B&W, 1968, 96 mins.

Written and Directed by George A. Romero

Starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Russell Streiner / Written by George A. Romero and John Russo / Produced by Karl Hardman and Russell Streiner / Cinematography by George A. Romero

Format: DVD - Anchor Bay (MSRP $24.98), Elite (MSRP $29.95)

George Romero's groundbreaking black and white zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead, has gone through a lot over the years. It's been sequelized (by both Romero and writer John Russo), remade, ripped off, spoofed, and even colorized. But can it survive the horrific debacle of Russo's "30th Anniversary" edition? Probably, but the sheer greed and pointlessness of this venture make it an awfully bitter experience for horror fans expecting a special edition and instead getting a soulless (and late) attempt to jump on the zombie bandwagon. Luckily, Elite already had an almost immaculate edition of the film prepared back for its 25th anniversary, so anyone with a sense of respect for the original would be well advised to stick to that earlier DVD edition instead.

The familiar storyline operates like an irrational nightmare from which one never manages to awake. Barbara (Judith O'Dea) visits a graveyard with her brother, Johnny (producer Streiner) and winds up fleeing for her life from a shambling, wordless zombie (Bill Hinzman). She hides in an abandoned farmhouse and slides into complete catatonia, though she's joined by several others. Ben (Duane Jones of Ganja and Hess) - horror's first black hero! - locks horns with the obstinate Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), whose wife, Helen (Marilyn Eastman) is more concerned about the welfare of their ailing daughter in the basement. Armies of the undead begin to congregate outside, forcing the survivors to barricade the windows and hope that somehow they will make it through the night.

Writer Russo, a talented novelist and screenwriter, now claims that he originally had several other concepts which were never filmed because of budgetary reasons. According to the interview contained with the DVD, these scenes "were discussed back in 1967 during our first story sessions, but were not carried out due to lack of time and money." If that's the case, the discussion may have gone something like this:

JOHN: Hey, George, why don't we tack on a really boring opening scene with a redneck preacher where the cemetery zombie comes to life and a lot of bad actors who look like they're reading cue cards run around screaming? Then we could throw in this stupid female reporter and a corny epilogue that makes no sense just to make sure viewers don't get too scared or involved in what they're watching?

GEORGE: No, John, that's stupid.

Of course, if these concepts were so important to Russo, he could have introduced them into his worthy 1970s novelization of the film, but no, he had to actually shoot these scenes and attempt to work them into the film. But wait! We also get a wall to wall new synth score by Scott Vladimir Licina, who also plays the aforementioned preacher (badly). The score itself, contained on a separate soundtrack CD with the DVD box, isn't bad in and of itself, but within the film the results are laughable. Ironically, Romero's original library cues worked far better and worked as an integral part of the film's sensory fabric. The new footage looks awful; reportedly shot on black and white film stock, it comes off more like your average shot on video quickie job, and for some reason (read: money) Hinzman felt the need to return as the cemetery zombie. Even with pounds of makeup, the difference in thirty years is jarring and ruins whatever effect was intended. Other "new" footage includes an additional, earlier sequence with zombies munching car victims, though it adds nothing besides unconvincing effects and grinds the story even further to a complete halt. As Romero knew all too well, more is definitely less. Just for the record, image and sound quality are excellent, but the same superb quality can also be found on the Elite DVD, which presents the original film and a wealth of extras (commentary, stills, prop photographs, a short film parody, and a clip from Romero's There's Always Vanilla). The Anchor Bay version also includes the original cut of the film, which was diced down by several minutes to make room for Russo's new footage. However, the original cut is still slathered with the new music score -- hardly an improvement. The extras for Russo's cut are limited entirely to self-promoting behind the scenes pieces with little attention given to the original film or its historical significance. Overall, it's a real shame and definitely no way to honor an anniversary.

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