Night of the Living Dead (1968), directed by George Romero, is an independent black-and-white horror film. Early titles were: Monster Flick (draft script) and Night of Anubis and Night of the Flesh Eaters (production). Ben (Duane Jones) and Barbra (Judith O'Dea) are the protagonists of a story about the mysterious reanimation of the recently dead, and their efforts, along with five other people, to survive the night while trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse.
George Romero produced the film on a $114,000 budget, and after a decade of cinematic re-releases, it grossed some $12 million domestically and $30 million internationally. On its release in 1968, Night of the Living Dead was strongly criticized for its explicit content. In 1999, the Library of Congress registered it to the National Film Registry as a film deemed "historically, culturally or aesthetically important".
Night of the Living Dead had a great impact upon the culture of the Vietnam-era United States, because it is laden with critiques of late-1960s U.S. society; a historian described it as "subversive on many levels". Although it is not the first zombie film, Night of the Living Dead is the progenitor of the contemporary "zombie apocalypse" sub-genre of horror film, and it influenced the modern pop-culture zombie archetype. Night of the Living Dead (1968), is the first of five Dead films directed by George Romero, and twice has been remade, as Night of the Living Dead (1990 film), directed by Tom Savini, and as Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006).
Bickering siblings Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O'Dea) drive to a rural Pennsylvania cemetery to place a cross with flowers on their father's grave. Johnny teases his sister, who is afraid of cemeteries, taunting, "They're coming to get you, Barbra!" A pale-faced man (S. William Hinzman) lumbers toward the pair. The man suddenly grabs Barbra as Johnny rushes to save her. While fighting the man, Johnny falls and hits his head on a gravestone, knocking him unconscious. Barbra flees in Johnny's car, driving it into a tree. She abandons the car and runs into a nearby farmhouse to hide. She finds a knife and uses it for self-defense and soon discovers that others like the man are outside. While exploring the empty house, she discovers a hideously mutilated corpse at the top of the stairs.
In a panic and attempting to flee the house, Barbra is intercepted by Ben (Duane Jones), who arrives in a pickup truck and attacks the mysterious figures with a tire iron. After subduing one of them, Ben sets the body up on fire, scaring off the others. Ben boards up the doors and windows from the inside with dismantled furniture and scraps of wood as Barbra becomes hysterical. He then takes out a couch and sets it up on fire again, to scare off the attackers. Ben finds a rifle and a radio as Barbra lies incapacitated on a couch in the living room. The two are unaware that Harry and Helen Cooper (Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman), their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), and teenage couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) have been hiding in the cellar. One of the attackers bit Karen earlier and she has fallen ill. Harry wants the group to barricade themselves in the cellar, but Ben argues that they would, effectively, be trapping themselves down there. Ben carries the argument, and the group cooperates (begrudgingly, in Harry's case) to reinforce the main part of the house.
Radio reports explain that an epidemic of mass murder is sweeping across the eastern seaboard of the United States. Later, Ben discovers a television upstairs and the emergency broadcaster reveals that the murderers are consuming their victims' flesh. A subsequent broadcast reports that the murders are being perpetrated by the recently deceased who have returned to life. Experts—scientists and military—are not sure of the cause of the reanimation, but one scientist is certain that it is the result of radiation emanating from a Venus space probe that exploded in the Earth's atmosphere. A final report instructs that a gunshot or heavy blow to the head will stop the "ghouls" and that posses of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order.
Ben devises a plan to escape using his truck involving all of the men in the house. The truck is in need of fuel, so Ben and Tom leave the house to obtain fuel, while Harry hurls Molotov cocktails from an upper window. Ben is armed with a rifle and torch, while Tom is to drive the truck and man the gas pump. On the way out the door, Judy fears for her boyfriend's safety and chases after Tom. Upon arriving at the pump, Ben places the torch on the ground next to the truck, and Tom then carelessly splashes gasoline onto the torch, starting a fire that quickly engulfs the truck. Tom tries to drive the truck away from the gas pumps to avoid further damage, but when he goes to exit the truck, Judy gets stuck. Tom goes back into the truck to get her unstuck, but the truck explodes, killing them both. Ben runs back to the house to find that Harry has locked him out. He kicks the door open and gets revenge by punching Harry repeatedly.
