Night of the Living Dead
Directed by George Romero
Elite Entertainment DVD
Dawn of the Dead
Directed by George Romero
Anchor Bay DVD
Take a trip to the video store or check your favorite online store looking for one of George Romero’s zombie classics, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, and you will find a plethora of versions of these two films on DVD. Choosing the best version of these films is difficult, so here is the low down on some to avoid and the ones worth dying for (sorry. I couldn’t help it.)
Night of the Living Dead, the 1968 horror milestone classic, has been low end video company fodder for decades. With the advent of DVD, little has changed. Shoddy, edited prints frequently appear on labels like Madacy at cut-rate prices. Of course, you very often get what you pay for, and these discs are worth less than the fifteen bucks you paid, as the quality is really unmatchable. What might look promising is Anchor Bay’s 30th Anniversary Edition. Unfortunately, this is a marginal print with an embarrassing wrap around story shot by John Russo for this version. By far the best version of Night of the Living Dead is from Elite Entertainment. This disc boasts a pristine video transfer and a sharp mono soundtrack. There are also two separate, feature-length commentary tracks featuring the director George Romero and nine other members of the cast and production team, including John Russo, Judith O’Dea, and Kyra Schon.
Dawn of the Dead, the 1978 sequel that shattered the gore barrier, is perhaps an even tougher film to select. It hasn’t suffered the indignities of low-end video that its predecessor has, but it seems that every video release is a different cut. There are European Cuts, U.S. Cuts, Director’s Cuts, and they all advertise being uncut. The best compromise is the “Anniversary Edition” from Anchor Bay. This disc isn’t as loaded as some of its competitors, but does have a transfer that comes from really nice source material. This disc features the evocative musical score from the Goblins. Some of the other versions are missing this score, and the substitute music just doesn[base ‘]t have the same appeal. The music is integral to Dawn of the Dead. Try to imagine Star Wars without a John Williams score. The music is as much a part of a film as the special effects. This DVD may have a shorter running time than some of the other discs on the market, but believe me, most of the extra minutes on those other discs are comprised of extra biker gang footage at the end of the movie, and the film is actually better with the climax tightened up. Just like writers, film directors can benefit from a skillful editor.