ZOMBIE CZAR

Monster Con will feature ‘Night of the Living Dead’ writer

Thursday, July 13, 2017

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

John Russo, who co-created the film that started the modern zombie genre, will make his first Mahoning Valley appearance Saturday when he comes to the inaugural Eerie Frequency Monster Con at the Quality Inn in Ausintown.

Also appearing will be actor Jeremy Ambler, who has played a walker in several episodes of “The Walking Dead” and has had small roles in “The Crazies” and “The Road.”

Monster Con will run from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with monster movies playing in the movie room until midnight. Admission is free, and guests of all ages are welcome.

Guests are encouraged to dress as a zombie or their favorite superhero for a costume contest at 5 p.m.

There will be prizes for the winners based on ages. “The contest is for all ages, and people can dress up from anything from a zombie, superhero, Star Wars character, their favorite anime character, or anything they wish,” said Monster Con founder Travis Bowen.

Immediately after the costume contest, Russo will spend an hour talking about his career in a question-and- answer format.

A selection of vendors will fill the two floors of exhibition space, offering movie memorabilia and other items. There also will be an opportunity to be cast in locally made horror movies. The hotel is at 870 N. Canfield-Niles Road.

For information, email eeriefrequency@yahoo.com or go to eeriefrequency.com.

In a 2015 interview with The Vindicator, Russo said that when he and George Romero sat down to write “Night of the Living Dead,” their goal was to make a truly scary horror movie.

Russo was working for a small Pittsburgh television production company in the mid-1960s that specialized in low-budget commercials. He and Romero wrote the film, and the two men and a handful of business partners put up $600 apiece for a film budget.

“We decided it should be a horror film and that it would start in a cemetery,” said Russo. “George came in with half a story that would become ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ But it was about space aliens. The girl got away and gets to the house, but more of them come after her. I said, ‘This has all the right twists and turns, but who is attacking?’ I said it could be dead people. But what were they after? I thought, just about flesh-eating. George got called away, and I put it in the script.”

Russo and Romero would further fine-tune the script. Romero added the final siege, with the zombies unsuccessfully trying to get into the house.

“Night of the Living Dead,” released in 1968, became a landmark piece of horror, a low-budget masterpiece shot in grainy black and white in the Pittsburgh area. It told the story with live news dispatches coming in from outlying cities, including Sharon, Pa., and Youngstown.

The film laid down the rules for zombie behavior that are still followed today, and spawned a stream of movies, novels, comic books and television series that shows no sign of slowing down.

A big part of its initial success was that it stood apart from the status quo.

“Hollywood was making carbon-copy horror films at the time,” said Russo. “Attack of the Giant Grasshoppers, Attack of the Giant Lizards. They were all the same. The National Guard would be called out. They weren’t really scary.”

The movie’s realism ramped up its terror and became part of the blueprint for all that would follow. Modern takes on a zombie apocalypse – think “The Walking Dead” – borrow heavily from the original film’s goal of showing how people react under pressure.