Some of the living dead converge upon the truck and, in a notoriously gruesome scene, begin eating Tom and Judy's charred remains. Meanwhile, others try to break through the doors and windows of the house, some pounding with their fists while others use bricks and boards. Ben manages to hold them back, but drops his rifle. Harry seizes the fallen rifle and turns it on Ben, who wrests it away from Harry and then shoots him. Harry stumbles into the cellar and dies.
Shortly after, Helen discovers that her daughter has been transformed into one of the living dead and is consuming her father's corpse. Karen stabs her mother with a cement trowel, killing her, before going upstairs. Meanwhile, the undead finally break into the house and Barbra sees her brother Johnny among them. The resultant shock causes her to lower her defenses and she is carried away into the zombie horde. Ben retreats into the cellar, locking the door behind him (which, ironically, was Harry's plan all along). He shoots the reanimated Harry and Helen Cooper.
In the morning, a posse approaches the house and proceeds to kill the remaining zombies. Hearing the commotion, Ben ambles up the cellar stairs into the living room and is shot in the head by a posse member who mistakes him for a zombie. His body is carried from the house and burned with the zombie corpses.
While attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, George A. Romero embarked upon his career in the film industry. In the 1960s, he directed and produced television commercials and industrial films for The Latent Image, a company he co-founded with friends John Russo and Russell Streiner. During this period, the trio grew bored making commercials and wanted to film a horror movie. According to Romero, they wanted to capitalize on the film industry's "thirst for the bizarre". He and Streiner contacted Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman, president and vice president respectively of a Pittsburgh-based industrial film firm called Hardman Associates, Inc., and pitched their idea for a then-untitled horror film. Convinced by Romero, a production company called Image Ten was formed which included Romero, Russo, Streiner, Hardman and Eastman. Image Ten raised approximately $114,000 for the budget.
The small budget dictated much of the production process. According to Hardman, "We knew that we could not raise enough money to shoot a film on a par with the classic horror films with which we had all grown up. The best that we could do was to place our cast in a remote spot and then bring the horror to be visited on them in that spot". Scenes were filmed near Evans City, Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh in rural Butler County; the opening sequence was shot at the Evans City Cemetery on Franklin Road, south of the borough. The indoor scenes (upstairs) were filmed in a downtown Evans City home that later became the offices of a prominent local physician and family doctor (Allsop). This home is still standing on South Washington St. (locally called Mars-Evans City Road), between the intersecting streets of South Jackson and Van Buren. The outdoor and basement scenes were filmed at a location northeast of Evans City, near a park (that house has since been razed).
Special effects were fairly simple and limited by the budget. The blood, for example, was Bosco Chocolate Syrup drizzled over cast members' bodies. Costumes consisted of second-hand clothing, and mortician's wax served as zombie makeup. Marilyn Eastman supervised the special effects, wardrobe and makeup. Filming took place between June and December 1967 under the working title Night of Anubis and later Night of the Flesh Eaters. The small budget led Romero to shoot on 35 mm black-and-white film. The completed film ultimately benefited from the decision, as film historian Joseph Maddrey describes the black-and-white filming as "guerrilla-style", resembling "the unflinching authority of a wartime newsreel". Maddrey adds, it "seem[s] as much like a documentary on the loss of social stability as an exploitation film".
Members of Image Ten were involved in filming and post-production, participating in loading camera magazines, gaffing, constructing props, recording sounds and editing. Production stills were shot and printed by Karl Hardman, who stated in an interview that a "number of cast members formed a production line in the darkroom for developing, washing and drying of the prints as I made the exposures. As I recall, I shot over 1,250 pictures during the production". Upon completion of post-production, Image Ten found it difficult to secure a distributor willing to show the film with the gruesome scenes intact. Columbia and American International Pictures declined after requests to soften it and re-shoot the final scene were rejected by producers. Romero admitted that "none of us wanted to do that. We couldn't imagine a happy ending. . . . Everyone want[ed] a Hollywood ending, but we stuck to our guns". The Manhattan-based Walter Reade Organization agreed to show the film uncensored, but changed the title from Night of the Flesh Eaters to Night of the Living Dead because a film had already been produced under a title similar to the former.
Co-written as a horror comedy by John Russo and George A. Romero under the title Monster Flick, an early screenplay draft concerned the exploits of teenage aliens who visit Earth and befriend human teenagers. A second version of the script featured a young man who runs away from home and discovers rotting human corpses that aliens use for food scattered across a meadow. The final draft, written mainly by Romero during three days in 1967, focused on reanimated human corpses—Romero refers to them as ghouls—that feast on the flesh of the living. In a 1997 interview with the BBC's Forbidden Weekend, Romero explained that the script developed into a three-part short story. Part one became Night of the Living Dead. Sequels Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) were adapted from the two remaining parts.
