The images from George A. Romero‘s Night of the Living Dead are seared into your memory. The sedan pulling around the bend and driving towards the cemetary. A freshly buried corpse with the stiff shoulders and rigor mortis sneer. The externally pristine farmhouse that conceals several floors filled with horror. But how well do you remember the soundtrack that accompanies these images?

Night of the Living Dead

Upon listening to the two-record Night of the Living Dead 50th Anniversary Edition from Waxwork Records, I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much of the music I can recall. I further found that as I listened, the music evoked many specific shots and scenes. And in spite of the fact that the soundtrack may not have a singular, widely recognized theme, the score is nevertheless a memorable one.

At first, it may be tempting to dismiss the score as standard genre fare. Part of this impression comes from the fact that the movie’s soundtrack is not comprised of new music: instead, it is comprised of existing songs that were selected and modified electronically.

However, no doubt thanks in part to the electronic modification, the soundtrack possesses an experimental thread that elevates certain moments to new heights. This includes the prolonged screetch of strings that accompanies the discovery of the half-eaten corpse on the second storey of the farmhouse, the theremin that creeps into one track, or the creepy distorted screaming that you’ll remember from “Helen’s Death.” 

Like the monsters that star in the movie, when the music begins, it is methodical and plodding, only to build to cresendo as the album shambles towards it conclusion. The aforementioned intrusion of experimental elements only serves to underscore the undead theme. Just as a zombie looks like your neighbor (until it doesn’t), this music poses as your average soundtrack before it attacks.

50th Anniversary Edition

Sadly, the 50th Anniversary Edition is currently unavailable. I was only able to get my hands on it thanks to the fact that a close lifelong friend came upon it used and sent it across the country to me. 

However, if you find a copy yourself, this edition comes highly recommended. It features arresting artwork by Robert Sammelin, depicting memorable scenes and characters from the movie. Plus, it includes two sets of insightful liner notes. One set is by the movie’s dialogue recorder and sound engineer, Gary Streiner, and the other is by Daniel Kraus, co-author with Romero of the equally highly recommended novel The Living DeadAnd making the records themselves “ghoul green” in color is a nice aesthetic touch.

If you can find the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Night of the Living Dead soundtrack, be sure and grab it up. But even if you can’t, you should be able to stream the music, which will afford a spooky and worthy soundtrack for your Halloween celebrations.

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