• George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn



    George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn
    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: November 14th, 2017.
    Director: George A. Romero
    Cast: Raymond Laine, Judith Ridley, Jan White, Ann Muffy, Lane Carroll, Lynne Lowry
    Year: 2008
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    The Movie:

    Arrow Video brings together the three films that the late, great George A. Romero made in between his two seminal classics, Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead. While these have been released on DVD before (and in the case of The Crazies, Blu-ray as well), Arrow has put together an impressive – and pretty comprehensive – package for the three films.

    THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA:

    Chris Bradley (Raymond Laine) is a man in his early twenties who, after some time away, decides to head back home to his childhood stomping ground of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He's finished his military duty, and he's tired of working part time here and there and scraping by so he's going to go head home to try and do his own thing.

    At first his dad is pretty insistent that he move in with him so that he can groom Chris to take over the family baby food business, but Chris isn't too interested in this prospect, opting instead to move in with an older woman he's just met named Lynn (Judith Steiner of Night Of The Living Dead). She works as a television commercial model and she's more than capable of taking care of him financially, and to a different extent, emotionally as well.

    Things are going alright at first for the two, until Lynn finds out that she's pregnant with Chris' child. At this point, she comes to the realization that he's a bit of a bum and that she doesn't think he'll make a particularly good father. Things soon turn from bad to worse, as the couple starts to fight and Chris starts to get downright rude with the woman who is feeding him and putting a roof over his head, not to mention carrying his child.

    The original director of this project, Rudolph Ricci, left half way through the shoot and that's where Romero picked up the reins. The result is a bit of a mess, but the movie is not without its moments and the movie stands as a unique testament to Romero's skills behind the camera even when working outside of the horror movie industry – a genre that he is almost entirely associated with. The highlight of the film is Judith Steiner's performance. She's as good an actress as she is pretty to look at and she's perfectly cast in this part, playing against Laine's character who, let's face it, is a bit of a bastard. It makes for an interesting soap opera of a film that kind of plods around and never really finds itself. Bill Hinzman shows up in this one again, as does John Russo of all people. Not a highlight of Romero's career but more an interesting curiosity.

    SEAOSON OF THE WITCH:

    Joan Mitchell (Janina White) is a miserable woman approaching middle age faster than she'd like to be and stuck in a dull marriage. She lives out in the suburbs, tending to the home where she lives with her boring and at times very abusive husband, Jack (Bill Thunhurst), and their sad-sack teenage daughter, Nikki (Joella McClain) who is more interested in getting laid and getting out of the house as soon as possible. She wants a change in her life, something to make it more interesting and more exciting than the lackluster existence she's been toiling through day in, day out, for the last two decades.

    At first, Joan has an affair with a younger man, an acquaintance of her daughter, but this doesn't give her what she needs and proves to be really nothing more than just a passing diversion. Joan finds exactly what she's looking for when one day she decides to pay a visit to Marion Hamilton (Virginia Greenwald), a woman in town who makes her living as a tarot reader. What Joan doesn't know, but soon finds out, is that Marion is also the leader of a covert witches’ coven who practice the black arts unbeknownst to the rest of the people in the city. When Joan learns of this, she brushes up on witchcraft a bit and becomes quite taken with it. It only makes sense for her to follow up on her interests and join up with Marion and her fellow mistresses of the dark arts and soon she's practicing witchcraft herself.

    Her involvement in witchcraft soon proves to be a very unhealthy diversion for Joan. The more she gets into it, the more she retreats into it and soon it's almost as if she's living in her own world. Her family starts to notice but she just pulls more and more into her strange shell things start to get really bad for her and hers…

    Shot as Jack's Wife and then released theatrically as Hungry Wives, Romero's Season Of The Witch is an interesting movie, if a very flawed on. The first thing that becomes obvious is that this one was made fast and cheap. The production values are noticeably poor and the performances, aside from White in the lead and a few of the supporting cast members (look for Bill Hinzman in a small role) are nothing to write home about. The pacing also drags in a few spots and despite an interesting opening scene in which Joan sees herself in the mirror as a wretched looking old woman, it takes a while to get going. Once the movie picks up though, Season Of The Witch is an interesting movie. Romero, as usual, packs some politics into the film that give it an interesting metaphorical characteristic. Anyone expecting a movie on par with any of his Dead films will be sorely disappointed as this one is slower and more methodical in its approach, but if what you're after is a creepy and atmospheric film without a lot of flash, this one should fit the bill nicely.

