Monster mash-up

A low-budget zombie flick from the Sixties is to be recreated shot for shot on stage. It’s unlikely to be slick but it will say much about the political and cultural climate of then and now

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In 1968 an independent horror movie called Night Of The Living Dead irrevocably changed the horror movie genre. It has since proved massively influential throughout the broader culture.

Director George A Romero’s low-budget film about seven strangers taking refuge from shambling but inescapable flesh-eating ghouls in an isolated farmhouse was an apocalyptic vision of paranoia, the breakdown of community and the end of the American dream.

Despite occasional clumsiness, it managed to be not just terrifying but thought provoking and even humorous. In the decades since, its symbolic, satirical and paradoxically soulful version of the undead has spread like a virus, from films, including the many and various sequels, remakes and parodies, to TV, music, video games and more.

This year, a new stage production from the digital theatre adventurers Imitating the Dog aims to create what co-director Andrew Quick describes as “a love song to that Sixties original” in which seven performers, armed only with cameras, a box of props and a rail of costumes, will “remake and remix” the ground-breaking film.

“Rather than adapt it for the stage, I suppose we’re embracing the theatricality of the attempt to do it shot for shot,” he wryly reports. “The original has about 1,200 shots in 95 minutes, and we’re showing that on one screen while doing our shot by shot remake on stage in real time alongside it.

“Part of the joy will be achieving the shots or, sometimes, enjoying the impossibility of replicating the film. All the tension and all the pathos and all the tragedy of the original, plus its fast pace, should seep through our attempt to recreate it.”

He remembers first seeing the film – which has influenced so many others that it feels like it’s the original zombie film – long ago at “one of those slightly dodgy all-night shows you used to get at independent cinemas. It then slipped below my radar for many years until my film-buff brother re-introduced me and I realised what a great art movie it is. It’s actually brilliantly put together, albeit slightly crude and from its time.

“We’re not commenting on it directly but we’re really interested in how it shows the politics of the time, especially the politics of race around America in the late Sixties. The people who made the film claim they weren’t that aware of it but you can’t help but be aware now that it is the first horror film to have a black central hero and something that we draw on in the image making will be a sort of backwash of documentary footage from the Sixties.”

Just as Romero’s original reflected a contemporary American reality, Quick acknowledges that there are inescapable parallels with the political climate of our own time.

“Of course, the film’s got this feel of environmental catastrophe as well as the question: can you exist alone and how do you survive in this new situation? That critique of people failing to combine their intelligence and resources to survive this apocalypse still feels relevant,” he agrees. “Romero’s vision is not optimistic but let’s hope we do better than they do in that house.”

Night of The Living Dead – Remix is at Leeds Playhouse, 24 Jan-15 Feb, then touring Liverpool Playhouse; Theatr Clwyd; Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal; Nottingham Playhouse; and Home, Manchester

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