Night of the Livng Dead (UK - BD RB)
Marcus Doidge survives the Night of the Living Dead with this new Blu-ray Disc...
’They’re going to get you Barbra’
Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O'Dea) have driven to Pennsylvania to lay flowers on their father’s grave. Whilst at the gravesite they are approached by a strange lumbering man who is unusually grabby. Johnny is fatally injured and Barbra barely escapes (despite being chased by the slowest of pursuers).
Barbra finds her way to what seems to be an abandoned house with the strange man still on her tail. There she meets Ben (Duane Jones), who has had a similar incident involving strange grabby pale folk They soon discover that there are more people hiding out in the house including a little girl who’s suffering from a bite that she’s responding strangely to and her ‘will not compromise’ Dad. With the zombie numbers increasing outside the house and tensions rising inside the house, the group begin boarding themselves in to keep the increasing numbers of strange grabby pale folk from, well, grabbing them.
In 1968, Night of the Living Dead wasn’t the first zombie movie, but it’s pretty much the blueprint for everything 'zombie' that followed. It has the plot points that we all know so well from today’s outings that grace our screens, whether they be cinema, TV or long running game series. It’s got the broad mix of characters, a familiar place that they all gather together in, it’s got the ticking time bomb character who’s obviously going to turn and who’s left just off camera so you don’t think about them too much until they do and it has the oh so sweet moment where you realise a good blow to the head will sort out those groaning flesh eating nasties before they get their mitts on you.
I’ll admit with a huge amount of embarrassment that I’d never seen this original classic until I got this Blu-ray to review. I’m not quite sure how that happened because even though I don’t consider myself a massive horror or zombie movie fan, I’ve still managed to see pretty much all of the essentials (and some others that make me not a big fan of horror or zombie movies) over the years. That said, watching this for the first time I can see why it gained such admiration and historical importance in the movie world and as well as all that, it’s really bloody good.
George A. Romero’s first proper movie is just so beautifully realised despite its budget limitations. Initially, Night of the Living Dead feels very much in homage to the 50s B-Movie era, with its hokey dialogue, over-acting and use of black and white filmmaking, but this soon becomes something far more modern. The genuine feel to the news reports make this small event suddenly become so much bigger, the focus on the different characters’ intentions and how they cause friction in the small group and even more refreshing, was the fact that Ben, a black character in a 60s movie is never treated as a black character in a 60s movie. He’s just a guy—a guy who thinks he knows how to handle this insane situation and is just getting on with it while all around him fall apart. He’s one hell of a character who’s really the first person in the film that you get behind and for Romero choosing never to pull out the race card for a bit of extra drama, despite having enough content in the set up to be able to do it with ease, is just great.
I know it’s a given, but another really awesome thing about Night of the Living Dead was the zombies. It was great to see them so simply handled as opposed to the CGI assisted, fast edited, over prostheticed, or ‘cool’ zombies that they have evolved into over the years. Here, you get classic slow-walking, vacant folks, but it’s not too over the top with the arms out front and the groaning or covered head to toe in blood or what have you. There’s a real sense that there’s something functioning in there. The mere fact the first zombie we see has issues getting into a car and quickly reverts to the use of a rock sounds very twee written down, but within the movie, it adds that subtle amount of realism to the unfolding events and in many ways is more believable and memorable than a lot of the new movie attempts, where they’re always try to outdo what went before.
Night of the Living Dead is truly a classic movie that deserves all of its praise. It has everything you’d expect from a zombie movie and is handled with a great deal of subtlety, which probably has more to do with its budget than actually artistic choice but because of that, it keeps you involved. It’s well thought out, almost perfectly paced and has an ending that is just plain brilliant.
The Blu-ray is presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio and despite the age of the movie, looks pretty damn sweet in HD. There are no noticeable artefacts, specs, or dirt, and the details are generally clear especially on faces. Look out for the beads of sweat on Ben’s face in some scenes—they really show off the HD transfer. Saying that, some of the wide shots suffer quite a bit, the film's age really begins to show as the image gets a little hazy and the detail in the backgrounds drop considerably and unfortunately this is all the more noticeable when these shots are spliced between the close ups that are a hell of a lot better.
In DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono and Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, the sound mix here is good for the most part. The dialogue is clear and crisp unless there are more than two people in a room and it starts to get a little muffled, especially if those people start shouting. The soundtrack is solid enough for a mono mix, but has that 60s movie ringing in the louder more intense scenes. When these get into the higher pitches, they can really attack your senses but all in all this comes with a lot of movies of this era and I’d imagine that it wouldn’t feel the same without it.
As readers of the site may know from recent new item, Night of the Living Dead should come with the documentary 'One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead', with a ninety minute run time. The check disc we received mistakenly only had a twenty-five minute version, which Optimum assures us will be fixed for the retail release on the 29th of September. After watching the twenty minute version it has to be said, I’m pretty glad I didn’t have to watch more, mainly because it’s like one of those documentaries that pop up on TV for a classic movie celebration where they gather the original cast together forty years later and get them to tell their tales in a really friendly and bizarre fashion. I’m sure fans will eat this up in a weird sort of way but for me only having just seen the movie for the first time and it not having a place close to my heart, this all got just a little too grating.
Well it may have taken me far too long to actually see Night of the Living Dead, but after checking out this Blu-ray release I’m glad to say that I finally have.
It’s a great movie that deserves its praise, with video and audio that hits more than it misses, despite missing quite consistently. The one extra feature it has, is sickly sweet but informative and will probably find more love from the movies fans than it did from me but overall for a movie that was made in 1968 on a small budget, Night of the Living Dead is an acceptable Blu-ray presentation, despite the fact it probably deserved a bigger batch of features to fit its classic status.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 29th September 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono, English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Extras: One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead'
Easter Egg: No
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Judith O'Dea, Duane Jones, Karl Hardman
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 95 minutes
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