Features | Written by Nick Spacek 20/03/2018

John Russo | NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

The Criterion Collection has released a brand-new 4K scan and restoration of George Romero's classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Restored by the Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation, the zombie film that started it all is now available the way it was meant to be seen, along with a plethora of extras, including a work-print edit of the film entitled NIGHT OF ANUBIS, as well as commentary tracks from the 30th anniversary, interviews, and behind-the-scenes stories. Being as how this marvellous release is now available, and considering the film also celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, we spoke with the film’s co-screenwriter JOHN A. RUSSO, about the restoration.

STARBURST: How long was this restoration in the works?

John Russo: Probably about a year and a half. I didn't directly supervise it, but for about fifty years, Russ Streiner and I have been the trustees of the corporation that made the movie, so I was involved with the contracts and what was going on. When the actual restoration was going on, George Romero was able to sit with the person doing picture and sound perfections, before he passed away in July.

I had the negatives at my house. I had all the materials that were needed, because the laboratory had shut down and the sheriff was coming to close down the lab in 2005, and the manager of the lab called me up and said, “You better get your stuff out of here.” I had to hire a truck and get a couple of people to help me load those negatives into a truck and get them to my house. I kept them in a cool, dry place, just like a lab was keeping them.

Gary Streiner and Russ came to my house, and our inspection of the materials was filmed, at my house.

We have that, in case we ever want to make a documentary about this. We then drove the materials to the Museum of Modern Art restoration facility in Pennsylvania, and the negative examiners looked at the material and declared it was in very good condition, and the restoration procedure began.

We like the fact that the restoration centre is in Pennsylvania. It feels like that's very appropriate.

The movie was shot in Evans City, Pennsylvania, which, as you probably know, is about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, because that's where the farmhouse was. The negative restoration place is in the middle of the state, out in the country someplace that's hard to find, even if you have GPS. The woman in charge of all of this [restoration], named Katie Trainor, happened to be the niece of a friend of mine, from my old hometown. So, that's another coincidence that ties in with what you're saying.

The fact that it's out in the middle of nowhere, much like that farmhouse, makes it seem like everything came full circle.

Yeah! It's almost like a secret installation you might find in a James Bond movie.

Were you amazed when you finally saw the restored version of Night of the Living Dead; has it ever looked this good?

Actually - everybody's amazed by it, and we're gratified by it, but I wasn't expecting to see anything much different than what we saw back in 1968, whenever our first print was pulled - because that was a pristine print, made from the 35mm negative, which was hot on a 35mm Aeroflex camera. That was the same camera that was used on most pictures back then, so the film, now, with the restoration, looks like it did back in 1968, which is something amazing, and something to be proud of.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is out now as part of the Criterion Collection on Blu-ray. John Russo's latest film MY UNCLE JOHN IS A ZOMBIE is appearing at film festivals.