Judge Mike Rubino knew better than to think the Furby was dead.
"Art is dead…yeah it's all messed up."
Somehow one of the most influential horror movies in history slipped through a needle's eye-sized loophole in U.S. copyright law and landed in the public domain. George Romero can do little to stop the distribution of his debut film, Night of the Living Dead, which has become one of the most downloaded movies of all time. It's only natural, then, that a group of artists from across the world would dissect and devour this film just like the shambling ghouls Romero created.
Facts of the Case
Barbra (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russel Streiner) are visiting their father's grave when they discover a dead man walking (Bill Hinzman). Barbra escapes to a small farmhouse where she meets Ben (Duane Jones) and a handful of other survivors. Together they try to fend off the hoards of undead taking over rural Western Pennsylvania.
In a 30 second clip from this DVD, you might see Judith O'Dea as a clay doll, a series of slide show paintings, and a puppet. Or you might see an abstract gray shape, rotoscoped to original footage of Duane Jones wielding a Molotov cocktail. Or maybe just a bunch of Furbies, skinned and marching in unison. It's that rapid-fire juxtaposition of images, media, and ideas that makes Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated such a unique, and often bizarre, viewing experience.
Artist and curator Mike Schneider assembled about 150 artists and allowed them to take on sections of the film in whatever medium they desired. Through sites like Deviant Art and Craigslist, Schneider collected snippets of "re-animation" and synced them to the original public domain print of the film. The end result is a shape-shifting exquisite corpse of an art project.
Schneider never sticks with one artist or style for very long, and often it's the contrast between these forms that is more important than the film underneath. Reanimated features everything from traditional animation and CGI to puppetry and machinima (or "using video game footage to make movies"). That's what's challenging about the film—it's hard to judge how much attention should be paid to the parts and the whole. The unedited sound from the original NOTLD is intact, making it almost feel like you're listening to a radio show. The footage you're seeing, however, is all over the map in terms of content and artistic ability; it's a grotesque compilation that will certainly bring about some strong opinions.
Admittedly, while I enjoyed the concept and ideas behind the film, I found the overall presentation a little hard to get through—mainly because of the abrupt editing and rapid fire style changes. But for as jumbled and crude as this collection of animation can sometimes be, the film is also a very academic and artistic response not only to zombie culture but to the current New Media zeitgeist. If you don't immediately believe me, just listen to the bevy of commentary tracks accompanying the film.
With over two hours of special features to wade through, you'll want to start with the commentaries. The first track features Schneider along with horror writer Jonathan Maberry dissecting not only the artistic statement behind Reanimated but also the original film. Their conversation about the importance of NOTLD is fascinating and hardly dull. The second commentary track focuses on the making of the film, from a curatorial standpoint as well as on a technical level. Lastly, there's scene-specific commentary from a slew of artists involved in the film, each talking about his or her motives, ideas, and techniques. Schneider has really done a thorough job chronicling his entire creative process, and just about all of it is here for those interested.
On top of that, there's an hour-long panel discussion, alternate and deleted scenes, short films, a featurette on various NOTLD box art, making-of videos, DVD-Rom comics, and an intro by legendary late night horror host Count Gore De Vol. The impressive supplements more than make up for the (artistically) dicey video transfer and muffled mono soundtrack—not that either could really be helped with a film as haggard as this.
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated is an intriguing artistic pitstop in the land of zombie culture. It's epic collaborative scale is impressive, and the sheer amount of documentation accompanying this animated art show gives it plenty of credibility.
The original film is certainly mandatory viewing before seeing Reanimated, especially if you want to get any sort of narrative appreciation out of the thing. For deadheads, though, this is another creative iteration of Night of the Living Dead worth seeing at least once.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wild Eye Releasing
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