Archive for the ‘Night of the Living Dead (1968)’ Category

Spine #909

Blu-ray Cover (No Sticker)

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: February 13, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:36:36

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 35.67 Mbps

Title

“Well, the question of race was the furthest thing from my mind. When I was writing that character, I was thinking about the disintegration of family, the whole idea that people can’t cooperate, even when faced with a disastrous situation they just stick to their own agendas, arguing about whether to go upstairs or downstairs instead of facing the problem. When John Russo and I wrote the screenplay, [the character] was a white guy… So when Dwayne [Jones] agreed to play the role, we all had a conversation and decided that it was a bold move to not change the script. That was it. The same things happened to him when he was white. The redneck posse came and shot him, because they thought he was a zombie, not because they knew he was black. It was an accident really, in the end, a happy accident. The night we drove the first print to New York we heard on the radio that King had been assassinated, so of course, the film immediately took on a completely different slant.” –George A. Romero (Little White Lies)

Most of the participants who worked on Night of the Living Dead substantiate Romero’s above quote (and many others like it). George A. Romero and John Russo probably didn’t write an allegorical social document about race relations in the 1960s, but it is impossible to believe that the filmmakers didn’t know what casting Dwayne Jones in the pivotal leading role would do for the material. Frankly, whether the original script was meant as a comment on racism in America or was simply an exercise in macabre suspense is immaterial at this point. The fact is that the film as shot so perfectly reflects the social atmosphere of the time in which it was made that it is impossible to see it as anything else.

The most interesting aspect of the entire film has nothing to do with zombies. The characters could be protecting themselves from anything in the world: zombies, a homicidal cult, aliens from outer space, murderous hillbillies, or any other threat. To be honest, the zombie sub-genre is one of my least favorite brands of horror. The entire concept strikes me as rather ridiculous and not even remotely scary. Night of the Living Dead manages to rise above this personal prejudice against zombie films—and this is because we spend much more time with another kind of threat: paranoid human beings. It ratchets up a good deal of suspense because the zombies gathering outside can represent anything at all. They are abstractions. The social commentary is always on point (whether it was intended or not), and this only adds to the viewer’s sense of dread. The overall effect is simply chilling, and the devastation that we feel has nothing at all to do with flesh eating zombies.

SS01

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection has given this release special Digipak packaging. Like many other collectors, this reviewer really prefers Criterion’s usual clear case presentations. However, it must be said that the design is overwhelmingly attractive. The artwork by Sean Phillips resembles a graphic novel and should please fans of the film. Also included is a folded pamphlet containing artwork on one side and an essay by Stuart Klawans entitled “Mere Anarchy is Loosed” on the other side. While a booklet in addition to the poster would have been preferable, the text gives the reader contextual information about the cultural climate at the time the film was made and released. Of course, the usual technical credits are also included.

MenuMenu 2

There are two discs contained in the package and both utilize static menus that feature different film specific artwork. It all falls in line with what one has come to expect from Criterion. They are both attractive and fairly intuitive to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Night of the Living Dead was restored in 4K by the Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation. Funding was provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation and the Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation.

The restoration was overseen by George A. Romero and Image Ten, Inc.—especially Gary R. Streiner, Russell W. Streiner, and John A. Russo. The original 35 mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution by Cineric, Inc., in New York City, with audio digitization performed by Audio Mechanics in Burbank, California.” –Janus Films

The restoration team primarily utilized the original 35mm camera negative but a 35mm fine-grain from 1968 was used for portions of the negative that weren’t usable (approximately 1% of the film). Criterion’s transfer of the film’s immaculate 4K restoration is the best the film has ever looked on home video. It is immediately evident that there is more information on the left and right sides of the 1.37:1 frame. Black levels have also been significantly improved upon when one compares the image to earlier releases as they appear deep without crushing detail. There is an organic layer of grain that adds to the transfer’s filmic presentation without becoming unwieldy. Fine detail also impresses as there is a crispness to the image that hasn’t been evident in any of the previous releases. Depth and clarity are also significantly improved. Frankly, it’s impossible to imagine Night of the Living Dead looking any better on home video.

SS03

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The film’s audio has also been meticulously restored:

“…After the evaluation of eighteen separate source elements, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered under the supervision of Romero and 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 restoration was performed at Audio Mechanics, led by John Polito.” –Liner Notes

The resulting audio was given a faithful LPCM transfer in the film’s original mono, and the only limitations of the track are those inherent in the original production methods. The dialogue is clearly rendered and the imperfections aren’t at all distracting. Most age-related blemishes have been carefully removed by the restoration team. This is a vast improvement over the 40th Anniversary DVD put out by Sony a decade ago. The film’s library source music is predictably flat, but it would be ridiculous to expect a dynamic sound mix for this particular film. The important thing is to present the original mix in the best possible condition, and this transfer certainly does this quite well.

