Night of the Living Dead
Zombies have indeed risen from their graves in recent times, returning to American theaters in droves and drawing crowds. George Romero himself is getting back in the game, getting one more shot to return to the universe of his creation. Decent timing then, to release a new version of his original 1968 Night of the Living Dead. This seminal work of genre filmmaking began Romero's efforts to infuse social commentary into a simple tale of horror. While he would expand into greater territory in the following Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985), Night presented a tale that would create an entire genre (shambling zombies craving human flesh) and influence future filmmakers. The second and third films would focus on the zombies themselves as the vehicle for subtext, but Night focuses on the humans, in how they deal with the menace at hand as well as each other in the face of horrific crisis. The tale is relatively well known at this point. A small group of disparate individuals find themselves in an abandoned farmhouse, surrounded by zombies and endangered from within by the racial and cultural differences between the reluctant zombie-chow. Duane Jones stars as Ben, who finds the house by chance, and along with the in-shock Barbara (Judith O'Dea), begins boarding up the place. Tensions mount when Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) and Tom (Keith Wayne) rise from the basement, where they had been holed up with their families. Ben, a black man, is obviously the superior physical and intellectual leader of the group, as well as the carrier of their only firearm, and Harry seems determined to seize control, much to everyone's detriment. The group must attempt to get out of the trap while battling the inner tension, all to the now-iconic soundtrack of Charles Craig news broadcasts. While Romero would find his humor in the later films in the series, Night of the Living Dead is noticeably void of attempts at jocularity. There are several aspects of the zombie genre that also seem to have passed to the wayside, even in Romero's later works. By the end of the film, the zombies are beginning to gain a rudimentary level of skill with basic tools. Also, the belief that an irradiated satellite which crashed to earth is the cause of the undead plague would later give way to the generally accepted notion that zombies are a force of nature, spiritual or otherwise, without a specific reason for their incarnation. The lineage of Night of the Living Dead is unmistakable, from its own 1990 remake by horror-effects guru Tom Savini, John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), a slew of Italian gore-fests, to the modern remakes and new spins on zombie lore. Romero may have outdone himself with the follow-up films, but this title stands on its own as a groundbreaker and a classic of horror. Fox presents Night of the Living Dead in a new full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with both the original black-and-white and colorized versions. The colorization cheapens some of the effects by revealing the two-dimensional nature of the low-budget make-up work, whereas the shadows of the original bolster the illusion. Audio is available in Dolby 5.1, DTS, and monaural DD 2.0. Extras include several "vintage" horror trailers, an embarrassing "Separated at Death" feature that compares several zombies in the film to their contemporary look-alike counterparts. The inclusion of a commentary track by Mike Nelson (of "Mystery Science 3000" fame) will be a big draw for some, and while it has moments of genuine hilarity, it's slightly out of place here. Unlike a similar track by Nelson on Reefer Madness, he's mocking a good film this time around potentially offending horror purists like the jerk in the theater who just won't shut up. Keep-case.