Night of the Living Dead
Until 1968, zombies were traditionally portrayed as just the walking dead. More scary than menacing. Director George Romero changed all of that when he released “Night of the Living Dead.” Romero’s zombies did more than drag their dead bodies from point A to point B. They stopped for snacks.
For the first time in cinema history, zombies ate their victims. No forks. No napkins. Just lots and lots of intestines. I first saw “Night of the Living Dead” on television. It was a dark and stormy night (really, it was). I contracted pneumonia during my junior year in high school and was out for several weeks. I wasn’t delirious, but I did have a fever. Perhaps that contributed to my heightened sense of vulnerability.
The version I saw was edited for television (Hey, it was 1973), and was extremely grainy. None of that mattered as Romero’s zombies rose from the dead and set out to devour the living. I wasn’t even out of high school and I recognized the film’s Republican leanings. Just kidding. I wasn’t scared out of my wits, but I was on edge the whole film. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” still haunts my mind.
The biggest jump came when the storm banged a tree branch against my window (Jeez, does my life sound like a horror movie cliche, or what?). That made me jump. The rest of the film just made me feel creepy. It stayed with me long after that night, and I have seen the film numerous times since then in theaters and on tape. However, nothing compares to the recently released 30th Anniversary Edition of the film that has just arrived on video and DVD. Not only did writer John A. Russo go back and shoot over 15 minutes of new footage, but the filmmakers have dug up the original negative.
Surprise of all surprises, “Night of the Living Dead” isn’t the grainy experience that I have come to know and love over the years. The film is actually a pristine black and white experience. On the DVD audio commentary, Russo explains that the filmmakers were so broke when they finished the film that they had to rely on a bargain basement distributor to make copies of the film. He used old or different stock and end pieces of other reels to make copies, and that is where the film’s grainy look came from.
The DVD print is immaculate, an exciting blend of black and white visuals. The new scenes (the scenes were in the original script but dropped due to budget restraints) are seamlessly edited into the original to create an entirely different experience. There’s more for the zombies to chew on, including the victim of an auto accident. A new musical score by Scott Vladimir Licina has been added, and it is a definite plus over the canned library music used during the film’s initial release.
The sound has been sweetened into a stereo soundtrack, which is pretty effective. Together, these elements bring new life to George Romero’s original vision. There’s more back story to explain where all of the zombies came from, plus a finale (not my cup of tea) that sets up “Dawn of the Dead.” The story is still strong, with a desperate group of individuals taking refuge in a farm house when the dead become reanimated. Only a serious blow to the head will finish them off, but getting close enough is another matter.
The cast is actually quite engaging, including Duane Jones as a black man not only fighting against the zombies outside but prejudiced inside. Judith O’Dea looks appropriately lost as Barbara, whose brother is one of the first victims. There’s still a lot of life left in these zombies.
VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind
Absolutely stunning black and white digital transfer. I have seen the film several times in theaters and on television, and the DVD transfer is an entirely new experience. The images are so sharp and vivid you would swear they were shot yesterday. Excellent contrast and strong, industrial strength blacks provide for a visually exciting presentation. The film is delivered in full-frame, and contains nary a trace of compression artifacts or noise. Excellent depth of field and attention to detail. The original negative is pristine, allowing for clean whites and shadows. Hands down one of the finest black and white transfers I have seen on DVD.
HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf
Enthusiastic remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack more than gets the job done. I was pleasantly pleased with every aspect of the soundtrack, from the faux stereo split that actually sounds authentic, to the rear speaker action that includes the pulsating musical score and some creepy ambient noise. The soundtrack is actually pretty clean, with no noticeable hiss or distortion. While none of the stereo or surround effects are definitive, they are diverting.
ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Poor
No closed captions or subtitles.
COORDINATION: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak
An excellent collection of extras that go the distance.
You get two versions of the film on a dual-layer disc. First there’s the 1998 re-issue with the new musical score by Scott Vladimir Licina. This version is the original film. Then there’s the 30th Anniversary Edition of the film which includes more than 15 minutes of new scenes. These scenes were photographed to match the original negative, and have been seamlessly edited into the film. There’s more gore, and additional opening and closing chapters. The new opening is quite effective, but the finale seems a little overwrought. The 30th Anniversary Edition also includes the new musical score.
There’s also an in-depth documentary on the making of the 30th Anniversary Edition that includes lots of behind-the-camera footage.
Check out the full-length audio commentary by John A. Russo, Bill Hinzman, Russ Streiner and Bob Michelucci. The discussion is lively, and frequently hilarious. Listening to these guys is like eavesdropping on old friends who have just gotten back together. Russo takes a lot of ribbing from the trio as the man who virtually invented “everything,” while Michelucci (the Associate Producer on the new version) admits that he didn’t the see the original when it first came out because he was a baby (no, not “baby” as in scared, but an actual infant). The foursome keep the conversation topical by watching the film as they discuss their involvement in it. There’s also some trivia being dispensed. For instance, the original opening shot was filmed on the first and last day of shooting. In between that time, the car they used was involved in an accident, so they were forced to incorporate the damage into the plot.
A gallery of stills from and behind-the-scenes of the 30th Anniversary shoot.
An honestly creepy music video called “Dance of the Dead,” that incorporates scenes from the film with the new musical score. The editing is really freaky.
The theatrical trailer for the 30th Anniversary Edition. It’s here where you will see the difference between the crappy, grainy print that made the rounds in theaters and on television and the new print on DVD.
A quick scene from actor Bill Hinzman’s feature “Flesh Eater” that proves why children shouldn’t answer the door.
The film’s original musical soundtrack available on a separate CD.
A 32-page collector’s book with lots of photos and interviews.
The DVD is Limited Edition with a pressing of only 15,000 copies.
PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal
The DVD is an entirely new experience. Finally, you can see and hear the film the way it was intended.
VITALS: $24.98/Not Rated/96 Minutes/B&W/30 & 24 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#DV10951
ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen
PATIENT: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
BIRTH DATE: 1968
HMO: Anchor Bay Entertainment