The character Mr. Grace does not appear in Joyce's original story. He is an invention of John and Tony Huston's, and was chiefly included so as to permit a reading of the eighth-century Irish poem Donal Og ("Young Donal"). Although it represents a departure from Joyce's text, the poem is nonetheless appropriate to the story's themes: like the song "The Lass of Aughrim" that follows it, "Donal Og" deals with the suffering that love can bring to young women...just as it has for Gretta.
The film was a family affair for the Huston. Father John Huston directed the movie, daughter Anjelica Huston acted and starred in the movie, whilst son Tony Huston penned the screenplay for the picture.
Third and final collaboration of father and son, director John Huston and Tony Huston, respectively, with the latter penning the screenplay for this film, and previously working on John Huston's earlier films, as an uncredited second assistant director on Wise Blood (1979), and as a billed actor on The List of Adrian Messenger (1963). Each of the three films was made in a subsequent decade, one each in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
During the song "6:00", written by American progressive metal band Dream Theater, a movie sample from The Dead can be heard: "Six o'clock on a Christmas morning...", "And for what?", "Well, isn't it for the honor of God, Aunt Kate?", "I know all about the honor of God, Mary Jane."