NIGHT OF THE LIVING
Over the history of the horror cinema, there have been films that define and redefine the genre. NOSFERATU, FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA, PSYCHO and HALLOWEEN are just a few of the films that have had an enormous impact on horror cinema. Equally important, is a little horror movie that came from a group of Pittsburgh based filmmakers that was produced for virtually no money. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ($25) was a film that had a fairly unique concept, which the movie put across so successfully, that its release spawned decade’s worth of sequels, imitations and its own sub-genre of horror cinema. After all, what could be more horrifying than the notion of reanimated human corpses feasting upon the living?
Utilizing a single claustrophobic setting for most of running time, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD tells the story of a group of strangers that are trapped inside an isolated farmhouse, as it is besieged by flesh eating zombies from a nearby cemetery. Made in black and white, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has a documentary like quality that gives it a horrifying sense of realism akin to Orson Welles’ infamous WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast. Although tame in comparison to the movies that followed it, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD does offer up some grisly images of zombies devouring human flesh, which I still find more unsettling that the more graphic depictions of later films. The cast of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD includes Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Russell Streiner and Bill Hinzman.
Elite Entertainment’s latest release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD comes from their previous Laserdisc transfer and it offers the film in its proper 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio. One should note Elite’s transfer remains the finest presentation of the movie ever produced and this transfer has been reworked for the Millennium Edition release to give it new THX certification. In terms of image quality, the difference between this release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and Elite’s previous DVD release are fairly subtle. Both DVDs look very good, with this one providing just a hair more sharpness and image detail. This, of course, could just be the result of better DVD authoring techniques that are available now as opposed to the original release, which was from the early days of the DVD format. Blacks are suitably inky and the contrast can be a little stark, but it gives the film just the right effect. The film element used for the transfer is in very good shape, with few blemishes, although there are some missing frames, which are covered up reasonably well. The dual layer DVD doesn’t display any problems with digital compression artifacts.
The Millennium Edition release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has been upgraded to a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. For the most part, this mix gives the film’s original monaural soundtrack a wider dispersal into the 5.1 channel sound field without any real directionality. However, I did note a little more presence in 5.1 channel mix, plus the surround channels provide a subtle new creepiness, especially during the opening sequence in the cemetery. The 5.1 channel remix offers fairly clean sounding dialogue and good intelligibility. I should note that the film’s original monaural soundtrack is also present on the DVD.
A bit of dialogue serves to enhance the DVD’s basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a the supplementary materials. Included on the DVD are all of the supplements from Elite’s original Laserdisc release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. There are two running audio commentaries, the first features director George A. Romero as well as John Russo, Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman, while the second includes producer Russell Streiner along with cast members Bill Heinzman, Judith O’Dea, Keith Wayne, Kyra Schon and Vince Survinski. The first commentary provides more technical insight into the production, while the second offers good-natured anecdotes and stories about working on the film.
The Night Of The Living Bread film parody has been included on this release, along with a theatrical trailer and TV spots. Also present on the DVD are the film’s screenplay and original treatment, plus extensive scrapbooks of photos, memos, advertising and assorted production materials. Next is actor Duane Jones’ final audio interview and well as a video interview with Judith Ridley, both of whom talk about working on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The DVD also offers a look at the work of The Latent Image and Hardman Eastman Studios- the commercial production companies that went into motion picture filmmaking with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Included are company histories and a sampling of television commercials. Finally, the DVD offers scenes, posters and stills from the "lost" George Romero film THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is certainly one of the most influential horror movies of all time. Elite Entertainment’s treatment of the film still remains definitive in terms of video and audio quality, not to mention their first rate supplements. If you are a fan and don’t already own the previous Elite DVD release, you will want to pick up Millennium Edition. Those of you that already own the previous Elite release will have to consider how important the modest gains in the presentation are, as well as having all of the Laserdisc supplements.
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