Now that October is well underway, it's time we engage in all forms of horror shenanigans, including but not limited to the Halloween season tradition of putting as many horror movies as possible in front of our eyeballs. I kicked off my list with a Francis Ford Coppola double feature of Dementia 13 (1963) and Dracula (1992). Following these came Carl Theodor Dreyer's brilliant Vampyr (1932), Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys (1987), and the must-see film for every Halloween season, John Carpenter's Halloween (1978).
Next in line came George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead (1968). I enjoyed a screening of a 35mm print of this one last weekend, when it played as part of the Late Nite Grindhouse film series, presented once a month by DestroyTheBrain.com.
This was the second time I'd seen Night Of The Living Dead in 35mm on the big screen. The first time was more than 25 years ago. I was a teenager, living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the time, and I experienced a triple feature of Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead (1978), and Day Of The Dead (1985) at Pittsburgh's Fulton Theatre - the very same theater where Night Of The Living Dead had premiered in 1968!
Even though I was a young whippersnapper, I understood what a significant event I was part of. Replicating the occurrence is no longer possible - the Fulton Theatre was renovated and renamed in the 1990s. Sure, you could screen the same triple feature there today... but it wouldn't have quite the same connection with Night Of The Living Dead's birth.
The Fulton Theatre was destined to be part of horror history - it first opened its doors on Halloween night in 1904. Back then, it was a stage and vaudeville house called the Gayety Theatre. Harry Houdini was the first act. In the 30’s, the venue became a full time movie theatre and was renamed the Fulton Theatre. Renovations took place in the 90s, when it was reopened as the Byham Theatre.
My magical night at the Fulton did not represent the first time I'd seen Night, Dawn, or Day. I'd rented Dawn and Day on VHS, and I'd watched Night Of The Living Dead on broadcast TV multiple times. Still, it was a major thrill to see 'em all together, on the big screen, at that specific movie theater.
Night Of The Living Dead was one of the earliest and most impactful influences on me - as a horror film fan and filmmaker. I'm sure I would have been smitten by the film eventually, no matter what - but living in the area where Romero filmed Night and its sequels, noting that these game-changing horror behemoths were not Hollywood studio product, and witnessing the locals' pride and support of these films really opened my eyes. Night Of The Living Dead was one of a few films that informed this youngster that good motion pictures were made by talented people - not necessarily by some far-away, faceless Hollywood machine that I could never fully comprehend.
Like Carpenter's Halloween, Romero's Night Of The Living Dead is required once-per-year Halloween season viewing... but in addition to providing atmosphere to the holiday fiendishness, Night takes me back to my youth, when I was discovering my love for horror cinema... and beginning to understand that I could, possibly, contribute to it.
Thanks for reading.
- Eric Stanze