was a big deal for me. It would be the farthest I’d ever been from home, a lot of money invested, and I’d be representing Icons of Fright, alongside Beth Puttkammer. Months before, when I’d figured out the cost and all, I’d called Mom and asked her whether I should go. She said, “Phil, do you really need to ask me? If you want to go, go. Enjoy yourself.” So I booked everything, and just a few weeks before, when I was on the website, I saw they were also having a showing of NOTLD in a local theatre the night before the show. A Q&A with Romero and the cast would precede the show. I didn’t need to ask Mom for advice on this one.
I’ll spare you the story of what happened. If you want to read that, check my review. Suffice it to say that plane problems screwed me out of what I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was devastated. Yes, that sounds ridiculous. But I truly was.
Well, it’s taken two years, but I’ll finally get my chance to see NOTLD in all its 35 millimeter glory, on a big screen. Saturday Nightmares is not only providing a great lineup of guests, but a screening of the film much the way TFW did. For fans of the film, this is an experience. More than 40 years after it came out in theatres, in the age of DVDs and Blu Ray, Saturday Nightmares is giving us the opportunity to see it the way it was originally intended. The only way people would have seen it back in the late 1960s. The way Mom saw it.
When I consider it, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the most important horror film ever made. There are a few horror films I like better (THE OMEN will always be my favorite, a look at pure, elemental evil), but Romero’s film works on several levels that no other horror flick has. It’s a document of a time and society that was rife with tension and in the midst of upheaval. It forever changed the way zombies would be used in movies, and is widely imitated and ripped off at a space of 40 years out. It introduced quick cutting and masterful editing to the genre. It’s art. To see it on the big screen, in 35mm, will be a surreal experience for me. I can’t wait.
My mom is no longer with us. I lost her to cancer last year, but Junie will be with me in Jersey City this month, when I seat myself in the theatre later this month and take in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Now I can add my own story to hers, and that makes this even more special for me.
Thank you, Saturday Nightmares, for making this possible.
If you’re interested in seeing NOTLD, as well as DAWN OF THE DEAD and CREEPSHOW on the big screen, come to Saturday Nightmares on March 19-21! Check it out here.