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Home arrow Entertainment arrow Dark Gallery arrow JOHN RUSSO DONS THE SANTA SUIT TO SCARE THE HELL OUT OF US!
Written by by R. K. Sultan   
Dec 05, 2004 at 02:00 AM
They're coming to get you Barbara..." There's not a horror fan worth their salt that doesn't know that early line for the 1968 classic, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Since DARK GALLERY is actually Free, it is possible that some of the thirty or so people in the world who don't know the story behind NOTLD may be reading this. Allow me, if you will, to bring them up to date with a brief history...
In January of 1967 ten friends in Pittsburgh formed a limited partnership called Image Ten productions in order to enter the feature film market -- a dream that is shared by many aspiring filmmakers to day. In order to save on overhead, a decision was made to create a modern day horror story that wouldn't depend on period costumes or high tech effects.
In putting together "The Monster Flick" as the project was originally known, investors doubled as actors, gaffers, making props, shooting, recording, editing...In other words, doing whatever had to be done. Black and white film stock was used in order to stretch the shoestring budget as far as possible.
With everything against it, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD opened in 1968 and went on to become not only a classic, but the standard against which all other Zombie movies are measured. The film has been playing somewhere in the world constantly since '68 and has been translated into seventeen foreign languages. It's a story every independent movie maker with big dreams and a small bankroll knows well.
John Russo, half of the creative force behind the screenplay, explains the movie's popularity this way: "We all dread the witch hunters, the lynch mob, the terrorists who plant bombs to kill those they have never met. The existence of this primal fear, this dread, within our psyches, and its vivid evocation is the truly basic reason for the success of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD."
Thanks to home video, the fact that the filmmakers lost their rights to their own creation, and a legion of fans, NOTLD can be seen in more versions than, possibly, any other single movie ever made. VHS copies can be purchased in anything from poor quality EP tapes released by no name companies, to quality SP copies by brand name distributors. There was even a colorized version of the original floating around, created by people who didn't realize part of the film's effectiveness was the atmosphere created by the black and white stock. Laser discs are now available, and even a full length CD ROM version to play on your PC.
That "Monster Flick" has spawned a lot of careers. Director George Romero, of course is known by millions for his continuing work in the field of horror films. Bill Hinzman, who played the first ghoul scene in the cemetery, has gone on to work on such pictures as THE MAJORETTES (Director), FLESHEATER (Director/Staring role), as well as continuing to work as a cinematographer and DP in countless films. He also worked on the second unit for the TV miniseries of Stephen King's THE LANGOLIERS. Perhaps the most prolific member of the original partnership, though not as highly profiled as Romero, is John A. Russo, NIGHT's principal screenwriter.
Could he have ever imagined the success this simple film would have? "We all knew we were making a good movie," he says. "But of course, no one in this world could've predicted exactly what we were about to unleash." The general consensus of those involved was that it would probably play in the neighborhood and drive-ins for a couple years. They just hoped to recapture the money they had invested, and perhaps gain some attention to themselves as filmmakers.
Since 1968 John has created over a dozen feature films, including MIDNIGHT, the ground breaking MIDNIGHT 2 (One of the first features to utilize video in shooting a national production), HEARTSTOPPER (With Tom Savini directing) RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD series, the full-blast remake NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 1990, and now his most recent, SANTA CLAWS, a thriller about obsession staring Debbie (ABDUCTED 2, TROMEO AND JULIET) Rochon.
Russo has authored some 14 novels, many of which have gone on to become feature films themselves. His latest, HELL'S CREATION, is due to go before the cameras soon. MAKING MOVIES, SCARE TACTICS, and HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIE FOR $10,000 OR LESS, his three books on low budget film making, are considered by many to be the source on the subject. John is also the author of THE COMPLETE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD FILMBOOK, a must read for fans of the film.
His company, Market Square Productions publishes SCREAM QUEEN MAGAZINE as well as offers Scream Queen trading cards and videos. Market Square also carries a complete line of movie making props, prosthetics, appliances, masks and make-up, including a life sized alligator available for rent.
The video department of Market Square offers close to a hundred tapes from classic Hitchcock and Hammer horrors to one of the largest variety of independent films, as well as Hinzman's FLESHEATER and Russo's own pictures.
On top of all this, John's movie making seminar is in high demand. So much so that he has released the entire seminar on video cassette, a value of well over $400.00.
Of course none of these things would be possible had Russo not helped to conjure up visions of zombies rising from the he dead and feeding off the flesh of the living. Writers and film makers alike owe a debt of gratitude to this man for that one groundbreaking screenplay.
Even DARK GALLERY'S poster boy for depravity, writer/director Tim Ritter, acknowledges Russo's fathering of the genre in his classic KILLING SPREE. The intense climax of Ritter's film features a Zombie home invasion reminiscent of NOTLD, and the main character is named Tom Russo.
Three years ago, Russo and other members from the original NOTLD team put together a fan convention marking the movie's 25th anniversary. ZOMBIE JAMBOREE was so successful that John put together ZOMBIE JAMBOREE II this past October in Pittsburgh PA. Besides over 70 dealer tables, this year's event included appearances by NOTLD originals Russo, Karl Hardman, Bill Hinzman, Marilyn Eastman, and Russ Steiner.
Never one to miss a golden opportunity for publicity, John arranged to have Debbie Rochon, star of SANTA CLAWS, as well as her fellow Scream Queens, T. Lewandowski, Chris Cavalier, Lisa Delien and Susan White in attendance as well.
SANTA CLAWS (originality titled 'TIS THE SEASON) marks the first reuniting of original cast/crew members from NOTLD, Eastman (Barbara) Hardman (Harry Copper), and Bill Hinzman (opening ghoul), along with Russo in a feature length horror movie. The story revolves around B-movie queen, Raven Quinn (Rochon) who's marriage is falling apart. She is befriended by Wane Spencer (Grant Kramer) who seems nice enough at first. Wayne is there with an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, baby-sitting the kids, and even buying Christmas gifts for them all.
Soon enough, though, Wayne dons a Santa suit (which he later paints black) a prop claw from one of Raven's movies, and begins to take out cast and crew from her latest production.
Though complications pushed the release date too far back to really take advantage of the Holiday Shopping season, I'm sure that it will be a big seller next year. After all, Christmas, and Blood Lusting Maniacs have both been around a long time!
Currently taking a few days of well deserved R&R after SANTA CLAW's rigorous schedule, John Russo is calculating his options for the future. Regardless of what he does next, Russo will always be remembered for his participation in "The Monster Flick" NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. That's okay by him. Of the classic, he says, "The film was a success, and I relish the memories.

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