Television has been the focus of way, way too many hours of my life, especially given how little of that time I was actually happy. But I do recall a few times that I got something memorable out of watching TV.
One of those times was when I was probably 11 or 12 years old, and I sneaked out of my basement bedroom on a Friday night to watch “Shock Theater” on the tube. “Shock Theater” was the kind of weekly horror movie feature that apparently doesn’t exist on local stations anymore. I regularly broke my parents’ bedtime rules to watch it (they were upstairs and couldn’t hear me), and enjoyed a variety of flicks ranging from cheesy to mildly creepy. I saw the original “King Kong” on “Shock Theater”, “The Creeping Flesh”, “Trog” and many others.
It was all free, not even a monthly cable bill. We got our TV signal through an antenna on the roof and a slim wire carried it down to the basement. On the night I remember most clearly, the movie was “Night of the Living Dead”, released in 1968.
My “Shock Theater” history did not prepare me for what I was about to see. The films I’d watched Friday nights up to that point, by and large, were pretty mild, really. Lots of creepiness and effectively scary moments, but nothing over the top. I suspect that “Shock Theater” added “Night” to its rotation of movies despite its more gruesome content because it could do so for free. Even though it was less than 10 years old at that point, “Night of the Living Dead” had moved into the public domain because of the failure to include a copyright notice on the first prints of the film.
Anyway, the movie started. Black and white but not too old, which I initially took as kind of a bad sign. Jerk mocking his sister in a cemetery. “They’re coming to get you, Barbra. There’s one of them now!” Hm. OK.
But holy crap, the shambling dude with the white hair and black suit really was coming to get her.
My heart started racing about the time Bill Hinzman’s Cemetery Zombie attacked, and throttled up when he killed Johnny and chased Barbra to the isolated countryside house.
What? Why was he doing this? What did he want?
So, for the next couple hours or so, I was absorbed in the movie for a few minutes at a time. In between, I turned off the TV and went to bed, shaken. Then I’d be back five or 10 minutes later, wanting more even though I was afraid of it. “Night of the Living Dead” was unlike anything I’d ever seen, scary beyond anything I’d experienced in a film. And yes, pretty cheesy, too.
When my worst fears were confirmed — the zombies wanted to eat them! — I couldn’t believe anyone would dare put that on film, much less show it on TV.
Seeing “Night of the Living Dead” that night was a minor turning point for me. It wasn’t long before I recognized that I not only enjoyed it, but that I wanted more. Zombies displaced werewolves as my favorite movie monsters and now, more than three decades later, I still haven’t had enough of them.
DUANE JONES PLAYS BEN, NOTLD’S TRAGIC HERO
Any longtime fan of zombie movies recognizes NOTLD director George A. Romero as the genre’s granddaddy. He has made six zombie films to date, at least two of them masterpieces and all of them interesting at some level. If you enjoyed “Shaun of the Dead”, “Zombieland” or “The Walking Dead”, thank George Romero.[caption id="attachment_1694" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="For me, Ben's lug wrench is one of the best weapons ever wielded in a movie."][/caption]
When I first saw “Night”, though, the individual whose work on the film most startled and impressed me was Duane Jones, who played Ben. For those who shamefully haven’t seen the movie, Ben is the only major character to live through the night, only to be slain the next morning by the posse hunting down the ghouls.
Ben, honestly, was a shock as a hero to me. From the moment his truck’s headlights reveal him to Barbra in front of the house, Ben is the most dynamic character in the film. He’s the leader, the one with energy and the drive to start making plans. He’s wearing the kind of clothes that suggest he’s used to living in the city and eating at diners, but he’s quick to take on the tasks of beating down zombies with a lug wrench, then moving and burning the bodies.
He also butts heads with Cooper, slugs Barbra to knock her out of a hysterical fit and occasionally loses his cool with the others in the house. He’s the film’s hero, but he doesn’t always make the right choices. In fact, ironically, the film proves that the noisy, irritating Cooper was right: If the people in the house had locked themselves in the cellar, they might all have survived the night.
Duane Jones’s career, like his life, was too short. He died in 1988 at the age of 52.
