Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 black-and-white independent horror film directed by George A. Romero. Early drafts of the script were titled Monster Flick, but it was known as Night of Anubis and Night of the Flesh Eaters during production. The film stars Duane Jones as Ben and Judith O'Dea as Barbra. The plot revolves around the mysterious reanimation of the dead and the efforts of Ben, Barbra and five others to survive the night while trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse.

Romero produced the film on the low budget of $114,000, but after a decade of theatrical re-releases it had grossed an estimated $12 million in the United States and $30 million internationally. Reviewers criticized the graphic contents, but three decades later the Library of Congress placed Night of the Living Dead on the United States National Film Registry with other films deemed "historically, culturally or aesthetically important."

The culture of Vietnam-era America had a tremendous impact on the film. It is so thoroughly riven with critiques of late 1960s American society that one historian described the film as "subversive on many levels." While not the first zombie film made, Night of the Living Dead influenced subsequent films in the sub-genre. The film is the first in a tetralogy directed by Romero and spawned four unofficial sequels. It has been remade twice.

Bickering siblings Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra drive to a rural Pennsylvania cemetery to place a wreath 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 and Johnny rushes to save her. While fighting the man, Johnny falls and smashes his head on a gravestone. Barbra flees in Johnny's car, driving it into a tree while Johnny's attacker is in hot pursuit. She runs into a nearby farmhouse to hide and soon discovers that others like the man from the cemetery are surrounding the house.

In the abandoned house, Barbra is joined by Ben, who arrives in a pickup truck and attacks the mysterious figures with a tire iron. Ben boards up the doors and windows from the inside with dismantled furniture and scraps of wood as Barbra becomes hysterical. Ben finds a rifle and a radio as Barbra lies catatonic 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. The group reluctantly cooperates to reinforce the house, but constant arguing between Ben and Harry hamper their efforts.

Radio reports from civil defense officials in Cumberland, Maryland, explain that an epidemic of mass murder is sweeping across the eastern seaboard of the United States. Later, Ben discovers a television set 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 generals—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 "living dead" and that posses of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order.

Ben devises a plan to escape using his truck but it needs refueling. He exits the house armed with the rifle and a torch. Tom and Judy offer assistance, but when they arrive at a fuel pump near the house Ben accidentally sets the gasoline ablaze with his torch. Tom drives the car from a distance, despite Ben's warnings to escape. As they're about to make a run for it, Judy's coat is stuck and leaving Tom to only stay and help but the truck explodes, immediately killing both of them. Ben runs back to the house to find that Harry locked him out. He kicks the door open to see Harry standing in the basement doorway, agonizing over whether to help or abandon. In an about face, Harry assists Ben with blocking the undead from breaking into the house at a close second. But infuriated Ben settles the score shortly after and gives Harry a severe beating. Some of the living dead begin eating Tom and Judy's charred remains, the others try to break through the doors and windows of the house. Ben manages to hold them back, but drops his rifle. Harry quickly seizes the fallen rifle and turns it on Ben. Ben wrests the rifle away from Harry and shoots him in front of Helen. Harry stumbles into the cellar and dies in a feeble attempt to reach his daughter lying on the table.

Shortly thereafter, 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. Barbra sees her brother Johnny in the mass. The resultant shock causes her to lower her defenses and she is carried away into the crowd by Johnny, despite Ben's failed rescue attempt. Ben rushes into the cellar but not before momentarily struggling with Harry and Helen's daughter who attacks. As he fortifies the basement door, the undead zero in on the area with the primary focus of breaking into the basement to go after Ben. Rifle in hand, an exhausted Ben saunters downstairs to find the Harry and Helen lying dead on the floor. He slowly prepares as both come back as reanimated corpses, just as he executes them in silent shame.

In the morning, a posse approaches the house and 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 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, thirty miles north of Pittsburgh in rural Butler County; the opening sequence was shot at the Evans City Cemetery.

Special effects were fairly simple and likewise limited by the budget. The blood, for example, was Bosco Chocolate Syrup drizzled over cast members' bodies. Wardrobes consisted of second-hand clothing and adipocere (mortician's wax) served as zombie makeup. Marilyn Eastman supervised the special effects, wardrobe, and makeup.

