George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead
R1 - America - Dimension Extreme/Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Roger Nicholl & Noor Razzak (15th June 2008).
The Film

Regarded as the grandfather of the modern zombie film, "Night of the Living Dead" transformed the zombie from the (more realistic) human afflicted by a voodoo trance into the flesh eating undead. It may not have been the first film to treat zombies this way, but because it's a great film the transformation stuck. Gore-wise "Night of the Living Dead" may not be shocking anymore, or frightening, but it is compelling and intense. Its combination of black and white photography and grisly horror is particularly unsettling, and gives the film a grimy, realistic quality.

The opening scene of Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) visiting their father's grave is justifiably famous. Johnny jokes with Barbara about how the graveyard used to scare her as a child. When they see a man slowly walking towards them, Johnny starts taunting Barbara with "He's coming to get you, Barbara". Barbara tries to apologize to the man for Johnny's rudeness but he attacks her. Johnny tries to help, but is knocked out, and Barbara flees to a deserted farmhouse.

She finds that an African American man, Ben (Duane Jones), is already in the house. And while she is almost catatonic from fear, he is resourceful and determined. After boarding up almost the whole house they find that there are five other people hiding in the basement who claim they didn't know what was going on upstairs while Ben was doing all that work.

One of them, Harry (Karl Hardman), is a short-tempered, opinionated, loud-mouthed white man who thinks it's crazy that they'd stay upstairs when they could just lock themselves in the basement. Ben thinks the basement is a death trap, and he has a shotgun to back him up. But Harry openly bristles under his command, and the two of them clash. Thankfully, their rivalry is written well enough that it doesn't turn into a tiresome series of shouting matches, as has happened in a lot of "Night of the Living" clones.

The movie is paced perfectly, the zombie menace builds up in a way commensurate with the tensions inside the house. Information on the zombies is given out first via radio, and later when they find a TV. And while this is technically just exposition, it's done in an entertaining way and is spaced out to ease up the tension and avoid endless scenes of people boarding up windows. The last act is a perfect example of a horror film pay off, the threat has been built up, the tensions allowed to grow, until things explode.

George A. Romero has said that he laces all his zombie films with social commentary. In "Night of the Living Dead" he cast an African American as the hero (the race wasn't specified in the script) who saves the white girl, in an era when civil rights was still very much an ongoing debate. Add to this the fact that all of the mindless zombies have pasty white faces, and Harry the intolerant bull-headed white man wants to hide in a safe place and not worry about anyone else. We have an African-American hero who may be up against the undead in the text of the film, but is faced with racism is the subtext. And then there's the ending, which I won't reveal, but has been purposefully left open to interpretation.

I don't know if the choice of filming in black and white was part of this metaphor (in 1968 it was a choice). But it looks so perfect that it makes me wonder why black and white isn't used much for horror anymore. Perhaps it's because the majority of black and white horror films didn't go for grisly gore, and most horror films are cheap knock-offs of each other. When people came to copy "Night of the Living Dead" they copied the zombies, and the arguments, rather than things worth copying like cinematography and theme.

"Night of the Living Dead" is a great film, which deserves its place in the highest echelon of horror films. Like many much imitated films, the imitators got the basics right, but often didn't grasp what made the original work so well. Russo and Romero not only wrote a finely crafted script, they had fresh ideas, both horror-wise and in a social commentary sense. That's why this film was, and still is, great.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.33:1 this release presents the film with an all-new transfer that faithfully restores the film. While there are still some inherent flaws and dirt the overall image is a solid effort. The contrast levels are spot on with deep blacks (although there's some noise) and solid whites, detail holds up really well and aside from some scratches, dirt and specks the print is surprisingly clean for a film of its age. Genius has done a very good thing here with this release, instead of acquiring the rights to a previous transfer they went and restored the film themselves and showed it the respect it earned as one of film history's most influential horror films.

Audio

A single track is included in English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, this is an up-mixed track created from the original mono. I'd prefer the original soundtrack for purity's sake, but this surround effort is actually quite good and does the film justice despite the audio feeling a little more spaced out than the central mono track. Dialogue is clean and the score comes across well, there were no audible flaws like hiss, pops, drop-outs, overall Genius did a reasonable job with this soundtrack.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Genius Products have included a selection of extras that borrows from previous releases as well as a series of all-new features exclusive to this release. Included are two audio commentaries, a documentary, a featurette, an audio interview, the film's theatrical trailer, a series of bonus trailers and some DVD-ROM content. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we've got a feature-length audio commentary by co-writer/director George A. Romero, co-writer John A. Russo, actor Karl Hardman and actress Marilyn Eastman. This is a mostly screen-specific track as the group comments on the film providing trivia about locations, cast, props, shots and also share some production stories that provides an insider's perspective on the landmark film. There's some funny stories shared as the group seem cherish looking back on their film.

The next feature-length audio commentary is by cast members Bill Hinzman, Judith O'Dea, Keith Wayne, Kyra Schon, producer Russell Streiner and production manager Vince Survinski. Much like the previous track these participants cover some of the same information but their perspective make it worth listening to. If anything this track delves a bit further into the production revealing more about it, their involvement and impact the film had on them and audiences as well. This track is a little lighter in tone to the previous which makes it enjoyable and an easy listen.

"One For The Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead" is an all-new feature-length documentary that runs for 83 minutes 48 seconds. This is a wonderful in-depth look at the film 40 years on as we meet with the key cast and crew. This documentary is spread out into eight chapters, interestingly it covers the whole gamut in regards to the production company Romero and co. set up, their initial involvement in making commercials and the step up to feature film making. We get a look at the script development, production and how the group of ten pulled off their first film on a tight budget, as well as selling the film, its release and subsequent reaction. If anything this feature is a historical document that should satisfy most die-hard fans of the film that take a further interest in the people behind it.

"Speak of the Dead: A Conversation with George A. Romero" is a featurette that runs for 15 minutes 47 seconds and is a Q&A held after a screening of the film in 2007 in Canada. Romero comments on his early comic book influences and how they helped him become a filmmaker, he also comments on the themes and the film's nihilistic ending as well as comments on a couple of his other films.

"Ben Speaks: The Last Interview with Duane Jones" is an audio interview that runs for 16 minutes 45 seconds and was recorded in 1987 prior to his death in 1988. In the interview he openly talks in-depth about his experience on the film and the impact it had on his life. This is the only time he's ever openly talked about the film and his thoughts on it and what it meant for him. It's a fascinating clip that provides insight into the once elusive actor.

Also featured on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer which has seen better days and runs for 1 minute 49 seconds.

Next up are a series of bonus trailers for:

- "Diary of the Dead" which runs for 1 minute 51 seconds.
- "Inside: Unrated" which runs for 32 seconds.
- "Automaton Transfusion" which runs for 31 seconds.
- "Halloween" which runs for 2 minutes.
- "w∆z" which runs for 2 minutes 2 seconds.

Rounding out the extras is some DVD-ROM content that includes:

- PDF version of the screenplay which you can download and print.

Packaging

Packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A

 


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