Horrorible Review: “Night of the Living Dead”

Night of the Living Dead movie poster - Criterion Collection cover

Night of the Living Dead

Our wonderful IU Cinema screened yet another classic American horror movie, a meticulously restored 4K version of Night of the Living Dead, from the original camera negatives, shown in its intended 1.33:1 format, with beautifully cleaned up sound. George Romero said, “This is closer than anything we’ve seen to the definitive version of the film.” It premiered last year at the Museum of Modern Art.

I was not the only person in the theater who said, “Whoa!” in the first seconds.

Critic J. Hoberman introduced it and screened a short film, America a.k.a. Amerika, a guerrilla style cinema verite about rioting and anti-establishment sentiment which appeared about the same time as Night of the Living Dead. There was some impatient rustling in the crowd, but then America finally ended, without credits, and up came a clear and deeply hued grayscale of an amazingly sharp image of a car approaching from a beautiful rural landscape, accompanied by many gasps. We enjoyed the heck out of not just the movie – on the big screen! – but the technical wonder of it. There was no fuzz or out of focus or graininess, and the actors didn’t sound like they were talking from the bottom of a barrel. The television on chairs shots worked a thousand times better because there was actual contrast between the sharply focused living room frame and the fuzzy “live” broadcast being “shown” on the screen.  Don’t forget this was high tech special effects then, no digital tweaking.

It was the first time I’d seen this movie without being either alone in the living room or relegated to the small screen in the bedroom. Imagine my surprise to find how often the audience laughed. I expected reactions from the big lines, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” and “They’re dead, they’re all messed up.” But I never thought about how ridiculous some of the tv reporter lines are, or Helen Cooper telling her husband, “We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn’t going to solve anything.” And it never occurred to me that a little girl stabbing her mom to death with a trowel is snicker worthy.  That last made me wonder, were they laughing at the not so great acting in that scene, or have we become too jaded for that simpler scare?

There were other revelations, like a lot of detail I’d never noticed. You could almost make out what the pin on Chilly Billy’s suit says, where before I never noticed it. Somehow I missed after all these viewings that Ben stole the truck he showed up in. He starts his backstory soliloquy with he just “found” the truck and jumped in to listen to the radio, but then says he had to slam on the breaks to miss the gas truck. This disturbs me, that the black character is a car thief.

 The trailer [see below] for the new version doesn’t do it justice. Or maybe it’s just not BIG enough. Did I mention I saw it in a theater? Criterion is supposed to release this on Blu-ray February 13th, and I will get it. There are some awesome features included. Be aware that another company has released what they’re calling the 4K version, but it’s not so don’t be fooled.

If you get the chance to see this somewhere please make the effort because it’s a beautiful restoration of a film that is both a load of fun and historically significant. Make sure to wait for the easter egg at the end of the very short credits, a simple title that says “copyright 2016 Image Ten”.  It almost made me misty.

LINKS:

NOTE: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD will be released by Criterion on February 13, 2018.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Re-Release Trailer (1968) George A. Romero Zombie Horror Movie HD

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