Back in April, I posted a link to the first trailer for this long-awaited documentary. As a lifelong fan of Night of the Living Dead, I've devoured every article, book and documentary that's been released related to the film. While some folks may ask if there's anything left to be said about a classic film such as this, filmmakers Jeff Carney and Jim Cirronella have answered with a resounding YES!
First, let's clarify about what Autopsy of the Dead isn't. It's not a full-on documentary focused on interviews with the principles you've seen interviewed time and time again. The recent release of Night of the Living Dead on DVD included just such a documentary, One For the Fire. While I admittedly found that documentary lacking in some ways, it did include numerous interviews with the key surviving cast and crew members.
Autopsy of the Dead is the perfect companion piece to that film, of interest to those of you who like me, can't get enough information on the making of this seminal horror film. Running over two hours, it tells the story of the making of the film through the voices of the lesser known talents behind Night of the Living Dead, from actor Charles Craig (who played the TV reporter), to Gary Streiner (original investor, sound engineer and brother of producer Russ Streiner), to the owners of the original farmhouse! Kudos to Carney and Cirronella for leaving no stone unturned when it came to digging up so many of the normal folks who found themselves a part of this film phenomenon shot more than 40 years ago.
Charles Craig leads things off, and he not only has a wealth of information to share, his recollections are sharp and you can tell that while his was a relatively small part, it's no mystery why he helped lend the film the credibility it needed to be successful.
Also of great interest were local television personality Dave James (the last ghoul shot in the film), Lighting director Joe Unitas, and Ella Mae Smith, who portrayed a ghoul with her husband, and who saved his mortician's wax appliance for 40-odd years!
While contributions from Kyra Schon (Karen Cooper) and Bill Hinzman (Ghoul #1) keep this from being solely comprised of relative unknowns, almost every contributor has something interesting to add (save perhaps one, whose self proclaimed contribution was holding up a tape as cricket recordings were looped!).
The quality of the interviews themselves can vary based on the location where they were shot, and while it would have been great to have these interviews captured for posterity in high definition, having them at all is a real treasure.
The filmmakers also return to several of the original filming locations, including the road from the opening shot of the film as well as the location of the original (long since demolished) farmhouse. As someone who has been out to the Evan's City Cemetery, seeing some of the other locations inspires a return trip...
While the feature itself is more than worth the price of admission, it's as we get to the extras that the package really shines. As one might expect, locating the original players also meant finding some buried treasures including some fantastic behind the scenes color photographs, which to this viewer are worth their weight in gold.
Other extras include fantastic behind the scenes newsreel footage, an amazing archive of prop photos and video (I had no idea that Ben's rifle was in a private prop collection!), theatrical trailers and much rarer TV spots, some fun radio spots (particularly those from a late 70s re-issue post Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and a profile on Rick Catizone of The Animators (who worked on the closing credit sequence of Night and the animated opening of Creepshow!).
Fans will want to digest everything on the disc; I was rewarded by starting first with the DVD Credits which revealed a brief bonus feature.
While there's tons of information of interest to the any fan of Night of the Living Dead, Autopsy of the Dead was really created with devout deadhead in mind. It's a very nicely produced documentary, obviously a labor of love for the team behind it, and deserving of our support for going to such great lengths to capture these original stories.
You can order a copy through Amazon, however I highly recommend ordering directly from their website, where you'll get your copy shipped within the U.S. for only $24.99 - and while supplies last, you can get a limited edition hand-signed 5x7 from one of the film's interview subjects. With only 200 signed copies available, you'll want to act fast to take advantage of that special offer.