When I was a kid, I read FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILM LAND religiously. Not because I liked it (I hated the puns), but because it was more reliable, and had a longer life span, than THE MONSTER TIMES and CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The back pages of FM were filled with ads (has there ever been a bigger lie in print than that “Rush” order form?), and one of those ads was for John Russo’s novelization of his screenplay for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. That cheap paperback, with its cover image of undead green hands clawing through a boarded up window (the ad was in b&w of course; horror mags didn’t feature color until FANGORIA came along) terrified me so much that I knew I wasn’t emotionally equipped to actually see the movie.
Jump forward a few years. I was visiting my uncle in Washington, DC, and we’d see two movies every night. While he was at work, I looked through the newspaper and discovered a double feature of NOTLD and the original KING KONG playing at a revival theatre. I decided I was ready to see NIGHT and persuaded Uncle Bill to take me. The movie scared the hell out of me and possibly changed my life forever. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I saw my two favorite horror films – NOTLD and the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE – on a big screen and not on video/DVD/Blu Ray/VOD. The shared cinematic experience was a wonderful thing back when they made good movies.
NOTLD scared me out of my pants 5 about minutes in, when Bill Hinzman, now known as the “Cemetery Zombie” (even though Russo and George Romero originally conceived their creatures as ghouls, not zombies) seized an apologetic Barbara, who soon became apoplectic. For so-called purists who decry the current fad of fast-moving zombies, I point out that Hinzman’s ghoul moves pretty damned fast; there’s a reason why Barb spends several minutes sprinting through the woods. Whether by accident or design, Cemetery Zombie is the most recognizable ghoul in the film until Johnny returns for sister B at the end.
CZ suffered indignities over the years, of course. First he was colorized a god awful glowing shade of green for an abominable VHS release; then he was replaced by a more obvious, but less frightening, “dead thing” (as Tom Savini called them) in the NIGHT remake; and finally Hinzman reprised his signature role in those new scenes for Russo’s execrable NOTLD 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION. Regardless, Hinzman’s original portrayal earns him a well deserved spot in the Horror Hall of Fame of great monsters – nothing can touch that. And that’s why I choose Hinzman’s Cemetery Zombie as My Favorite Zombie, over Nun Zombie, Wedding Zombie, Machete Zombie, Hare Krishna Zombie, Helicopter Zombie and all the rest (even Howard Sherman’s excellent Bub).
A few weeks ago at Horror Realm in Pittsburgh, Hinzman and several of his undead costars were on hand, but only Hinzman appeared in costume, in make-up, and in character, delightedly creeping up on unsuspecting conventioneers and snarling at them. You can’t keep a good ghoul down.