One of the first zombie movies comes to life in Saratoga this weekend with iTheatre Saratoga.
“Night of the Living Dead,” which premiered 50 years ago, is often credited as the first film to feature the modern zombie. In it, the dead come back to life and start to murder and eat the living. The main characters barricade themselves in a house in the countryside to try to wait out the zombies. But the only way to kill these zombies is a blow to the head.
Itheatre Saratoga, a professional theater company at the National Museum of Dance, will be performing a hybrid version of the film; showing certain key scenes from the film, and a farmhouse set on stage.
“Part of our mission is to foster the next generation of theater audiences,” said Will Severin, the director of the theater company.
It’s why they’re bringing the show off the stage and into the audience, with zombies coming out through the crowd during the show, adding to the authenticity and the scare factor. It’s also why they’ve decided to incorporate parts of the original film into their adaptation; making it not only a theatrical performance.
“We’re trying to do a faithful adaptation,” said Mary Jane Hansen, the artistic director.
Even though the film is five decades old, some of its themes echo modern issues.
“It’s still timely. You had an African American man [acting] at a time when that was rare,” Hansen said. Duane Jones, an African American actor, was cast as Ben, one of the central characters in the film.
The director, George Romero, said in an interview that he cast Jones because he was the best man for the role, said Hansen. But to viewers, the decision spoke to the times.
“Here’s a man who does everything right and still . . . “ Hansen said. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the film, Jones’ character doesn’t have a happy ending.
There’s also the theme of the dead coming back to life.
“It’s a story we keep telling,” Severin said.
This year also marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's “Frankenstein,” one of the earliest works of fiction to delve into this idea of the “zombie.” With shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” it’s clear that zombies aren’t leaving pop culture anytime soon.
With their production of “Night of the Living Dead,” Severin and Hansen recruited zombies weeks before the production. They also hosted a special effects makeup workshop to have everyone prepare for their debut as the undead. They’ll be coming from the crowd during the production.
“It’s something different for Halloween. It’s part haunted house, part classic film, part theater,” Severin said.
“Night of the Living Dead,” opens on Oct. 28 and runs until Nov. 3 at the National Museum of Dance, 99 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Tickets are $15 for students and $25 for adults.
For more information, visit itheatresaratoga.org.