Combustible Celluloid
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With: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Keith Wayne, Marilyn Eastman, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon, George Kosana
Written by: John A. Russo, George A. Romero
Directed by: George A. Romero
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/30/1968

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Rise of the Zombies

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead was once a controversial drive-in movie, but today it happens to rank squarely with the greatest films ever made, period. The film itself goes where no horror film had ever gone before, and rarely since. It focuses on a random selection of people who have barely escaped the clutches of zombies -- newly risen dead -- roaming the countryside and eating human flesh. The humans, led by African American Duane Jones, find that they have each other to fear as much as the threat outside. Judith O'Dea plays the nearly catatonic Barbra, and Karl Hardman is the obstinate Harry.

Back in 1994, Elite released an expensive laserdisc box set of the film that proudly announced itself as the definitive version, and they've now transferred the film and the numerous extras to a much cheaper and much more compact "Millennium Edition" DVD. Directed by George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead), the film fell into public domain territory over the years, and horrible bootleg copies began turning up in video bargain bins. Sadly, that's the way many fans have seen the film. (According to Romero, not even the original theatrical release was up to snuff.) So this DVD is bound to shock viewers with its clear, bright black-and-white picture.

As for the DVD extras... are you ready? Two commentary tracks, one with Romero and the producers, and one with the cast (except Jones, who died in 1988); a clip from an early Romero film There's Always Vanilla, a parody film called Night of the Living Bread posters, photos, video interviews, radio interviews, props, stills, the shooting script, and more.

In 2008, for the 40th anniversary (and in conjunction with the DVD release of Diary of the Dead, Dimension re-released a new DVD claiming to be "restored and re-mastered." I compared it with the Millennium Edition, and found that the new one isever so slightly brighter, although it appears that there may be someslight cropping as well. The new one repeats many, but not all, of the extras from the "Millennium Edition" and contains a brand-new, feature-length documentary on the making of the film. So, truth be told, I haven't yet decided which one to keep yet. I'll probably hang onto both for a while...

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