Case Number 05398: Small Claims Court


Fox // 1968 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // October 15th, 2004

The Charge

They keep coming back in the bloodthirsty lust for HUMAN FLESH...or is it all just some GOOFY MARKETING GIMMICK?

The Case

Barbara and Johnny travel to a distant cemetery to lay a wreath on their father's grave. While on their way, they notice that the radio has stopped broadcasting. During their visit to the site, Johnny is accosted by a strange man and is mortally wounded. Barbara runs for her life and, after wrecking the car, seeks shelter in an abandoned farmhouse. There she finds a rotting corpse in the upstairs hall. Before she can gather her thoughts, a black man named Ben barges through the door and starts sealing up the house. He has also had some "run-ins" with angry individuals, and has witnessed the senseless brutality of a slow walking mob. As he secures the doors and windows, a group of people appears from the basement. They are Helen and Harry Cooper, a married couple with a sick child in the cellar. Local boy Tom and his girlfriend Judy are also part of the pack. They had escaped downstairs after also being attacked. A radio reports the awful truth: the dead have risen, and have started to kill...and eat the living. Mass murder is taking place, with the victims being devoured. Tempers flare and plans are hatched. There is a gas pump on the property. If they could refuel Ben's truck, they could escape. But as more and more zombies encircle the house, these survivors come to a horrible realization: they may not survive this Night of the Living Dead.

It goes without saying that everyone knows Night of the Living Dead, and if they think that they don't, they just haven't realized it yet. George Romero and a group of local Pittsburgh day players more or less invented the zombie genre, laying the foundation for the meat-eating mythos in all of its bullet-in-the-head, shuffling corpse glory. Influencing more films than the works of Fellini, Kubrick, and Cassavetes combined, this black-and-white marvel of minimalism packed a powerful wallop in its decidedly low-budget heyday. A look around the current pop culture landscape in 2004 produces more bows to the living dead dynamic than anyone should have to endure. There are remakes of other Romero classics (Dawn of the Dead and some internet offal called Day of the Dead) just waiting to sully our memories of the originals. The omnipresent videogame industry (creators of such software shockers as Silent Hill and Resident Evil) has taken the foul flesh eater and turned it into Level Three's big bad "boss" (not to mention creating their own motion picture spin-offs). Honestly, it seems that society is fixated on the ornery undead in a very big spending way. Even rock and roll has embraced the creepy cadavers -- surely Rob Zombie isn't celebrating a certain rum-based drink with his horror handle. So it makes sense that any way to rework this classic into a commercially viable vittle will be explored. A few of the filmmakers themselves -- not Romero -- even raped their reputation with a 30th Anniversary edition of the film that inserted about 15 minutes of newly minted, but highly misguided footage. So after all the sequels and shambles, the rights battles and the direct rip-offs, is there any way left to further debase and destroy Night of the Living Dead's legacy?

Sadly, the answer is yes. Colorize it. That's right, break out that hackneyed dreadfulness from the mid-'80s, otherwise known as Ted Turner's Tinting Device (hey, every evil despot has to have a wacky invention) and turn this study in stellar black-and-white photography into a primary-hued helping of horseshit. Now, making Night of the Living Dead into a rainbow expression of ridiculousness is not a new idea. As a matter of fact, back when the movie was a denizen of the public domain, several companies crafted their own crappy versions of this genre landmark, hoping to rake in some quick cash. Adding computer-generated pigments to the proceedings was just a natural extension of the con job mentality. These early editions utilized the losing edge of technology, and the results were more than mediocre. They were moronic and messy, with human beings resembling bright pink albino otters and the zombies looking like lime green undead Jell-O molds. Give some kids a few crayons and the negative to Night and they probably could have come up with something a little more acceptable than the initial badly dyed drudgery offered in the Greed decade. Well, Off Color Films thinks they have this whole PC based picture-painting thing down to a bait and switch science, and are again hawking the colorization of movies as the next big ballyhoo.

