S. William Hinzman
Bill 'Chilly Billy' Cardille
Samuel R. Solito
Trivia Too much trivia to mention here - visit imdb.com for the full page of trivia.
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Night of the Living Dead (Special Edition) (1968)
21st Oct 05
As the dead return to life hungry for human flesh, a small group of survivors take shelter at a nearby farm house.
You’ll have heard of this one, no doubt. And you may already own it in your collection. You may not. We’ve all lost count of how many video and DVD companies have released Romero’s original nightmare over the last couple of years, overwhelming us with differing cover art, confusing us with special ‘added footage’ Anniversary Editions, insulting us with colourised versions and annoying us with the fact that none of them did justice to the first modern zombie film.
And so it came to pass that a company known as Contender released the definitive edition of Night. And no, it hasn’t been colourised. Presented in a strong tin case with gorgeous embossed artwork and loaded with the kind of extras to make Romero fans salivate like his hungry ghouls, this is the version we’ve been waiting for.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story (which I hope none of you are), it begins with Johnny and his sister Barbara laying flowers on their father’s grave in a spooky, isolated Pennsylvanian cemetery. Before you can say “They’re coming to get you Barbara!” Johnny, err, says just that, and much to their surprise they are set upon by the first modern zombie, played by Bill Hinzman. After Johnny is knocked unconscious by the ghoul, Barbara desperately flees to a nearby seemingly empty house where she is soon joined by Ben, an African-American truck driver. Instead of watching Barbara slipping into further catatonia, Ben takes control and boards up the doors and windows while the ghouls multiply outside, sensing the food indoors.
Once Ben has finished with the lumber, the Cooper family and a young couple (Tom and Judy) emerge from the cellar, having heard the radio from their dark hiding place. Mr. Cooper and Ben don’t get along from the off, and a struggle for power ensues as Cooper tries to convince everyone that the basement is the safest place to hide, while Ben maintains that it’s nothing but a “death trap”. They find a television and watch the terrifying news reports. Ben finds a shotgun and loads shells and young Karen Cooper stays in the basement, getting increasingly ill following a ghoul bite.
After an escape attempt ends in tears, flames and a zombie barbecue in which Tom and
Judy are the main course, the flesh-eating ghouls begin to attack the house. The hellish, unforgiving siege leaves everyone but Ben dead; Karen dies from the bite wound then returns to kill her mother, Ben shoots Harry Cooper and Barbara is pulled from the house by her dead ghoul brother. Ben takes refuge in the basement where he falls asleep, but is awoken the following morning by barking dogs. When he carefully goes upstairs to investigate, a civilian ghoul-hunting posse see him from outside and casually proceed to shoot him in the head, believing him to be another ghoul. The End.
Forget resolution. There’s no room for such superficial comforts here. This is partly why Romero has always been a director who operates on his own terms, staying far away from Hollywood and being left with a disappointingly small body of work. His bleak world view and social commentary would win over many fans and critics throughout the years as Night’s popularity rocketed, especially in the drive-in circuits. But it also shocked and disgusted many critics who refused to accept this level of unforgiving violence and the fact that shooting people isn’t a clean and tidy affair – blood will spurt out of the body from the other side when someone is shot-gunned. That’s what happens. But even negative reviews are good publicity, so it looked like Romero couldn’t fail.
One of the most interesting aspects of Night is that it is the beginning of everything. This is the zombie rulebook. Flesh eating ghouls are dead people who have returned to life, and if they bite you, you’ll die and become a zombie. The only way to kill them is to destroy the brain. And it’s still the same today, even though they tend to move a bit faster sometimes.
Most people like to talk about the social significance of Romero’s work and in particular, that he cast a black lead in Night. The truth of the matter is this: Duane Jones was the best actor that auditioned for the part and at no point is his colour an issue in the story. It isn’t even referred to. But people have made a lot of this through the years, and also the fact that the main hero in Dawn – Peter – is black, but Dawn isn’t about race. We know that. It certainly seems like it was a very brave move to not only cast a black man in the lead, but to portray him punching a hysterical white woman and then shooting a white man dead. The lack of reference to his colour, particularly at that time, can be seen as being all the more resonant; by not making a statement, it makes a statement. Isn’t Romero the best!?
