I have to admit, I have an admiration and appreciation for the George A. Romero film classic Night of the Living Dead. I actually shared my story about it in 2007, and am honored to say that a popular fan page has listed and run that story on the front page of their web site for sometime now. In a word, movies often are a reflection of the time they were shown, but they are also known for the lasting memories they provide. Let me be clear from the start: likely no movie has ever had a more lasting impact on me, and my past, in both a pleasant, and scary-as-hell way, as has Night of the Living Dead. Some of the most wonderful and scary memories of a horrible youth are centered in part around this movie. There is no doubt, not even close, I have seen no other movie more times in my life than Night of the Living Dead.
The story goes that George A. Romero and some of his friends in the Pittsburgh area had been working on various television commercials with a company they had. They decided to make a movie, and thus a significant contribution to the world of Independent Film was made with Night of the Living Dead, still considered by many as one of the scariest movies of all time.
The story of Night of the Living Dead starts with a brother and sister going on their annual excursion to visit the graves of their parents. From the opening haunting scenes of the movie, the soundtrack starts to scare the viewer; it isn’t long into the movie that we start on a horror fest that has the dead coming to life and desiring to eat the flesh of the living. Much has been said on the contributions of this film, the scary nature of it, much of it folklore, some true, and other things not. From the very opening moments of the film, until the shocking conclusion, we are taken on a ride where Romero states, “It was a movie we made with the intent to scare people. I haven’t really tried to scare anyone in a movie since Night of the Living Dead.” If that was his intent, he succeeded with flying colors.
One of the issues related to the movie is centered on the fact that there is no copyright that goes with the film as a result of the master being destroyed in a flood a number of years ago. As a result, the residuals have been long gone, and the cheap replications have made for a horrible moviegoing experience. Thankfully we finally have a wonderful reprint of the movie and a quality set of special features on the DVD that makes this a worthwhile purchase. I currently have 4 various copies of this movie; this is without a doubt, the best visual and audio copy of the bunch. Not only is there the quality blac- and-white version of the movie, the special features are among the best ever included with the film; in fact, I believe the special features alone make the movie a worthwhile purchase.
Included in the special features are ample interviews with Romero and many of the cast. Historical aspects of the film are discussed and there is a wonderful tribute in various features to the lead actor of the film, Duane Jones, who plays the part of Ben. Many have spoken of the historical nature of the film, but Romero and others are quick to point out that Duane Jones was one of the primary reasons for the film’s success. Jones, in another special feature, in his last speech and discussion about the film prior to his death, also quickly points out that the editing of the film is among the best ever. Virtually none of the actors in the film ever thought this movie would amount to anything, but the exocentric nature of Romero, along with editing process, provided a movie that still holds up in this era of special effects and CGI. While many would have had their zombie characters eating CGI or specially-made intestines, Romero had his cast eating real intestines from a butchers shop. It looks gross and disgusting because it is.
Several aspects about Night of the Living Dead still stand out. First is the originality of the film. The Zombie genre was established as a result of this movie. There is no doubt of the significant contribution to film because of Romero and those involved. There are other contributions that many may not be aware of. Few know for example that Jones was the first Black actor ever cast in the lead of a horror film and he was also the first black actor to garner the lead in a role that was not specifically written for an African American. Jones, who later on went on to become a college professor, never saw another George Romero film, and neither did he watch Night of the Living Dead again after his first viewing. It was clear that Jones also realized the significance of his role, especially during the era it was written. It is remarkable to see George Romero state that he wishes he would have listened to Duane Jones in this area. If the social commentary and background that Jones had wanted in the film had been included, Night of the Living Dead would not only be quite possibly the greatest horror movie made, it would have been one of the most significant films ever made. Despite that, though, many like myself would state it is already among the greats, but to know it could have been even greater is a tremendous thing to think about.
In an age where we have remake after remake, we have sequel upon sequel, it is nice to go back to the original. Night of the Living Dead is a film that many people look back at and compare to many a contemporary horror film. They do so because they realize the significance of this movie. Romero has continued to show his brilliance in the Zombie genre, but it all started with Night of the Living Dead. In the past, we the fans unfortunately didn’t have a quality visual version to watch. Now stations are rerunning marathons with the new print, and we have a quality product that will open the eyes of many a new viewer. I can’t help but be pleased. I am so looking forward to my midnight showings, my late night gatherings, and other times when I fall back to the original scare fest.
I normally don’t do the review thing on DVDs like this one, but with the nice gift and contribution of this 40th Anniversary Edition, in memory of the late Duane Jones, and the memories and joy this movie has brought me over the years, on a scale of 1 – 10, a wonderful, well deserved 10.
Please note, read the reviews when purchasing this video online. There is a bootleg, very poor edition of this film being sold on Amazon. Don’t support that type of garbage; get the restored version endorsed by George Romero as it appears in this article.