SS04

Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

There is no denying that Criterion’s supplemental package is superb, and those who focus on what is here while ignoring what has been left off of the disc will be perfectly satisfied. In addition to a feature-length work print of the film (which features an alternative title), there is also a second disc that features over 3 hours and 16 minutes of video-based supplements included here. These features cover a lot of territory and add considerably to one’s appreciation of the film. Unfortunately, there are a few supplements that were feature featured on earlier DVD editions of the film that have not been carried over to this edition. Most of this material is more than adequately replaced here as some of the interviews with Romero covers the same territory as the interviews featured on those discs. However, there was a rather interesting feature-length documentary entitled One for the Fire: The Legacy of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ that would have added a considerable amount of value to Criterion’s edition. Frankly, its absence is the only thing that keeps this supplemental package from earning a 5-star rating.

Introduction to the ‘Night of Anubis’ Workprint

Russell Streiner introduces the work print and this introduction does a truly outstanding job of putting the footage in the proper context. He explains many of the odd blemishes the viewer sees throughout the print. It is an essential ingredient in an outstanding supplemental package. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t have been worth including the entire work print (minus the one reel) without this introduction.

Night of Anubis – (01:25:09)

Night of Anubis

Night of Anubis was the original title of the film (Anubis was the God of mummification in ancient Egypt), but this was changed after it was realized that this esoteric title was unlikely to interest a mainstream public. This never-before-presented 16mm work-print edit still carries this title.

The raw footage is presented here and hasn’t been corrected or restored in any way. It is included here for comparison purposes and is missing the final half of its second reel. However, it should be of great interest to fans and scholars as it features the aforementioned alternate opening title and a zombie shot that the original distributor had them remove. It also shows more information as it includes the negative edges. Unrestored audio from the final edit has been synched as well as it could be to this silent footage. There will be a few viewers who will wish that they had simply included the deleted zombie footage and the credit sequence since these are the only significant changes, but including the entirety of the remaining footage allows one to see how the film was constructed and the hard work that went into it.

Audio Commentary by George Romero, John Russo, Karl Hardman, and Marilyn Eastman

A lot of fans will remember this commentary track from several other home video releases. It was originally recorded in 1994 for the first “official” release of the film on laserdisc. It has since graced a number of DVD editions (including the 40th Anniversary DVD restoration). There’s something about commentaries for low budget independent features that one can’t help but love. They can be even more interesting than listening to brilliant auteurs talk about big budget masterpieces because guerilla films are made with blood, sweat, tears, and compromise. The filmmakers are forced to use what is at their disposal. These tracks truly inspire (especially when the film has become an undisputed classic). Romero seems to take in his mistakes with an admirable sense of humor and an incredible amount of modesty (as none of them hurt the film), and the same can be said of the other participants. Everyone involved seem to remember the communal effort and various idiosyncrasies of the production.

Audio Commentary by Bill Hinzman, Judith O’Dea, Keith Wayne, Kyra Schon, Russell Streiner, and Vince Survinski

Most of what was written about the previous track apply to this track as well—and while the conversational nature of this track is similar, there is not a lot of informational overlap. It is another enjoyable track that should please fans of the film as well as future filmmakers looking for inspiration. It is nice to have both tracks carried over for Criterion’s release.

Introduction to the Dailies Reel – (03:41)

Much like Russell Streiner’s introduction to the work print, Gary Streiner offers contextual information for the dailies presented on the disc. It is an informative preparatory piece that increases one’s appreciation for the dailies and for the film itself.

Never-Before-Seen 16 mm Dailies Reel – (18:04)

It is a rare opportunity to be able to witness the raw dailies of a classic film, so these eighteen minutes are really quite special as they give the viewer the opportunity to compare various takes of shots used in the film. The downside is that the sound elements for these shots no longer exist. What’s more, many of these takes have been flipped and there was no effort made to flip them back to their original state (which would’ve taken only minimal effort). This makes these comparisons slightly more difficult to digest. However, it is remarkable that they are available here in any form at all.

1967 Newsreels – (02:49)

This ‘behind the scenes’ footage from the film’s production was taken from a VHS recording of silent 16mm B-roll shot for a Pittsburgh news broadcast and is said to be the only existing footage of the film’s actual shooting. Jeff Carney provides original music to accompany the footage. The footage largely consists mainly of footage taken during the shooting of some of the film’s television news footage—specifically that which features an interview featuring Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille (who actually saved the footage), and the shooting of the helicopter. There isn’t much here, but it is certainly nice to have included here considering that it is the only footage that offers fans a brief glimpse behind the curtain.

