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Night Of The Living Dead

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    Ian Jane
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  • Night Of The Living Dead

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    Released by: Network DVD
    Released in: 2009
    Director: George Romero
    Cast: Judith O'Dea, Duane Jones, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Kyran Schon
    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 small 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 but 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 in the house with him. He starts to board up the windows and the doors to keep the zombies at bay while Barbara zones out on the touch. 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 and 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 but 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 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.

    NOTE: There is a little bit of dialogue missing from this cut of the movie. No explanation has been given yet as to why and it could be as simple as some missing frames from the print used for the transfer. The missing bits won't ruin the film for you, but those who have the movie committed to memory will absolutely notice it, and it is unfortunately a strike against this release.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Network's Blu-ray release presents the film in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. The good? Unlike the Optimum Blu-ray (which was Region B locked) the framing on this release is correct. The bad? There hasn't been much done here in the way of restoration. While some will relish the scratches, blemishes and flaws and possibly get a nostalgic kick out of it, videophiles will have a field day picking the video quality apart. There's some mild edge enhancement present and a few scenes look to have had some DNR applied resulting in some facial detail having been washed away. Is it better than the DVD releases? Well it's not as clean looking as the Elite or Weinstein editions that have hit North American shores, but it does offer up a fair bit more detail than those releases do even if it is pretty inconsistent in how it does so. Some scenes look very sharp and quite good, others are soft and even a tad smeary. The transfer is certainly watchable enough but those hoping that this would be the best transfer for the film so far will have to keep holding their breath a little longer in hopes that an improved edition will come along.

    The PCM 2.0 Mono track on this Blu-ray release fairs about as well as the video transfer in that it doesn't appear to have undergone much restoration at all. Dialogue is easy enough to follow and understand but it's hard not to notice some minor distortion and some occasional hiss on the track. Levels are fine and the track is serviceable enough but no more than that and when people start to yell the high end of the mix sounds a bit too in the red. This is nothing to write home about...

    Extras? Not much here aside from a menu screen, chapter selection, and the film's theatrical trailer.

    The Final Word:

    While the movie remains a classic and it's nice to see the framing issue corrected, the audio and video quality leave a fair bit of room for improvement and the lack of any substantial extras is disappointing.
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