There has been a considerable mystery regarding this "Night of the Living Dead" (NotLD) one sheet. Up until now, nobody has been quite sure just what
to call it. Heritage identifies it an "R-1970s" ("R" for re-release), while both emovieposter and learnaboutmovieposters hedge their bets noting that
it could be
before or after the National Screen Service (NSS) release. While researching the title, I came across an article which seemed to indicate
that this was at a minimum, a very early printing. Happily, this led to a discussion on the NSFGE movie poster collector forum which led to the conclusion
that this was indeed early, and while perhaps not used in the initial weeks of the Pittsburgh debut, it was created by Continental for use in
international markets (apparently Spanish speaking) no later than 1970, probably in early 1969.
What follows is a slightly edited version of my original article, which posited that this could be from the initial Pittsburgh release. As noted, that is likely not the case. Sheer sloth has prevented wholesale revisions, but I've tried to update any conclusions for the sake of Google posterity.
For the uninitiated, it will be worth noting the main differences between this version and the later NSS one sheets (of which there are at least two different printings).
Most obvious is the tag line at the top. On the NSS posters, and in fact, on the original newspaper ad, the tag reads "They Won't Stay Dead!", while this version has chosen to use a quote by famed Pittsburgh TV personality, Marie Torre, who ties it in with Hitchcock's black and white sensation of 8 years earlier, "Psycho."
Second, the number of rows of credits at the bottom of the poster are different. The Pittsburgh version has 3 lines, including the Continental logo, while the NSS versions have only two.
Third, the use of color in the title. The Pittsburgh poster is all black and white, the NSS versions are in color.
Finally, the quality of the graphics within the artwork is much more refined in the NSS versions, while the Pittsburgh version has a "blown-up" quality, which has no doubt been a significant cause for concern among collectors. As we'll see, this is the rare time when that is actually a good thing.
"Night of the Living Dead" was, of course, made by legendary independent filmmaker, George Romero, on a shoestring budget as a side project to his other industrial and commercial work. Becoming one of the surprise breakout hits of the decade, it later went on to make a small fortune as its integration of gore, nudity, and social commentary set the bar for any future zombie opusii.
In the past, it was unclear just when and where distributor Continental (the film division of the Walter Reade Organization conglomerate) became involved with the film's distribution, (confusion noted in the LAMP write-up). Happily, in this article, written for local rag, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette one week after the "world premiere," that confusion is cleared up. It points out that the film was initially released in 11 local theaters owned by the Associated Theaters chain by Continental, almost as a lark, or more likely, a favor to the producers. Much to everybody's surprise, the film was a huge success, playing to packed houses and drive-ins. Seeing dollar signs, Continental immediately begins thinking of a national release as noted in the relevant section of the article:
Clearly, this shows that not only was Continental planning the future wide release, they were also responsible for the Pittsburgh run, making their logo a critical component of the advertising material for these local shows. It also is clear that the "mapping a very costly campaign" for the general release at least implies that the campaign for the Pittsburgh showings were less than costly, as the quote poster evidences. It also implies that the Pittsburgh campaign was a hastily thrown together affair, not surprising since it was never expected to move beyond the local showings for friends and family of the cast and filmmakers. Why make a fancy poster that will likely never be seen again?
The question of why didn't they use the "They Won't Stay Dead" tag line is an interesting one, particularly since it was used in the newspaper advertising, beginning from the premiere onward. To answer the question, I think you need to extend it to why did they use the Marie Torre quote at all?
Our dear readers need to understand the time the film was made. Color had become de rigueur for all films, and NotLD was in glorious black and white. People needed to be reminded that B&W films could be immensely entertaining - and terrifying, if they were going to be enticed into the theater. "Psycho" is the perfect film to present B&W as an artistic choice, instead of being the only film stock Romero could afford.
Next, there is the Marie Torre question, as in who the hell is Marie Torre? Well, if you lived in the Pittsburgh area in 1968 you would have known who she was. A local television institution even then, she had her own daily talk show at the all-powerful CBS affiliate, KDKA. The show, called "Contact," was highly influential in the area, and a plug from Marie would really be worth something to a local Pittsburgh audience.
