Coate: Do you believe Night of the Living Dead has been well represented on home video over the years?
Scoleri: Night of the Living Dead was the first videocassette that I owned a pre-recorded copy of. It was available at our grocery store alongside numerous other public domain titles for the low price of $14.95. Fortunately, I got my Dad’s money’s worth out of that VHS tape; poor quality copy that it was. And I’m sure that tape was representative of most of the copies of Night of the Living Dead on home video up until the LaserDisc era. For fans of the film, there are two major milestones in Night’s home video history. First and foremost, the Elite LaserDisc restoration. Don May, Jr. and Vini Bancalari deserve kudos for rescuing Night of the Living Dead. By going back to the original elements, they were able to provide us with the best looking Night of the Living Dead we had ever seen (likely true even for those folks who saw the film in its early theatrical engagements). And because of that, I forgive them for the collective cry of terror that went out across the globe when thousands of fans popped in their LaserDisc for the first time only to see a faded, scratched print of the film’s opening. Our hopes were momentarily dashed until the image blew apart revealing the Elite logo, followed by the THX Deep Note intro (forever preserved here). As wonderful as that transfer was, it was not without issues, including splice repairs that resulted in the use of repeating frames. But that was a small price to pay for an otherwise stellar transfer. And now, decades later, we’ve got a new milestone in the form of a state of the art Criterion Blu-ray, taken from the 4K restoration of those same elements supervised by the Museum of Modern Art, along with fixes to the film’s framing and audio (Ben’s hammering is finally in sync!). Fans can now enjoy the finest presentation of Night of the Living Dead they could ever hope for. I do occasionally hear people say that they prefer to watch films like Night of the Living Dead in grainy, unrestored editions similarly to how they originally remember seeing them. To those people I would say that this film loses none of its power as a result of the restoration. It looks and sounds amazing. But then what do I know. I only own the film on every imaginable format from Super 8mm & 16mm film to the current Criterion disc!
Coate: How would you describe Night of the Living Dead to the uninitiated?
Scoleri: Powerful. Unrelenting. And yet so much more than just a horror film. An extremely important film whose impact still resonates 50 years after its original release.
Coate: What was the objective with your forthcoming Night of the Living Dead book?
Scoleri: First and foremost, I’m a diehard fan of Night of the Living Dead. Twenty-five years ago, I co-edited a 25th Anniversary tribute magazine, which was something of a love letter to the film and the people who made it. That debuted at the 25th anniversary Zombie Jamboree, a convention held in the Monroeville Mall (where Dawn of the Dead was filmed). That was the first time I met the principals involved with the making of the film.
Twenty years later, I attended the Living Dead Festival put on by Gary Streiner (one of Night’s original investors/filmmakers) in Evans City, Pennsylvania, home of the cemetery where the film’s opening scenes were shot. At the event, I met even more members of the film’s cast and crew, and one thing that struck me was how many amazing photographs the guests had to sign. These were not just frames grabbed from the film, and included many images that I had never seen before. It got me thinking about how cool it would be to have an authorized book reproducing all of those photographs. A few years later, as the MoMA restoration was underway and plans are being made for the film’s 50th anniversary, I reached out to Gary and the folks at Image Ten and pitched the book. Fortunately, they were open to the idea and earlier this year I was granted the license.
My goal with Latent Images is to offer a high-quality, oversize coffee table book of photographs from the making of the film. Much like the books I’ve done on artist Ralph McQuarrie through Dreams and Visions Press, I am ultimately a customer of this book, too. I want a copy on my shelf! And I can honestly say that as a fan, people who are into this film are going to be beside themselves when they see some of the photographic imagery that exists. Not just amazing black and white photographs, but color photographs, including some extremely rare Polaroids taken on set. Those who are casually familiar with the film and the most commonly reproduced images will be blown away by what we’ve collected, and I guarantee even the most passionate fans will find plenty of surprises within. I want the book to be a lasting testament to the film, both for the fans who love it as much as I do, as well as for the filmmakers who worked so hard to make it. They have long deserved something like this as a testament to their achievement, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to do them and the film justice. At the 50th anniversary event a few weeks ago, I was able to share sample pages with the cast and crew, and I am pleased to report that everyone is very excited about it, as so many of the images are new to them, too!
Coate: What is the legacy of Night of the Living Dead?
Scoleri: Night of the Living Dead changed the landscape of horror, but it also changed the landscape of independent cinema. We could spend a lot of time listing filmmakers who followed the lead of Night of the Living Dead by making their own independent, low budget horror film. But broader than that, I think aspiring filmmakers who felt shut out from the Hollywood system suddenly had a different example of success they could try to emulate. Here was a small group of regional filmmakers who looked around at the landscape of films on the market and said, “We can do something better than that.” And they did.
Coate: Thank you, John, for sharing your thoughts and insight about Night of the Living Dead on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
Selected images copyright/courtesy Continental, The Criterion Collection, Image Ten Productions, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Walter Reade Organization.
- Michael Coate