Starburst was sad to learn that Bill Hinzman, most famous for his role as the ‘cemetery zombie’ in the original Night of The Living Dead, passed away on the 5th February 2012. Bill was a man of many talents. He is perhaps destined to be forever associated by horror fans with his role in Night of The Living Dead (as arguably the most iconic zombie ever), but he had more strings to his bow than most people realise. Like many of Night director George Romero’s early cohorts – Russ Streiner, John Russo, Michael Gornick, Tony Buba – he was an extremely resourceful filmmaker in his own right.
Born in 1936, Bill started out as a photographer in Pittsburgh before joining George Romero’s company Latent Image in the late 1960s. As well as his acting role in Night, Hinzman assisted Romero with the camera (uncredited) on the film, and was to stay in the camera department with Latent Image into the 1970s. He worked as a grip on the ill-fated There’s Always Vanilla (1970) and rigged the lighting on Jack’s Wife (1972) before moving up to Director of Photography on The Crazies (1973). “The reason Bill shot The Crazies was mainly that he wanted to”, Romero recalled to Paul R. Gagne in 1985 “and I knew Bill was really good, so he did it”.
Hinzman’s cinematography on The Crazies indeed helped to create the stark imagery that Romero wanted, an almost monochromatic look interrupted with sudden violent outbursts of lurid colour. Who can forget the images of white BNC suited soldiers framed against Pennsylvania skies?
From cinematography, Hinzman went into producing and directing, working with Night co-writer John Russo to adapt Russo’s novel The Majorettes for the screen in 1987. Hinzman directed and edited this high school slasher, and the following year he returned to the director’s chair with Flesheater (1987) which he also wrote and produced. These films can only be described as B-movies (although both have a sizeable cult following) but the fact that Hinzman was able to pull them off at all on his miniscule budgets is something of a testament to the production skills he acquired working for Latent Image.
Not surprisingly, Hinzman's notoriety as the 'cemetery zombie' led to many more acting roles of the same type, including the ill-received Night of the Living Dead 30th Anniversary Edition (1999) (with added scenes also photographed by Hinzman) and countless other appearances in low budget horror films and music videos. He was a regular at movie conventions, often delighting fans by appearing in his original Night outfit.
He also continued to work as a cinematographer in TV documentaries, most recently for the National Geographic Channel.
Bill was a stalwart of the Pittsburgh film community right until the end. He died of cancer at his home in Pennsylvania on Sunday, aged 76. His daughter Heidi said her father had asked to be cremated "He always joked if he got buried he would come back," she said.
Starburst extends its sympathy to Heidi and the rest of Bill’s family at this sad time.