Dread Central is reporting that Bill Hinzman, best known as the "cemetery zombie" from George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, has passed away tonight at age 75. Hinzman staggered his way into horror history in Night's opening scene as the first Romero zombie, the one who was "coming to get you, Barbara." In real life, Hinzman was an affable, gracious man, and I was saddened to hear he'd lost his fight with cancer.
He of course couldn't know it at the time, but Hinzman's brief onscreen role gave him a second career as a "horror celebrity", and he was a staple at horror conventions for decades, often appearing in zombie makeup and clothes for photo ops with eager fans. He also partnered with NOTLD screenwriter John Russo to release a number of direct-to-video horror movies like Flesheater, The Majorettes and the ill-advised Night of the Living Dead 30th Anniversary Edition (which contained new footage shot by the pair). He was even made into an action figure!
Primarily interested in camerawork, Hinzman was the director of photography for Romero's 1973 film The Crazies, and it was a particularly fun moment for me when he spotted me at a horror con showing my Crazies one-sheet to a friend. His eyes lit up at the poster; it was his only theatrically released credit as director of photography, and he said he'd never seen the poster. Feeling for him, appreciative of the countless times he and his colleagues answered the same questions at these shows, and knowing I'd only spent $20 on the thing, I gave it to him and he just about teared up.
At these conventions and Q&As, Hinzman and the rest of the NOTLD crew came to embody the DIY spirit of American horror, living proof that if you had timing, luck, and a pinch of talent, you could have the same success. That's a powerful totem for any wannabe filmmaker, and guys like Hinzman were legends to the horror crowd, a community who allowed them to act like stars for a weekend at a time. But as Hinzman told me over a beer at that same horror con, "If I'm such a goddamn legend, why do I have to go home and take the trash out every night?"