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WEINSTEIN COMPANY

MOVIE INFO

Director:
George A. Romero
Cast:
Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon, Charles Craig
Writing Credits:
John A. Russo, George A. Romero

Tagline:
They won't stay dead.

Synopsis:
When the dead mysteriously begin returning to life, a band of squabbling human survivors hole up in an abandoned Pennsylvania farmhouse where they fight off the growing army of flesh-eating zombies.

Box Office:
Budget
$114 thousand.
Domestic Gross
$12.000 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 5/20/2008

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director George A. Romero, Producer/Actor Karl Hardman, Actress Marilyn Eastman and Co-Writer John A. Russo
• Audio Commentary with Producer Russell W. Streiner, Production Manager Vince Survinski, and actors Judith O’Dea, Bill Hinzman, Kyra Schon and Keith Wayne
• “One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead” Documentary
• “Speak of the Dead: A Conversation with George A. Romero” Featurette
• “Ben Speaks: The Last Interview with Duane Jones” Featurette
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Still Gallery
• DVD-ROM Screenplay
• Previews


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Night Of The Living Dead: 40th Anniversary Edition (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 19, 2008)

Arguably the genre’s most famous entry, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead put zombie movies on the map. While its sequels became more and more complex, this one stuck with a very basic template. That serves it well in a “less is more” manner.

At the start, adult siblings Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O’Dea) go out of their way to put a memorial on their father’s grave at their mother’s request. A strange man attacks them in the cemetery, and it turns out he’s a zombie. Johnny gets knocked unconscious in the melee and Barbra runs for it. She locks herself into the car but the zombie still comes after her.

Before long, Barbra escapes and runs to a house she sees. She makes it inside but the zombie still chases after her along with another one. Ben (Duane Jones) soon comes in for refuge as well and tries to get her to defend the place. In shock, Barbra fails to respond even when ben fights with the creatures and more and more come at them.

This forces them to stay in the house, and Ben wants to board up the abode. Eventually he breaks Barb out of her catatonia, but she goes bonkers when she talks about Johnny. Ben continues to prepare and soon finds they’re not alone in the house. Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) and Tom (Keith Wayne) eventually emerge from the cellar. We also find out Cooper’s wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and daughter Karen (Kyra Schon) are downstairs as well. Cooper wants to stay in the cellar but Ben thinks it’s safer upstairs.

After much bickering, Tom stays upstairs with his girlfriend Judy (Judith Ridley) while Cooper returns to the basement. However, wife Helen convinces him to collaborate since they have outside communication via a radio. They also soon find a use a TV, where they eventually learn of rescue stations to which they need to go. The rest of the movie follows their attempts to escape the zombies and stay alive.

I won’t say whether they do so or not, but I will note that the vast majority of Dead takes place inside the house. That limits the action, but not in a negative way. It compresses things effectively and gives the film a nicely claustrophobic feel.

That’s extremely important for a zombie flick. You couldn’t have a movie of this genre set inside the Grand Canyon. In wide-open spaces, zombies don’t make very satisfying monsters. They’re slow and easy to escape, so they need to operate inside tight quarters to provide a menace. The sequels to Dead subscribed to that theory as well, but not as firmly. This flick keeps our living characters stuck in one tiny space, and that helps create a lot of tension.

Dead also benefits from very spare direction. For the sequels, director George Romero’s style acts as something of a negative. He’s a very basic filmmaker without much style or panache; he presents the action in a workmanlike manner and that’s about it. However, this tendency suits the simple and stark Dead. It’s not exactly an elaborate story, and it doesn’t need fancy tricks to make it succeed. Less is more, and that makes Dead prosper.

Given the film’s origins, parts of it seem amateurish, but surprisingly, a lot of it comes across as more professional and accomplished than its more expensive and elaborate sequels. That connects to Romero’s direction as well as the acting. No, Streep and Olivier didn’t envy the performances of Dead, but they fare better than the wooden work in the sequels.

Actually, most of the actors here seem exaggerated and artificial, but one stands out as particularly positive: Duane Jones. He offers a powerful and naturalistic performance as Ben, for he brings nice charisma and strength to the part. Unlike the others, he doesn’t overplay his lines, and he presents a believable and dynamic character. He helps carry a lot of the flick.

The best of the Dead flicks, Night of the Living Dead has its flaws, but its strengths outweigh them. It presents a simply tale in a tight and efficient manner. It’s too dark and gross to be a broad crowd-pleaser - it offers one of the bleakest endings I’ve ever seen - but it’s a well-executed effort in general.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus A-

Night of the Living Dead appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I’ve not seen all umpteen DVD releases of Dead, but I’d be surprised if any of them surpassed this one in terms of picture quality.

For the most part, sharpness looked quite good. A smidgen of softness occasionally interfered, but not with any frequency. The majority of the movie seemed concise and well-defined, at least within the boundaries of the original photography. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and edge enhancement was absent.

Given the film’s age and cheapness, I expected many source flaws, but very few appeared. I saw the occasional speck, and one blotchy frame popped up midway through the flick, but that was about it. I did witness a handful of instances during which frames appeared to be missing, but I’m not familiar enough with the flick to know if those have always marred Dead or if they’re unique to this transfer.

