The late George A. Romero’s 1968 movie “Night of The Living Dead” is, undeniably, one of the most influential horror films ever made. Not many films can claim to have invented a genre, The Zombie Film, which laid the groundwork for a VERY popular cable TV series based on a certain comic book that features the lumbering undead. In fact, “Night of The Living Dead” has such a wide reaching influence, and the film has been ripped off from so much, that it almost can play like a parade of horror film cliches.
That’s not to say that the film’s power has been diminished in the 50 years since its debut. In addition to being a groundbreaking horror film, “Night Of The Living Dead” is a landmark production of independent cinema that teaches a masterclass on what you can achieve with a limited budget. The film’s story is simple, some unknown thing is making the recently deceased come back to life and crave human flesh. A group of strangers find themselves trapped in a remote farmhouse doing their best to survive.
Due to a mixup during the prep work for the film’s final opening titles, the copyright notice for “Night of The Living Dead” was inadvertently left off, sending the film right into the public domain as soon as it was released. As a result, the film has been able to be released on home video and shown on television by anyone that could get their hands on a copy of it. Most of the home video releases of the film look dreadful, including a blu-ray of the film released by a budget label in October of last year.
When The Criterion Collection announced last November they were going to release the film, to say that “fans rejoiced” is an understatement. Though director Romero sadly passed away in July of 2017, Criterion announced that he was involved with the release, and he, and many of the original production team, supervised the new 4K digital restoration of the film that serves as the basis for Criterion’s two-disc blu-ray release, which utilized the original 35mm camera negatived, and a 35mm fine grain for a very brief sequence that was too damaged to transfer on the original negative.
The results are stunning. I’ve only seen “Night of The Living Dead” on TV before, but my memory of watching it was that it was faded, washed out, soft, and grainy. The image quality on Criterion’s blu-ray is clear, sharp, and defined. The same can be said of the mono soundtrack restoration, also supervised by Romero and team. What The Criterion Collection has given fans is, unquestionably, the definitive home video release of the film. Restored audio and picture would be enough to make it that definitive release, but it’s the extras included that really put this over the top and make this a must own for fans of the film. There’s a lot included and I’m going to touch on most of the extras.
First off we have two commentary tracks from 1994 with Romero, cast and crew. These tracks were recorded for the 25th Anniversary Laserdisc edition of the film—the first time an authorized home video release of the film from the original 35mm elements had been done. An early work print of the film is included as well, under the working title “Night of Anubis.” This is the first time the work print has ever been released.
Also included are: A new program that interviews filmmakers Frank Darabount, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez. Never before seen 16mm dailies of the film—where you can see the title the movie was shot under “Flesh Eaters.” A look at the industrial and commercial film production company where Romero and crew got their start. A feature on the films score, and another on the look of the film is included as well. Promotional Materials, new and archival interviews round out the features. It’s an impressive set, and one that will thrill anyone long dreaming to see this film get the treatment it so long deserved on home video.
The Criterion Collection has really knocked it out of the park with their release of “Night of The Living Dead.” A must own for fans thanks to truly stunning picture quality. You won’t regret getting this one to add to your collection. See you next week.