If you live on Earth and you haven't spent your life under a rock, chances are high that you've heard of the movie Night of the Living Dead. The original movie, released in 1968, was ultra successful, although also extremely controversial for that time. Night of the Living Dead was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," however it was also greatly criticized. Variety labeled Night of the Living Dead an "unrelieved orgy of sadism" and questioned the "integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers." Now, being from Pittsburgh and knowing "Johnny" personally, reading statements like that makes me smile a little.
Anyway, here is what happened to this controversial classic that cost the filmmakers a fortune:
When the movie was in production it went by the working title Night of the Flesh Eaters, which also had the copyright information. Before the movie's release, the name was changed to the infamous Night of the Living Dead; however the distribution company forgot ONE MAJOR DETAIL...they forgot to include the copyright information on the final release. I mean, I bet someone had to have lost their job...
You may ask yourself, "so what?" Just because the movie was missing the copyright doesn't mean that it isn't protected. Well, not in 1968. In 1968 this meant that the movie was now public domain and not protected by any copyrights. It wasn't until almost an entire decade later that the Copyright Act of 1976 was put in place to protect instances exactly like this from happening. So now this famous movie was up for grabs! Anyone can start making unofficial sequels, selling VHSs, DVDs, merchandise... all without paying up. So, if you want to make a Night of the Living Dead sequel, go for it! Think about this, the "Romero Zombie" has influenced every zombie movie that has ever been made... or any zombie book, TV show, etc. And all of these stories can do so without having to pay... it's INSANITY.
Speaking of sequels, here are the official sequels: Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. Unofficial sequels include: The Return of the Living Dead, The Return of the Living Dead 2, Return of the Living Dead 3, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave, Zombi 2, Zombi 3 and Zombi 4.
Now that is where things get a little complicated. The Return series are by John Russo, who was the co-writer of Night of the Living Dead. Obviously he and Romero aren't the best of friends now. When Dawn of the Dead was released, it was known internationally as Zombi. Zombi 2 is its unofficial sequel stemming from Italy by Lucio Fulci. Zombi 2, on its own, is actually a really awesome movie and comes highly recommended. I can't speak for the 3rd or 4th parts, but Zombi 2 features a zombie vs. shark scene that is CLASSIC.
Sad story about the makers of Night of the Living Dead not being able to cash out on their instant classic, but at least the movie was made and gave us the wonderful world of zombies as we know them.