Romero drew inspiration from Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954), a horror / science fiction novel about a plague that ravages a futuristic Los Angeles in the 1970s. The deceased in I Am Legend return to life and prey on the uninfected. Film adaptations of Matheson's novel appeared in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, in 1971 as The Omega Man and the 2007 release I Am Legend. Matheson was not impressed by Romero's interpretation, telling an interviewer, "It was [...] kind of cornball". In a later interview Matheson said, "'Homage' means 'I get to steal your work.' George Romero's a nice guy, though. I don't harbor any animosity toward him".
Russo and Romero revised the screenplay while filming. Karl Hardman attributed the edits to lead actor Duane Jones: "The script had been written with the character Ben as a rather simple truck driver. His dialogue was that of a lower class / uneducated person. Duane Jones was a very well educated man [and he] simply refused to do the role as it was written. As I recall, I believe that Duane himself upgraded his own dialogue to reflect how he felt the character should present himself". The cellar scenes featuring dialogue between Helen and Harry Cooper were also modified by Marilyn Eastman. According to lead actress Judith O'Dea, much of the dialogue was improvised. She told an interviewer, "I don't know if there was an actual working script! We would go over what basically had to be done, then just did it the way we each felt it should be done". One example offered by O'Dea concerns a scene where Barbra tells Ben about Johnny's death:
The sequence where Ben is breaking up the table to block the entrance and I'm on the couch and start telling him the story of what happened [to Johnny] it's all ad-libbed. This is what we want to get across [...] tell the story about me and Johnny in the car and me being attacked. That was it [...] all improv. We filmed it once. There was a concern we didn't get the sound right, but fortunately they were able to use it.
The lead role of Ben was played by unknown Black stage actor Duane Jones. His performance depicted Ben as a "comparatively calm and resourceful Negro", according to a contemporary (1969) movie reviewer. Casting Duane Jones as the hero was, in 1968, potentially controversial. In the middle of twentieth century U.S. society, it was very unusual for a black man to be the hero of a film the cast of which included white actors and actresses. Social commentators saw that casting as significant; on the other hand, director George Romero said that Jones "simply gave the best audition". After Night of the Living Dead, he co-starred in Ganja and Hess (1973), Vampires (1986), Negatives (1988) and To Die For (1989) before his death in 1988. Despite his other film roles, Jones worried that people only recognized him as Ben.
Judith O'Dea, a twenty-three-year-old commercial and stage actress, was "Barbra". Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman called her (she once worked for them in Pittsburgh), to audition. O'Dea was in Hollywood seeking to enter the movie business. She remarked in an interview that starring in the film was a positive experience for her, although she admitted that horror movies terrified her, particularly Vincent Price's House of Wax (1953). Besides acting, O'Dea performed her own stunts, which she jokingly says amounted to "lots of running". Assessing Night of the Living Dead, she states "I honestly had no idea it would have such a lasting impact on our culture". She was just as surprised by the renown the film brought her: "People treat you differently. [I'm] ho-hum#English Judy O'Dea until they realize [I'm] Barbara [sic] from Night of the Living Dead. All of a sudden [I'm] not so ho-hum anymore!" Following Night of the Living Dead, O'Dea appeared in the television film The Pirate (1978) and feature films Claustrophobia (2003), October Moon (2005) and The Ocean (2006).
The supporting cast had no experience in the film industry prior to Night of the Living Dead. The role of Tom remained Keith Wayne's only film role (he committed suicide in 1995), but Judith Ridley co-starred in Romero's There's Always Vanilla (1971). The cemetery zombie who kills Johnny in the first scene was played by S. William Hinzman, a role that launched his horror film career. Hinzman was later involved in the films Season of the Witch (1973), Flesheater (1988), Legion of the Night (1995), Santa Claws (1996), and Evil Ambitions (1996).
Cast members Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman and Russell Streiner performed prominent acting roles. Hardman and Eastman co-starred as Harry and Helen Cooper (Eastman also played the female zombie who plucks an insect off a tree and eats it) while Streiner played Johnny, Barbra's brother. Hardman's 11-year-old daughter, Kyra Schon, played Karen Cooper. Image Ten's production manager, George Kosana, played Sheriff McClelland. Romero's friends and acquaintances were recruited as zombie extras. Romero stated, "We had a film company doing commercials and industrial films so there were a lot of people from the advertising game who all wanted to come out and be zombies, and a lot of them did". He adds amusingly, "Some people from around Evans City who just thought it was a goof came out to get caked in makeup and lumber around".
