***Let me preface this story by telling everyone that it was my mother (rest her soul) that gave me a keen interest in horror and genre films. Without her, I don’t know what my film preferences would be today. She made me realize that being scared was a thrill, not something to be taken so seriously and I’m proud to keep that tradition going up to this day.***
Now, on to the (true) story: It was the end of the 60’s and it was a weekly ritual in my family (my father, mother, sister and me) to go to the drive-in to see a double bill every Saturday night (Northern New Jersey had plenty of drive-in during this period in time. Now there are none.). The only problem was, only my father got to pick the movies we went to see as a family (this was the 60’s after all, because father knew best), which usually meant watching Westerns or war films.
On this particular Saturday, one of the drive-ins was playing TRUE GRIT with an unknown film called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Being a John Wayne fan, my father decided to take a chance and we went to see the films. TRUE GRIT played first (I was extremely bored watching it as a kid, but grew to love it as an adult) and everything was fine. After a pee break and a stop at the concession stand for more popcorn, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD came on the screen. None of us would ever be the same and not for the reasons you would think.
My father was never a fan of horror films and my sister was scared of her own shadow, so as soon as the first zombie attack scene came on-screen (“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”), my sister started crying and my father went into this rant that I will never forget until the day I die. He was so perturbed with this film; he nearly drove off with the speaker still attached to the window. He actually forbade me and my mother from ever seeing this film because it was “commie pinko bullshit that will rot your brains!” (Yeah, he actually talked like that!).
Since we only got to see the first 15 minutes of the film, Mom and I made a secret promise to each other that we would one day see this film in its entirety. We both knew it was “special” from the first few minutes we saw of it. It would take nearly five years for us to fulfill that pact, since this was before “instant gratification” of VHS and, later, DVD and the Internet.
There was this movie theater spitting distance from our house called the Colonial Theater and in 1974 it was showing a double feature: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was playing on the lower half of a double bill with…THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE! Mom and I finally got to see the film in its entirety at a matinée (we loved it!) and also got to see one of the finest 70’s horror films ever made.
Dad never found out that we went to see the film and Mom and I always had this little secret we could call our very own. Mom passed away in 1978 of liver cancer at the age of 42, but every time I see or hear a mention of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, my thoughts instantly take me back to the days when we would watch horror films together. She was the driving force in what I have become today and for that I will always be grateful. Thanks Mom!