Although George Romero wasn’t as particular or gung ho with his filmmaking as Stanley Kubrick was, you can’t really sit through “Night of the Living Dead” without feeling like everything is so deliberate. Like what is the significance of Barbara looking through the music box? Why did Johnny approach Barbara with his gloves on? And why did Romero blatantly film one of the dead with its eyes moving? Was it was considerably faint attempt to humanize the monsters that we’d see be hit with fire and shot to death throughout the film? Or was it his reminder that through and through these were once people with human impulses and their urges for human flesh are still a part of some human impulse? “Night of the Living Dead” is so nightmarish and intricate that I love picking it apart every single time I’ve seen it and it leaves me stunned every single time.
The clarity in the new Criterion edition is amazing and I’ve never seen the movie so fluid before. While there is something to be said for watching the movie grainy, twitchy, and weathered, it’s also horrendous watching it so clean. It lets you appreciate it as some kind of documentary where humanity falls apart at the seams and feeds on itself to thrive. It’s the end of the world and we’re spending more time helping it fall by fighting amongst ourselves than agree on a simple plan, it’s the destruction of the nuclear family unit. And yes, I’m one who is convinced that the lynch mob in the finale knew Ben was alive and killed him anyway.
The Criterion Edition is impressive, exhaustive and the treatment George A. Romero’s legacy deserved as the film is arguably his most important.
The two disc edition garners a slip cover, and an essay by critic Stuart Klawans entitled “Mere Anarchy is Loosed” along with technical credits, that doubles as a wonderful poster of the film’s most iconic ghoul. On Disc one there’s “Night of Anubis” the original working title for “Night of the…” which is a 16mm work print. The print features uncorrected shots and some soon to be altered shots. This is a gem for fans of the original movie who want to see the original film in its raw form. There’s also an introduction with Russell Streiner filmed for the work print, as well as an eight minute introduction for the newly restored film. The first commentary is an archival one with George Romero, producer/actor Karl Hardman, actor Marilyn Eastman, and cowriter John Russo.
It was recorded in 1994, and has appeared on previous releases. It almost doesn’t feel complete without this commentary on this new release. Among the chapters are 1. Production value, 2. Ghoul switch, 3. Permission required, 4. Gobo shadows, 5. Black and white, 6. Good action, 7. Death twitch, 8. Readying the house, 9. Duane’s soliloquy, 10. Missing music box, 11. Explaining the window, 12. Faking the basement and more. Commentary two is another archival commentary which features producer/actor Russell Streiner, production manager Vincent Survinski, and actors Judith O’Dea, S.William Hinzman, Kyra Schon, and Keith Wayne. The commentary is the same as the aforementioned with chapters including 1. “My mother’s car,” 2. Genuine fear, 3. Breaking the glass, 4. Goodwill furniture, 5. Poor prints, 6. Remote location, 7. Blood differences, 8. A useful kitchen, 9. Evans City, 10. “That is a neat radio,” 11. Library music, 12. “Cooper was right,” 13. Introducing the head shot and more.
“Light in the Darkness” is a brand new twenty four minute featurette with directors Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone), Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn), and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) explaining what makes “Night of the Living Dead” such a particularly special and important piece of filmmaking as well as its impact on the horror genre. It’s a 2017 Criterion exclusive. There are actual dailies from the original film with never before seen footage, and alternate takes never used in the finished film. There’s a video introduction by Gary Streiner among the silent footage. “Learning from Scratch” is a new twelve minute interview with co-writer John Russo, who discusses the film’s obstacles during the shoot, and the smaller commercial projects that helped make this film. It’s a Criterion exclusive. There’s a TV Newsreel of silent B roll 16mm film shot for the Pittsburgh broadcast news, which is the only surviving footage from the original movie.
The music is by Jeff Carney. “Walking Like the Dead” is a fourteen minute archival bit of footage with ten actors from the movie who played zombies and recall what it was like performing. “Tones of Terror” is a twelve minute program with producer Jim Cirronella discussing the stock music used to enhance the film’s ambience. “Limitations Into Virtues” is a visual essay with filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ram who address technical obstacles faced during the making of he film, and its unique visual style. “Tomorrow” is an edited episode from NBC’s show where Romero discusses the creative environment for making horror, along with Don Coscarelli. “Higher Learning” is an archival interview with director Romero at TIFF 2012 who discusses the production history and the unusual cycle it went through.
There are also comments discussing the film’s social and racial overtones, often dismissed by Romero. There some interviews including an archival audio one with Duane Jones, who explores his making of the film, and why he distanced himself from the film throughout his life and career. Judith Ridley discusses how she became involved in the production, and some funny anecdotes. “Venus Probe” is an eleven minute newsreel of the real life findings of the Venus probe Mariner 5. Said probe is what cause the dead uprising in the film. Finally there are two original trailers for the film in English, two TV Spots clocking in at almost half a minute altogether, and five short vintage radio spots, all of which are not subtitled. Their dates range from 1968 to 1970.