Technically, the film definitely has its faults, as do all low budget films, but the sense of atmosphere is strengthened by the isolation of the farmhouse, which was due to be demolished around the time of shooting, and hence the owners gave permission to the young filmmakers to do anything they wanted with it. Unfortunately however, it was pulled down after the shoot. Can you imagine the number of visitors that house would have had through the years if it was still standing? It’s perfect for the film, and is to Night what the mall was to Dawn and the underground silo was to Day: a base. A death trap.
Duane Jones’ acting overshadows the remaining small cast, his monologue about the ghouls who “scattered like bugs” is first-rate, as is his power struggle with Harry Cooper. Keith Wayne just blinks a lot and does a ‘concerned look’ all the time before becoming zombie nosh while the rest of the mostly unprofessional acting cast do their best, which is always good enough.
The library music (which Romero loves – see Dawn) makes this feel like more of a good old-fashioned monster movie, although the strange sound effects that Karl Hardman no doubt designed work an absolute treat in making it all feel more modern. See for example the Tom and Judy barbeque scene, when a disturbing, low purr/drone sound accompanies the liver-eating festival, making this unorthodox dining scene all the more chilling. Also worth a mention is the manner in which Karen Cooper’s final screams are manipulated, echoing everywhere and highlighting the sheer nastiness of events onscreen. It’s these little touches, here and there, that helped make Night the undying monster it has become.
You gotta hand it to Romero. He aimed, he shot and he damn well scored, and would be forever known as the sweet guy from Pittsburgh who makes those horrible living dead films. Right on. Go get ‘em George. We LOVE those glasses.
You’ve probably seen Night of the Living Dead. In fact, you probably know it well, and are a not-so-proud owner of one of the many versions available. You’re reading this because you want to know if this particular version is worth your pennies. Well, it is. The picture quality is sharper than it's ever been and the sound is crystal clear. And the extras? Here’s the skinny:
* Scenes from Romero’s lost film, There’s Always Vanilla Yours truly was a bit over-excited about this. There isn’t very much but you’ll recognise some faces, like Judith Ridley and the randy college Professor from Season of the Witch. It’s an honour to finally see such material, if only for Romero completists.
* Commentary from George, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, and Jack Russo: A technical fault with BOTH commentaries meant that the top menu would not reappear after selecting commentary on the audio options. You have to go back to the top menu and select ‘play film’. Once there, this commentary really made me chuckle. George is his usual self but we’ve never met Karl, Marilyn or Jack before. Jack is quite an amusing guy who sounds quite tired all the time. He was also the zombie who comes into the house about 20 minutes into the film, who Ben tyre-wrenches in the forehead. Then, when the traumatised Barbara is looking at him, his eye moves by accident. Everyone notices this and Jack defends himself by saying, “No, that was intentional, remember?” and then gets, “No it wasn’t, Jack”, fired right back at him. The funniest thing about this track though is Marilyn Eastman and Karl Hardman’s tireless enthusiasm for saying, “I still have that tie”, “I still have that dress” or “I still have that watch” – you get the picture. Yes, they’ve kept everything and you can see it all in the prop shots section. Hardman sounds, well, not like a hard man at all but a really nice guy who listens to how everything was done on a small budget and then ALWAYS says, “Well, it was very effective.” And he’s right. Great stuff.
* Commentary from cast members Judy O’Dea, Russ Streiner, Keith Wayne, Vince Survinski, Bill Hinzman and Kyra Schon: The same technical fault applies to this commentary track. This is a very nice group of people, and they’re so proud of the film. Who can blame them? Judy O’Dea is particularly endearing and you just have to love the way older people call DVDs ‘laserdiscs’ all the time. This is full of stories about chocolate syrup being used as blood, Keith Wayne’s relentless blinking, how someone stole THAT music box on the last day of shooting and, most amusingly, how Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman were “the scavengers of the film”, because they kept/took everything, something they’ve certainly indicated in the previous commentary track. “Apparently, Marilyn still has all the lumber.” Yep, that’s right. She even took the bloody boards home.
* Audio Recording of Duane Jones’ final interview Very interesting. He’s one hell of a deep thinker, this one. In the cast commentary O’Dea called him “a very intelligent, intense, nice man”, and that’s how he comes across here. Rest in peace, Ben.
* Judith Ridley Interview
* 5.1 surround sound or original mono
* Prop shots
* Script Archive - accessible only using a PC
Versions Laugh Track: Night of the Living Dead (USA) (video title (redubbed comic
Monster Flick (USA) (working title)
Night of Anubis
Night of the Flesh Eaters
Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (USA) (recut version)
Runtime: 96 min