NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD PRE-PRODUCTION
A promotional banner designed by Romero's father
The original script was untitled, and not copyrighted. It described an ordinary dusk with a rasp of crickets and rustle of leaves in the breeze. ‘The presence of a church is felt rather than confirmed’. More establishing tombstone shots were described but ultimately abandoned (due to fears of legal problems if anyone’s loved ones’ names were seen). The opening sequence of Johnny’s car coming up the road is not explicitly written in the script; it is first sighted entering the cemetery gates. In the car, Barbara was originally supposed to close a potato chip bag and fuss with her purse as her brother stretches and yawns after the long ride.
Johnny’s dialogue originally was too revealing. In his taunting about Barbara’s fear of the cemetery, he says "they’re coming out of their graves…after you…they’re coming to get you…"
Barb goes to pick up a stick during the struggle and when she looks up, she sees John laying there on the ground as the figure gropes at him before noticing her. It is dusk while this is happening so when she is moving in the car towards a hill with its headlights on. She then runs to a low stone wall and climbs over it. She sees a main highway and across from that, a darkened gas station and an old house. When Barbara gets to this house she looks through a window and cannot see anything inside. Once inside the house, she finds a skeleton key conveniently left in the door knob. The pursuing cemetery zombie is seemingly more aggressive here, smashing doors and throwing objects outside.
Unlike the final version’s dead phone line, we hear an operator’s voice on the phone stating the lines are all busy. She even dials numbers to the police out of a telephone directory book near the phone all the while hearing noises and footsteps outside. When she looks out the window, she notices a car approaching rather than running outside and realizing someone (Ben, referred to as "truck driver") has arrived. He is only described as large and crude, on coveralls; ‘strong but perhaps a little stupid.’ His dialogue suggests he’s a country bumpkin; numerous times Ben refers to the ghouls as "dead behoppers", and he also throws around orders like "skedaddle" and "come n’ git it".
When he steps outside to see that the ghouls are trying to trash the truck, the script describes the flesh on their faces as rotting and oozing, with bulging eyes from deep sockets, and long hair. Nothing like the everyday neighborly looking zombies of the filmed version. Instead of being inside on the couch, Barbara was originally to be standing on the porch watching (as in the remake).
The scripted scene where Barbara looks down at the dead ghoul which is suddenly dragged by Ben explains the intentional eye twitch of the filmed version: ‘It seems as though the body is going to stand again…its face holds as much life as it did when it walked".
Ben recounts diner incident differently, mentioning that he was in Cambria where Beekman’s Diner is located and that those things looked like they’d come back from the grave.Upon hearing the radio announcer report that the assailants are flesh eaters, Barbara runs off towards the door hysterically screaming instead of reacting to the opening basement door. A man in overalls emerges grabbing her. The Coopers are the Tinsdales in the first draft and Judy is not in the script at all. Tom Ryan is described as a young man in overalls rather than in a t-shirt. He announces that they are from the gas station (instead of from town). The Tinsdales have a son not a daughter named Timmy (an earlier draft used the name Kevin).
No shots of zombies were specifically
scripted in to follow the window shooting scene. These were cut in later.
In the basement, Harry reaches for a cigarette and realizes his pack is empty and he crumples it. Then he goes to the table and sees a pack. Discovering it is empty he throws it violently and it winds up near Helen and Timmy. He sees a transistor radio on a workbench and fiddles with it. It only picks up static. A moment later Harry really loses it and yells at Helen: ‘I hate you…right? I hate the kid? I wanna see you die here right?…and I’ll just say to these things, excuse me…my wife and kid are uncomfortable here…we’re goin’ into town.’
The TV announcer introduces the Sheriff as Conan W. McClellan, of the County Dept. of Public Protection. There is discussion about precautionary decapitating the ghouls that is not heard in the final film.
Tom tells the group that he was the cemetery’s caretaker across the road and fled to the house after being attacked by two of the things. In the escape attempt, Tom jumps out of the flaming truck and is seized by the ghouls instead of burning inside it.
Timmy kills Helen who tries to hold him back with a knife. Her death is suggested not shown; her scream is all that is heard.
Both Barbara and Ben hide in the cellar after Harry’s death. The posse were to find the skeletal remains of Johnny at the cemetery instead of having Johnny come back for Barbara. A motorcycle patrolman named Charlie refers to Chief McClellan as Connie (short for Conan).
George Henderson, the deputy, has a few more lines where he recommends the group check out the house nearby the fields. Cars were to be shown pulling up near the farmhouse and Ben excitedly announcing they’d been saved. As soon as Ben is shot Barbara screams, hence saving her own life! Another draft showed a tear running down her cheek – a sign she was a living human (for some reason, it’s sometimes hard to tell a dead human from an undead human from a living human in the book).
Ben’s assassin is referred to as "Man Who Fired the Shot" in the script.
McClellan, instead of commending the shot, bursts out "Damn it! Why’d you shoot for? I told you to be careful!" and concludes that "it’s too bad…an accident. The only loss we had the whole night."
The main location of the movie was discovered by
Jack Ligo, an art student at the time. When Romero and Russo went to check it
out, they knew they had found the perfect farmhouse. Located in Connoquenessen,
a small town near Evans City, about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, there were
lots of problems to be fixed before production, mainly no running water. The
basement was not usable, with its mud floor and low-hanging wooden beams.
The then-owners were the Gass Family who rented it
to Image Ten for $300 a month. The truck was purchased for $50 from a junkyard.
It seemed to work fine, and made it to the farmhouse, where it died. In a
fortunate coincidence, someone up the road had the same truck and donated it to
the film (obviously the other truck was blown up!)
At this point, George thought Karl Hardman should direct but Russo claims he talked George into it. "We weren't voting against Karl but for George" he says.