NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne,
Director: George A. Romero
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Standard 1.37.1
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: February 13, 2018
"They're coming for you, Barbara..."
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.
Criterion has delivered the best looking presentation of this classic film to date. It's old and low budgeted, but the black and white photography comes across crisp and clean, with excellent contrast and balance from dark to light images. Fans are going to be thrilled to get a 4K restoration of this movie!
The uncompressed mono audio is serviceable, with dialogue well-rendered against the stock music score that in itself has become kind of iconic.
Tons of cool extras here, including a never-before seen working print edit of the film, a tribute from filmmakers Guillermo Del Toro, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Darabont, a look with Russo on the production company that gave them all their start, a pair of of original commentaries from 1994 featuring cast and crew, archival interviews with Romero, Duane Jones and Judith Riley, looks at the film's style and score, and new interviews with cast and crew. There are also some 1967 newsreels, plus original and re-release trailers, TV spots and radio ads.
Night of the Living Dead has seen a few incarnations on home video, including one where new footage was filmed and unnecessarily inserted. But this Criterion release is now the definitive version of this far-reaching and influential classic. Highly recommended.