Blacks always looked pretty good, and contrast seemed quite satisfying. Low-light shots demonstrated nice clarity and lacked excessive opacity or flatness. There’s a mildly sketchy “day-for-night” scene at one point, but it wasn’t a problem. Objectively, I can’t call this a fantastic transfer because Dead still suffered from the limitations of the source material; nothing in this world could make a 40-year-old no-budget flick like this look great. That said, the image surpassed my expectations and offered completely satisfying visuals.

Although the packaging claims that the movie boasts a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, instead it comes only with the film’s original monaural. And that made me happy, as I didn’t like the idea that we’d get a remix without the theatrical audio as well. I don’t mind DVDs that include both, but I’m not happy when a disc omits the original mix.

In terms of the mono track’s quality, it proved serviceable. Given the flick’s age and origins, I expected a mix of concerns, and I encountered plenty of them, though the track wasn’t bad overall. Speech varied a lot. For the first act, dialogue seemed surprisingly warm and natural, but the rest of the film seemed less pleasing. Lines tended to be sibilant and rough at times, though they remained acceptably intelligible.

Don’t expect great fidelity from the music and effects. Those elements could also be a little distorted, and they lacked much range. Of the two areas, music fared better, but the score remained fairly constricted. Louder effects suffered from a little distortion, though they usually seemed fine. Occasionally I noticed some source noise, but most of the track passed without those distractions. In the end, I thought that this was a “C+” mix when I factored in the film’s age and the conditions under which it was made. It’s not memorable – or even good, to be honest – but it works fine for the film.

This “40th Anniversary Edition” of Dead provides a slew of extras. We start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director George A. Romero, producer/actor Karl Hardman, actress Marilyn Eastman and co-writer John A. Russo. All of them sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. They discuss locations and set dressing, cast and performances, characters and changes to the script, makeup and effects, photography and the choice to shoot in black and white, complications due to the low budget, and various production notes.

Though it drags occasionally, this usually becomes a solid commentary. It covers a good mix of topics and does so in a reasonably compelling manner. The four participants interact well and don’t get in the way of each other as they balance speaking time. While I can’t call this the most involving chat I’ve heard, it informs and entertains.

For the second commentary, we hear from producer Russell W. Streiner, production manager Vince Survinski, and actors Judith O’Dea, Bill Hinzman, Kyra Schon and Keith Wayne. All six sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. Expect a roster of subjects similar to what we got for the first commentary, though from different perspectives. That means we occasionally get some redundant materials, but most of the time the info seems reasonably fresh and this becomes a good discussion.

By the way, I want to note that neither commentary comes from recent sessions. Both were recorded for a 1990s laserdisc set, so the DVD just recycles them. Don’t take that as a complaint, though; if we already have two good commentaries on the shelves, why reinvent the wheel, especially since some of the participants are no longer with us?

Next comes a documentary called One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead. This one-hour, 23-minute and 48-second show mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We get notes from Romero, O’Dea, Streiner, Russo, Hinzman, Hardman, Eastman, Schon, Pittsburgh radio and TV personality Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille, actor/writer Rudy Ricci, sound engineer Gary Streiner, special effects Regis Survinski, actor/production manager George Kosana, World War Z author Max Brooks, make-up effects designer Greg Nicotero, Dreadcentral.com’s Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton, Buffy the Vampire Slayer author Camden Toy, The Devil’s Rejects author Bill Moseley, rock legend Alice Cooper, and extra Ella Mae Smith. We learn how Romero and his pals got involved in movie making and follow the evolution and filming of Dead. I really like the look at Romero’s “Latent Image” production company; it’s cool to learn of their pre-Dead work, especially since we see some of their commercials. We also follow some participants back to original locations like the cemetery.

“Fire” often proceeds under anecdotal auspices. It doesn’t really attempt to tell a concise version of the flick’s making; instead, it presents those involved and allows them to chat about their experiences without regard for a smooth narrative. This may sound disjointed, but it actually works fine, especially since it does still use a chronological approach much of the time. The format suits the material and allows this to become a consistently engaging piece.

More from the director arrives via the 15-minute and 47-second Speak of the Dead: A Conversation with George A. Romero. Here the filmmaker discusses his influences, filmmaking techniques, interpretation of the flick, and a few of his other works. Some of the material repeats from elsewhere, but we get a reasonable amount of unique information in this enjoyable chat.

The film’s late lead actor appear in Ben Speaks: The Last Interview with Duane Jones. During this 16-minute and 45-second chat from 1987, Jones talks a little about the film, but he mostly tells us how he doesn’t want to discuss the flick. One gets the impression that Jones really wanted to escape/avoid the movie’s legacy, though we never get a real hint why. This interview is interesting for historical reasons but doesn’t give us much.

In addition to the film’s original theatrical trailer, we locate a Still Gallery. It presents 68 shots that mix advertisements, scenes from the film, and behind the scenes snaps. It adds up to a decent collection.

Folks with DVD-ROM drives can check out the film’s original screenplay as a PDF file. This is a good addition, especially since it allows us to compare the intended script with the final product.

The disc opens with some ads. We get clips for Diary of the Dead, Automaton Transfusion, Halloween (2007), wAz and Inside.

Despite many amateurish elements and flaws, Night of the Living Dead holds up well after 40 years. It succeeds as a horror movie in spite of its problems and remains probably the best example of its genre. This “40th Anniversary DVD” provides surprisingly strong picture as well as perfectly adequate audio and a terrific roster of supplements. If you want to own the flick, this release is the one to have.

To rate this film visit the original review review of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main