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‘60s horror classic 'Night of the Living Dead' at UCPAC

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The distance between Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and a colony of flesh-eating zombies is shorter than you might suppose. The connecting link is Night of the Living Dead filmmaker George Romero, who jokes that making short films for the popular Pittsburgh children’s show inspired him to write his first horror flick.
“I shot segments like Things with Wheels, How a Light Bulb is Manufactured,” he recalled in a recent interview. “But Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy was the scariest film I’ve ever made.”
A 35mm reel presentation of Night of the Living Dead will be shown at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, April 12 at Union County Performing Arts Center, 1601 Irving Street in downtown Rahway, as part of the monthly UCPAC Classic Film Series. Admission is $5 at the door.
When Night of the Living Dead hit the nation’s movie screens in October, 1968, Americans were enjoying tranquil cinematic fare like Finian’s Rainbow, With Six You Get Eggroll and Funny Girl. A grainy, documentary-style tale of terrified strangers taking shelter in a farmhouse besieged by an army of ravenous zombies was nothing short of revolutionary.
Reviews ranged from hostile (“an unrelieved orgy of sadism”, Variety) to glowing (“a pearl of a horror picture”, Film Daily), but the movie steadily won a loyal audience of fans and is today seen as a landmark in horror filmmaking style and technique.
Among its many accolades, Night of the Living Dead has been honored with a place in the Library of Congress National Film Registry and in the American Film Institute’s Top 100 most thrilling movies of all time.
Film historians have seen Night of the Living Dead as a politically-tinged film intended to critique 1960s’ American society, Cold War paranoia and domestic racism, with the incurable zombie virus representing the anarchy and selfishness lurking just beneath the surface of normal society.
George Romero begs to disagree. “To me, the zombies have always just been zombies. My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I’m pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies.”
The April 12 showing of Night of the Living Dead is part of the new UCPAC Classic Film Series that re-introduces modern audiences to the experience of seeing film on a Very Big Screen.
“This theatre was built in 1928 as a premiere movie palace, the IMAX of its day,” says Union County Performing Arts Center executive director Lawrence E. McCullough. “It’s an incredible room to watch a film, and we’ve got a great lineup of classic and contemporary movies booked through the end of the year.”
** For more information about the UCPAC Classic Film Series and the 2014 performance season at Union County Performing Arts Center and Hamilton Stage, visit www.ucpac.org.

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