1968’s Night of the Living Dead was one of those rare films that seemed to have come out of nowhere, but had the effect of changing cinema as we know it. Not only did it inspire an army of independent and guerilla filmmakers to go out and bring their own cinematic visions to life with or without the help of a studio system, but Romero, Russo, and crew did something that few others in modern cinema history can claim to have done. They invented an entirely new genre (or subgenre) of filmmaking by giving cinematic birth to the creature we now know as the modern zombie.
As such, it’s not surprising that the film would eventually get the Criterion Collection treatment. Although, some may wonder why it took so long. A lot of work and a lot of care went into bringing us a fantastic package, and the Night of the Living Dead Criterion Collection set finally dropped in stores and online back on February 13. Whatever you may have thought about how long it took the Criterion people to get around to giving the Criterion Collection treatment to Night of the Living Dead, the set they delivered was worth the wait.
I’m not going to get into Night of the Living Dead as a film here, because if you’re reading this the odds are good you’ve already seen it more than just a few times. You probably even own more than a few versions of the film’s print in your video library. That being the case, the question that needs to be answered here is whether or not it’s worth parting with your money to get this edition; especially if you already have a copy of the 2008 40th Anniversary restored and remastered edition sitting on your shelf.
The answer is a resounding yes.
The Criterion Collection edition of Night of the Living Dead is probably the best version of the print you will ever see. Even compared to the 2008 40th Anniversary release, the Criterion Blu-Ray print looks and sounds almost jarringly clean. This is probably the closest any of us will ever be to seeing the film as it looked when Romero and crew showed it to an audience in theaters for the very first time. It’s an interesting viewing experience for someone who has grown up on television broadcasts, VHS releases, and DVD copies that seemed to be done with increasingly degrading prints over the years. The restoration lets you see much of the film with far greater detail and clarity, but it also lets you see that Romero and crew were much better filmmakers at the time of their first effort than was previously apparent.
But Night of the Living Dead is not the only feature on the disc. The Criterion Collection release also marks the first time Night of Anubis has been released to home video. What is Night of Anubis? It’s a restored version of the original work-print of the film. It’s largely the same film with only a few minor differences here and there. If you’re looking for something that’s a totally different take on the original film, this isn’t going to be it. It’s still an interesting look at what was and wasn’t deemed worthy of inclusion in the final version of the film.
It also has some historical significance. The name Night of Anubis was chosen by Romero as a title he was sure no one else would ever use after they received threat of legal action over their working title being too close to an existing film. Night of Anubis was the name Romero and Russo got their copyrights for the film filed under. However, not fully knowing what they were doing they filed improperly, linking everything to the name. When the distributor wanted a more marketable name, the film became Night of the Living Dead and- at first unknown to Romero and Russo -entered into the realm of public domain almost instantly.
This may have been one of the best things that ever happened to the film. Because it now cost nothing for theaters to show and TV stations to air, it would become a staple of late 1970s late night television, early 1980s cable, and Halloween events at theaters across the country. It became an event film in some cases, and this, in a way like what happened to It’s a Wonderful Life, may have helped make it a much loved classic with fans. It may have been one of the worst things that happened to Romero, though. He got to watch as his film became one of the biggest things in horror, but he didn’t get a dime from the vast majority of the screenings, airings, and VHS and DVD releases.
But, for horror geeks and film buffs in general, what absolutely makes this edition worth adding to your film library beyond the quality of the print and the inclusion of the fabled work-print is the materials included on the second disc of the set.
The Criterion Collection people have pulled together a veritable treasure trove of both enjoyable and informative extras. It took me several nights to get through all of the special features (and I admit I may have accidentally skipped a few by losing track of where I was at) and what they’ve pulled together can tell you just about everything you may have ever wanted to know about the film. If you’re the type of horror geek or film buff who loves material like this, this is absolutely the best possible icing on the cake that is the amazing restoration job on the film.
The Criterion Collection release of Night of the Living Dead can be found now in brick and mortar stores as well as on websites like Amazon. With a sale price of around $20, it’s more than worth it to part with a few bits of green paper to add this edition of the film’s many releases to your collection.
Written by Jerry.