He was the first iconic zombie of modern horror cinema, but most people don’t even know his name.
Bill Hinzman, best known to horror fans for playing the “Cemetery Ghoul” in the opening sequence to George Romero’s original zombie movie classic Night of the Living Dead, passed away on Sunday after a long battle with cancer. He was 75.
Born on October 24, 1936 (one week shy of Halloween – how very appropriate), Hinzman became a regular jack-of-all-trades in the independent film industry in his more than four decades in the business. He was an actor, writer, cinematographer, director, and editor. Other than Night of the Living Dead Hinzman collaborated with Romero on The Crazies (which was remade in 2010) and the 1974 television documentary O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose, both of which he served on as the director of photography. He also appeared in front of the camera in Romero’s little-seen Night follow-ups There’s Always Vanilla and Jack’s Wife (a.k.a. Season of the Witch). Hinzman would continue to act in small roles for the rest of his life, usually appearing in zombie make-up for the occasion.
In the late 1980’s Hinzman directed two independent horror films, The Majorettes and Flesh Eater. For Flesh Eater he not only wrote the script, but also reprised his role as the Cemetery Ghoul. In 1999, Hinzman participated in the filming of additional scenes for an expanded version of Night of the Living Dead that was created without the support or blessing of George Romero and met with toxic indifference from fans of the original upon its release.
For years Hinzman has been a mainstay at horror conventions, often appearing in full makeup to pose for scary pictures with his adoring fans.
On Sunday, Shaun of the Dead star Simon Pegg tweeted his response to the news of Hinzman’s death:
“Sad to hear Bill Hinzman, George Romero’s first zombie in NotLD passed away today. Even zombies die, legends however, do not. RIP Bill.”