Saturday, August 07, 2010

Forthcoming Books: The Night of The Living Dead by Joe Kane

Forthcoming Books: The Night of The Living Dead by Joe Kane (Kensington/Citadel)

-They-re coming to get you, Barbara-- These five words unleashed a terrifying movie classic on an unsuspecting public in 1968, stunning audiences with endless nightmares. George A. Romero-s Night of the Living Dead raised the bar for onscreen violence. Moviegoers were bludgeoned with horrific scenes of zombies blood-feasting on human body parts. Nothing was taboo. A six-year-old child nibbling on her daddy-s arm! Plunging a garden tool into her mother-s heart! More blood spewed onscreen than ever before! And yet, people returned for more-in hordes. The zombie movie phenomenon had officially been spawned. This is the true story of the flesh-eating classic that started it all.

Special Features

Dozens of photos too shocking to be seen until now
Stomach-churning details behind the groundbreaking FX
Compelling, revealing interviews with cast and crew
The legacy of Night of the Living Dead for today-s horror directors
-George Romero-s zombies. He influenced a whole culture.- -John Carpenter
-A new standard for horror.- -Variety

Forthcoming Books: Night of The Living Dead Joe Kane

Joe Kane Q & A:

For the few readers who may not know who you are, Joe, will you tell us why you're referred to as `The Phantom of The Movies?'

I’d used my real name when I edited and wrote for The Monster Times back in the day (1970s), but when The New York Daily News hired me as their guerrilla-style genre-movie columnist/critic in 1984, my editor had the idea to add an air of mystery and create a character, kind of an urban grindhouse haunter. We came up with the name “The Phantom of the Movies,” which sounded cool to me.

Wes Craven, in his introduction, says that Night of The Living Dead liberated him to write and produce his own Last House On The Left (the original) Did seeing it the first time have the same liberating effect on you?

When I first saw Night at the Museum of Modern Art, direct from its Times Square playdates and before its midnight run at NYC’s Waverly Theater, it totally knocked me out. I’d never seen a film that so caught the quality of a pure primal nightmare. Like Joe Dante says in my book, it’s like watching a documentary about the end of the world. The characters feel so real; the threat so mundanely horrible and inescapable—your dead neighbors are shambling around looking to eat you—to paraphrase Pogo, “We have met the monsters and they are us”; the efforts of the distant authorities so feeble, clueless and confused. There’s no help on the way and we’re all probably on our way out. The theme and atmosphere are devastating, the incidents unbelievably transgressive for the time, like Kyra Schon’s little zombie Karen chowing down on her on dead dad’s severed arm, and it’s also packed with traditional monster-movie “jump scares.” Plus it’s a metaphor for the Vietnam War that captures the era’s anger and frustration. It scared the hell out of me for sure; I had a hard time walking home alone after the screening.

I don't think I've ever read a single-subject book this exhaustive. You cover every aspect of the filming and history of the movie except for how much the vendors made on popcorn. Was it your intent to write the DEFINITIVE?

There had been some very good material written about Night, with John Russo’s The Complete Night of the Living Dead Filmbook being the most inside and exhaustive to that point. But that book came out 25 years ago, so I hoped to chronicle the full story both of the making of that movie, from many different perspectives, and all the related films that followed—Romero’s entire oeuvre, all the major films influenced by Night and Dawn of the Dead--and their ongoing cultural resonance. Plus I was lucky enough to get later cult-movie directors, like Frank (Basket Case) Henenlotter and Larry (Wendigo) Fessenden, to contribute mini-memoirs about their first encounters of the Night kind.

Can you chart some of the more obvious influences this movie had on horror films?

It didn’t create but it helped popularize the “unhappy ending” film and blazed the trail for future genre films that would incorporate overt sociopolitical messages, whether serious or satirical, into their stories. It upped the shock value, paving the way for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and other transgressive horror films, was a major player in kick-starting the midnight movie concept, and became a virtual cottage industry for imitators both here and abroad, especially in Italy. Though the living dead are never referred to as “zombies” onscreen, Night and, to a possibly even greater extent, Dawn of the Dead fashioned a fresh genre that’s still flourishing today, in movies (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland), print (World War Z, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and video games. Most are direct descendants of Romero’s first two Dead movies.

You quote Richard Matheson as saying that Night is basically his classic I Am Legend but that he doesn't hold a grudge against George Romero, in fact likes the guy. Do you think it's I Am Legend?

Night definitely owes a major debt to I Am Legend situation-wise but opens up that premise with more characters and internal conflicts, while the basic siege situation marries the horror film with Western movie motifs, with humans and zombies replacing the cowboys and Indians of yore. Plus it has a tone all its own. The 1964 I Am Legend adaptation The Last Man on Earth, for example, has some striking imagery and atmosphere but lacks Night’s intense, fever-dream quality. And Night’s highly charged late-‘60s overlay can’t be underestimated.

In addition to John Russo's original screenplay you've also included a list (and some discussion) of zombie movies that came after Night. While zombies seem to be doing reasonably well in book form there hasn't been a notable zombie film in some time. Is the theme fading at the box office?

I don’t think the theme is fading at present. Shaun of the Dead (Romero’s favorite Night homage) is now a popular midnight movie, while 2009’s Zombieland represented the high-grossing zombie film to date. The promised zombie epic, the film version of Max Brooks’ World War Z, has yet to materialize but its eventual appearance should give the zombie biz another big boost. In the meantime, Romeroesque zombie films have become a staple of the direct-to-DVD horror scene, with dozens of new titles appearing each year.

What do you think of George Romero's career since Night of The Living Dead?

It’s been checkered but there have been some true blasts of brilliance. I think his The Crazies is vastly underrated, despite the recent remake, which, while a sturdy action piece, failed to capture the original’s high-energy hysteria and despair. Living Dead lightning definitely struck twice with Dawn of the Dead, something extremely rare in a sequel; James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare are other examples. Martin is a strong variation on traditional screen vampire lore. Creepshow is fun, but much of his for-hire work, like Monkey Shines and Tales from the Darkside, seems uninspired, more the fault of the source material than his approach, I think. Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead have little of his earlier zombie films’ impact but are still interesting variations for his fans. It’s tough to top a cultural milestone like Night, though.

Thanks very much, Joe.


Matt said...

Awesome! You've had some great recommendations lately, Ed. The Last Deep Breath was terrific.

Matthew Bradley said...

Gorman and Kane---a match made in Heaven! My first thought was, "Why do I need this if I have Russo's book?," but with the Phantom at the helm, I'm sure I'm in for no end of treats. As for the Matheson connection, Paul R. Gagne's THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE PITTSBURGH states that Romero's unpublished story (then untitled but sometimes referred to as "Anubis"), which evolved into the NOTLD screenplay, was "loosely inspired by" I AM LEGEND. It's certainly hard to watch the shambling vampires of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH without thinking of Romero's living dead. Speaking of forthcoming books, RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN is tentatively set for an early October publication; I am slaving over the index even now.

Matthew Bradley said...

FYI, the book is now proofread and indexed, and should be headed to the printers. Of course, you can always pre-order it. :-)