Some years back, I reviewed Elite’s Millennium Edition of the NOTLD. That was certainly the most definitive edition at that time. So now we have another deluxe edition. How does it stack up? Before we get to that, a few (largely unnecessary) words about the film. There’s a blurb on the box that calls this “the most influential horror film since Psycho,” and there is a great deal of truth to that. As has been pointed out before, the film single-handedly transformed the mythology of the zombie, changing the monster from mindless slave to flesh-eating ghoul. I can’t think of any other instance where a mythology was changed so completely and with such finality. And there are plenty of reasons why it had such impact. Sure, there’s the gore. And while the intestine-gobbling was pretty intense for 1968, H.G. Lewis had been pumping out gore films just as (if not more) excessive for half a decade. Unlike Lewis’ films, George Romero’s picture is extremely well made. The pace is lightning-fast (we have our heroine pursued by a zombie less than ten minutes into the film); the cinematography is imaginative, with plenty of energetic editing and lively camera work; and the lighting is dramatic exercise in stark high contrast. I haven’t even mentioned the intelligence of the script. So let’s just place this among the greatest horror films ever made and leave it at that.
So let’s start talking about the disc itself. The box lists the audio track as 5.1, but it is no such thing. My player registers it as 2.0, so we’ll grant it that much, but there are no detectable surround elements. The sound is rich all the same, belying the film’s age and budget, and the distortion is held to an absolute minimum. Compare this, however, to the Elite release, which offered both 5.1 and original mono options.
Because the film fell into the public domain, there are dozens and dozens of releases floating around out there. NOTLD is one of the few films you’re just about guaranteed for find in the Dollar Store. But if you pick up one of those DVDs, you’re going to wind up with a barely watchable print and transfer. This print is in excellent shape. There is a little bit of grain, but it is barely noticeable, and there is no other sign of damage. The contrasts and blacks are spectacular, and the image is beautifully sharp. This is certainly on par with the Elite release, and unlikely to be surpassed by any other version.
Two commentary tracks here, and they’re pretty familiar. Track one features Romero, co-writer John A. Russo, and cast members Karl Hardman (who also produced, and who died in 2007)) and Marilyn Eastman. The second has producer Russel W. Streiner, production manager Vince Survinski, and actors Judith O’Dea, Bill hinzman, Kyra Schon and Keith Wayne. These are the same tracks as on the Elite release. Nice to have them back, but they won’t require a second purchase for those of you who already have that edition. Nor will the audio interview with Duane Jones, which also makes a second appearance. Also back is the original screenplay, now as a PDF file for DVD-ROM. The trailer and photo gallery aren’t new either. There are two new features, however. “One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead,” is an in-depth, 84-minute documentary. It amusingly recreates the opening of the film with O’Dea and Streiner reprising their roles as squabbling siblings. Romero remarks towards the end that he considers it to be his scariest film, in that his others are more overtly comical, while this thing is dead serious. Finally, “Speak of the Dead” is a 15-minute segment of Romero being interviewed on stage in Toronto in 2007.
There might not quite be enough material to warrant another purchase for those who have the Elite release, but what is new is excellent, and for everyone else, this is an absolutely superb release.