Zombies back in Pittsburgh to honor late filmmaker George A. Romero
George Romero’s classic movie “Night of the Living Dead” spawned the genre of American zombie films.
Flesh-eating dead people were key to the film’s success, said one of its writers.
John A. Russo, who co-wrote the film with Romero, said Hollywood was producing bland horror films at the time, and the two collaborators wanted to do something different. They made the film in the Pittsburgh region for $114,000.
Russo was among about 70 people who gathered Monday outside the Byham Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh to honor Romero on the 50th anniversary of the “Night of the Living Dead” premiere. The movie opened on Oct. 1, 1968, at the Fulton Theater, which later became the Byham.
“We wanted to make horror films that actually gave them their money’s worth,” Russo said. “When I saw ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ on a break from college, the people coming out of the 8 o’clock show had these stunned looks on their faces, and it was a damned good movie. When we were coming up with ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ working off a script, I said we have to make a movie that causes people to come out of the theater with the same stunned look on their faces. We succeeded in that.”
The crowd outside the Byham on Monday included Romero family members, fans and collaborators and a group of zombies.
“Any chance to be a zombie,” said Paula Luna of Port Vue, who was wearing makeup with blood dripping from her mouth.
More than 30 organizations have committed to a series of events over the next month, including screenings, lectures and festivities, to recognize Romero’s work and highlight Pittsburgh as a destination to learn about his impact on American pop culture.
The Byham will feature a special screening at 8 p.m. Saturday of “Night of the Living Dead,” which was digitally restored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The film was acquired by MoMA in 1980 and added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1999.
Romero’s widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, announced the formation of the George A. Romero Foundation, which will support local independent and genre films and filmmakers.
“For me, it’s very important that we remember George, his movies. But what’s also important is that we move forward, we go ahead, we have a future,” she said.
Desrocher-Romero had a question for Mayor Bill Peduto: “Why isn’t there a horror museum in Pittsburgh? It’s baffling to me that we don’t have a horror hall of fame.”
The mayor, who attended, was noncommittal but said plenty of people in the crowd would likely support the venture.
Lori Cardille, daughter of the late Pittsburgh television and radio show host Bill Cardille, who had a part in “Night of the Living Dead,” said she attended the premiere 50 years ago with her father.
“I was 14 years old, and I was so afraid of horror movies that I stood in the back of the lobby the whole time,” she said. “I was terrified.”