By the time I reached the age of thirteen, I had horror fever. I was renting every film I could get my hands on and had even begun buying VHS tapes. I knew the classics (Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street), and was familiar with some popular box art (Dead Alive, Ghost Story, Evil Dead 2) and was beginning to learn about more classic titles thanks to the now defunct site House of Horrors.
It was at House of Horrors that I learned that Night of the Living Dead was related to Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. I had no idea they were connected in their own Romero-universe and that made them must see movies for me.
I spent the summer of 1996, in the foothills of North Carolina at my grandmother’s house. She lived on a dirt road called Three Oaks Road, because well… there were three oak trees at the end of it. Across the street was a massive chicken house, and in the cow pastures old, abandoned homes of distant relatives were left to rot.
It was the country, and it was quiet. The only people who turned down Three Oaks Road were people that you knew and that meant at nighttime all you heard were crickets or the occasional cow.
My grandmother took me to the local Movie Gallery, where I picked up a copy of Night of the Living Dead to rent. On our way home, we stopped by K-Mart, where I found a copy of Dawn of the Dead on VHS and she graciously purchased this for me as well. I decided that once she went to bed, I’d stay up late and watch Night of the Living Dead first, then Dawn of the Dead the following evening.
My grandmother always went to bed after The Tonight Show, so once Jay Leno had signed off for the evening I said my good night and popped in my tape. I was nervous about the film being in black and white because I struggled with the pacing of some older films, but I was surprised to see how modern the pacing felt, but the movie didn’t seem all that scary. It just created a strange atmosphere that seemed to linger the entire film and even thereafter.
Once the credits rolled, I stopped the tape and hit rewind and decided it was time for bed. I was disappointed. I had heard that Night of the Living Dead was one of the scariest movies of all-time and yet, I didn’t jump once. I chalked it up to being remembered differently by those who lived through it’s original release and crawled into my bed.
I was tired and I remember wanting to go to sleep, but something didn’t feel right. Something felt… uneasy. As I rolled over and tried to close my eyes, I realized that I didn’t want to. Something wasn’t right.
I got out of bed and walked over to the window. I stood there, hand on the curtain, wanting to pull it to the side and just see outside for a moment, but I was frozen in panic. I could picture the cow pasture across the street and the side yard filled with slow moving zombies. I could see them just descending on the house like a moth to the light and my imagination got the best of me.
I realized that this silly black and white movie had made an impact on me. I took a deep breath, opened the curtains, and saw nothing but the dark, quiet, countryside. I breathed a sigh of release and laughed as I crawled into bed. Night of the Living Dead was a scary movie, maybe just not in the way I was expecting in 1996, but it was scary in a way that stuck with me and made me feel uneasy about the world and what could be beyond the safety of my four walls.