    Note that Arrow has included both the 90 minute long theatrical cut of the movie (under the Hungry Wives title card) as well as the 104 minute long extended version of the movie (using the Jack’s Wife title card). This was created by splicing inserts from a tape master into the restored 90 minute version. Romero’s original cut of the film was rumored to run 130 minutes but that version remains lost.

    THE CRAZIES:

    Set in Evans City, a small borough in Pennsylvania, the film begins when a government created virus codenamed Trixie is let loose in the area when the plane that's carrying it accidently crashes. As it slowly spreads around the area, the infected members of the town start acting in increasingly bizarre and nasty ways. Family members murder each other and burn their homes as the men in charge of the city bicker back and forth about what to do about the problem.

    Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar) has been sent into the area to figure out what to do, and after the military declares martial law and cordons off the town, they round up everyone in town, take their weapons from them and look them inside the high school. A nurse named Judy (Lane Caroll) and her veteran boyfriend and David (W.G. McMillan) manage to outwit the army and avoid capture and are soon spearheading a movement of likeminded locals bent on stopping the military from taking control of the town. While all of this is going on, Doctor Watts (Richard France) works desperately to find a cure as an airplane circles overheard ready to drop the bomb on Evans City as soon as the order is given. No pressure or anything there, Watts.

    A very quickly paced and frighteningly plausible situation makes The Crazies a remarkably tense film. It starts off reasonably enough and manages to hold your attention throughout, right up until the end. In typical Romero fashion, it was shot on a fairly low budget but every penny of that budget is up there on the screen resulting in a completely believable looking film whose visuals match the dire tone of its script quite perfectly.

    The performances aren't always going to amaze you but the cast of relative unknowns (look for Lynn Lowry in a supporting role) generally do a good job with the material. The fact that the film isn't full of instantly recognizable faces also goes a long way towards helping its gritty small town ambience work as effectively as it does. Throughout it all there's this sense of despair, of impending doom that makes all of this mistrust of the government and their totalitarian tactics entirely justified. The social commentary that made many of Romero's earlier pictures as interesting as they are is here in spades and the film remains quite a powerful and at times even shocking experience. Scarier than any of the zombie films he's best known for simply because it's more plausible, The Crazies stands as a highpoint in Romero's career and it's truly a film that holds up incredibly well.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    All three films in the set are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. There’s Always Vanilla gets a ‘new 2k scan from available film elements’ framed at 1.33.1 fullframe on a 50GB disc with the feature taking up just over 27GBs of space. This is the weakest looking of the three pictures in the set but this Blu-ray does provide ample improvement when compared with the old DVD release. Detail is a lot better, the film’s heavy grain is managed well and colors look good, if sometimes less than perfect.

    Season Of The Witch receives a brand new 4K restoration of the original theatrical version from the camera negative taking up just under 27GBs of space on the 50GB disc. The longer extended cut is taken from a different source and more compressed, using up roughly 13GBs of space. The 1.33.1 fullframe transfer for the theatrical cut looks really good. It’s a grainy movie but that’s not a bad thing, any print damage that shows up is in the form of small white specks rather than nasty scratches or gouges. Detail is good, there’s nice depth here too. Some of the darker scenes are a bit murky but the movie looked that way on DVD too, so it’s likely an issue with how it was shot rather than the transfer itself.

    The Crazies also gets a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative. The transfer on this disc takes up just under 31GBs of space on the 50GB disc and is framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. Maybe not surprisingly, it’s the best looking of the three films in this set. Maybe not surprisingly, it’s the best looking of the three films in this set. The colors really pop here, it’s quite impressive in spots, while skin tones look nice and natural. This isn’t as grainy as the first two pictures but it does maintain a nicely filmic appearance, it’s never waxy looking or too digital in appearance. Detail is generally really strong as well.

