Night of the Living Dead

For those folks who were disappointed to arrive at the El Rey for a recent midnight showing of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, only to find that it was in fact the 1990 remake and not the original, as promotional images had promised, Elite Entertainment offers up a nice consolation prize with its recently released Millennium Edition DVD of the enduring horror classic.

A bleak, black-and-white gut-cruncher about a wave of newly risen ghouls terrorizing refugees trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse, Night of the Living Dead utilized its low-budget restraints to effect, creating a cinéma vérité nightmare that still holds the power to disturb, its high-contrast handheld camerawork evoking the newsreels from then-contemporary conflict in Vietnam (some film theorists maintain that the film was a deliberate allegory). It earned its rank in the cinema pantheon by changing not only the face of horror, but also the rules (and, along with Easy Rider, it could also be seen as a harbinger of things to come in the mainstream of Hollywood film, as directors were freed to end films on a bleaker tone and experiment with unconventional characterizations).

Long mistakenly thought to be a public-domain title, it has been copied in dozens of different ways on VHS and even DVD, but this Elite disc is without a doubt the definitive version (not to be confused with an earlier Elite release of the title, featuring a crudely drawn image of the little ghoul next door on the cover). Not only has the picture been cleaned up in a stunningly crisp transfer, but the audio has also been given the THX treatment with a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix (although the original mono soundtrack can also be accessed) for a nice clean stereo sound.

Other extras include commentaries from cast and crew, the original shooting script (with a nice essay regarding the evolution of the original concept to what was finally realized on screen), and too many other extras to list, including an interview with the late Duane Jones, whose iconoclastic performance as the beleaguered anti-hero Ben helped change the unwritten rules of Hollywood. A must-have for any serious film collector, horror buff or not.