Tuesday 13 February 2018

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Romero Zombies on Criterion!!!

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dir. George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Kill the brain, and you kill the ghoul." - Scientist

"If you have a gun, shoot 'em in the head. That's a sure way to kill 'em. If you don't, get yourself a club or a torch. Beat 'em or burn 'em. They go up pretty easy." - Sherriff

Science and law enforcement make for good bedfellows - especially when the unburied dead come to life and seek out the living to snack upon.

The late George A. Romero's 1968 horror classic worked like a charm when I first saw it as a kid and continued to cast its magic spell as I continued to watch it umpteen zillion times over the decades. No matter what format I viewed Night of the Living Dead on - 35mm prints, 16mm prints, tv broadcasts, the myriad of bootleg public domain VHS tapes that floated around forever and a very decent Elite Entertainment DVD release from 2009, this was a movie that never failed to creep me out.

However, seeing it on the brand new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray, it feels like I'd never seen the film ever before - what an amazing experience it was to watch this beautifully restored edition supervised by Romero himself before his tragic, untimely death. Seeing it this way was at least as thrilling, shocking and supremely entertaining as when I was first slammed in the face with the two-by-four that is this genuinely great motion picture.

Of course, zombie and living dead extravaganzas have become so ingrained upon the collective psyches of movie-goers that most of them must view each movie with an air of been-there-done-that, but his original film is so infused with an acute political consciousness and clever satire, that the only movies that come remotely close to its power are Romero's first two sequels Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.

Shot in beautiful black and white, we follow the mousy Barbra (Judith O'Dea) as her obnoxious older brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) drives her out to a graveyard in a remote rural location outside of Pittsburgh. When a pasty-skinned old man lopes onto the scene, Johnny teases his sister that the lumbering dude is "coming to get her". It turns out Johnny's right. He's viciously attacked by the ghoulish septuagenarian and then, Barbra becomes the quarry once her brother's been handily dispatched. She madly races to an old farmhouse and as night falls, the house becomes surrounded by similarly psychotic ghouls.

They have only one thing on their pea-brained minds - to kill the living and eat them.

Yes! Eat them!

Turns out there are other people in the house. They barricade themselves in, attempting to survive this onslaught of ravenous creatures. And what an onslaught it turns out to be.

Of course via television and radio, they discover that a plague of mass murder is occurring right across the state and yes, the unburied dead are rising to feed (literally) upon the living.

The dynamic in the house is fascinating, a microcosm of humanity. From the trembling Barbra to an obnoxiously selfish father, his caring wife, their sick daughter and a perky young couple, Romero's simple, but deft script delivers a group of survivors we are delighted to follow. And no such film would be complete without a hero. The resourceful, brave Ben (Duane Jones), kicks ass with the best movie heroes. And, astonishingly, Romero employed "colour-blind" casting - the film's hero is played by a terrific, handsome young actor and he is African-American. This was a big deal in 1968. That there are colour blind aspects to the character himself, makes it, even now, STILL a big deal.

Throughout the film, Romero paints a vivid portrait of redneck America as hayseed local yokels wander the highways and byways, taking sport in blasting the brains of the "living dead". It's a world gone crazily to Hell. Most tellingly, it's not really all that crazy. This is America in all its danger and "glory".

And that, might be the scariest thing of all.


Night of the Living Dead is available on a super-deluxe new edition on the Criterion Collection which includes a new 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, coscreenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner, a new restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary Streiner and presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray, 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, Two audio commentaries from 1994 featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and others, 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 Streiner, Newsreels from 1967, Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots, plus an essay by critic Stuart Klaxons.