'Night of the Living Dead' Star Recalls Seeing the Film With Its First Audiences

Night of the Living Dead has regularly been broadcast on television in the 50 years since it [...]

Night of the Living Dead has regularly been broadcast on television in the 50 years since it premiered, leading many viewers to forget how audiences would have reacted when seeing it for the first time. Star and producer Russ Streiner recalled that the film's premiere was the first time most of the crew got to see the completed film and that one his relatives couldn't sit through the experience.

"We saw the film for the first time with an audience on the night of October 1st, 1968, at our premiere. We didn't have the luxury of test screenings, thinking 'Maybe we should take this out, maybe we should put that in.' We did not have that luxury," Streiner recalled to ComicBook.com. "The film essentially was the same from when we did the very first editing. The only distributor remarks were they wanted to know if we could add any more scenes with the ghouls. We did do that. We had some additional footage that we were able to plug in and so that was really the only request that the distributor made, 'Do you have more footage with ghouls that we can insert into the film?'"

The film is notable for having solidified the contemporary concept for the zombie genre, though the film itself never refers to the creatures by that name, instead referring to them as "ghouls."

Streiner played Johnny in the original film, who is attacked by a ghoul in the film's opening scene. This violence apparently hit a little too close to home for Streiner's grandmother.

"Looking at it for the first time with an audience, the good part is that we got great feedback that came back the way we expected it would come back. What we did not expect was that, as part of that opening night premiere audience, [brother] Gary [Streiner] and I invited our whole family and that included my grandmother," Streiner noted. "She knew we were working on a film, but she had absolutely no idea what it was about. When the cemetery scene comes, she says, 'Okay, here's Russell in a cemetery, here's his sister, I get it, I get it.' And when we were attacked by Bill Hinzman and he knocks my glasses off, in the middle of this darkened theater, my grandmother shouts out, 'Russell, he broke your glasses!' Then, of course, when Johnny hits his head on the tombstone...I frankly don't think that my grandmother actually saw the rest of the film. I think she was a bit traumatized about how can this movie be so violent to her grandson."

With the film celebrating its 50th anniversary, fans can attend a screening of a restored version of the film in the very theater where it had its premiere and Streiner's grandmother exclaimed in fright.

The Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will screen a restoration of Night of the Living Dead on October 6th with many of the cast and crew in attendance.

You can visit TrustArts.org to buy tickets and learn more about the screening.

Are you surprised at these initial reactions to the film? Let us know in the comments below or hit up @TheWolfman on Twitter to talk all things horror and Star Wars!