Night of the Living Dead was the first feature-length film directed by George A. Romero. His initial work involved filming shorts for Pittsburgh public broadcaster WQED's children's series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Romero's decision to direct Night of the Living Dead essentially launched his career as a horror director. He took the helm of the sequels as well as Season of the Witch, The Crazies (1973), Martin (1977), Creepshow (1982) and The Dark Half (1993).
Critics saw the influence of the horror and science-fiction films of the 1950s in Romero's directorial style. Stephen Paul Miller, for instance, witnessed "a revival of fifties schlock shock... and the army general's television discussion of military operations in the film echoes the often inevitable calling-in of the army in fifties horror films". Miller admits, however, that "Night of the Living Dead takes greater relish in mocking these military operations through the general's pompous demeanor" and the government's inability to source the zombie epidemic or protect the citizenry.
Romero describes the mood he wished to establish: "The film opens with a situation that has already disintegrated to a point of little hope, and it moves progressively toward absolute despair and ultimate tragedy". According to film historian Carl Royer, Romero "employs chiaroscuro (film noir style) lighting to emphasize humanity's nightmare alienation from itself".
While some critics dismissed Romero's film because of the graphic scenes, writer R. H. W. Dillard claimed that the "open-eyed detailing" of taboo heightened the film's success. He asks, "What girl has not, at one time or another, wished to kill her mother? And Karen, in the film, offers a particularly vivid opportunity to commit the forbidden deed vicariously".
Romero featured human taboos as key themes, particularly cannibalism. Although zombie cannibals were inspired by Matheson's I Am Legend, film historian Robin Wood sees the flesh-eating scenes of Night of the Living Dead as a late-1960s critique of American capitalism. Wood asserts that the zombies represent capitalists, and "cannibalism represents the ultimate in possessiveness, hence the logical end of human relations under capitalism". He argues that the zombies' victims symbolized the repression of "the Other" in bourgeoisie American society, namely civil rights activists, feminists, homosexuals and counterculturalists in general.
The eerie and disturbing music score of Night of the Living Dead was not composed for the film. Karl Hardman told an interviewer that the music came from the extensive film music library of WRS Studio. Much of what was used in the film was purchased from the library of Capitol Records, and an album of the soundtrack was released at one point. Stock music selections included works by WRS sound tech, Richard Lococo, Philip Green, Geordie Hormel, William Loose, Jack Meakin and Spencer Moore
Some of the music was earlier used as the soundtrack for the science-fiction B-movie Teenagers from Outer Space (1959) The eerie musical piece during the tense scene in the film where "Ben" finds the rifle in the closet inside the farmhouse as the radio reports of mayhem play ominously in the background can be heard in longer and more complete form during the opening credits and the beginning of The Devil's Messenger (1961) starring Lon Chaney Jr. Another piece was taken from the final episode of television's The Fugitive, which had aired one year earlier.
According to WRS, "We chose a selection of music for each of the various scenes and then George made the final selections. We then took those selections and augmented them electronically". Sound tech R.Lococo's choices worked well, as Film historian Sumiko Higashi believes that the music "signifies the nature of events that await". Sumiko Higashi, "Night of the Living Dead: A Horror Film about the Horrors of the Vietnam Era", in From Hanoi to Hollywood:
Sound effects were created by WRS Studio in Pittsburgh. "Sound engineer Richard Lococo recorded all of the live sound effects used in the film". Lococo recalled, "Of all the sound effects that we created, the one that still gives me goose bumps when I hear it, is Marilyn's screaming as [Helen Cooper] is killed by her daughter. Judy O'Dea's screaming is a close second. Both were looped in and out of echo over and over again". A soundtrack album featuring music and dialogue cues from the film was compiled and released by Varese Sarabande in 1982; however, it has never been reissued on CD.
Night of the Living Dead premiered on October 1, 1968 at the Fulton Theater in Pittsburgh. Nationally, it was shown as a Saturday afternoon matinée — as was typical for horror films of the 1950s and 1960s — and attracted an audience consisting of pre-teens and adolescents. The MPAA film rating system was not in place until November 1968, so theater managers did not prohibit even young children from purchasing tickets. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times chided theater owners and parents who allowed children access to the film. "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them", complained Ebert. "They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else". According to Ebert, the film affected the audience immediately:
The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying.
