“They’re coming to get you, Barbra.”
If you recognise that quotation then you may well be able to hazard a guess as to our first stop on the second day of our family road trip. George Romero famously shot his 1968 movie ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in the environs of Pittsburgh so – as a massive zombie and movie fan – there was no way I could depart the area without paying homage. My top choice was Evans City Cemetery, shooting location for the iconic opening scene.
I have loved ‘Night of the Living Dead’ since I was a wee girl. Back when I first saw it, I simply loved it for the zombie horror aspect and its grotesque moments of shock and horror. It was compelling stuff and set in motion by whole zombie fixation. Returning to the film as I got older, however, I began to enjoy the other layers in the movie: the themes of alienation and identity, societal dynamics, its exploration of the nature of and reaction to fear, its study of inversions, and also the film making with its structure, sense of urgency, camera angles and gritty monochrome, plus its explosive use of the twist. Anyway, you get the idea: I absolutely love the movie.
I will be vague in order to avoid spoilers but the opening scene involves Johnny and Barbra visiting the grave of their father in the cemetery, Johnny teasing Barbra, and them being assailed by a strange bloke. I had the images from this scene fixed in my mind so all we had to do was locate the correct spot in the cemetery in order to reproduce the scenes. I had my DSLR with me and my kids had their video camera so we could capture our pilgrimage in stills and video.
Evans City Cemetery is reached via a winding, uphill road lined with trees which then emerges into the cemetery with a little chapel on the left. While I had no expectation of the cemetery looking spookily spine-chilling, I had not anticipated just how lovely it would be. As a rural cemetery tucked away from the town’s main thoroughfares, it was serenely quiet and glowing in the summer sunshine. It was also immaculately maintained and spacious, with headstones surrounding a war memorial like ripples in a pond. It was actually a really charming place and I felt rather sorry that I was only visiting it for reasons of horror.
It took us very little time and wandering before we found the grave of a chap named Nicholas Kramer. This gravestone is foregrounded in some key shots in the movie’s opening scene hence it being the subject of our quest and also fairly easy to identify. We had turns of being Barbra posing beside the grave, looking anxious and fretful.
Finding the grave that Johnny and Barbra visit – standing in for their father’s grave – was a little trickier since it is only shown from the back with no inscription visible but we used the available clues from wide shots and glimpses of text on adjacent graves to locate the correct one.
Movie pilgrimage mission accomplished, Mr Pict, our oldest son and I had a wander around the cemetery while our other three sons filmed scenes for their very own zombie movie. My 10 year old had even packed zombie teeth in his backpack for just this occasion. He was the director and they took turns at being cinematographer and cast. I like to think Romero would approve of their homage.
PS I just wanted to reassure readers that we were mindful and respectful of the setting and fellow visitors at all times.