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Site created 12/15/97.


reviews added: 10/31/00



Night of the Living Dead

reviews by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Night of the Living Dead (Elite)

Night of the Living Dead
Special Collector's Edition - 1968 (1998) - Elite Entertainment

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A

Specs and Features:

96 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary track (with George A. Romero, John Russo, Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman), audio commentary track (with Bill Hinzman, Judith O'Dea, Keith Wayne, Kyra Schon, Russ Streiner and Vince Survinski), television spots, theatrical trailers, Night of the Living Bread short, original Image Ten, Inc. commercials, film-themed menu screens, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD mono), subtitles: none



Night of the Living Dead (UAV)

Night of the Living Dead
1968 (1997) - UAV Entertainment

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): F/F/F

Specs and Features:

96 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, video previews for Where the Red Fern Grows, Parts 1 & 2 , The Amazing Feats of Young Hercules, The Secret of Anastasia and The Secret of the Hunchback, film-themed menu screens, scene access (9 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none



Night of the Living Dead (Master Movies)

Night of the Living Dead
Silver Screen Collectors Edition - 1946 (sic) (1997) - DVD Matters (Master Movies)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D

Specs and Features:

96 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Polygram long jewel case packaging, critical comments on the original film by Variety, Pauline Kael and Virgin Film Guide, cast and crew notes, production notes, menu screens, scene access (11 chapters), language: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: Chinese



Night of the Living Dead (Madacy old)

Night of the Living Dead
Hollywood Classics - 1968 (1997) - Madacy Entertainment

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): D/F/D

Specs and Features:

96 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, lobby poster, Duane Jones biography, trivia game, credit list, generic menu screens, scene access (9 chapters), language: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none



Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition (Anchor Bay)

Night of the Living Dead
30th Anniversary Limited Edition - 1998 (1999) - Anchor Bay

Film Rating: D-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A

Specs and Features:

96 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (the 30th anniversary version with 15 minutes of new footage and 15 minutes of edits from the original is on one layer and the 1998 edition of the film remastered with a new score by Scott Vladimir Licina is on the other), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with "writer/director" John Russo, Bill Hinzman, Russ Streiner and Bill Michelucci, re-release trailer, behind-the-scenes featurette, still gallery, scene from Flesh Eater (by Bill Hinzman), Dance of the Dead music video, (collector's edition also includes 32-page booklet about the 30th anniversary and an additional music CD with Licina's new score), film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (30 chapters for the 30th Anniversary edition and 24 for the 1998 remastered edition), language: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none


Review Note: At least two other DVD versions of this film are currently available. The cover on the left below is the regular Anchor Bay edition, which doesn't include the soundtrack CD. The cover on the right is the current Madacy release. See the review text below for more information on these versions.

Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (Anchor Bay)Night of the Living Dead (Madacy new)


"They're coming to get you Barbara."

Hey, hey, we're the zombies. People say we stumble around. But we're too busy moaning, and trying to keep the humans down. Ahhh, zombie films. You have to love them. Nothing is more gory or stomach churning than lumbering, putrid human corpses stalking the living, chewing stringy flesh, squirting blood, tearing muscle and sinew and gnawing bone all over the place. Filmmakers who make zombie films know one thing - there's gotta be some screams. And all zombie films of our era owe a debt to one man, George A. Romero. Romero is the one who gave zombies back their soul. He made the zombie film an allegory of our twisted times. He made zombie movies cool. Night of the Living Dead isn't the first living dead film but, by most accounts, it's one of the best - at least the trilogy as a whole can be considered the best. The documentary style of Night of the Living Dead proves time and again to be quite influential. In fact, having been made in 1968, you'd think it was older than that - a fact that has fooled many a pirate who thought the film was public domain. Sadly, now it is - the copyright notice was inadvertently left off the film's title optical seemingly leaving it free and clear for anyone to put on DVD, as we'll soon explore. In any case, Night of the Living Dead is a true gem of our cinema history, horror film or otherwise.

