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NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley
Director: George A. Romero
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Dimension
Features: See Review
Length:  96 Minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2008

"They're coming for you, Barbara..."

Film ****

Night of the Living Dead is a true horror staple for fans, of which I'm unashamedly one.  I even have a Night of the Living Dead lunchbox (no, I never took it to school), and an original one-sheet for newspaper advertisements from 1968 framed on my wall. 

When George Romero brought his low-budgeted vision to the screen, it opened up a new world of terror.  His idea was simple enough:  the dead return to life to feast on the living.  Pretty stark stuff, but also influential.  In fact, I think every zombie movie made since owes something to Romero, who really gave us the vocabulary for the genre.  It made sense...why wouldn't a dead person need live flesh in order to go on living?

The opening shows Barbara (O'Dea) and her brother coming to a cemetery to place a wreath on their grandfather's grave...bad place to be, it turns out, because soon the first of what will be many zombies attack, leaving her brother's fate in question and Barbara running for her life.

She manages to hold up in an old abandoned house as the menacing undead threat gathers outside.  There she meets up with Ben (Jones), also on the run.  Her state of shock is so great that she can't help much, but Ben does the best he can with the materials he has, trying to fortify the house and keep them safe inside.

They aren't alone, though.  There are five people holed up in the basement; the confrontational Harry Cooper (Hardman), his wife Helen (Eastman), and two young people, Tom (Wayne) and Judy (Ridley).  There is also the Coopers' daughter, who is not well.  She had gotten bitten on their way to seek shelter...

A television set clues them in to the horrific goings-on in the world, and the crew decides they might just have to make a run for it.  But how far will they get, given the threat outside and even a blossoming one on the inside, as Harry and Ben may be at each others' throats before the zombies even get a crack at them?

It's the stuff of nightmares.  Yes, one could argue that the lack of money showed through, or that the acting was laughable from time to time, but Romero's singular vision held the chaos together tightly.  There's nothing like a talented filmmaker who is capable of seeing his dream through to the end despite monetary and other concerns, and in my opinion, Night of the Living Dead is as good an example of it working as there can be.  If you don't believe me, watch it one time through to the end.  The conclusion will haunt you for days.

Video ***1/2

Let's face it, there have been some shoddy looking home videos of this movie over the years.  I still remember the public domain VHS tapes from years ago (shudder).  Dimension has done a good job maintaining the black and white glory of Romero's low budget vision.  The contrast is well-presented, the print is fairly clean, and there seems to be very little in the way of aging artifacts present.

Audio ***

The 5.1 remastering is solid...there's not a lot of demand for the subwoofer or the rear channels, but the music sounds strong, and the dialogue is clean and clear, without a lot of hiss or noise from age to interfere.

Features ***1/2

Some very enjoyable extras are included; many old, some new.  The classic commentary tracks are intact; one by George Romero and his crew, one by the cast.  Both are fun, but I particularly liked the cast commentary; it was like listening in on a wrap party many years after the fact.  There is a new feature length documentary called "One For the Fire", a Q&A with Romero, an audio interview with the late Duane Jones, the trailer, a stills gallery, and a script for your DVD ROM.

Summary:

Night of the Living Dead has seen a few incarnations on DVD, including one where new footage was filmed and unnecessarily inserted.  But this Dimension release is a good one...it's the classic film we know and love, looking and sounding great, and with a fun features package to boot.

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