Actor Charles “Chuck” Craig passed away at age 87 on Sunday, February 24th.
Craig’s screen time was brief but impactful. He played an integral part in George A. Romero’s horror classic, NIGHT of the LIVING DEAD.
Because of the low budget nature of it, Craig actually plays three roles in the film. He plays a ghoul, which, nearly everyone involved in the production did at some point. His is the voice we hear on both the Pontiac in dash radio as well as the antique Zenith radio.
And most notably, Craig appears as the television newscaster who delivers chilling news.
“It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to life and committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of reports from funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims. It’s hard for us here to believe what we’re reporting to you, but it does seem to be a fact.”
Craig, a seasoned Pittsburgh radio personality of the 1960’s, actually wrote these famous lines himself. Like other iconic lines from NIGHT of the LIVING DEAD, Craig’s dialog was born out of George Romero’s democratic and practical approach to directing. In more prestigious circles, this may be referred to as Method Acting and is similar to the Dogme 95 philosophy; both very avant-garde for a late 60’s television commercial crew from Pennsylvania.
While Craig is not considered principle cast of NIGHT of the LIVING DEAD, his position in the history of cinema is profound. His characters narrate the film via electronic media, effectively shaping the course of action. This may not seem like a big deal today, but in 1968 it was a pretty forward concept that electronic media play such a defining role in a narrative film. It adds to the sense of contemporary isolationism prevalent in the film. This spark of genius rose from the pragmatics of depicting the Apocalypse without the expense of actually showing it. Craig’s role predecesses and embodies our modern ritual of checking our devices for important updates about the world. Indeed, in just the same way that you read this very article.
NIGHT of the LIVING DEAD was shot on Kodak Tri-X and Plus-X 35mm filmstocks. But Craig’s and other news scenes were actually shot on 16mm to both save money and to maintain realism since this is how local news was produced at the time. This is is another example of a cost-cutting measure that played well into the total style and statement of the movie.
Today, as a film photographer, I cite media like NIGHT of the LIVING DEAD for inspiring my choice to shoot b&w film nearly exclusively and for bringing the world a tour de force example of DIY underdog success. While NotLD cost only $116k to make, it grossed an estimated $30 million, making it the most successful independent film of all time.
And hey, I also enjoy collecting all the awesome NIGHT of the LIVING DEAD trading cards!
Thank you, Charles Craig for being the voice of one the most thrilling and provocative movies of all time, as well as one of my personal favorites.