The film is set up almost like a true account of the events concerning a plague of the living dead taking over a small town (and as we'll see in the film's many news reports - the world). At first we focus on Barbara, a young woman visiting a dead relative with her brother. After some serious taunting, Barbara and her brother are attacked by a zombie. Barbara barely escapes and makes it to a small farmhouse, where she slips into catatonia and is joined by Ben, a rational guy who knows exactly what he needs to do to live through the night (and damn anyone who gets in his way). Together, they board up the windows and doors, and settle in. After a short time, two families that have been holed up in the basement come up to see if everything is okay. Ben and Barbara meet Harry and Helen Cooper, their young daughter Karen and newlyweds Tom and Judy. Together, they try to survive the night until help can arrive. But when several different courses of action are set by the group with no real plan, things are bound to go bad. Do Ben and the rest of the living stand a chance... or are they destined to be zombie chow?

Night of the Living Dead is a great little film. It's claustrophobic, set-up to be realistic and quite disturbing. For what it is and what it does, it definitely puts you in a very creepy mood. Some of the supporting acting is amateurish, but then again, this film was made by a bunch of friends that made commercials for a living getting together to bang out a drive-in flick. It's a shock that this film has stood the test of time, but it sure has and deservedly so.

Over the last three years, there have been quite a few different versions of this film on DVD and we've hunted them all down to compare them for you. We'll discuss the quality of the audio, video and extras, and try to figure out which is the best version for you to call your own.

Night of the Living Dead: Special Collector's Edition (Elite)

We'll start with the best first. This DVD version is widely considered out of print, but from what we've found, it seems to be still available through a few DVD retailers on the 'net like DVD Planet and Express.com. Bill's even stumbled on a few in stores, so you might have a good chance locating one. Produced by Don May, Jr. and Vini Bancalari as their first laserdisc, this is basically a Xerox of that production to DVD (excluding a few extras that wouldn't fit on the single disc - remember this was very early in the days of DVD, so 2-disc special editions weren't happening yet). The video is presented in the film's original full frame aspect ratio and shows excellent detail with deep blacks, flawless grays and clean whites. To show you how the film could look, watch for a neat little comparison during the Elite logo. It'll blow your mind. The audio is a remastered mono track and is free of any annoying hiss. It sounds terrific for what it is. Even if it doesn't have quite all the same extras that were on the laserdisc, this DVD holds enough extras to choke a horse. There are two commentary tracks: one with the filmmakers (including director George Romero himself, and note that this is the ONLY DVD version to feature Romero) and another with the cast. Both are fun looks behind the scenes. There's also a score of TV commercials and trailers, a spoof about living slices of bread attacking people and a collection of retro commercials shot by the Image Ten group (the guys who made this film). It's all pretty interesting, but it's the picture and video quality that makes this THE version worth hunting down.

Night of the Living Dead (UAV)

This edition represents EVERYTHING Elite tried to fight when they put out the definitive version of this film on laserdisc (and subsequently on DVD). This is a straight video transfer that is so awful, that you'll have a difficult time making out the pictures. It's almost like they transferred the film to Etch-A-Sketch and then downloaded the result onto DVD. This is definitely a perfect example of the term "garbage in, garbage out". There are a few really weird picture anomalies, like a mysterious "ripple" effect going on throughout the film, which is most likely due to the condition of the original video master. Sound wise, the disc is dull and tinny with several pops and clicks on the track. Extras are non-existent in terms of this film, but you'll find a collection of trailers for UAV product. Stay away from this disc, zombie fans - this is a bad, bad buy.

Night of the Living Dead: Silver Screen Collectors Edition (Master Movies)

You should be afraid of any version of any film on DVD that doesn't even get the release date of the film correct on the cover. Most people know this version of Night of the Living Dead as the "1946 version" because that's the release year on the package. You also have to love this version for making such a big deal of Duane Jones being black. Not once in the film is it mentioned that Duane Jones is black, but twice (2 times!) it's referenced in this DVD edition, the funniest being on the back summary: "A black man, Duane Jones, jumps out of the truck and pushes the girl aside." Yikes! With so many surface problems, it's surprising to know that this disc's picture is leaps and bounds better than all the other editions (with the sole exception of the aforementioned Elite release). The picture is a bit muddy and bright with a little too much contrast, but those seem to be source issues. The transfer is pretty clean, for the most part. The sound is way better than the other versions as well (but, again, it's still nowhere close to the Elite disc). Extras include some critical analysis blurbs and production notes, none of which amounts to much. If you simply can't find a copy of the Elite disc, then this might be an okay runner-up.