Sorry to be the sole sane soul to burst these bozos' bubble of mindless belief, but the company's name belies their skill at retrofitting Night of the Living Dead with any manner of realistic pigments. As an exercise in excruciating inexactitude, this presentation is a farce. With a film like this one, the monochrome is the main reason why we feel any manner of menace. Romero sought a documentary feel to his narrative, using handheld cameras and up-close shots to bring the audience into this world gone awry. Oddly enough, color adds distance and artificiality to the elements, making the film seem less realistic and more fanciful.

Granted, Off Color doesn't help its case by making some fairly unsound artistic choices. The rooms in the farmhouse can be labeled by the terrible tints chosen. We therefore get the "yellow" room or the "blue" room, and when the action shifts between these different decorated domains, the effect is jarring and straining on the eyes. Equally awful is the human/zombie pallor provided. All the corpses are either gray-green or blue-black, meaning they look less like monsters and more like really angry shadows. True, a little redness around the lips and face gives them a claret-loving cravenness, but overall they look abysmal. As for the living individuals, they all come from a can of bright pink salmon skin coloring, each one looking like they fell asleep under a vat of dripping Pepto-Bismol. Though they claim to have restored the movie for its digital re-toning, the black-and-white print is pretty pathetic (it is viewable as a DVD "extra"). Filled with grain, a few bad edits, and an overall softness that illustrates the preparation of the image for painting, this transfer can barely hold a candle to the Elite Entertainment DVD -- known as the "Millennium Edition" -- from a few months back.

Frankly, colorizing can only further corrupt a movie suffering from some of its own internal damage. Night of the Living Dead has not really aged all that well. As the standard-bearer for the entire walking corpse conundrum, the movie is a fascinating, fatalistic work. But it is very talky in its middle act, a lot of the more horrible elements of the story needing exposition to envision them, since the production couldn't afford to create the necessary visuals. Action and bloodshed comes in spurts and many horror fans, more adjusted to a modern ratio of down time to killing spree will consider this scattershot approach too much to tolerate. Also, Night has been basically remade a million times in both direct (John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13) and inspired (Aliens has a lot of the same "us vs. them" vibe) ways, so much so that it's almost an experience in rote entertainment. You don't respond to what's happening onscreen as much as the realization that you know what will occur next. While it is still dark, foreboding and cruelly heartless, Night of the Living Dead has left a lot of its cinematic effectiveness in the past, where people appreciated its attention to authenticity. Today, it almost plays like a parody of itself, overworking all the formulas and clichés it helped create.

As a DVD, there is nothing here to recommend even the faintest interest from fans or the foolish -- except for a full-length audio commentary by Mystery Science Theater 3000 God Mike Nelson. Wavering between an outright "dis" of the film and a fact-filled walk through some of its more interesting trivia, this alternate narrative track is entertaining. But it's minimal, not mandatory, MST3K. You can sense Nelson holding back, realizing that he's treading on hallowed ground when he attacks Romero's classic. He does get in a couple of clever quips, and his ribbing is always gentle, not mean. Still, unless you must own everything even remotely touched by a member of the greatest TV series/cow town puppet show ever produced, you won't be missing much if you give this colorized version of Night of the Living Dead a pass. Both the black and white and color 1.33:1 images are barely acceptable and the new/improved Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is less than stellar. And let's not even mention the horrible, hackneyed "Separated at Death" game where pictures of the zombies are matched against celebrity photos. Ugh!

Nearly 40 years ago, a group of game creative types with a yen to make movies set out for the Pittsburgh countryside and crafted one of the most beloved and influential horror movies of all time. In one way, Off Color Films has joined those visionaries in finding a place in the pantheon of creature features. With the far more effective (if equally misguided) colorization of Carnival of Souls and now Night of the Living Dead, they've manage to destroy two of the founding black-and-white fright flicks of all time. While it may not be the reputation they sought, it will be the badge of dishonor they wear from now on. There is no reason for this disc to exist. Hopefully, we will be able to say the same for Off Color's business plan sometime in the not too distant future.

Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 50

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (colorized)
* Full Frame (B&W)

Audio Formats:
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

* English

Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Original Black and White Version of the Film
* Audio Commentary by Mystery Science Theater 3000's Mike Nelson
* "Separated at Death" Celebrity Zombie Game
* Vintage Horror Trailers

* IMDb

* Download NOTLD from the Prelinger Archives