• Night Of The Living Dead – 50th Anniversary

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: September 20th, 2017.
    Director: George A. Romero
    Cast: Joe Judith O'Dea, Duane Jones, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Riley, Kyro Schon, Bill Hinzman
    Year: 1968
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    The Movie:

    A quote from Elliott Stein of The Village Voice states that Night Of The Living Dead is “the most influential horror film since Psycho”, which is probably true. Fans and critics alike will be hard pressed to think of another film that has had a bigger impact on modern horror films. In fact, Night Of The Living Dead has really gone on to be more than just a film, it's literally become an important part of American pop culture as a whole and its influence can be seen not only in films but also in novels, comic books, video games, television shows and even music. Not bad for a movie made forty years ago by a small commercial film company made on a tiny budget in rural Pennsylvania!

    For the one or two people out there who haven't seen the movie, it begins when a woman named Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) head to the local cemetery to pay their respects to their dear, departed grandfather. When they arrive, a sickly looking man (Bill Hinzman) attacks Barbara. When Johnny tries to help, he falls and hits his head on a tombstone. Barbara runs to the car and escapes but in a panic crashes it into a tree. She runs to a farmhouse to hide and soon realizes that the ghoul at the cemetery was only one of the countless re-animated corpses that have, for reasons unknown, risen from the grave to feast on the flesh of the living!

    Barbara tries to leave the house but is stopped by a man named Ben (Duane Jones) who convinces her to stay there with him. He starts to board up the windows and the doors to keep the zombies at bay while Barbara zones out on the couch, as if in a state of shock. Neither realize that a couple named Harry (Karl Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman) have been hiding in the basement with their daughter, Karen (Kyran Schon), and two teenagers named Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Riley). The radio alerts the group that all across the eastern seaboard zombies are attacking the living. The group reluctantly works together to survive in hopes that the military will soon show up and save them.

    Aside from kick-starting the whole (modern) zombie film sub-genre, Night Of The Living Dead also represented a remarkably bleak take on the horror film. Sure there had been darker horror pictures before this one but none as nihilistic or grisly. Throw in some very clever political sub-text (a staple of Romero's work) and one of the freakiest scenes of matricide ever committed to celluloid and you're left a film both fascinating and frightening. Keeping in mind that in the America of 1968 civil rights weren't even close to where they should have been, it's also remarkable how Romero and company made the strongest and smartest of their cast a black man - something that was quite rare in films of that era.

    Carefully shot and incredibly claustrophobic at times, Night Of The Living Dead made the most of its small budget by using stock library music, shooting in black and white and having various crew members double as cast members. In many ways the film is simple, almost primitive, but on the other hand it's quite relentless, incredibly rich with atmosphere, and very, very effective. The picture is very well shot, tightly paced, and finely acted. As such, the movie still holds the power to scare audiences and it remains one of the finest examples of the American horror film ever made.


    Mill Creek Entertainment presents Night Of The Living Dead on Blu-ray on 1.33.1 fullframe on a 25GB disc that uses and AVC encoded transfer in 1080p high definition that looks like it was taken from a print that was in reasonably good shape. There is some print damage here – you can see some vertical scratches on screen cap #5 over Judith O’Dea’s left shoulder and some wear on #24 over the arm of the cop on the left side of the screen – but by and large this reasonably clean. Blacks do tend to crush, however. While there are a few spots where contrast does tend to bloom and look a bit hot, this is not a constant problem. As to detail levels, while they’re not reference quality they definitely surpass standard definition in certain scenes (typically the lighter ones, again, blacks crush out detail frequently). Given that this disc is ‘movie only’ and there are no extras, the image is free of compression artifacts. Also absent are noise reduction and edge enhancement related issues. But again, it’s soft. This presentation looks like a well-used print rather than any sort of full on restoration from original elements because that’s exactly what it is.

    Just because we like to be anal retentive about these things, here are some quick comparison shots showing the differences between the Japanese Blu-ray release from Happinet (taken from the restoration done for the Miramax/Weinstein DVD release) on the bottom and this new Mill Creek disc up top.

    A few more notes:

    The Mill Creek disc runs 1:35:34 and 24.5GBs of the 25GB disc it is presented on.
    The Happinet disc runs 1:36:26 and takes up 31.2GBs of the 50GB disc it is presented on.

    Most of the difference in the running time happens after the end credits. The Mill Creek release ends with the shot of the pyre and then fades to black and stops. The Happinet edition places a ‘THE END’ title card (not present on the Mill Creek disc) at 1:35:43 after the shot of the pyre. And after that the sound fades out and the screen goes black until the feature stops at 1:36:26. If the Mill Creek disc is cut (and I didn’t notice any cuts while watching it) then it’s by a matter of nine seconds, not almost a minute as a quick look at the running times would indicate. As to the difference in the transfers, the screen caps above speak for themselves but clearly the restored Happinet release avoids the crush and shows off considerably better detail, depth and texture as well as a more varied grey scale without the occasional contrast blooms on the Mill Creek disc. The framing is noticeably tighter on the Happinet, however. Thanks to Horace Cordier for the loan of the Happinet disc that made this comparison possible.

    The only audio option on the disc is a 16-Bit LPCM Mono track in English (which is the same format used on the Happinet release). The audio is a little thin at times but it’s perfectly audible, if not all that remarkable. The single channel mix offers fairly clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. If any hiss creeps in now and then, it’s minor.

    There are no extras on the disc aside from menus and chapter selection. There is, however, a download code included inside the keepcase that will allow you to retrieve a digital copy of the film. Given the amount of extras that have been made for this release over the years and included on DVD releases from Elite and then later The Weinstein Company (the extras from the WC release are carried over to the Japanese Blu-ray), this is a disappointment.

    The Final Word:

    Night Of The Living Dead remains one of the finest horror pictures ever made, a legitimate classic that transcends genre and deserves every ounce of the recognition it has received over the years. This release from Mill Creek Entertainment isn’t the special edition that the movie deserves. There’s a certain nostalgia in viewing the film on Blu-ray taken from an unrestored theatrical print – those who appreciate that will enjoy this disc. Those who want perfect audio and video and loads of extras should look towards the region free Happinet release or wait for the rumored Criterion release.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      In the comparisons, you say Happinet on top, Mill Creek bottom but it seems the caps are in the reverse order.

      Mill Creek is crap, no surprise there.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Fixed it.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Wow, great comparison piece! The caps don't always tell the whole story, as we know, but yeah, the Happinet bests the Mill Creek disc it would seem. I guess we'll have to see how the Criterion disc stacks up.
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      *loan of the disc
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      No, when you're talking about Horamce, it's always, "lone"