The original idea for George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was for an alien comedy.
In early 1967, Romero, along with writer John A. Russo and actor Rudy Ricci, were working together at the Latent Image, their Pittsburgh-based commercial film company, when they decided it was time to try their hand at making a feature film. Though the effort eventually produced Night of the Living Dead, early concepts were very different. Russo initially thought of making a horror comedy about “hot-rodding” alien teens who would visit Earth, meet up with human teenagers, and generally cause mischief with the help of a cosmic pet called “The Mess.” The group’s budgetary constraints made this concept impossible, so Russo instead dreamed up an idea about a boy who runs away from home, only to discover a field of corpses under glass, which were rotting to the liking of alien creatures who would eventually consume them. Russo presented this idea to Romero, who latched on to the flesh-eating angle.
One of the original script ideas called for Barbara to be a very strong, charismatic character. Instead, George A. Romero and the producers loved Judith O’Dea’s portrayal as a terrified young girl much better, and edited the script to accommodate the part.
The idea of Barbara being a strong, central character was revisited in Night of the Living Dead (1990).
When the zombies are eating the bodies in the burnt-out truck they were actually eating roast ham covered in chocolate sauce. The filmmakers joked that it was so nausea inducing that it was almost a waste of time putting the makeup on the zombies as they ended up looking pale and sick anyway.
The scene where Barbara crashes the car into the tree wasn’t scripted originally; an accident that put a large dent in the car before the scene was shot prompted George Romero to re-write the scene in such a way that the dent is justified.
I’m going to get to see George A. Romero at the Rue Morgue Dark Carnival in July! Night of the Living Dead was one of the first horror movies that made me fall in love with the horror genre. The movie’s political commentary elevated the horror to surrealism, and I’ve yet to see that done as well again.
Romero, George A. Night of the Living Dead, The Walter Reade Organization / Continental Distributing, 1968.