One commentator asserts that the film garnered little attention from critics, "except to provoke argument about censoring its grisly scenes". Despite the controversy, five years after the premiere Paul McCullough of Take One observed that Night of the Living Dead was the "most profitable horror film ever [...] produced outside the walls of a major studio". The film had earned between $12 and $15 million at the American box office after a decade. It was translated into more than 25 languages and released across Europe, Canada and Australia. Night of the Living Dead grossed $30 million internationally, and the Wall Street Journal reported that it was the top grossing film in Europe in 1969.
Night of the Living Dead was awarded two distinguished honors thirty years after the debut. The Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry in 1999 with other films deemed "historically, culturally or aesthetically important in any way". In 2001, the American Film Institute named the film to a list of one hundred important horror and thriller films, 100 Years...100 Thrills. This film was #9 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Reviewers disliked the film's gory special effects. Variety labeled Night of the Living Dead an "unrelieved orgy of sadism" and questioned the "integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers". New York Times critic Vincent Canby referred to the film as a "junk movie" as well as "spare, uncluttered, but really silly".
Nevertheless, some reviewers cited the film as groundbreaking. Pauline Kael called the film "one of the most gruesomely terrifying movies ever made — and when you leave the theatre you may wish you could forget the whole horrible experience. . . . The film's grainy, banal seriousness works for it — gives it a crude realism". A Film Daily critic commented, "This is a pearl of a horror picture which exhibits all the earmarks of a sleeper". While Roger Ebert criticized the matinée screening, he admitted that he "admires the movie itself". Critic Rex Reed wrote, "If you want to see what turns a B movie into a classic [...] don't miss Night of the Living Dead. It is unthinkable for anyone seriously interested in horror movies not to see it".
Since the release, critics and film historians have seen Night of the Living Dead as a subversive film that critiques 1960s American society, international Cold War politics, and domestic racism. Elliot Stein of The Village Voice saw the film as an ardent critique of American involvement in Vietnam, arguing that it "was not set in Transylvania, but Pennsylvania — this was Middle America at war, and the zombie carnage seemed a grotesque echo of the conflict then raging in Vietnam". Film historian Sumiko Higashi concurs, arguing that Night of the Living Dead was a horror film about the horrors of the Vietnam era. While she asserts that "there are no Vietnamese in Night of the Living Dead, [...] they constitute an absent presence whose significance can be understood if narrative is construed". She points to aspects of the Vietnam War paralleled in the film: grainy black-and-white newsreels, search-and-destroy operations, helicopters, and graphic carnage.
While George Romero denies he hired Duane Jones simply because he was black, reviewer Mark Deming notes that "the grim fate of Duane Jones, the sole heroic figure and only African-American, had added resonance with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X fresh in the minds of most Americans". Stein adds, "In this first-ever subversive horror movie, the resourceful black hero survives the zombies only to be killed by a redneck posse". The deaths of Ben, Barbra and the supporting cast offered audiences an uncomfortable, nihilistic glimpse unusual for the genre.
The treatment of female characters attracted criticism from feminist scholars and critics. Women are portrayed as helpless and often excluded from the decision-making process by the male characters. Barbra suffers a psychological breakdown so severe after the loss of her brother that she is reduced to a semi-catatonic state for much of the film. Judy is portrayed in an extreme state of denial, leading to her own death and that of her boyfriend. Helen Cooper, while initially strong-willed, becomes immobilized and dies as a result.
Other prevalent themes included "disillusionment with government and patriarchal nuclear family" and "the flaws inherent in the media, local and federal government agencies, and the entire mechanism of civil defense". Film historian Linda Badley explains that the film was so horrifying because the monsters were not creatures from Outer Space or some exotic environment, "They're us". Romero confessed that the film was designed to reflect the tensions of the time: "It was 1968, man. Everybody had a 'message'. The anger and attitude and all that's there is just because it was the Sixties. We lived at the farmhouse, so we were always into raps about the implication and the meaning, so some of that crept in".
Director George Romero revolutionized the horror film genre with Night of the Living Dead, per Almar Haflidason, of the BBC, the film represented "a new dawn in horror film-making". Early zombie fims — Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932), Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie (1943), John Gilling's The Plague of the Zombies (1966) — concerned living people enslaved by a Voodoo witch doctor; many were set in the Caribbean.
