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