Night of the Living Dead: Hollywood Classics (Madacy original release)

This version comes in two different covers - but they're basically the same disc. One is listed as part of Madacy's "Hollywood Classics" series and the other is from the "Fright Night Horror Classics" series. Whichever one you pick, they're both the same exact transfer from the same source material... and they both look like crap. The print used for these is way too jumpy and the transfer is full of bad digital artifacting and grain. There are noticeable scratches, dust and water damage on the print as well. Worse, there's a really bad and overt hissing on the audio track that gets annoying fast. The disc includes are a few extras, but nothing worth picking up the disc for (these include a silly trivia game, lobby poster art and a credit list for the cast). Avoid both of these turkeys.

Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition (Anchor Bay)

Oh, boy. What the hell can I say about this version? The best way to sum up this version is to note that the commentary banks on the fact that a brand new generation of film lovers is watching this disc. And that's a problem, because the people behind this version think that this new "30th Anniversary" edition of the film is so brilliant, that you'll never know that new scenes were added and that the film has been grossly altered from its original version. C'mon, like you can't tell? The commentary cast seems to want to totally write off any old fans of the film, and they probably should, because many old fans want to write off this version of the film.

This version of the film really sucks and, as much as I hate to say it, I'd have to say that you should stay the hell away from it, because it does nothing but soil the integrity of the film. When I first heard about the possibility of this new version of the film (from Romero himself and the guys at Elite), I though it could be neat. Like a Star Wars reissue, it was going to have CGI space stuff and some elaboration of the living dead plague having an origin from space. They touch upon that in this film, but they also add some weird shit about a preacher and a reporter. The real sin is the origin story of the graveyard zombie, played at the beginning of the film by Bill Hinzman. Look - it's thirty years later. And Bill Hinzman, God bless him, has aged more than he, his co-producers or even the make-up guys can hide. Regardless of the filmmakers thinking that the result is seamless, it's not.

The disc quality is really good, although when the new scenes are inserted you can tell - how could you not? Another pox on this film is the re-scoring by Scott Vladimir Licina, which is so bad that I'm going to just ignore it. There are two versions of this film included on the DVD, the 30th Anniversary re-edit and the original cut with Licina's new score (which, again, sucks so bad that I'm not even gonna talk about it). I can't believe anyone could make this film suck, but congratulations Mr. Russo - you did it in spades. Russo is credited as the "writer/director" of the new scenes in this version. May zombies eat his liver.

Extras include audio commentary with the men who anal-raped this film (John Russo, Bill Hinzman, Russ Streiner and Bill Michelucci), a re-release trailer, a silly behind-the-scenes featurette that plays out like a family video, a still gallery, a scene from Flesh Eater (a potential film by Bill Hinzman - oh, God, no!) and Dance of the Dead, which is a music video for some sort of electronica thing incorporating the Licina music with weird video and dialogue from the film mixed in 80s style. It's frickin' stupid. This Limited Edition DVD release features an extra disc in a double Amaray case... but the bonus disc is a regular music CD of Licina's music (which is SO frickin' bad...ahhhhhhhhh, I can't get away from it)! You wanna know why this score sucks? Because it's just so amateurish it's stupid. It really bogs the film down... and part of the appeal of the original was the music. The Limited Edition also includes a 32-page booklet about the 30th Anniversary version with interviews from everyone involved. The more commonly available version includes both versions of the film, but omits the CD (thankfully) and the booklet. My advice? Run - don't walk - run from both of these Anchor Bay discs.

But even if Anchor Bay, John Russo and company spit in the eye of this glorious film, Night of the Living Dead WAS remade with Romero's full cooperation in 1990. Directed by long time collaborator and effects master Tom Savini, the film was actually pretty darn good, if a bit cheesy. And if you'll click this link, we'll review that film as well...

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com


Night of the Living Dead (Elite)


Night of the Living Dead (UAV)


Night of the Living Dead (Master Movies)


Night of the Living Dead (Madacy)


Night of the Living Dead (Anchor Bay, non-limited)


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