The film and its successors spawned countless imitators that borrowed elements instituted by Romero: Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), Zombie (1979), Hell of the Living Dead (1980), The Evil Dead (1981), Night of the Comet (1984), Return of the Living Dead (1985), Night of the Creeps (1986), Children of the Living Dead (2001), and the video game series Resident Evil (later adapted as films in 2002, 2004, and 2007), Dead Rising, and The House of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead is parodied in films such as Night of the Living Bread (1990) and Shaun of the Dead, and in episodes of The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror III", 1992) and South Park ("Pink Eye", 1997; "Night of the Living Homeless", 2007 ). The word zombie is never used, but Romero's film introduced the theme of zombies as reanimated, flesh-eating cannibals.
Night of the Living Dead ushered in the slasher and splatter film sub-genres. As one film historian points out, horror prior to Romero's film had mostly involved rubber masks and costumes, cardboard sets, or mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. They were set in locations far removed from rural and suburban America. Romero revealed the power behind exploitation and setting horror in ordinary, unexceptional locations and offered a template for making an "effective and lucrative" film on a "minuscule budget". Slasher films of the 1970s and 80s such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), for example, "owe much to the original Night of the Living Dead".
Co-writer John Russo released a modified version in 1999 titled Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition. He filmed additional scenes and recorded a revised soundtrack composed by Scott Vladimir Licina. In an interview with Fangoria magazine, Russo explained that he wanted to "give the movie a more modern pace". Russo took liberties with the original script, introducing odd didactic qualities that the original lacked. The additions are neither clearly identified nor even listed. However, Entertainment Weekly reported "no bad blood" between Russo and Romero. The magazine, however, quoted Romero as saying, "I didn't want to touch Night of the Living Dead". Critics panned the revised film, notably Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News. Knowles promised to permanently ban anyone from his publication who offered positive criticism of the film.
The film has been remade twice. The first, debuting in 1990, was directed by special effects artist Tom Savini. The remake was based on the original screenplay, but included more gore and a revised plot that portrayed Barbara (Patricia Tallman) as a capable and active heroine. Tony Todd played the role of Ben. Film historian Barry Grant saw the new Barbara as a corrective on the part of Romero. He suggests that the character was made stronger to rectify the depiction of female characters in the original film. The second remake was filmed in 3-D format and scheduled for release in September 2006 under the title Night of the Living Dead 3-D. Directed by Jeff Broadstreet, the characters and plot are similar to the 1968 original. Unlike Savini's 1990 film, Broadstreet's project was not affiliated with Romero.
Night of the Living Dead lapsed into the public domain because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright indication on the prints. In 1968, United States copyright law required a proper notice for a work to maintain a copyright. Image Ten displayed such a notice on the title frames of the film beneath the original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters. The distributor removed the statement when it changed the title. According to George Romero, Walter Reade "ripped us off".
Because of the public domain status, the film is sold on home video by several distributors. As of 2006, the Internet Movie Database lists 23 copies of Night of the Living Dead retailing on DVD and nineteen on VHS. The original film is available to view or download at no cost on Internet sites such as Google Video, Internet Archive and YouTube. As of October 2, 2008, it was the Internet Archive's second most downloaded film, with 515,561 downloads.
Night of the Living Dead is the first of five Living Dead films directed by George Romero. Following the 1968 film, Romero released Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005) and Diary of the Dead (2008). Each film traces the evolution of the zombie epidemic in the United States and humanity's desperate attempts to cope with it. As in Night of the Living Dead, Romero peppered the other films in the series with critiques specific to the periods in which they were released.
The same year Day of the Dead premiered, Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo released a film titled Return of the Living Dead. Russo's film offers an alternate continuity to the original film than Dawn of the Dead, but acted more as a satire than a sequel. Russo's film spawned four sequels. The last — Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave — was released in 2005 as a television movie.
Return of the Living Dead sparked a legal battle with Romero, who believed Russo marketed his film in direct competition with Day of the Dead as a sequel to the original film. In the case Dawn Associates v. Links (1978), Romero accused Russo of "appropriat[ing] part of the title of the prior work", plagiarizing Dawn of the Dead's advertising slogan ("When there is no room in hell [...] the dead will walk the earth"), and copying stills from the original 1968 film. Romero was ultimately granted a restraining order that forced Russo to cease his advertising campaign. Russo, however, was allowed to retain his title.