DEDHAM POND PRESENTS BEN’S LAST NIGHT, SCULPTED BY JOE SIMON
Resin the Barbarian was born in early 2006, when I was blogging for a newspaper’s website. Somewhere toward the middle of that year, a few months before the birth of my youngest daughter, I decided to take a shot at producing a garage kit on my own. Basically, I was curious. All I’d done with resin model kits up to that point was paint a few; I’d never made a mold or a casting.
I fortunately ending up working with Chris Wooten, a young sculptor just getting his start. He shaped a 1/4-scale bust called “Ben”, based on “Night of the Living Dead”. As I’ve said before, and will continue to say as long as my brain works, Chris did a fantastic job on the piece. My efforts at molding and casting were amateur. I’ll never be able to thank Chris enough for his patience as my teacher during that project, which was not part of the deal but he did it anyway. I worked with Chris again about a year ago, when he sculpted my Aurora-style Phantom of the Opera replacement head for the Polar Lights Phantom kit. That replacement head is my biggest seller to date.[caption id="attachment_1696" align="alignright" width="500" caption="Ben and the zombie come with separate interlocking bases. The figures will be available as a set or sold individually."][/caption]
Anyway, I’ve learned a lot about molding and casting since starting up Dedham Pond in 2010, thanks in large part to generous long-distance advice from friends in the hobby and in slightly larger part to almost a year doing the work professionally in a paleo lab. My (so far fruitless) efforts to produce a vinyl model kit led to me working with sculptor Joe Simon last year, and I’ve been thrilled with the work Joe did on Dedham Pond’s Mr. Hyde and Nosferatu.
I knew I wanted to produce another kit based on “Night of the Living Dead”. Thinking about it, I decided I wanted to take another shot at Ben, the character who so struck me when I first watched him on television when I was young, portrayed by an actor I suspect wasn’t appreciated enough. Joe was game, and he started to work.
Ben’s Last Night is 1/8 scale, resin. Sale details coming soon.
A LAST FUN LITTLE DETAIL[caption id="attachment_1689" align="alignleft" width="230" caption="Chris Wooten's Ben bust, produced by Resin the Barbarian in 2006. Painted and photographed by Toby Franks."][/caption]
I’ve seen and enjoyed a number of paint jobs on the 2006 Ben bust, a couple of which particularly stood out at me. One of them was done by Toby Franks, a longtime hobbyist who calls himself “FromBeyond138” at the Clubhouse. I don’t know how Toby discovered “Night of the Living Dead”, but he’s another big fan of the film. When he did the bust, he added a base that included Ben’s famous lug wrench.
Part of the fun of being a garage-kit producer is to see what a painter who likes the kit does with it. I thought Toby got a bigger kick out of the first model than anyone else, and he’s also a terrific painter. So, soon after getting the first work-in-progress photos from Joe, I got in touch with Toby to ask him if he’d like to paint the first kit and photograph it for the box art.
Toby was all over it. Cool.
One of my frequent requests for Joe is sort of vague: Include some kind of interesting animal on the base. For Mr. Hyde, it was a centipede. For Nosferatu, naturally, rats. I think I hinted at bugs for Ben’s Last Night, but didn’t have any specific idea. Soon after I confirmed that Toby would be the painter, Joe suggested putting a cat on the base.
Anyone who is familiar with Toby Franks for a while — and I’ve known him through forums for about a decade and even met him in person once at WonderFest a few years ago — knows he’s nuts about cats. In fact, “nuts” is probably too frivolous a word for it. Toby is dedicated to them, and works hard to take care of them.
I took that as a sign, of sorts, and greenlit the cat. I don’t think there is a feline anywhere in the actual film, but I love it on the base.
A final word about Joe Simon. His work has always been fun, often eye-catching. But these last couple of years in particular, I’d argue, Joe’s output has been amazing. The work he has done with Black Heart, Three Kings, Six Strings, Dedham Pond and more has repeatedly delighted me. It’s a privilege to work with him.
Watch for the next Dedham Pond kit from Joe Simon later this year.