Night of the Living Dead on DVD
by Jim Bray
Now in bloodcurdling color, George A. Romeros low budget horror classic
eschews its grainy, dark and claustrophobic look in favor of digitized tints.
Truly a case of gilding a lily.
Night of the Living Dead is the most frightening movie I've ever seen. I saw
it on its first theatrical release, when the ads promised a $50,000 life insurance
payout for anyone who died of fright during the show. That was a dare I couldnt
pass up, especially since I was a horror movie buff who figured Id seen
But I wasnt ready for Night. Okay, I didnt die, but
I did find myself shaking during some of the movies more intense sequences.
And I left convinced that perhaps that insurance policy was no con, that perhaps
some who may have been of weaker constitution than I could have succumbed during
that frighteningly graphic movie.
The movie starts out innocuously enough, with a woman and her brother arriving
at a cemetery to perform a periodic and unwanted pilgrimage to a family grave.
The brother begins teasing his sibling, warning her that the dead are coming
to get her just to get a rise out of her, as siblings are wont to do.
And almost as if on cue some old guy with a limp is seen stumbling through the
graveyard, and bro points to him and warns Barbara that hes coming for
her, just like he said.
And, of course, he is. This is the first zombie to appear and the next thing
she knows Barbara (Judith ODea) is fleeing for her life while her brother
lies dead in the cemetery for now, at least (we know whats going
to happen, dont we?).
And from there Night of the Living Dead never really lets up with its incessant
drumbeat of horror as Barbara and a few strangers find and hole up in a small
farmhouse in the country that becomes their fragile fortress against the marauding
forces of the undead as they search for the living on which to feed.
The only way this movie could be more intense is if the human protagonists
had been holing up in a campground (in tents, get it?). Before the movie runs
out we see zombies feeding greedily on the flesh of the recently departed, a
recently dead little girl stabbing her mother over and over and over
again in the basement and an ending so downbeat you wonder why
you sat through the previous hour and a half.
Indeed, a true horror classic and a really scary one!
The original black and white version of the movie looks as if it were shot
for about $1.98, and that works to the films advantage. The grainy, full
frame (not widescreen, which gives it a home movie feel) footage
has a kind of documentary look to it thats positively chilling
much more so than the supposedly documentary look of the Blair Witch Project
that came decades later.
The performances, by actors with no household names, are excellent, the direction
is creepily exquisite, and the musical score adds to the feeling of unbridled
And now theyve seen fit to colorize this movie, removing the darkness
and claustrophobia so you can see the blood better.
Forget about it! Oh, the colorization is okay if you like such things, but
the movie is much scarier in black and white.
So far as the color picture goes, its okay. You cant correct the
low budget look (nor should you), and during the daylight and interior scenes
the color isnt bad. In the darkness if often doesnt make much difference.
Audio is now available remixed into Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 surround and
its better than the original soundtrack, but that doesnt necessarily
translate into a better experience: the original sound matches the low budget,
documentary-type look and feel.
Fortunately, this new 20th Century Fox DVD includes the restored original black
and white feature. Its accessible via the special features
menu, rather than giving you the choice from the main menu, alas. But this is
the one to watch. It features good video and audio transfers that manage to
preserve the joy of the low budget origins.
Other extras include an audio commentary by Mike Nelson of TV's Mystery
Science Theater 3000, some trailers for other horror flicks, and a weird
item that supposedly shows actors before and after their make-up sessions but
which is no such thing at all.
Night of the Living Dead, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
96 min. full frame video (not 16x9 TV compatible)
Starring Duane Jones, Judith ODea,
Produced by Russell Steiner, Karl Hardman
Written by John Russo, George Romero, directed by George A. Romero
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