Sometimes the most fleeting oversight, the most trivial error can permanently damn a creative project. In 1968, George Romero’s distributor declared that his creepy black-and-white film Night of the Flesh Eaters had a title too similar to another film (1964’s The Flesh Eaters). Romero agreed to retitle it Night of the Living Dead, but the lackey in the distributors’ office responsible for splicing in the new title inadvertently removed the copyright declaration frames entirely. It was years later that Romero and his fellow producers Russo and Streiner were made aware that the loophole was being exploited and the movie was being treated as a public domain work, distributed and screened without any permission or payment whatsoever. This was no brief heartbreak. The ensuing frustrated efforts to incontrovertibly reclaim the legal rights to the film spanned decades, culminating in 1990 with what Russo, Romero and Streiner hoped would be the final measure: remake the movie. They were mistaken. (Russo had the balls to try again in 1999 with his independently conceived and justifiably maligned “30th Anniversary Edition” featuring new scenes and music.) Here we are twenty years later with the issue still unresolved. These three men will likely go to their graves without the satisfaction of having the rights to their property returned, never mind the accompanying owed revenues.
As a legal maneuver, Night of the Living Dead (1990) failed utterly. As a film, it is remarkably effective and a beautiful turn in George’s legacy, yet largely dismissed and forgotten by audiences.