    Audio chores for all three films are handled by English language 24-bit LPCM Mono tracks. No fancy remixes here, just true to source single channel tracks that sound clean, clear and problem free. The Crazies, again, has a bit more to offer than the two earlier films, it’s just got a more interesting and more active mix, but all three tracks provide dialogue that is easy to follow, properly balanced levels and are free of any noticeable hiss or distortion. Optional English subtitles are provided for all three films.

    Extras for this release are spread across the three Blu-ray discs in this set as follows:

    THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA:

    Extras for There’s Always Vanilla start off with a brand new audio commentary by Travis Crawford. This screen specific talk covers everything from the opening credits to the production history of the picture and more. He notes how this was an unusual follow up to the successful Night Of The Living Dead, its lack of commercial success, how it was hard to see for a long time. He also talks about how a lot of Romero’s previous collaborators were involved in the picture, the locations used for the shoot, notes on the performances, and more. He also talks up the histories and biographies of a lot of the cast members involved in the production, how and why the film ties into the advertising world, the potential influence of filmmakers like Cassevetes, how this picture falls way outside the exploitation picture norms, themes that show up in this picture that show up in other of Romero’s films such as an unwanted pregnancy, and Romero’s relationship with Ricci, which wasn’t great around the time the film was made but which would be patched up in the years that followed.

    From there, check out Affair of the Heart: The Making of There’s Always Vanilla, a brand new half hour long documentary featuring interviews with producers John Russo and Russell Streiner, stars Judith Streiner and Richard Ricci, and sound recordist Gary Streiner. There’s talk here about the locations that were used in the picture, how those involved feel that the marketing behind the film let Romero and company down, and how the marketing company seemed to have taken on the rights to the picture as a write off. They also discuss how the picture is a time capsule of sorts, where the film fits in alongside Romero’s other pictures, budgetary restraints that had an effect on the film, the enigma that was writer Rudy Ricci, the strain on the cast and crew that stemmed from various production issues and quite a bit more.

    The disc also includes an on camera interview with George Romero entitled Digging Up The Dead – The Lost Films of George A. Romero. This one clocks in at just over fifteen minutes in length and is a nice sit down chat with George who delves into the strange production history of the film and explains how he pretty much hates the film nowadays. Despite his disdain for the movie, he does cover the making of it and he does a pretty good job of explaining just why he is so unhappy with the final product as it is now.

    Arrow has also included a location gallery with audio commentary by Romero historian Lawrence DeVincentz that runs eleven and a half minutes. There’s a lot of ‘then and now’ comparisons done here as DeVincentz offers up some quick trivia about the locations used for the film. Outside of that there’s a still gallery of memorabilia, the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    SEASON OF THE WITCH:

    Again, the disc includes a new audio commentary by Travis Crawford. Here he speaks about the film’s connections to the Pittsburgh theater scene of the time, the different marketing tactics that were used for the film (hence the sexier Hungry Wives title), the two different cuts of the film and why they exist, how and why Romero shot picture on 16mm, some of the themes that appear in the movie, how this was in many ways a ‘different kind of horror film’ and what it might or might not have in common with some of Sarno’s output. Crawford makes the case that this is not a sexploitation picture and that it basically defies genre categorization, how it compares to other projects that Romero did outside the horror genre, budgetary issues that plagued Romero throughout his career, and of course, he offers up plenty of detail about the cast and crew that Romero worked with on this film.

    Also included on this disc is a fifty-six minute featurette shot when Romero met filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro when Chris Alexander brought him to his Toronto apartment to discuss his career with him. This was shot in 2016 and it starts off with Del Toro asking Romero about the influence of I Am Legend on Night Of The Living Dead, and from there they go on to talk about the importance of that film in the genre, the effect that Romero’s films had on Del Toro as a kid, and quite a bit more – it just goes from there. It’s a fun talk, quite interesting. Del Toro is clearly a big fan of Romero’s picture and Romero himself is in fine form here, clearly quite comfortable and happy to talk to a fellow filmmaker about his work.

