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Night of the Living Dead: Criterion Collection (1968) - Blu-ray Review

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Night of the Living Dead: Criterion Collection - Blu-ray Review

Film Review

5 beersThe Dead live ... again!

There’s no denying that Criterion’s handling of writer/director George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead just might be the most important blu-ray release of the year.  We already know the film is a masterpiece but Criterion finally grants it an EPIC release in HD.  Now, I know we are only into the beginning months of 2018 but it is hard for me to overstate just how influential this movie – now rescued from the public domain and granted an epic 4K digital restoration that was supervised by director George A. Romero, co-screenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner - continues to be for damn near anyone who sees it.  The results of Criterion's HD restoration?  It’s like watching the movie for the very first time.  Seriously. 

Night of the Living Dead, made for nickels by today’s standards, is totally deserving of this George Lucas Family Foundation and the Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation-funded 4K restoration.  Starring Duane Jones and Judith O'Dea, this Pennsylvania-shot black and white horror film continues to impact filmmakers.  No matter how many times I have seen it, there's always a brilliance to its unfolding.  The farmhouse.  The descending night.  The monsters in the yard.  The creepy cellar.  This Blu-ray release is careful to highlight reactions from filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez but, truthfully, there are countless artists in the business of film who owe their careers from early and influential viewings of this stark and harrowing horror film.

Shot, edited, and directed by horror maestro Romero right outside of Pittsburgh, Night of the Living Dead begins with a rural drive through a cemetery by Barbra and Johnny Blair as they visit the grave of their father.  But something is amiss.  Johnny famously teases Barbra with his now classic delivery of “They’re coming to get you, Baaahhhhbra” but the joke is on him.  They really are coming to get, well, anyone with flesh for feasting (but really just animal guts from the local market). And he's target number one.

First, the stumbling zombie gets Johnny as Barbra flees through the countryside.  She ends up outside of a rural farmhouse and, rather shockingly, gets shoved inside.  It is there that she will make a final stand alongside Ben (Jones) and five other strangers trapped by the onslaught of the living dead outside the house.  They board up the windows and the doors and, when that’s not enough, some take refuge in the cellar where a little schoolgirl fights for her right to become, as Rob Zombie put it, a living dead girl.  Mommy?  Bodies are burned and the house is gutted; all in an attempt to survive the longest night ever.

This is a film full of ghouls, molotov cocktails, and heated arguments about how best to survive a world that has spun completely out of synch with normality thanks to a satellite’s detonation above earth’s atmosphere on its return from Venus when radioactive contamination was detected.  At least, that’s one theory as to why the dead have decided to climb out of their graves and start their grisly feast among the living.  And, unless you burn them or aim for the head with a gun or shovel (and beat the tar out them), there’s just no stopping these corpse-grinding ghouls and boils.   

It is also, thanks the casting of a black actor as the lead role, a movie that continues to push social norms.  Now, the filmmakers will tell you – and they have before on countless occasions – that the reason Jones was cast as the lead was because this theatre actor was the absolute best one to audition for the role.  They weren’t trying to push boundaries or set the world on fire but, thanks to the powerhouse performance by Jones (who in any other movie probably would have been nominated for an academy award), they did exactly that.  And still that world burns.

I mistakenly thought that there was only one “first time” for this cult classic.  I was clearly wrong.  Thanks to this release from Criterion, you can experience Night of the Living Dead for the very first time all over again.

 

Film Details

Night of the Living Dead: Criterion Collection - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 96 mins
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: John A. Russo, George A. Romero
Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman
Genre: Horror
Tagline: If it doesn't scare you, you're already dead!
Memorable Movie Quote: "They're coming to get you, Barbara, there's one of them now!
Theatrical Distributor: 
Continental Distributing
Official Site:Release Date: October 4, 1968
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: February 13, 2018
Synopsis: Romero’s claustrophobic vision of a late-1960s America literally tearing itself apart rewrote the rules of the horror genre, combined gruesome gore with acute social commentary, and quietly broke ground by casting a black actor (Duane Jones) in its lead role. Stark, haunting, and more relevant than ever,.

 

Night of the Living Dead: Criterion Collection - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Criterion Collection
Available on Blu-ray - February 13, 2018
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: LPCM Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Criterion provides Night of the Living Dead a fine 1080p release with their handling of this restoration.  With an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, the new 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, co-screenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner, simply slays all you think you know or have previously seen from this movie.  The crispness makes fresh again all the classic scenes and the depth of the black-and-white picture is breathtaking.  The shadows and the shades simply do not end, providing a sense of newness to every single moment.  Even the cellar comes alive in the crisp shades.  The new restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary Streiner, is presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray.

Supplements:

Commentary:

There are two, recorded for the DVD release in 1994, and they are classics, featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and others.

Special Features

Loaded with cool NEW supplemental items, Criterion is sure to please fans with their 2-disc release of this cult classic, now remastered in 4K.  We get a work-print of the film, a NEW supplemental featurette form cast, crew, and other filmmakers talking about the film’s legacy.  To cap off everything, there is a brilliant essay by critic Stuart Klawans printed on the back of a foldout poster.

Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film
New program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez
Never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel
New program featuring Russo on the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead filmmakers got their start
Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley
New programs about the film’s style and score
New interview program about the direction of ghouls, featuring members of the cast and crew
New interviews with Gary Streiner and Russell Streiner1967 NewsreelsTrailerRadio SpotsTV Spots

Night of the Living Dead: Criterion Collection - Blu-ray Review

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