Which makes the next point fairly obvious, suppose this poster is for a later release, why on earth would you use the Marie Torre quote? She would be completely unknown beyond the borders of Pennsylvania, and if Continental were planning a "costly campaign," it seems extremely unlikely a quote from a local Pittsburgh personality would carry any more weight than from a random stranger passed on the street, particularly when quote-whore national reviewers were readily available at the time. Regardless of the time period the poster was used, it could reasonably only have been intended for a Pennsylvania audience, and since NSS posters were readily available for later screenings, there would be no other use for these beyond the initial release period.
Understanding the who, what, and when of the NotLD release history allows us to move on to the poster itself. The principal question raised by collectors is the generally shoddy quality of the image area of the poster. This is admittedly a trigger, as large dot matrix-y blow-ups are more appropriate on the larger sized 3 or 6 sheets than on a one sheet, (unless it's a reproduction). However, what separates this from a cheaply produced repro is that the credits are sharp as a tack. No fuzz at all. The blow-up look is strictly within the image area.
I think I can offer a reasonably plausible scenario for this, but here is where we admittedly enter the realm of wild speculation. There seems to have been only one set of artwork prepared for the film, and that's what is used in both the newspaper advertising and on the poster. Knowing that this is for a short term, local run, it would be a very sensible business decision to do just that. Simply blowing up the ad art into the graphics area of a poster which then has the credits prepared normally, leaving them looking crisp and un-enlarged, would be a fast, and more importantly, cheap, way to achieve a quickie ad campaign for a film that was expected to go nowhere else.
The poster is on a heavier paper stock than NSS or studio one sheets from the era. That would seem to be a good thing though, as it's the sort of paper that was commonly used for low budget schlock posters that were printed locally by fly-by-night promoters of low rent exploitation films of the era, and could easily have been produced by local printers instead of the union shops used for the later NSS posters. This cheapness, again, works to the posters favor as being from the initial Pittsburgh run.
The pressbook that has shown up for the film is one of the most puzzling aspects of this poster. In spite of the fact that the original ad art uses the "won't stay dead" line, the pressbook features the Marie Torre "Psycho" quote for all of the advertising shown (including a flyer), but does use the "They won't stay dead" line for both the 22x28" and lobby cards. There may be another conjectural explanation for this too. I suspect the pressbook is a transitional piece, created between the Pittsburgh run and the wider national release. Since I'm unaware of any lobbies or half sheets ever showing up with the black and white/Torre quote style, I believe those exist only for the later national release, both of which show up using the green NSS title and union logos. It seems unlikely that a pressbook was created for the Pittsburgh run, as it would hardly be necessary given the expectations of Continental at the time. The design of the NSS posters could have been decided by this point and used instead of older material that didn't exist for those formats.
Unfortunately, almost inexplicably, I haven't been able to uncover any newspaper ad art for any other screenings of the film beyond the Pittsburgh run. Knowing if any other areas outside of Pennsylvania used the Torre quote would be very educational, and might blast my theory to pieces, (so start digging!).
Anniversary 1 Sheet
There's one final point I'd like to bring up, and while it seems to be entering Zapruder film/grassy knoll territory, it does offer a bit of highly circumstantial evidence that suggests the "Psycho" quote poster is the first printing. The 25th anniversary Killian mylar poster uses the 3 credit line Pittsburgh style but, infuriatingly, has switched out the Torre quote with the national "won't stay dead" line! I've never seen one of these in person, but it does appear in the large format Heritage photos that they are also using the pixilated artwork, so it would seem that somebody also thought that the black and white version was the first issue of the poster, but they also thought, like Continental must have, that obscure local references wouldn't work for a national release.
The problem up to this point has been a lack of understanding how the film was released, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article clears that mystery up nicely. The complete surprise for Continental at the success of the film had them scrambling for a full suite of advertising material, and since they probably handled some of the foreign distribution themselves, they would have had to make their own non-NSS posters for use overseas. The Torre quote ad art from the pressbooks must have been irresistible for them in their promotional frenzy, resulting in these unique posters.
What do you think?
Do you have more information? Disagree? Please contact me.
Thanks for looking!
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