Subscribe for 33¢ / day

It took "Night of the Living Dead" 3½ years to finally see the light of a B-N movie screen, and then for just one week only: as part of a double bill at downtown Bloomington's Irvin Theater in December 1971.

We're just as stoked as the next low-budget horror fan to see what digital wonders hath been wrought with the new 4K-scanned restoration of 1968's "Night of the Living Dead."

The results are receiving their area unveiling this weekend at the Normal Theater (see story inside today's GO! for the details).

Even so, we sometimes wonder if something isn't being sacrificed at the altar of perfection in these immaculate rebirths.

Don't get us wrong: There is no greater miracle to a film fan than to see something like, say, D.W. Griffith's 1916 "Intolerance" risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of time and wear into something that looks like it could have come right off the pristine camera negative yesterday (we're referencing the Cohen Film Collection's 2013 Blu-ray release, for the record).

But for a formerly "outlaw" film like "Night of the Living Dead," part of the visceral impact came from its deteriorated state, which seemed to echo everything else that was coming apart at the seams therein.

Our first exposure to the film came not via the big screen, where, hereabouts, it was originally extremely hard to come by.

Believe it or not, in B-N, "Night of the Living Dead" bypassed what would seemed to have been its obvious destination: the Drive-In Theater on Bloomington's south end.

In fact, it didn't turn up at all until mid-December 1971, when it debuted nearly four years after its release at downtown Bloomington's most prestigious cinema, the Irvin Theater — as one-half of a double feature with something called  "The Night of Bloody Horror" (see Pantagraph ad accompanying this column for the proof).

Special request: If there's anyone out there who was alive with the "Living Dead" at that booking, we'd love to hear from you.

Was the cavernous theater empty or packed?

Did anyone boo a black-and-white movie on a late-1971 screen?

What the heck was "The Night of Bloody Horror?" 

Our first encounter came many years later, in a 3 a.m. cable TV airing, back when a low-rent indie station of Chicago (Ch. 40-something) was part of what was then known to wired Twin Citians as TeleCable.

The showing was advertised as being aired "uncut," which we presumed at the time was courtesy of its 3 a.m. airing and lack of MPAA rating

Though it has fleeting undead nudity and extreme-for-the-time gore, "Night of the Living Dead" was never submitted to the then-new MPAA ratings board, hence its avoiding of the R-rating stigma; the rating shown in the Irvin Theater newspaper ad accompanying this column came courtesy of its co-feature, "Night of Bloody Horror," which was officially rated R.

First off, let's make one thing clear: ANY movie viewed through the blur of the 3 a.m. lens (the so-called Hour of the Wolf, i.e., Death) is an inherently surreal/unsettling experience.

Heck, even "Tammy and the Bachelor" at 3 a.m. is scary.

Toss in the low-rent indie station's compromised cable signal, adding another layer of distancing blur.

Then along came "Night of the Living Death" itself, in all its analog, battered-TV-syndication-print glory: riddled with splices, jumps, frame damage at the snowstorm level and a soundtrack that sounded phoned in from the seventh circle of hell. 

In other, words: Perfect for the sensation of watching something that appeared to have been captured, on the fly, by an unseen party with a camera — in between being lurched at by a decomposed corpse wanting some fillet of human.

Despite all those levels of decay and abuse separating us from George A. Romero's original vision, the thing scared the bejeezus out of us, and then stuck around for the after-party in our nightmares.

We repeat: We want to witness "Night of the Living Dead" liberated from all those earthly shackles, all the better to catch the devil in the details we might have missed at 3 a.m. all those years ago.

But we're betting it won't stick around for the after-party in our nightmares.

It'll be way too well-dressed and clean-cut for that.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at



Load comments