Filming took place between June and December of 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 "guerilla-style" and resembling "the unflinching authority of a wartime newsreel." Maddrey adds, it "seems as much like a documentary on the loss of social stability as an exploitation film."

Members of Image Ten were personally 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 the 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 wanted 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 similar title.

Co-written as a horror comedy by John Russo and George 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 over 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 and in 1971 as The Omega Man. Matheson was not impressed by Romero's interpretation, telling an interviewer, "It was ... kind of cornball."

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 modified as well 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 limited budget curtailed the ability of Image Ten to hire well-known actors. The cast consisted of Pittsburgh stage actors, members of the Image Ten production crew, and acquaintances of Romero. Involvement in the film propelled many cast members into the motion picture industry.

The lead role of Ben went to unknown African American stage actor Duane Jones. His performance depicted Ben as a "comparatively calm and resourceful Negro," according to one reviewer. Casting Jones was potentially controversial. In the mid-twentieth century it was unusual for a black man to play the hero in a film that starred white actors, and commentators saw Romero's choice of Jones as significant. Romero, on the other hand, 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.

Image Ten cast 23-year-old commercial and stage actor Judith O'Dea as the waifish Barbra. Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman contacted O'Dea, who had once worked for them in Pittsburgh, to audition for the part. O'Dea was in Hollywood searching for a break-out role in motion pictures. 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 notoriety the film brought her: "People treat you differently. I'm ho-hum Judy O'Dea until they realize I'm Barbara 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).

Image Ten 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 eleven-year-old daughter, Kyra Schon, played the role of 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, 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 served to heighten 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 bourgeois American society, namely civil rights activists, feminists, homosexuals, and counterculturalists in general.

The eerie and disturbing score of Night of the Living Dead was not composed for the film. Karl Hardman told an interviewer that the music came from Hardman Associates's extensive film music library. Stock music selections included works by Ib Glindemann, Philip Green, Geordie Hormel, William Loose, Jack Meakin, and Spencer Moore. The music was earlier used as the soundtrack for the science-fiction B-movie Teenagers from Outer Space (1959). According to Hardman, "I chose a selection of music for each of the various scenes and then George made the final selections. I then, took those selections and augmented them electronically." Hardman's choices worked well, as Film historian Sumiko Higashi believes that music "signifies the nature of events that await."

Sound effects were created by Hardman and Marilyn Eastman: "Marilyn and I recorded all of the live sound effects used in the film (two 10 inch reels of edited tape)." Hardman 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."

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 hailed Night of the Living Dead as 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.

The gory special effects featured in the film were disliked by reviewers. 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 recognized 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 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."

George Romero revolutionized the horror film industry with Night of the Living Dead. According to Almar Haflidason of the BBC, the film represented "a new dawn in horror film-making." Early films that featured zombies such as Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932), Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and John Gilling's The Plague of the Zombies (1966) involved living human zombies enslaved by a Voodoo witch doctor; many were set in the Caribbean.

The film spawned countless imitators that borrowed elements instituted by Romero: Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), Zombie (1979), Hell of the Living Dead (1980), Night of the Comet (1982), 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). Night of the Living Dead is parodied in films such as Night of the Living Bread (1990) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) and in episodes of The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror III", 1992) and South Park ("Pink Eye", 1997). 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 "miniscule budget." Slasher films of the 1980s 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."

The first revisions of Night of the Living Dead involved colorization by home video distributors. Hal Roach Studios released a colorized version in the 1980s that featured green zombies. Another colorized version appeared in 1997 from Anchor Bay Entertainment with flesh-colored zombies. In 2004, Legend Films produced a colorized version for distribution by 20th Century Fox.

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." Although Russo took liberties with the original script, 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 heroine. 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, Romero was not affiliated with Broadstreet's project.

Night of the Living Dead lapsed into the public domain because of the neglect of the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, to place a copyright notice 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. 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 for download at no cost on Internet sites such as Google Video and Internet Archive.

Night of the Living Dead constitutes the first film in a tetralogy directed by George Romero. Following the 1968 film, Romero released Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), and Land of the Dead (2005). 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 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 parody 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 "appropriating 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.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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