Higher Learning: Interview with George A. Romero – (45:31)

This post-screening Q&A with George A. Romero was held at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 and is hosted by Colin Geddes. The conversation is a casual but lively and incredibly informative one and is a pleasure to watch. Romero discusses the film’s production history, his writing habits, dispels a few myths, his embarrassment at the mistakes that he made during the film’s production, and his feelings and confusion about the immense popularity of the so-called “zombie film.” It may very well be the crown jewel in a supplemental package that is full of wonderful treasures.

Tomorrow with Tom Snyder: George A. Romero & Don Coscarelli – (18:18)

This selection from the July 3, 1979 episode of NBC’s Tomorrow pairs Romero with fellow horror director, Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) as Tom Snyder interviews the directors about the horror genre. The downside of the interview is that Coscarelli seems to hog most of the answers, but it is nonetheless an extremely entertaining archival interview.

Interviews with Duane Jones – (21:56)

Some might see this as a carry-over from the 40th Anniversary edition DVD release of the film, but this earlier disc didn’t include as much of Jones’ interesting and extremely rare interview as Criterion includes on this release. What’s more, there are a number of still photographs that illustrate this interview that are exclusive to this release. The interview was conducted and edited by Tim Ferrante on December 13, 1987. Jones discusses why he prefers to distance himself from the film despite the fact that he is grateful to George A. Romero and the crew of Night of the Living Dead for allowing him to be a part of it and to the fans for the acclaim that they give him. He also discusses what he considers a smooth and enjoyable production—and mentions that there were only two incidents that he considers unpleasant memories. One of these incidents wasn’t included on earlier discs, and it is probably the more important of the two as it is an example of the uneasy racial tension that was so prevalent at the time of the production. It is clear that the parallel between the film’s events and that situation isn’t at all lost on Jones.

Interview with Judith Ridley – (10:42)

Those who have the early Elite laserdisc or DVD edition of the film will have seen this interesting interview with Judith Ridley. It is great to have it carried over for this release. It is a decidedly light-hearted reminiscence (although Ridley doesn’t seem completely comfortable). She recalls how she came to be involved in the film and discusses her time on the set as well as why she didn’t continue making movies. It nice to have her perspective included here.

Light in the Darkness – (23:41)

Light in the Darkness is a “featurette” produced by Criterion that features new interviews with Guillermo del Toro, Frank Darabont, and Robert Rodriguez. It is essentially an appreciation of the film that carries a sort of charm due to the admiration shared by the three participants. Guillermo del Toro probably offers the most analytical comments about the film and its legacy, but Darabont and Rodriguez both offer interesting insights as well. One doubts if any of these insights will be new to most die-hard fans, but those who may be new to the film will find that their appreciation is intensified after watching this nice addition to the supplemental package.

Walking Like the Dead – (13:05)

This new featurette focuses on some of the actors (or extras) who portrayed the film’s “ghouls.” Interviewees include Kyra Schon (a.k.a. Karen), William Hinzman (the ghoul at the cemetery), Ella Mae Smith, William Burchinal, as well as a number of other participants. Each of these individuals seem to delight in their memories of the production. The footage was originally shot for Autopsy of the Dead (which covered the making of Night of the Living Dead in some detail). It’s a nice addition to the disc, but one wishes that Autopsy of the Dead could have been included either instead of or in addition to this featurette.

Tones of Terror – (11:15)

Even better is this video essay by Jim Cirronella about the film’s expert utilization of Capitol’s “Hi-Q” prerecorded library music. This subject is covered in more depth than one might expect considering the short duration of the essay. This is truly one of the packages surprise gems as it is certain to increase one’s appreciation of the film and the work that went into making it a reality.

Learning from Scratch – (11:58)

This featurette is based on an extremely interesting interview with John Russo about the Latent Image crew and how they learned by making industrial films and commercials. This piece utilizes quite a bit of footage from some of these commercials in order to illustrate the information being relayed throughout these twelve minutes, and there are even several color stills from the production of Night of the Living Dead to sweeten the deal. There is a lot of background information packed into these twelve minutes and fans are sure to be delighted.

Limitations into Virtues – (11:57)

Those who are familiar with Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos and their Every Frame a Painting videos will know what to expect from this analytical essay that zeros in on how the film was shot due to the limitations of the production. The style of the film is even compared to a clip from a Draft beer commercial that was previously shot by the Latent Image crew. It is an enjoyable and instructive essay that should please fans.

Venus Probe – (00:33)

An interesting addition to the package is this short newsreel clip about the Mariner 5 spacecraft and its findings during a probe of Venus. Those familiar with the film will remember that the subsequent malfunction of the Mariner 5 inspired vague theories as to what causes the dead to rise in the film.

1968 Theatrical Trailer – (01:49)

The heavy-handed nature of the original 1968 trailer makes it an amusing experience. It is interesting to see how far trailers have come since the film’s original release.

2017 Restoration Re-release Trailer – (01:13)

Janus Film’s re-release trailer offers an opportunity to see how the film was marketed to modern audiences, and they really did a wonderful job with it.

