"Night of the Living Dead - 40th Anniversary Edition" DVD Review
May 19, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Itís been forty years since Night of the Living Dead sidestepped, moaned and pined for human flesh in theaters and since its debut the legion of fans that have gotten behind it has never stopped growing. The black and white horror film from the late 60ís inspired not only many directors but also stimulated the horror genre with levels of scary that had never before been seen. Countless horror buffs cite Night of the Living Dead as their inspiration for getting into the genre and even forty years later, itís easy to see why.
The dead begin to walk again when a satellite returning from a trip to Venus falls to Earth, spreading some kind of new radiation along the Earth, resulting in the once fallen to shamble their way to life again. A small group of people who have never met take shelter in an abandoned house, its owner devoured by the vicious Living Dead and board the windows and doors up. Once knowledge of how to kill the mindless creatures comes over the radio and television, the group attempts to make a run for it, but it all ends in disaster when the Living Dead number becomes too great for the humans to handle.
Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again: Iím not a horror movie fan. So why have I begun reviewing and watching even more of this genre as of late? I donít know if itís morbid curiosity or what, but itís thereís something about these old horror movies (or remakes of old horror movies) that continue to attract me to them, even though I have an intense dislike of having the crap scared out of me. Still, I persevere and, even on some occasions, shut the lights off in the room just to get the full effect. For Night of the Living Dead, the technophile in me was actually more scared than the regular me, as I had to adjust to a black and white film in a 4x3 frame. Scary!
Of course I realize this was how the film was shot so Iíve no problem watching it in its OAR, it was just a bit of a jarring thing to see on a 16x9 television when Iíd grown so used to watching widescreen content. Iíve never seen Night of the Living Dead and considering how much I cry and freak out while playing the Resident Evil games, the thought of watching an actual zombie movie never occurred to me as a sane idea (I eventually watched the hilarious Shaun of the Dead, but that really doesnít count if Iím purposely laughing at whatís on screen). Still, Iíve wanted to see the movie that started it all and quite honestly Iím glad I did.
Iím not huge fan of the ďclassicsĒ and Iíll be the first to balk at the idea of spending a night watching TCM, but the fact that Night of the Living Dead was from 1968, in black and white and full screen didnít really irk me much past the first five second adjustment period. I quickly found myself rather enveloped with the onscreen antics of the film, even if I found it odd to start a zombie movie off in the daytimeóbut hey, night fell quickly (and randomly) enough.
What I found especially surprising was the characters we were introduced to in the very beginning of the film quickly became the secondaries of the film. Barbra (Judith OíDea) became so shocked by the events that she rarely spoke again and instead the randomly appearing Ben (Duane Jones) took the lead. The introduction of the rest of the cast also seemed a tad bit random, but when weíre looking a survival horror movie, I guess you need more than two people.
Aside from the obvious way that the film breaks from the modern Hollywood films Iím used to with the casual introductions of characters, Night of the Living Dead really was a superbly done film in all respects and considering I didnít grow up or with it or was never a fan of the genre, I think itís a real testament to the quality of the film to be able to enthrall new viewers with its story and content. I donít want it to seem like Iím an elitist when it comes to movies and theyíre amazing if I like them (Anchorman is one of my all-time favorites, letís not forget), but I am incredibly picky about watching old films and will almost never jump at the chance to watch one.
Between the enjoyable zombie effects (the basement splatter was quite shocking and difficult to watch, even by todayís standards) and the absolutely ďwhat the hellĒ ending, itís easy to see how the film remained as popular as it did throughout the years. I feel it would be silly to talk about the plot and the acting at this point as not only is the film forty years old, but even if you havenít seen it (like me), youíll find that aside from a few quirks, Night of the Living Dead could have been made in modern times with just the same style. Sure some of the clothing is out of the date and the gun sound effects sound like a pop rock going off, but thatís all part of the charm. If you havenít seen it for whatever reason, Night of the Living Dead really is a ďclassicĒ in every sense of the word and is a real treat. It still has a few scares left in it and even after watching the gore fests that splatter across the screen today, watching a hoard of zombies munch on small intestines and brain matter can still make you scrunch up your face in disgust. Highly Recommended.
When something enters public domain itís inevitable that it gets splashed onto DVD in twenty different releases. From the first page of search results on Amazon alone I count seven DVD releases (including this one) for Night of the Living Dead and Iím sure this wonít be the last. Dimension took it upon themselves to give the film a new makeover in the form of a video and audio remastering and I have to say it looks absolutely great. There is some softness to the picture, but overall the transfer is just magnificent. Deep blacks, nice silvery grays and just an overall great picture; the 5.1 audio also sounds wonderful, but since I donít have any previous versions to compare this one to, Iím afraid I donít have much to go off of.
One thing I can tell you is that unlike the 30th Edition of the film done by Anchor Bay, this is the original film in all of its glory, none of the new footage spliced in crap. While it may have sported the best picture, the award for best Night of the Living Dead DVD has long gone to the Elite ďMillennium EditionĒ from 2002 which took their ďSpecial Collectorís EditionĒ and super-loaded it with more extras.
Aside from the two commentaries included here, which seem to have made their way across almost all of the DVD releases, all of the extras presented here appear to be newly recorded for this 40th Anniversary Release. Those hoping they could chuck their Millennium Edition for this one may want to hold onto it and possibly pair these two together, as the extras between them are almost entirely different.
After the commentaries (both of which are entertaining, but if youíve had any experience with the past releases youíll know what to expect), ďOne for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living DeadĒ (1:23:48) starts off the extras with a very in-depth look into the history of Night of the Living Dead. The documentary is split up into sections, but thereís the play all feature to watch it all in one go. Itís really an interesting piece that features all new interviews (again, from what I could tellóI started watching the Diary of the Dead extras shortly after the ones for Night of the Living Dead and they appear to have been recorded at the same time).
Moving on we have ďSpeak of the Dead: A Q&A With Co-Writer/Director George A. RomeroĒ (15:48), which is mistakenly written as ďSpeak to the DeadĒ on the rear cover, and is a video of a rare convention appearance by Romero. Some repeated information occasionally creeps in from the hour and a half long documentary, but thatís to be expected. A very cool extra and a nice addition for the fans to check out.
ďBen Speaks: The Last Interview with Duane JonesĒ (16:46) is our final video/audio extraÖand even saying that about this isnít entirely true. The interview is all audio and is played over a series of images from the film. Considering this interview took place only a year before Jones death, it is almost kind of sad to hear him reminisce about the making of Night of the Living Dead, but also nice to hear he had a pleasant experience with everything. The final extras are the original trailer, a still gallery and a PDF of the script, which can be accessed by placing the DVD in your PC.
Overall this edition of Night of the Living Dead is quite impressive and will definitely tear some fans judgment about whether to add this version to their collection. Undoubtedly the hour and a half long documentary is worth checking out, especially for the fans and for that reason alone Iíd Recommend upgrading to this release and keeping it alongside Eliteís Millennium Edition which is apparently just about as good as this release.
Night of the Living Dead - 40th Anniversary Edition arrives on DVD on May 20th.