Plot: What’s it about?
A rash of gruesome attacks, murders, and at times, total chaos has left the world in an odd position, one it never expected to be within. As she visits a graveyard, Barbra (Judith O’Dea) finds herself being teased by her brother, who claims dead people have risen from the ground and are coming after her as he speaks. But when a strange man approaches, attacks the couple, and leaves her brother dead, Barbra realizes his words were true, even though he never intended them to be truthful in the least. After a narrow escape, she finds herself at an isolated farmhouse and soon discovers a band of other survivors has formed there. All is not smooth with these people however, as a rift has formed between them, as a black man wishes to move upstairs and a stubborn man demands that downstairs is the better choice. As they argue and finally take action in the ways decided upon, a swarm of undead creatures closes in on the house, seeking to eat the brains of those inside the farmhouse. How did the dead somehow rise from the grave and more to the point, how can they be stopped?
Some films are so well crafted, they become a cornerstone of the genre and influence movies for decade upon decade, transcending the simple label of the genre involved. One of those films is Night of the Living Dead, which has stood the test of time and then some, winding up as perhaps the most influential & popular horror picture of all time. I’d have to agree on all counts, as this is an excellent example of horror cinema and low budget filmmaking, as director George A. Romero and his cast & crew rose above the limited funds, to create a powerful, memorable, and highly effective feature film. I doubt even Romero could have guessed how much success the film would gain over the years, but he and his fellow filmmakers nailed this one from start to finish, redefining the horror genre in the process. The film’s stark black & white photography is stunning at times, while Romero is able to create superb tension, thanks to the atmosphere, characters, and of course, rampant zombies on the prowl. Simply put, this film deserves a place in any film buff’s collection, even those not too sold on horror, as it has surpassed all genre limitations and proven to be a true classic, in every sense of the word. Elite’s new Millennium Edition is the definitive DVD also, so make sure this is the version you place on your shelf, as it is the best one out there.
He has directed a lot of films since, but Night of the Living Dead will always be George A. Romero’s definitive picture. Romero has seen his finest effort fall into public domain, be duped into miserable editions all the time, and even hacked up and ruined by some of his fellow filmmakers, but his original vision is preserved in this version. This is Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and thanks to a marvelous transfer, we can see the film as it is meant to be seen, so a new approach to the visuals and style can be made. I think Romero works the material to sheer perfection and spins together an almost perfect horror movie, the closest the genre has to a standard, since most other horror movies are judged by this one’s merits. I hope Romero can find his stride once again after some missteps in recent projects, but even he does, I doubt he will ever equal this feature. Other films directed by Romero include Martin, Monkey Shines, The Crazies, Knightriders, Dawn of the Dead, Bruiser, and The Dark Half.
Video: How does it look?
Night of the Living Dead is presented in a full frame transfer, as intended. As with their previous Collector’s Edition release, Elite has supplied a gorgeous treatment here that will cause viewers to do a double take, especially those who have suffered through countless subpar versions of this picture. A few minor issues remain behind, but when you consider the tragic past of this film’s source materials, Elite has worked a true miracle with this release. The print looks pristine in most scenes, with only a few missing frames to lessen the fun, but even they can’t knock this terrific treatment down too much. The contrast is spot on and yields accurate detail at all times, as well as very sharp black levels. If you’ve only seen poor video editions of this movie, prepare for a revolution of sharpness and clarity, as Elite has worked some magic here and for fans, this is perhaps even better than we ever could have expected.
Audio: How does it sound?
This disc houses the original mono audio mix, but Elite has also tacked on a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which adds a little more atmosphere. I was pleased to find the surround use to be subtle and effective, never thin or forced in the slightest. I still think purists & fans will want to stick with the mono option, but they should give the new 5.1 treatment a spin, it is much more natural and effective than I expected, to be sure. In either case, the audio is solid and sounds much younger than it is, which is about all we can ask of this material.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This edition kicks off with two audio commentary tracks, both of which have been ported over from previous Collector’s Edition releases. The first is with Romero, writer John Russo, and cast members Karl Hardman & Marilyn Eastman, while the second features cast members Bill Hinzman, Vince Survinski, Judith O’Dea, Russell Streiner, Keith Wayne, and Kyra Schon. I’ve now listen to both tracks a few times and can still enjoy myself in the process, as each provides a lot of information and behind the scenes peeks. The session with Romero involved is a little more technical, but both tracks remain candid and talkative, so fans will want to listen to both tracks, to be sure. You can also find the humorous Night of the Living Bread spoof, as well as theatrical trailers & television promo spots, a ten minute interview with Judith Riley, and a text based history of Romero’s The Latent Image, his own company. This edition also includes the film’s complete shooting script, a selection of still photos & production photos, an audio interview with Duane Jones, scenes from Romero’s There’s Always Vanilla, some Romero directed ads & short films, and a few personal scrapbooks from members of the cast.