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Night Of The Living Dead

see also -
Dawn Of The Dead (1979)
Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

 
 
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Night Of The Living Dead
cast: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, and Keith Wayne

director: George A. Romero

90 minutes (15) 1968
Contender DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Barry Forshaw
After the thousand and one imitations (not to mention the entire Italian zombie subgenre) how does George A. Romero's original Night Of The Living Dead look after all these years? Certainly, its history on video and DVD has been chequered, with a variety of indifferent prints appearing to do the film no favours. But that less-than-polished quality might actually not be a disadvantage - this writer originally saw the film on its first cinema release, when its grainy, rough quality quickly shocked a rowdy audience into silence. And as Romero's approach to the zombie genre was so different from anything that had been done before, the fact that the film was actually photographed on a poorer quality film stock than the makers had been aiming for may well have added to its subversive, underground charge.

This newest issue from Contender is certainly the finest the film has ever enjoyed, but that isn't saying a great deal. The image is still ill focused and overexposed, and often unsatisfactory in matching the skin tones of its black hero Duane Jones to the rest of the otherwise white cast (top Hollywood cinematographers have often found such juxtapositions technically troublesome, so it's hardly surprising that Romero and Co., with their minus zero budget, coped only fitfully). But a surround sound mix adds an extra punch to the audio qualities, and even the famously anonymous library music that Romero used has considerably more impact than in previous incarnations of the film.

But does it work today? Despite the technical infelicities and the occasionally overwrought acting, the answer is still a resounding yes. Romero took elements of science fiction (the radiation source of the mysterious plague that animates the recently dead), grisly horror (in its day, the flesh-eating zombies were strong stuff indeed) and, most of all, a bushel of elements from the work of Alfred Hitchcock. The protagonists under siege from a silent, relentless enemy in a boarded-up house is, of course, straight out of The Birds, and the bloody murder-with-a-trowel is heavily inspired by Psycho. But all of Romero's astonishingly assured technique is a synthesis of the master's: brilliantly judged cutting, impeccable staging and (most of all) the mise-en-scène - the composition of elements within the scene - are all straight out of English filmmaker's lexicon. But Night Of The Living Dead is none the worse for that. Despite the rudimentary makeup and minimal gore effects, the film still packs more of a punch than its veritable army of successors (including those directed by Romero himself). One final thanks: at least this is not the abysmal version of the film with newly shot footage; hopefully that edition will now be consigned to the ashes.

The disc extras are unimpressive: the commentary track is repetitive and un-insightful, while the exhaustive documentaries on other issues of the film are nowhere to be seen. Having said that, those on the Anchor Bay UK set are fannish and disorganised.
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