This Man Started Walking Up the Road

I love art made from other art.

I love Andy Warhol's pop art pieces. I love collage. I love Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I love those videos on YouTube that make The Sound of Music and other films look like horror movies. And there's a whole underground world of unauthorized Disney art. (There used to be a site called, full of art that violated copyright, but the site was shut down.) Much of the American musical theatre is art made from other art.

Very few musicals are wholly original. Most are based on books, movies, or plays. I think that's because narrative structure is particularly difficult to get right in musical theatre (so many shows have "Act II trouble"), so it's easier to start with a ready-made narrative – although that's no guarantee of success. Also, these days, lots of Broadway producers are terrified of risk – and of their own audience – so they gravitate toward titles the public already knows, even though most of those adaptations fail miserably.

Because of a weird accident, George Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead is not protected by copyright. The film lapsed into the public domain because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright notice on the prints. Back in 1968, copyright law required a "proper notice" for a work to maintain a copyright. They had included that notice on the title frames of the film beneath its original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters, but when the title was changed, the copyright notice was left off.

That sucks for Romero, who's no doubt lost a shitload of money, but it's cool for other artists who can use Romero's movie as raw material for their own work. And there are some great examples of that, as well as a few terrible missteps...

Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a broader, funnier riff on Romero's zombie mythology, released the same year as Romero's own 1980s piece, the much darker, more political Day of the Dead. I re-watched this a few nights ago and it's better than I remembered. Still a decent zombie movie, and very funny.

Tom Savini's remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990), produced by Romero, is a pretty faithful adaptation, but with tons more of Savini gore. Savini has been Romero's go-to gore guy for decades.

Night of the Living Dead (Enhanced Edition) (1998) is an abomination. Romero's co-screenwriter and some people who worked on the 1968 film later wrote several (terrible) new scenes and tacked them onto the original, along with a not very good new music soundtrack, to make a "30th anniversary edition." It's pretty awful.

Exceeda's Night of the Living Dead (early 2000s) is a wild, audiovisual mix by British "audiovisual specialists" Exceeda that condenses the entire film into just over ten minutes. This was originally aired on the UK television show Mixmasters.

Benefit for the Living Dead (2007), also known as Night of the Living Dead: Survivor's Cut, is described on this way, by its creator Dean Lachiusa: "The storyline has been re-tooled to offer an experimental and contemporary revision of the 1968 original. Dean Lachiusa's cinematic sampling is a tribute – much like a DJ remix. Enhanced with a new introduction, additional footage, special effects and color that flesh out the mood of crucial scenes. For example, Barb and Johnny's back-story is told via a flashback, and the television scenes are replaced with radio-sequences. Digital re-framing offers new camera angles, motion add perspective that speed up the pace of this revision." It's very strange to watch this, because it's the movie I know and yet it really isn't. Not only is the editing and sequencing very different (we start in the farmhouse, not at the cemetery), this re-edit even changes plot details. For instance, without adding any new footage, in this version Ben sets a zombie on fire, instead of the chair. It's a cool experiment.

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (2009) is an interesting, if not always successful, experiment. Dozens of NOTLD fan-animators have animated pieces of the film in dozens of different styles, and they're all intercut to make this exquisite corpse of a movie. Some of the animation is brilliant, some of it a bit boring, but it's still a fascinating project.

The Dead of Night (2010) is another wild experiment, which intercuts two classic horror films, Night of the Living Dead with Carnival of Souls, to create an all-new film. I've got it on order; it sounds kinda cool...

Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead (2011) is a really terrific movie, a meta-horror film that starts at a horror convention, where several fans get mysterious invitations, only to find they've ended up inside Night of the Living Dead. I love this film.

Another Night of the Living Dead (2011) is another weird one, taking the original film and interpolating new, comedic footage into the 1968 movie. You'll be surprised at how well the integration of old and new actually works sometimes. But it still seems disrespectful of this genuinely powerful film...

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimation (2012) is sort of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the original film, but set in the present, with a Sarah Palin lookalike to add some explicit political satire. Not really a sequel or prequel as much as a companion piece to the original. It didn't get great reviews, but I really like it. Much lower-key than most zombie movies, but that's part of what's fun and quirky about it. It reminds me of another awesome but low-key zombie movie Cemetery Man. I don't know, maybe you have to be stoned...

And there are also comic book adaptations, and sequels, and various stage adaptations – mostly just silly spoofs, almost none of them musical.

And of course, there's this wonderful, adult musical version we're working on, by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith. Which is going awesomely, by the way. It's so intense. We open in a little over a week! I can't wait to see how our audiences react to this wild ride...

I'll keep you posted...

Long Live the Musical!