    We also get an interview with Janina White, the woman who played Joan Mitchell in the film, entitled Season Of The Witch – The Secret Life Of Jack's Wife. This is an interesting and candid interview in which White explains how she landed the role and discusses her experiences on the set. She also discusses the issues she had doing nudity in the film and how she fought the producers to not release the film under the title of The Hungry Wives.

    Rounding out the extras on this disc are three alternate opening title sequences (using the Season Of The Witch title, the Hungry Wives title and the Jack’s Wife title respectively), a ninety second location still gallery once again narrated by DeVincentz, a memorabilia gallery, an original theatrical trailer (under the Season Of The Witch title), menus and chapter selection.

    THE CRAZIES:

    Once again, this disc contains a new audio commentary by Travis Crawford, joined this time by Bill Ackerman. Again, it’s fairly scene specific with Crawford noting how Bill Hinzman’s children were used in the opening scene and how this is the first time Romero worked with a cinematographer as opposed to shooting things himself. They talk about Romero’s return to shooting on 35mm with this film, how this was Romero’s first SAG film, the involvement of producer Lee Hessel, details of the different cast members that are used throughout the movie, how the film compares to Cronenberg’s Rabid, the locations that were used and some of the recurring themes that pop up in the film and throughout Romero’s filmography.

    As to the featurettes, Romero Was Here: Locating The Crazies once again sees Lawrence DeVincentz taking us on a tour of the locations used for the film, this time in Evans City. In this twelve minute piece we get a look at the Pennsylvania countryside where much of the movie was shot as well as the barns and silos featured in the picture, the post office, various small town streets and buildings and more. As all of this plays out DeVincentz puts it into context and offers up his thoughts on aspects of the picture.

    Crazy for Lynn Lowry is a sixteen minute long interview with the actress who talks about her early career including her role in The Crazies. She starts off by talking about her early days in New York with no money and a two year old son to care for alone before her husband came out to join her. She took a job as a bartender which she got fired from, her distinct looking nose (!), some early modelling work that she did, how she met Lloyd Kaufman and wound up working in The Battle Of Love’s Return and Sugar Cookies for him. She also talks about getting the part in I Drink Your Blood and then landing the part she got in The Crazies. She then talks about working with Romero on the picture and her thoughts on the film and the experiences she had making it. Lowry also appears in a Q&A session filmed at the 2016 Abertoir Film Festival. This runs thirty-six minutes and sees Lowry on stage basically running through her career in horror. It covers some of the same ground as the interview but also manages to cover some new ground as well (there’s a great story here about how she accidently stabbed someone on set!). As such, both pieces have quite a bit of value for Lowry fans.

    From there we get an audio interview with producer Lee Hessel that was conducted in 2014 by his son Brad that runs just under five minutes. He starts off by talking about how he lost money on The Crazies, how the named changed and they had to change the entire advertising campaign, the themes that the movie explores in its story, some of the cast members that appear in the film and more. After that, Arrow provides some behind-the-scenes footage with optional commentary by Lawrence DeVincentz. There’s six and a half minutes of material here taken from some Super 8mm footage that came from the collection of Sam Nicotero. It’s in pretty rough shape but it’s very cool to see it, as we get a chance to see Romero directing the opening scene.
    Closing out the supplemental package on this third disc are some alternate opening titles, a few still galleries, a selection of theatrical trailers and TV spots, menus and chapter selection.

    In terms of the packaging for this release, final retail product is to include a booklet and some fancy packaging but as only test discs were sent for review we can’t comment on that. Should finished product arrive, we’ll gladly update this piece then!

    The Final Word:

    Arrow’s Blu-ray release of George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn is, in a word, excellent. It offers substantial improvements in the video department compared to what we’ve seen in the past, the audio is fine and the extras are plentiful and interesting. Romero fans should consider this release essential.

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