Night of the Living Dead appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Taken from a new 4K transfer, this became a pretty terrific presentation.
Overall sharpness looked quite good. The only softness came from the source photography – and remained minor anyway, as we got a largely tight, well-defined image.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and edge haloes stayed absent. Print flaws also failed to turn into a factor through this clean transfer.
Blacks always looked deep, and contrast seemed quite satisfying. Low-light shots demonstrated nice clarity and lacked excessive opacity or flatness.
There’s a mildly sketchy “day-for-night” scene at one point, but it wasn’t a problem – and like the softness, the nature of the source caused those “issues”. I doubt Dead looked this good 50 years ago, as the Blu-ray brought us a totally satisfying image.
In terms of the PCM monaural soundtrack’s quality, it proved more than serviceable. Given the flick’s age and origins, I expected a mix of concerns, but this became a fairly positive mix.
Speech worked fine overall. A bit of roughness could interfere on occasion, but not with any frequency. Though the lines betrayed their roots and felt somewhat thin, they still showed perfectly fine.
The movie’s music fared best, as the score proved to be clean and reasonably bright. Though the music lacked much range, the track reproduced the score in a fairly solid manner.
Like speech, effects tended to lack a truly natural feel, another inevitable artifact of the source recordings. Still, these elements lacked real distortion and represented the material in an acceptable way. All of this led to a better than expected soundtrack.
Because Dead resides in the public domain, the film got a slew of DVD releases over the decades. I reviewed two of these: a problematic 2004 colorized edition and a pretty solid 2008 “40th Anniversary” release.
As much as I liked the “40th Anniversary” set, the Criterion Blu-ray tops it with ease. Audio seemed clearer and more concise, while visuals were cleaner, tighter and more natural. Until we get a 4K UHD release of the film, this Blu-ray will be the definitive version of Dead.
The Criterion Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director George A. Romero, producer/actor Karl Hardman, actress Marilyn Eastman and co-writer John A. Russo.
All of them sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. They discuss locations and set dressing, cast and performances, characters and changes to the script, makeup and effects, photography and the choice to shoot in black and white, complications due to the low budget, and various production notes.
Though it drags occasionally, this usually becomes a solid commentary. It covers a good mix of topics and does so in a reasonably compelling manner.
The four participants interact well and don’t get in the way of each other as they balance speaking time. While I can’t call this the most involving chat I’ve heard, it informs and entertains.
For the second commentary, we hear from producer Russell W. Streiner, production manager Vince Survinski, and actors Judith O’Dea, Bill Hinzman, Kyra Schon and Keith Wayne. All six sit together for their running, screen-specific piece.
Expect a roster of subjects similar to what we got for the first commentary, though from different perspectives. That means we occasionally get some redundant materials, but most of the time the info seems reasonably fresh and this becomes a good discussion.
Disc One concludes with Night of Anubis, a “workprint” version of Dead that goes for one hour, 25 minutes, and nine seconds. It’s in somewhat rough shape, and it’s missing some of the second reel.
Does Anubis differ radically from the final Dead? Not really – it includes one deleted shot but usually adheres closely to the film we know.
Is there much reason to watch Anubis instead of Dead? Again, not really – they’re very similar, and the iffy quality of Anubis makes it less than enjoyable to view. Still, it’s good to have as a piece of movie history, even if I can’t imagine I’ll ever watch it again.
We can view Anubis with or without an introduction from producer Streiner. He gives us some background about the Anubis version in this informative little chat.
As we shift to Disc Two, we open with a new program called Light Into Darkness. It spans 23 minutes, 41 seconds and provides comments from filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro an Robert Rodriguez as they offers insights related to Night of the Living Dead. The deliver a reasonably informative examination of the movie’s impact and strengths.
A collection of Dailies fills 18 minutes, four seconds. We find silent outtakes from the shoot that become moderately interesting, though the absence of audio limits their utility.
We can view the dailies with or without an intro from sound engineer Gary Streiner. In his three-minute, 41-second chat, he gives us some background for the footage. Streiner adds some useful thoughts.
Next comes the 11-minute, 58-second Learning from Scratch, an interview with co-writer John Russo. He covers the “Latent Image” production company he ran with Romero and provides good background about that side of the film’s creation.
With TV Newsreel, we see “B”-roll footage of a scene from late in the film. The two-minute, 48-second clip offers material similar to the dailies – and also lacks original audio, which again makes this a minor curiosity but not something especially exciting.
We look at supporting cast via Walking Like the Dead. It goes for 13 minutes, four seconds and features actors Ella Mae Smith, Charles Craig, Lee Hartman, Herbert Summer, William Mogush, Dave James, Regis Survinski, William Burchinal, Kyra Schon, and S. William Hinzman.
As expected, these folks chat about their experiences on the shoot. It becomes a fun glimpse of life as an extra.
Music becomes the focus in Tones of Terror, an 11-minute, 15-second interview producer Jim Cirronella. He discusses Dead’s use of “library music” and gives us a worthwhile take on the movie’s score.
A video essay from filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, Limitations Into Virtues lasts 11 minutes, 57 seconds. It covers the ways the creators of Dead worked around their budgetary restrictions and various challenges. We get an insightful view of these techniques.
An excerpt from a July 1979 episode of Tomorrow runs 18 minutes, 20 seconds and features a dual interview with George Romero and Phantasm director Don Coscarelli. They discuss aspects of the horror genre circa the late 1970s. While not a great piece, it’s fun to see Romero and Coscarelli together.
From the November 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Higher Learning fills 45 minutes, 30 seconds and shows a public Q&A with George Romero. He discusses aspects of the movie’s release and prolonged popularity, aspects of the production, the zombie genre, and other aspects of his career.
Though not the tightest chat, Romero proves to be lively and engaging. He delivers a nice little overview of different areas in this enjoyable program.
The film’s late lead actor appear in an Interview with Actor Duane Jones. During this 21-minute, 56-second chat from 1987, Jones talks a little about the film, but he doesn’t give us a lot of insights. This interview is interesting for historical reasons but doesn’t tell us much.
Another older piece, we find a 1995 Interview with Actor Judith Ridley. This reel lasts 10 minutes, 42 seconds and offers her memories of the film. She delivers a semi-superficial but enjoyable chat.
After this we find a 1967 Venus Probe Newsreel. It goes for 32 seconds and offers a look at real-life material alluded to in the film. Don’t expect much from it.
The disc ends with two trailers, two TV spots and five radio spots. We also get a fold-out poster with movie-related art on one side and an essay from critic Stuart Klawans on the other.
Despite many amateurish elements, Night of the Living Dead holds up well after 50 years. It succeeds as a horror movie in spite of its problems and remains arguably the best example of its genre. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals as well as perfectly competent audio and a terrific roster of bonus materials. Criterion have created easily the best Dead release to date.
To rate this film visit the original review of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD