Saturday, November 22, 2008

1969 Reader's Digest Night of the Living Dead article

Don't gaze at the cover too long, it might give you nightmares...
after it puts you to sleep.

When I recently posted scans of a 1971 Newsweek article on "Night of the Living Dead," some readers shared their memories of a Reader's Digest article from back in the late 60's that described the movie's horror so vividly that it alone gave them nightmares.

My curiosity was piqued, so I looked up the article online and found a copy of the June 1969 issue of Reader's Digest on eBay. Now I have it in my sweaty hands, and am sharing it with you. If you remember it, this will bring all the details back in crystal clarity. If you have never read it, it will not only amuse you, but educate you to some history; both about the movie, and the reviewer, a then little-known critic by the name of Roger Ebert.

Apparently, the article, entitled "Just Another Horror Movie - Or Is It?" did both the movie and critic a world of good; the movie became more of a legend that simply had to be seen; and the critic won notice by reviewing it and went on to more fame. It's an interesting read; as one has to wonder what happened to the "poor traumatized tykes," and also to read Roger's take on the film. Referring to Ben only as "the Negro," he was a bit racially insensitive, even considering the times. He watched the movie; couldn't he have remembered that his name was Ben? Even a simple line at the beginning that said "a young Negro, named Ben..." and then referred to him by name; but as it is he reduces the character to a racial type, and in the process, demeans him.

Ebert was also insensitive to the idea of "spoilers," since he reveals the whole plot and even the shocking ending. At least, it would have been shocking to the readers that saw it later if he hadn't told them about it in advance. Thanks, Roger... when you reviewed "Planet of the Apes" did you tell everyone "and they were on ***** the whole time"?

The whole article is less of a review than it is a righteous rant on parental and film-maker carelessness in protecting children from stuff too strong for them. He's right, as far as the responsibility of the parents. If I had seen it at that age, it would have terrified me beyond my ability to deal with it also. The same warning should go to parents today who let their young children view "R" rated horror films too soon.

Anyway, here it is as promised, along with some extra tasty treats from the digest in the form of nostalgic ads. Eat it up!

"See this sandwich? It's actually made from my old pal 'Trigger.' M-m-m-m!"

"Fried chicken! Mom, can I invite my friend "the Negro" over to eat with us?"

Update: Thanks to reader Mike V. who supplied the link to the entire article as it is found on Roger Ebert's site. Much more gruesome in it's description, this is probably the one that people remember most. Also, Ebert explains a little more about his position on the film and the reason the review focuses more on the audience than the film.


Anonymous said...

Wow. He was just as narrow-minded then as he is now, his critical reviewing skills were--all messed up.

Frederick said...


whilst complaining about the kids wetting their pants, he overlooked one of the most influential horror movies of the decade. Wow.

He couldn't see the cemetery for all the tombstones.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that if this article were made widely public now, the political incorrectness of it would humiliate Ebert, whom I've always thought was a Grade-A goober anyway.

But I guess he's already suffered enough since his medical problems have left him looking like a zombie ate his lower jaw. At least he still has all his money and trophy wife...for now.

BTW Frederick, this is my first comment on your blog, but I read it often and really enjoy it.

Frederick said...


Thanks for commenting, glad you are enjoying the blog! I'm having fun do it, as well as the other three. :)

Anonymous said...


Is that really it? Two short pages?
And where's all the screaming, vomiting,traumatized into a state of shock audience members that I so vividly recalled reading about back all those years ago? LOL

Isn't it funny how often we manage to blow things up in our minds as kids & absolutely swear that that's EXACTLY how something was, until confronted by evidence otherwise years later?

Still, it's awesome that you got your hands on that issue & shared it with all of us. Otherwise, it's VERY likely that I'd have never been able to read that article again.

Many thanks, Fred!

- Jim

Frederick said...


It's the same with some movies I saw when younger. There were several I saw in the early 70's on late night TV, and finally found on DVD (non-official I might add) and the scenes I vividly recall were different. I guess my mind added to what I actually saw!

Glad you enjoyed it again! Thanks to you and Prof G for the inspiration to look it up!

Fred said...

Thanks for posting that article. It ranks as one of the most famous reviews of a movie. I especially like the ads from the issue. I'm sure Roy Rogers was just so psyched that his ad was paired up with a review of a movie involving flesh eating ghouls. Nothing like watching NOTLD to make you want to go out for a big heaping pile of roast beef!

Anonymous said...

Ebert's review is quite enlightening and portentous. He describes the state of the children (I was one of them), who expected something more Universal or Castle, and got a meat cleaver in the gut instead. He didn't overlook anything: he recognized, quite correctly, that Romero ushered in a new age of horror that was not nice, fun, or pants-friendly.

Anonymous said...


Roger forgot to mention the best line in the film: "they're dead, alright; they're all messed up"! In the thick of the Civil Rights Era, it is mystifying why Reader's Digest would allow a [crappily written] review referring to "the Negro." It is very telling of the venrated Mr. Ebert; how does he live it down? Shame.

As for the movie its self, I can still remember in the early-mid 70s how my older cousins spoke of it in hushed tones...I used to go to their house on weekends and we'd watch all the old classics on TV together. But Romero's film was practically more taboo than porn. With little or no direct exposure to it, I was still too terrified to ever watch it. It ran on Tv seemingly all the time, but I would always turn the channel! So little snippets here and there was all I saw (my overall impression as a kid was that it was just incredibly down-beat, grim).

Finally, about 10 years ago (in my early '30s) I got up the nerve to go out and buy the public domain VHS for $2. Even at that late date I had to watch it in sections...but in the final analysis I could appreciate why NOTLD remains such an influential film. But I'm still grappling with the ending, tending to kind of rationalize that it was a product of the times: Vietnam, Civil Rights, Assassinations, and a generally down-beat national mood. Maybe Romero just was unsure about how to end the thing; maybe it was deemed safer to let the [black] hero die than to make him a truly triumphant hero in the classic sense.

Still, I think it has the best, most tense beginning of about any horror film (Barbara's encounter with the ghoul). The cinematography adds so much tension and really sets the mood. Truly terrifying; grim; ever-controversial!

An excellent post! Man, are you ever to be commended on a great site! Thank you, Frederick!

Mike V. said...

Here is the original, un-Digested version of Ebert's article:

Note the differences; for instance, in the penultimate paragraph, the original is much less accusatory towards the film's distributor.

Rob DeWalt said...

I find it odd that in his own article about his own review of NOTLD in Reader's Digest in 1969, he talks about it being in 1967. Other than a glaring editing error, How is that possible?

Anonymous said...

This originally ran in January of 69 in the Chicago Sun Times and the Miami Herald. Reader's D reprinted part of it in June 69. At some point (does anyone know-) the article was again reprinted in either LIFE or LOOK. In an early interview Romero mentions that LIFE reprinted it at around the same time RD did...I've researched it and can't locate the issue...Anyone have any ideas when this was reprinted again and where?