What’s better to do on an eerie Friday the 13th than to go and watch Night of the Living Dead in the most haunted building in Canberra?

Probably many things. But alas! We did it anyway.

The two of us, Maryanne and Lucy, volunteered to go on our leftfield OutInCanberra assignment weeks beforehand. The National Film and Sound Archive had remastered the classic 1968 movie, and the screening called for undead cosplay to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a movie which you could argue was the original zombie feature from which hundreds of films and television series have sprouted from.

The idea of dressing up for a spooky movie night was new and exciting, as we bounced ideas back and forth about what kind of zombies we wanted to be. As our ideas came together we discussed all but one important thing – the fact that we were both terrified of scary films.

Let me set the scene a little here. If you were in Canberra on Friday the 13th, you may remember the hot and sunny afternoon turning into an apocalyptic storm within minutes. Coincidence? We think not.

I battled through the storm to Maryanne’s house and rushed in with a bag of my best zombie outfits. In a matter of minutes the bedroom floor was littered with various makeup tools we were using to create fake patches of dirt and gashes. We created ridiculous backstories as we drew on wounds and pulled on items of clothing to create our undead versions of a fighter pilot and a little girl … creepy.

It was definitely time for a glass of wine to calm the nerves and another rush through the storm to get to the venue.

We pulled up cautiously out the front of the National Film and Sound Archive to observe our fellow movie-goers, keen to see what other creative costumes people had conjured. Sussing out the crowd from the car as the rain buckets down, we watched eager cult movie fans run up the dimly lit stairs into the looming building.

Oh no. There was not one. Other. Costume.

But we had come this far. We mustered up our courage, leaped out of the car and dashed into the building. All eyes were on us, the two girls covered head to toe in lipstick that was smudged to look like blood with sprinklings of black eye shadow.

Thinking it couldn’t get worse, we decided to take our embarrassment in our stride and head to the bar. It was here that the friendly staff decided to tell us THE BUILDING WAS ALSO HAUNTED. Not helping the nerves, guys. The National Film and Sound Archive is supposed to be the most haunted building in Canberra, as it used to be the city morgue. Yikes.

We were already scared to be at the screening so you can imagine our justification for one more glass of wine before heading in and taking our seats in a dark corner, hiding our faces from the regularly-dressed moviegoers.

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead follows the inhabitants of a small house being terrorized by zombies. The film was completed on a $114,000 budget and shot outside Pittsburgh, where it had its theatrical premiere on October 1, 1968. The film grossed $30 million, earning more than 250 times its budget. It was heavily criticized upon its release for its explicit gore and broke new ground as it starred an African-American protagonist.

Our thoughts were that the backyard movie style of footage would be one of two things; either not realistic at all and therefore not that scary, OR like Paranormal activity, where you feel like you’re in the action and it will be worse than a Hollywood-budget horror.

The unexpected ending was a twist that not even the best of modern movies could pull off. I think our expectations were blown when the credits started rolling, leaving us in a state of disbelief that we could only laugh at. That said, we had to admit that there was a few times we jumped in our seats.

It is a film that we could both highly recommend to anyone with a keen interest in cinema. The imagery and gender roles that were played out prominently throughout the whole movies were truly indicative of the times and are an art in themselves.

Luckily, the movie wasn’t as scary as expected. The charm of black and white added to our experience and thankfully took the edge off the realism. Safe to say we both slept soundly that night.

– Lucy Harrington and Maryanne Irhia