|Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato, Jarlath Conroy
Director: George A. Romero
Year Of Release: 1985
Plot: The Dead have conquered earth, leaving just small groups of people out of their clutches. One group, made up of both scientific and military personal, hide in a bunker somewhere in Florida trying to get in contact with other survivors of the zombie infestation. Desperately searching for a cure to the zombie infestation, and therefore indulging in strange experiments on both each other and captured undead specimens, the scientists and military soon find themselves at odd with one another, as well as the zombies that want to kill them.
Last week I looked at where the zombie movie came from in the Movie-A-Day article about Dawn Of The Dead, and now, only a few days later, we get to Romeros third Living Dead flick, Day Of The Dead, which may have a cult following now but was somewhat dismissed on it first release, probably because it started to switch our sympathies from the surviving humans to the ghoulish killers.
However what I want to talk about today is the rather odd copyright issues that surround Romeros zombies films, which mean that while normally thought of a sequels to one another, in a legal sense theyre actually completely separate and cant really refer to one another all that much. Due to an odd snafu at the very start of the Living Dead story, they live in an unusual limbo.
The problem arose in 1968, when the name of the first film was changed from Night Of The Flesh Eaters to Night Of The Living Dead. At the time, under copyright law, for a movie to be protected it needed to include a copyright notice on the film print, stating both that rights were being reserved and who owned them. This was included on the title card for Night Of The Flesh Eaters, but omitted when the films distributor, the Walter Reade Organisation, changed the films name.
As a result of this inadvertent oversight (and the arcane rules of US copyright at the time, which most agreed were slightly ridiculous), the film lapsed into the public domain, meaning no owned the copyright at all and anyone could do whatever they wanted with it.
Its for this reason that so many different distributors have released Night Of The Living Dead on DVD, and why so many people have fiddled around with it, because legally Romero cant do anything to stop them. There have been two colourised versions of the film, a 30th Anniversary Edition that shoved seemingly random new footage into the movie, its been adapted for the stage, had two unofficial remakes, a company is currently turning it 3D, while others recently remade it as a collaborative animated project, and another is turning it CG, for a semi-remake called Night Of The Living Dead: Origins.
All this means that if you fancy going into your backyard and filming your own Night Of The Living Dead, ripping Romeros original off word for word, nobody can stop you (and even more unfairly, due to changes in copyright law, anything genuinely original you bring to the project, would be protected).
Despite its seminal status and massive popularity over the years, Romero has made almost no money out of Night Of The Living Dead, while everyone else has made out like bandits.
It also affected Romeros follow-ups. Normally when you make a movie, whoever holds the copyright in that also holds the exclusive rights to make any sequels. However, due to the 1968 original being in the public domain, this isnt true of Night Of The Living Dead, and so technically anyone could (and still can) make a sequel although I wouldnt recommend it, as youd still have some legal hurdles to jump.
As a result of this, even what can be considered the official canon split in two after the first film. Due to differences between Romero and Night Of The Living Dead co-writer John A. Russo over what direction the franchise should take, the latter went off and wrote a novel based on a similar zombie idea called Return Of The Living Dead, which was made into a film in 1985. This has since spawned four sequels of its own.
Incidentally, its because of the split between Romero and Russo that all Romeros follows-ups have been called …of the Dead, while Russo called his …of the Living Dead. They agreed to this small name difference to keep things separate. It was also Russo who was behind the 30th Anniversary Edition of Night Of The Living Dead, which added new footage to Romeros film. By doing this, it allowed him to take the copyright in this new version of the classic and make money from it for the first time (but only from any copy of the film sold with the new footage in it). After the 30th Anniversary Edition, he came up with Children Of The Living Dead, which functioned as a sequel to that movie and follows on from the new scenes that were inserted haphazardly into the classic original.
Of course Romero made his own sequels, starting in 1978 with Dawn Of The Dead. However because of the copyright snafu, technically each of the films has to be treated pretty much completely separately, because no one actually owns the thing that ties them together the zombie apocalypse and what was behind it. The result is that in order to get the money to make the movies, Romero had to pass the individual copyright claims to Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Day to the movies backers, although at least he made, and continues to make, money from those films. (Romero had originally planned Day of the Dead as his zombie epic, with a $7 million budget, but because he wanted it to be gory and not compromise to get an R-rating, the budget was halved and Day of the Dead became something less extravagant than initially planned).
However no one can truly be said to own the overall franchise, so because legally both Day of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead have to be treated in copyright law as completely separate entities, whoever owns them is free to set up remakes and sequel based on their film, as if it wasnt part of a series. As a result, in 2004, Zach Snyder directed a remake of Dawn of the Dead, after a new version was set up with the blessing of the people who own the 1978 film. Romero had nothing to do with it, but couldnt stop it and neither could the people who own the other movies.
After the success of that remake, those who owned various other parts of dead franchise realised there was money to be made. Taurus Entertainment Company, which owns Day of the Dead, released Day of the Dead 2: Contagion straight-to-DVD in 2005, which despite having nothing to do with the first film storywise, is technically an official sequel to the 1985 movie. Then in 2008, they released a loose remake of the Romeros third zombie film, which was pretty much universally panned.
Of course recently Romero has been back in the land of the undead, and in 2005 he released Land Of The Dead, which is technically a sequel to Day Of The Dead, but again because of the weird copyright issues, couldnt feature any of the characters from the earlier film, or specifically reference them, because theyre owned by other companies. Many have noted how each of his films is pretty much separate from the other, apart from the undead taking over the world, and the reason for this is as much to do with the legalities as art.
Its all rather confusing and strange, and very different to most other franchises out there. Imagine that if after Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, one group of people was free to go off and Transformers 3, while others could make Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen 2, and all because someone forgot to put a little copyright notice on the movie.
This sort of thing isnt unprecedented, and at some point in the Movie-A-Day series Ill have to go into why the screen rights to James Bond story Thunderball are controlled completely separately from everything else 007, as is the criminal organisation SPECTRE and Ernst Stavros Blofeld, which is why those havent featured as the bad guys in any of the official Bond films since 1971. However this sort of situation is unusual, and I wouldnt be surprised if after reading this youre still slightly scratching your heads over whats going on in the land of the undead. However thats always the problem with copyright law – its a bizarre minefield that only ever gets more confusing.
However what it does mean is that as long as you dont try to pass it off as one of Romeros sequels and only base your film on things that appeared in Night Of The Living, youre free to make your own shuffling zombie movie, and nobody can do anything to stop you.
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