TV Spots

Rare television shots give fans a deeper glimpse into the film’s original marketing and both are interesting additions to the disc.

Radio Spots

It is interesting to hear these vintage radio spots from the film’s original release and some of the film’s re-releases. One gathers that at least one of these spots has been mislabeled as being from a 1970 re-release of the film considering that three films mentioned in the ad (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, and The Exorcist) were released a few years later. However, this is just a bit of nitpicking.

SS05

Final Words:

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is one of the great stories of independent cinema: a midnight hit turned box-office smash that became one of the most influential films of all time. After decades of poor-quality prints and video transfers, Night of the Living Dead can finally be seen for the immaculately crafted film that it is thanks to a new 4K restoration, scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by Romero himself. Stark, haunting, and more relevant than ever, Night of the Living Dead can finally be seen as it was intended in high definition.

When Mill Creek Entertainment released a sub-standard Blu-ray edition of Night of the Living Dead last October, we recommended that fans wait for Criterion to release this painstaking restoration transfer of the film. Those who followed our advice will be well rewarded with this release as it surpasses our initial expectations.

SS06

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Release Date: October 03, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:34

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Note: This is the film’s Blu-ray debut in North America.

Title

“Well, the question of race was the furthest thing from my mind. When I was writing that character, I was thinking about the disintegration of family, the whole idea that people can’t cooperate, even when faced with a disastrous situation they just stick to their own agendas, arguing about whether to go upstairs or downstairs instead of facing the problem. When John Russo and I wrote the screenplay, [the character] was a white guy… So when Dwayne [Jones] agreed to play the role, we all had a conversation and decided that it was a bold move to not change the script. That was it. The same things happened to him when he was white. The redneck posse came and shot him, because they thought he was a zombie, not because they knew he was black. It was an accident really, in the end a happy accident. The night we drove the first print to New York we heard on the radio that King had been assassinated, so of course the film immediately took on a completely different slant.” –George A. Romero (Little White Lies)

The above quote (and many others like it) might be absolutely true. George A. Romero and John Russo probably didn’t write an allegorical social document about race relations in the 1960s, but it is impossible to believe that the filmmakers didn’t know what casting Dwayne Jones in the pivotal leading role would do for the material.

The most interesting aspect of the entire film has nothing to do with zombies. The characters could be protecting themselves from anything in the world: zombies, a homicidal cult, aliens from outer space, or any other threat. To be honest, the zombie sub-genre is one of my least favorite kinds of horror. The entire concept strikes me as rather ridiculous and not even remotely scary. Night of the Living Dead manages to rise above this personal prejudice against zombie films—and this is because we spend much more time with another kind of threat: paranoid human beings. It ratchets up a good deal of suspense, because the zombies gathering outside can represent anything at all. They are abstractions. The social commentary is always on point (whether it was intended or not), and this only adds to the viewer’s sense of dread. The overall effect is simply chilling, and the devastation that we feel has nothing at all to do with flesh eating zombies.

SS01

The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment’s Blu-ray disc is protected by the standard case with a sleeve featuring film related cover art. The artwork is reasonably attractive but no better than the artwork utilized for the 40th Anniversary DVD—which is a better release in every respect (more about this below).

The disc’s static menu is more attractive than one might expect, but only two menu options are available: the “play movie” option and an off and on switch for the subtitles.

SS02

Picture Quality:

2 of 5 Stars

This is quite simply one of the worst Blu-ray releases in recent memory. One would think that an important classic of the genre like Night of the Living Dead would warrant a decent Blu-ray transfer—especially since this release marks the film’s official Blu-ray debut in North America. We much prefer the 40th Anniversary DVD that arrived in 2008. There’s no reason that this shouldn’t at the very least equal that release. After all, the added resolution should at least result in marginal improvement… SHOULD. It doesn’t.

The transfer fails in nearly every possible way. Damage and dirt are prevalent throughout the duration of the film, fine detail and depth is non-existent, contrast is horrendous with crushed blacks and blown out highlights, and the grain pattern aren’t at all consistent. Nothing about this transfer really suggests that it is a high definition picture. None of this should really surprise anyone. The film is in the public domain and terrible transfers seem to go with the territory.

SS03

Sound Quality:

2.5 of 5 Stars

The LPCM track isn’t much better than the image. Anomalies (hiss, hum, crackle, pop, etc.) overpower the soundscape and there is little to no dynamic range. To be honest, listening to the track gave this reviewer a headache. However, it should be said that dialogue is relatively clear and understandable.

SS04

Special Features:

0 of 5 Stars

There aren’t any supplemental features included on the disc.

SS06

Final Words:

We hope that the rumors about a forthcoming restoration release from the Criterion Collection are true, because Night of the Living Dead still hasn’t seen a proper release on Blu-ray. Those who can wait to own that edition probably should.

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