In the pop culture world these days, it’s almost impossible not to stumble over a zombie or two. That’s why it’s oddly appropriate that the guys from RiffTrax will be taking another stab at George Romero’s classic look at the undead.
“RiffTrax Live: Night of the Living Dead” will be shambling into theaters on October 24. When reached by phone, riffer Bill Corbett talked about the writing process and the challenges of tackling a classic film.
It’s amazing how much influence this little film from 1968 had on the popular culture. We still love zombies even when they want to eat our brains.
This was the first version of this kind of zombie. [Director] George Romero, he didn’t invent it completely: there was a book and a movie made of it called “I am Legend.” There have been three versions of it: the first one had Vincent Price. I think it was called “The Last Man on Earth.”
The most recent was a Will Smith movie in 2007 or 2008, but [the creatures] were somewhere between zombies and vampires. They were people who had been infected by something, and Romero admits he was influenced by that. As far as the whole “eating your brains” thing and the way they looked, this was the first movie that had that.
Was it easy or harder to write dialogue for “Night of the Living Dead” because you knew the material beforehand?
It’s not that hard knowing stuff; we can kind of borrow from what we know. We did all the “Star Wars” movies at one point, and admittedly, our tank was getting low by the end of them. At least going into them, we had pop culture stuff to work with.
The challenge for this one is that it really is very talky for long periods. It is slow-moving compared to what people are used to now in their zombie movies. And really, [it’s] pretty small in terms of the number of people who were in it.
Basically, once it settles into the house that is being invaded by zombies, it kind of stays there for most of the movie. It has stretches where we feel it’s a little slow here and a little repetitive, so we have to start our tap dance and escalate a little bit.
With a film like this, was it “divide and conquer” or did everyone collaborate throughout the whole process?
Our process now is pretty much just divide it up and then take a first shot at a section and do a first draft. This particular one, we actually riffed about five or six years ago when RiffTrax really wasn’t that old. But what we are finding is that we are throwing a lot of those jokes out. They were just too talky, and for live performances [we] just keep it a little shorter, a little more light on our feet; maybe not jam as many jokes in there.
Some of them are just dated, even five or six years later, the references we use. We divide it up and then we’ll get together, mash it all into one big script.
RiffTrax’s “Night of the Living Dead” will take place live on October 24. Is it possible on the 24th if something really interesting happens during the day, you could work in a few relevant jokes?
Oh yeah! That’s the cool thing about doing a live performance, too. Even in the moment that night, if we feel one bit isn’t working, we are happy to throw it overboard and improvise a little bit. We don’t do a ton of that, but in every show there is a surprise: either a couple of jokes that go over better than we thought or some that are a little more like crickets.
“RiffTrax Live: Night of the Living Dead” will be shown live or tape-delayed in select theaters across the country on October 24.