Anchor Bay // 1968 // 96 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Sean Fitzgibbons (Retired) // September 7th, 1999
They're coming to get you...again!
Anchor Bay goes all out on their 30th Anniversary release of Night of the Living Dead. Despite an outstanding effort, one question begs to be asked: if it ain't broke, why fix it?
In 1968 George Romero created one of cinema's most horrifying films ever. While Night of the Living Dead might not be too controversial by today's standards, 30 years ago zombies munching on intestines was quite a shocking image. Romero places six people in an isolated farm house and allows the viewer to witness the varied reactions each person has to the bizarre situation they must face; namely a horde of zombies waiting to turn them into a pu pu platter.
For its 30th Anniversary, much of the creative force (minus George Romero) behind the original film returned to "improve" and expand upon Night of the Living Dead. Scott Vladimir Licina provides the film with a brand new soundtrack and also stars in newly added scenes to the film as a preacher. Bill Hinzman revives his role as "Zombie #1" in the new opening to the film that displays the origins of the first corpse to come back to life, and later terrorize the main characters of the film. Throughout the film new zombie scenes are added, quite flawlessly I might add, while longer portions of scenes inside the farm house are cut and re-edited. Finally, the original ending to the film is mixed in with additional scenes featuring the preacher and an epilogue to the film which serves as a precursor to Dawn of the Dead. Once all is said and done, the film contains upwards of 15 minutes of new footage while, in turn, 15 minutes of the original film have been cut in order to keep the movie at its 96 minute length.
Night of the Living Dead purists need not fear the 30th Anniversary version as the Anchor Bay release contains both the original version and the 30th Anniversary version together on a dual layered disc.
For a 30 year old film that most have only seen in a tremendously grainy transfer, Anchor Bay has done a superb job transferring Night of the Living Dead on to DVD. Completely cleaned up, Night of the Living Dead displays its black & white colors perfectly in a full-frame (1.33:1) transfer. There is some occasional grain and artifacting on the video transfer but nothing obvious enough to detract from the film. The remixed 5.0 audio track for the film also sounds terrific on DVD. Occasional surround effects enhance the atmosphere of the film and provide for heightened scares as a mono track could never do before.
Extra content was something Anchor Bay had to prove to me they could do before this disc. After fully exploring Night of the Living Dead, I must say that Anchor Bay has come a very long way. First of all, the production of 15 minutes of new footage is a vast undertaking for a DVD release. Whereas most studios would release only their new edition of Night of the Living Dead, Anchor Bay aims to please by providing both versions on one disc. But there is still more! A 32 page booklet takes you behind the scenes of the production for the 30th Anniversary edition, a behind the scenes featurette, 30th Anniversary edition theatrical trailer, a still gallery, a lively commentary for the 30th Anniversary edition by Bill Hinzman, Russ Streiner, Bob Michelucci & John Russo, super-freaky-techno music video Dance of the Dead, and a short scene from Bill Hinzman's film Flesh Eater. Those purchasing the Limited Edition of Night of the Living Dead will also receive an original soundtrack CD with an hour of music from the 30th Anniversary edition. The Limited Edition will only be available on 15,000 discs, and each box is individually numbered (wow, I got #5604!).
I would like to apologize to all those who feel that I have given this disc a better review than it deserves. I truly do not like this disc one bit, but I would at least like to give Anchor Bay credit for the effort placed forward on this disc. In light of this, most Night of the Living Dead fans will want to stay very far away from this DVD. Inspired, no doubt, by the Star Wars: Special Edition, some of the creative forces behind Night of the Living Dead (not including director, and primary creative force behind the film, George Romero) took it upon themselves to not only add 15 minutes to the film, but to cut 15 minutes out of the original, and present a horrid 30th Anniversary edition of Night of the Living Dead.
First gripe: the new opening. Focusing on the original zombie, played again by Bill Hinzman and painfully obvious of his aging despite his make-up, the entire focus of the film is relocated to the zombies and away from Barbara and Johnny at the start of the film. The acting in the new opening is horrible and clearly in a different style than that of the actors in the original film. Worst of all is Scott Valdimir Licina, also composer of the new score (which I will get to shortly), whose overacting as the preacher makes his character completely peculiar, unlikable, and is the main reason for my dislike in the 30th Anniversary edition.
To accommodate the new opening, many parts of the original film are cut out. This includes most of Barbara's long (but effective) story of her brother's death. The poor editing also creates a ton of confusion if you have not seen the original film before; cutting out key points to the plot of the film and lessening the impact of certain scenes (especially when the young girl in the basement becomes a zombie). And why are these critical scenes edited out of this classic film? To make way for a horrible new opening and an even worse ending.
Completing his butchery of the film, Licina returns at the end of the film as the preacher, once again in a completely ambiguous storyline where he is bitten by a zombie. The ending continues a year after the incident where the preacher is interviewed by a news reporter. In between this mess of an ending, the real ending is inter-cut, turning the whole thing into a huge bungled mess.
Further destroying the film, the original soundtrack is replaced by Licina's new techno-80s score which further makes the film an oddity as the obvious dating between the score and the time at which the original film was shot. What makes things even worse is the fact that Licina's score does not go throughout the entire film. During the scene where the truck is driven out to the gas pump, the soundtrack for the film switches back to the original score and is painfully obvious. When I heard the original score again during this scene it made me desperate to watch the film as it was in its original form, but no sooner do you start to get back into the old feel of the film does Licina's score jump right back into the film.
The most annoying thing about Licina's new score is that it is on both versions of the film contained on this disc. Even the original movie is degraded on the disc as Licina's score is present. Enjoyment of this film is completely destroyed on all levels because even though the original version is present, it really isn't the original version because of the presence of the new score.
We'll all be better off if you go and buy the Elite version of Night of the Living Dead because most fans of the film will not appreciate the butcher job done to the film on this disc.
Everything with this disc is right on target in terms of extra content and quality of transfer. However, someone just had to tamper with a classic and completely ruin this disc for most fans of Night of the Living Dead.
Anchor Bay acquitted for their good intentions; Bill Hinzman, John Russo, Russ Streiner, Bob Michelucci, and Scott Vladimir Licina are all sentenced to death by electric chair for destroying a classic horror film.
The disc ratings to the right are for the 30th Anniversary edition of Night of the Living Dead, not the original film itself.
Review content copyright © 1999 Sean Fitzgibbons; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Audio Commentary
* Behind-the-scenes footage
* Audio Commentary
* 32-page collectors booklet
* 15 Minutes of New Scenes
* Still Gallery