20th June 2022
George A. Romero’s 1968 cult classic horror film Night of the Living Dead, began a tradition of zombie films to which all of the subgenre are indebted.
The film focuses on a group of people who are stranded in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by escalating numbers of reanimated corpses, the ‘living dead’, – who Romeo referred to as ‘ghouls’, but we all recognise as zombies – trying to survive the night. The film is iconic and influential to the genre of horror, introducing many of the tropes found today.
I saw Night of the Living Dead – Remix at The Playhouse, knowing only the description from the Imitating the Dog website; the actors were to recreate, ‘in real time’, the film, using ‘1,076 camera edits to re-enact 95 minutes.’
This is a different type of theatre; instead of the theatrical tradition of a director wanting to create a sense of nuanced vision on a play that has been repeatedly acted out before, this cast, instead, re-enact a film that has not been devised for the stage previously. They use cameras on-stage that play out live on one of the screens above the stage, whilst the other screen shows Romero’s original.
Every actor involved impeccably timed their lines and movements so as to match those of the film, with the imitation of scenery created through the use of projection onto the white backdrop of the stage. The other performers, when not acting, were using the cameras to film the scenes, and the careful planning of stage movement, camera angles and props cannot be understated; in a production like this, the behind-the-scenes (which is, of course, happening onstage) is as important as what is on screen.
This adaptation enhanced the political angle of the film, highlighting the backdrop of the Vietnam War and Martin Luther King’s assassination, contextualising the horror within the nation’s fears. It amplifies the fears of being alone, being surrounded by mindless corpses who are violent for no apparent reason. Before the play, and during the intermission, 1960s songs played to cement the film within its era – as, after all, all horror films are a product of their time.
“There is an epidemic of mass murder being committed by a virtual army of unidentified assassins. The murders are taking place in villages and cities, in rural homes and suburbs with no apparent pattern nor reason for the slayings. It seems to be a sudden general explosion of mass homicide. We have some descriptions of the assassins: eyewitnesses say they are ordinary-looking people. Some say they appear to be in a kind of trance, others describe them as being misshapen monsters…”
To take a cult classic and recreate it scene for scene, line for line, is a new vision on the mode of theatre. The stage is not used in the way it is ordinarily, for it becomes a film set, and the focus is on the screens. Yet, being able to see how the actors recreate the film using clever shots and the ‘magic’ of the cinema and theatre is a truly innovative experience. Though it is not necessary for the audience to have seen the cult classic film before, I do recommend having seen it, to have a wider appreciation for the ways in which the cast and crew have been able to recreate it.