Night of the Living Dead: The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak & Roger Nicholl (6th March 2018).
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.

There are two version of the film on this release, they include the original Theatrical Version (96:36) and the "Night of Anubis" work print Version (85:09).

Video

Criterion has presented the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 full screen with AVC MPEG-4 compression, this brand new 1080p 24/fps transfer is about as terrific as they come. According to the liner notes the transfer was restored by the Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation with a little help from the George Lucas Family Foundation and the Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation, both of whom gave generously to provide the budget neccessary for a full scale restoration. The process resulted in a 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negatives, there are some moments that were not possible to restore from the original negative, in this instance a scan was made using a 35mm fine-grain from 1968. The result is fantastic and arguably the best this film has ever looked. It's as if it was shot yesterday and presented for the first time. Horror fans should rejoice that this film after years of shoddy releases have a version that's not only pristine but retains the film's original aesthetic. The Blacks are rich, the whites are clean, the greys look good. Detail is fine, grain is present, Criterion has given this film the release it finally deserves.

Audio

A single English LPCM 1.0 mono track is included, this is the film's original soundtrack. Much like the image the audio was also given a significant restoration. According to the liner notes the audio was restored using eighteen separate source elements, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered under the supervision of Romero and sound engineer Gary Streiner from the original quarter-inch mix masters, quarter-inch premix audio tape, a final composite 16mm magnetic track, and the 16mm magnetic mix units. The dialogue is clean and the score comes across well, there were no audible flaws like hiss, pops, and drop-outs. The audio is perfect, purists will love it. Optional subtitles are included in English.

Extras

The Criterion Collection has included a load of supplements for your enjoyment, below is a closer look.

DISC ONE:

* The Film (Theatrical Version)

* The Film ("Night of Anubis" work print version) (with introduction by producer Russell Streiner).

Audio commentary with the 'Zombie Masters' on the Theatrical Version only, featuring 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.

Audio commentary with the 'Zombie Party' on the Theatrical Version only, features 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.

DISC TWO:

"Light in The Darkness: The Impact of Night of The Living Dead" featurette (23:41), this piece takes a look at the legacy of the film.

"Dead Relics" dailies reel with introduction by sound engineer Gary Streiner (21:45), this is a look at the raw footage from the film's production, alternate takes, unused footage, etc.

"Learning From Scratch" interview with co-writer John A. Russo (11:58), this new feature has the co-writer talking about his involvement in the film, on working with Romero, among other things.

Newsreels from 1967 (2:49), fascinating look at some promotional materials.

"Walking Like The Dead" featurette (13:05), a new clip that takes a brief look at the making of the film and includes some interviews conducted back in 2009.

Archival interview with actor Duane Jones (21:56), 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.

"Zombies, My Love" interview with Judith Ridley (10:42), this is another archival clip in which the actress talk of her involvement in the film.

"Tones of Terror" featurette (11:15), this new clip takes a closer look at the creation of the film's score.

"Limitations Into Virtues" video essay by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos (11:57). This feature takes a closer look at the challenges the filmmakers encountered in making this film.

Excerpts from the July 3, 1979 episode of "NBC Tomorrow" (18:18), The famed director is seen in excerpts discussing the horror genre.

TIFF 2012 event hosted by Colin Geddes (45:31), footage from the event held at the Toronto Film Festival.

"Venus Probe" featurette (0:33), 1967 promotional footage.

There are also a collection of theatrical trailers:

- Original theatrical trailer (1:49)
- 2017 Re-release theatrical trailer (1:13)

2 TV spots are also included:

- Twenty Seconds
- Sixty Seconds

5 radio spots are:

- Thirty Seconds (1968)
- Sixty Seconds. (1968)
- Re-release One (1970)
- Re-release Two (1970)
- Re-release Three (1970)

Included in the package is a liner notes booklet, with an essay by film critic Stuart Klawans entitled "Mere Anarchy is Loosed".

Packaging

Packaged in a cardboard 2-disc case housed in a slip-case.

Overall

Arguably one of the greatest horror films of all time and finally given the proper home video release with a terrific transfer, audio, and supplements that will satisfy all the rabid fans. No brainer, get this one immediately.

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

 


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